Sidewalk Poetry #54: Waiting for a Cyclo in the Hood

Waiting for a Cyclo in the Hood

Twenty-sixth street, a one-way,
flows by my house, keeps going right
out of the hood before spilling into
Uptown: fertile delta of the young,
disturbingly hip, rich by no fault of their own,
nothing to do on a Saturday night but be beautiful.
I sit on the curb, far from lovely,
empty pocket's distance from rich,
wishing I knew
which way to go.
Back in Viet Nam I could
shout for a cyclo, hold up a fist of small dong
peel each dollar form the tension of my hand
and let them fly away to the Dopplar Effect,
one by one,
scream the words to Prince's 1999 in two languages
and not once look behind me to see
if the driver was whispering:
this street is one way, I can't take you back
to where you came from, no matter how many American
dollar bills you give up
to the wind.

[Bao Phi, from Sông I Sing.]

[Uptown at night.]


Signs of the Times #118


[Fence. Downtown, Saint Paul.]

Where is Bill
Jones? Please
return William
Jones to his
loved ones.

[Alley wall. Downtown, Saint Paul.]

Flowers Are For ALL
Neighbors to Enjoy

[Yard. Sent in by a reader.]


[Window. Lowertown, Saint Paul.]


[Window. Sent in by a reader.] 

The Hennpin Ave Bridge
was the first permanent
fixed crossing of the
entire Mississippi River.

[Boulevard. Nicollet Island, Minneapolis.]

world to

[Mailbox. Location forgotten.]

(im-grent) n. 1. A person or
persons that move from their
country of origin to settle in
another country permanently.

[Fence. Downtown, Minneapolis.]


Talking about Saint Anthony Policing and Housing on KFAI

[Kids sitting in the KFAI parking lot, on Minneapolis' West Bank.]
Last week, I was lucky enough to be the co-host of Truth to Tell on KFAI Radio. Years ago I volunteered regularly at KFAI helping with the news programming. I also volunteered with Truth To Tell, a weekly public affairs talk show, running their "board" and doing the sometimes complicated engineering the talk show.

You can listen to the whole program here. My friend, the retired political science professor and labor historian an Tom O'Connell has taken over as a co-host from program founder Andy Driscoll, who passed away a few years ago.

The program covers a bunch of interesting topics, all relevant today. We discussed my interview with the Saint Anthony police chief, published here. Tom interviewed Dr. Christopher Lehman, a Saint Cloud-based historian researching the history of race in Minnesota. Finally, we interviewed two people trying to save the Lowry Grove manufactured home community, also located in Saint Anthony.

You can listen to the whole program here:


Is It OK to Protest on a Freeway?

The I-94 Demonstration.
The last weeks have seen two high-profile freeway protests, the first on Saturday night on I-94 and the second Wednesday morning on I-35W.

This article is not about whether these are smart political tactics, or about the violence that took place during the I-94 demonstration. To me, debates about what happened, who is at fault, and the nature of the charges are a separate issue from the question I want to focus on here.

Rather, here's the rub of this article: Is there a difference between a civil disobedience demonstration on a city street (e.g., Summit Avenue, Plymouth Avenue, or downtown), a light rail station (e.g., the Green Line at Snelling and University), and a freeway like I-94? Are they the same thing or are they different?

"Taking it To the Street"
umn 72 protest 4
Protests on Minneapolis' Washington Avenue in 1972

First off, all these examples are equal in one sense because, technically, all roads are public space. (Exceptions for gated communities such as North Oaks, with private roads, prove the rule.) So the right of the public to use these taxpayer-funded government-owned spaces should be relatively equal.

And in another sense, all these cases are equal because they're all equally prohibited. Technically speaking, any gathering or demonstration that blocks a road is illegal. This is true for sidewalks, streets, light rail tracks, and freeways, all of which have ordinances or laws protecting their mobility function. For example, the Minneapolis city code says this (385.65) [emphasis mine]:
No person, in any public or private place, shall use offensive, obscene or abusive language, or grab, follow or engage in conduct which reasonably tends to arouse alarm or anger in others, or walk, stand, sit, lie, or place an object in such a manner as to block passage by another person or a vehicle.
Light rail tracks and city streets in general have the same rules prohibiting people from blocking traffic flow. So a demonstration is illegal in all these situations.

(For more on public space and protest, check out the streets.mn podcast conversation with Dr. Nathan Clough.)

The I-94 demonstration.

Is a Freeway Different?

