One evening this summer, I stood 15 floors high above the Missouri River, one of the loveliest vantage points in the Omaha metro area.
What a view. A river runs through it, with bridges, trees, parks, tall buildings, a stadium, an arena, a performing arts center and beyond that in all directions, homes, homes, homes.
As I looked out on all points of the compass, I thought of the community I have written about for 43 years. Though not a native, I adopted Omaha as my own, raising a family, enjoying friends and colleagues, admiring the accomplishments of many and sharing memories, mostly good but sometimes otherwise.
All of that and more are what make a community — people who surely don’t agree on everything or look alike or go to the same places, but who share a time in life and a place on earth.
This time and this place are ours.
The 21st-century place we call the Omaha-Council Bluffs metropolitan area is home to about 880,000 people, always welcoming newcomers. So much is going on, and so much has changed through the years, that for veterans and newbies alike, it helps to take stock and realize the opportunities offered to us each day.
This Metro Guide, which we hope you will not only enjoy today but also save as a year-round reference, details a lot of useful community information about what’s here.
And that is a lot. As the theme of this year’s guide puts it: It’s All Here.
For a thriving, eight-county metropolis in the middle of the country — the middle of everything, I like to say — there is much for just about everyone to do.
Work, play, volunteerism, sports, music, you name it. If anyone still says there is little to do in Omaha, they aren’t trying.
And as Oscar-winning filmmaker Alexander Payne of Omaha wrote in an anthology of the 50 states: “Visitors are startled by how cool and modern Omaha seems to be.”
True enough. An MTV website this year named Omaha the No. 2 up-and-coming music city in the world, the only U.S. city in the top 10 list. Live music of every genre beckons listeners throughout the area.
Up-and-coming has described the Omaha area in a number of ways in the past 15 years or so, and that doesn’t mean just the City of Omaha.
Look around, from a perch on high or from a suburban curbside, and you’ll see who we are and what we do. In our metro, we are lots of places with lots of attractions:
We are Council Bluffs, with its plethora of public art, its Loess Hills, the Mid-America Center arena and the new Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park, linked to downtown Omaha by the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge.
We are Papillion, which Livability.com ranked the No. 1 small town in America, with its outdoor Sumtur Amphitheater and Werner Park, home of Omaha Storm Chasers baseball.
We are Bellevue, the third-largest city in Nebraska and home of Fontenelle Forest, a town that stands adjacent to Offutt Air Force Base, home of the U.S. Strategic Command.
We are Ralston, home of a $32 million arena.
We are suburban towns such as Gretna, La Vista, Plattsmouth, Waterloo, Valley, Blair and Bennington on the Nebraska side, and Glenwood, Treynor, Crescent and Missouri Valley on the Iowa side. And Carter Lake, the Iowa town that oddly sits on the Nebraska side of the Missouri River, the result of the river finding a new channel after a late-19th century flood.
We are Millard and we are Elkhorn, former towns annexed by Omaha that retain their traditions and their water towers proudly shouting their communities’ names.
We are also old-time Omaha neighborhoods, each distinctive:
» Dundee, with its old-fashioned globe lights, which last year was named one of the top 10 neighborhoods in America.
» Benson, whose business district has become a beacon of restaurants and live music.
» Florence, home of “Pioneer Days” and a Mormon Temple.
» South Omaha, the colorful, traditional entryway to the metro area for immigrants who have stirred the melting pot.
And then there are modern, rebuilt areas, such as Midtown Crossing and Aksarben Village — both full of residences, retail stores, restaurants, cinemas and large public gathering places for music and other events.
Old standbys continue to attract many, including the downtown Old Market, with its quaint mix of shops, restaurants and theaters, and the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, which some outside organizations have ranked the nation’s No. 1 zoo.
What has stunned visitors and returnees the most in the last decade and a half is the transformation of downtown and the riverfront.
The former site of a smelting plant and a railroad repair yard are now the home of Lewis & Clark Landing, the CenturyLink Center (convention center and arena) and TD Ameritrade Park, home of the College World Series. The glittery Holland Performing Arts Center was built nearby, and the Gene Leahy Mall and lagoon are under renovation. More and more people are living downtown.
In a stiff competition involving bigger cities that wanted to take the Olympic Swim Trials from Omaha, USA Swimming announced that for the third Olympiad in a row, the 2016 trials will be held in Omaha at the CenturyLink.
Meanwhile, Creighton University moved up to the Big East Conference and will welcome men’s basketball teams to the Century Link Center from New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Milwaukee and elsewhere.
Up-and-coming? Things are looking up and a lot more is coming.
My 15th-floor perch that evening this summer was from the northern tower of the Riverfront Place condos, just north of the Bob Kerrey Bridge. It gave a breathtaking view of the river, downtown and all around.
Newcomers and others curious about the Omaha metro may wonder what’s here. Whatever your interests, it’s pretty much all here.