The press conference after the late-night demonstrations on I-94 featured the Mayor of Saint Paul, the Police Chief, and Colonel Matt Langer of the Minnesota State Patrol describing what happened. Here's the quote:
There are many places people can gather to exercise their first amendment rights, but the freeway is not one of those places. Closing freeways endangers the people that are on the freeway, endangers the motoring public, prevents emergency services from occurring and prevents people from doing their jobs and taking care of business in the state of Minnesota by those freeways being closed. Being on the freeway is illegal. It’s illegal always to be there on foot including these protest events. We do our best to prevent these protests from being on the freeway and most of the time we are successful in working with these groups and preventing and keeping that from occurring.
As you can see, Colonel Langer focuses on two things in his argument against freeway demonstrations: safety and economics.

Let's take safety first. Technically speaking, the main difference between a freeway and other types of roads revolves around speed and access. Freeways have much higher speeds and far more limited access than other roads, or even light rail tracks.

But what if you could make freeway protests safe for both the drivers and demonstrators?
While stopping at the Governor’s mansion demonstration the other day, I spoke with one person who was working with the Black Lives Matter demonstrators at the beginning of the protest. Her job was to drive a car at a specific time down I-94, and to slow down in tandem with other demonstrators in other lanes. The plan was to reduce speeds slowly over time on the freeway while not allowing cars to pass. The goal was to make space for demonstrators to safely get onto the road.

To me, it sounded difficult. And according to the woman I spoke with, her Westbound contingent of volunteers had difficulty keeping their line in tact. (Eastbound volunteers managed to pull it off.)  But what was interesting was that the demonstrators had planned ahead, thinking about the safety concerns about demonstrating on a freeway.

If you take the safety issue out of the picture, the argument against protesting on a freeway rests on economic impact. At that level, it seems little different than the argument against protesting in any of the other contested sites that we have seen over the past year or two. The arguments used by Colonel Langer seem a lot like the ones used by the Bloomington prosecutor at the Mall of America: demonstrations are illegal and the disrupt the economy. (You could say the same thing about the demonstrations at the State Fair or the airport.)

And in both cases, it seems the prosecutors are trying to discourage demonstrations in these spaces by throwing the book at activists.

Who is the Audience for a Demonstration?
Demonstrators on Summit Avenue in Saint Paul, the Governor's Mansion in the background.

Last week, I found myself with a flat tire on my bicycle, needing to get back to Saint Paul from downtown Minneapolis. Glancing at Twitter, I saw that the Green Line had been shut down by a demonstration march in Saint Paul in support of Philando Castile, and decided to take the #3 bus (my old friend) instead.

While riding the bus, there were two young black men sitting up at the front, talking with the bus driver. It turned out that they were trying to get to the demonstration, but because the Green Line was shut down, they couldn’t get there. The bus driver gave them directions to get to the #16, but I don’t think they ever made it in time. (The bus is slow, after all!) Still, it seemed to me to be a tragic irony.

To me, the main difference between demonstrating on a freeway and demonstrating on a street like Summit Avenue is a matter of degree, not of kind. By moving on to a freeway, the scale and stakes of a demonstration are raised. Instead of primarily affecting people in the central cities, you’re primarily affecting people in the suburbs.

Civil disobedience is always breaking a rule, whether it’s “whites only” or “no stopping on the street.” I-94 between the downtowns carries 200,000 cars a day and is the most heavily used part of our road system. If the goal is to raise awareness of an issue, by changing the geography of the demonstration from a local street to a freeway, you’re turning up the volume so that everyone in the entire Twin Cities has to pay attention, for better or worse.

The violence, tear gas, and concrete-throwing are one thing. What happened on I-94 was unfortunate and I wish it could have been prevented. (The 35W demonstration seemed entirely peaceful by contrast.) But the point I want to make here is that whether or not people have a right to demonstrate on the road has little do with what kind of road it is. A freeway is not a special place where, as Colonel Langer seems to suggest, your "civil rights disappear." It's just a road with higher speeds, wider lanes, reduced access, and a special state-wide police force. And just as much as any other street, it’s still a public space.


Reading the Highland Villager #159

[Basically the problem is that the best source of Saint Paul streets & sidewalks news is the Highland Villager, a very fine and historical newspaper. This wouldn't be a problem, except that its not available online. You basically have to live in or frequent Saint Paul to read it. Until this newspaper goes online, sidewalk information must be set free. See also: Three Reasons Why I Re-Blog the Highland Villager.] 

Headline: Ford says pollution won't stop it from cleaning up plant as city envisioned
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The old Ford auto plant was demolished a while ago and the dirt underneath it isn't too polluted to prevent anyone from building housing on the site. [That's what happened in the Victoria Park area, where the city had to build park land on half the site instead of buildings.] There was a meeting at a church about it. It's going to take years to clean up the site. They will have to take dirty dirt away and put clean dirt back. [For "clean dirt," see also, scroll down.] Article includes brief history of the site. One parking lot has a lot of petroleum contamination. Another has solvents and heavy metals. There are mines under the bedrock. [I might or might not have been in these tunnels. There might or might not be an abandoned haunted house in there.] 

Headline: Axtell's selection as St. Paul's new police chief is roundly applauded
Author: Kevin Driscoll

Short short version: Saint Paul has a new police chief. [Jeez, what a way to start the job.]

Headline: Seeking new direction, School Board ousts Silva
Author: Kevin Driscoll

Short short version: Saint Paul will have a new schools superintendent, after paying the old one $700,000 to leave. [About the same price as they paid David Glass to leave.]

Headline: Six-story building planned for Snelling-St. Clair corner; Luxury apartments would replace six small businesses [Note: Headline is a bit misleading as it will be apartments AND commercial space, in which there will be businesses, one assumes, some of which might even be the same businesses, at least in theory.]
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There are plans to tear down a one-story strip mall and build a large apartment building instead. The 33-space parking lot will also be replaced. The property will need to be rezoned. [Presumably to Traditional Neighborhood zoning, which it should be already? Not sure why it isn't.] Article includes the sentence: "tenants would likely be local professionals or people who no longer want to maintain a single-family home." [But not young people, thank goodness.] Article quotes local neighborhood group guy saying "that area cries out for redevelopment." Neighbors concerned about parking are hoping that the new building owners will allow them to lease some of the new spaces. But article also quotes neighborhood guy saying "We don't have a solution to the parking issues as we're standing here." [Where is the solution to the parking issues to be found? Navel gazing gets us nowhere. We need a quest.] Article includes the following sentence: "Some committee members suggested marketing the new apartments to tenants who want a car-free lifestyle and offering incentives for renters who do not own a car. [And at this point the Villager ceased to exist.]

Headline: St. Paul may require all employers to offer paid sick time; Business owners don't like one-size-fits-all approach
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Some people want businesses to pay people when they're sick so they don't come to work sick and get healthy faster, but some businesses don't like the idea.

Headline: City approves new five-year recycling contract with Eureka
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city will keep the same recycling comapny for the net five years. There will be new lidded carts. Fees will go up.Some new things may or may not get recycled, including organics like compost. The old blue bins make good garden baskets. [See more on this situation in my Park Bugle story.]

Headline: St. Paul set to take final vote on rules for protecting river; Comments on planned revisions due by July 6
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The DNR is going to decide how to regulate areas around the river, a lot of which is in Saint Paul. This might affect the Shepard-Davern, Island Station, and Ford plant areas. [And also hugely affect the West Side, but that's outside of the Villager coverage area so... crickets.] Slope and bluff regulations are particularly ornery.

Headline: Planning Commission to rule on liquor license for 128 Cafe
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A restaurant [in a three-story apartment building] by a college wants a liquor license for which they needed a change of a zoning permit. [The Planning Commission, of which I am a member, granted it.]

Headline: Parking congestion in Ramsey Hill addressed in July 11 forum
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There will be a meeting to talk about parking. Data will be used. [That's unusual!] There are more restaurants by the Cathedral now. [Oh my. The next thing you know, people will be walking around on the sidewalks!]

Headline: BZA grants distance variance so Midway Smokes can move
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A vape store will be allowed to move across the street from a strip mall, even though the new location is already close to an existing tobacco store. The smoke shop has been around for almost 20 years.

Headline: Snelling-Dayton used car lot is being eyed for new parking lot
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A used car lot "burned down." Now the guy who owns it wants to park 18 cars and 6 bikes there. Some neighbors like the idea [because parking]. Others asked if a building could be there instead, but the owner says it's too small for a building. [Maybe if they built a small building? It's like a large building but smaller.]

Headline: Market-rate micro apartments planned for Territorial Road
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: [Micro apartments! See, that's like what I meant by "small building." One thing you can do is make things smaller. It's like the difference between a large coffee and a small coffee, for instance.] Warehouse property will be replaced with 80-unit apartment building. They will only be 400 square feet. [First the whole thing about renters without cars, and now this? What is this Villager coming to?]

Headline: Planning Commission considers expanding the use of City House
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: An old grain elevator that is owned currently used as a history museum space might be run by the Parks Department so that they can do [crazy] things like sell food and beverages there in the future. [Note: this is easily the front-runner for winner of the Saint Paul "beer by the river" test. Also note: This passed unanimaoulsy at the Planning Commission, of which I am a member.] There might be food trucks there in the future. [Hopefully with electric hook-ups.] The building has a fascinating history as being a grain co-op [aimed at destroying the Minneapolis grain monopoly]. There had been plans to make a restaurant there but they fell through for some reason.

Headline: Rondo Land Trust proposes mixed-use buildings on Selby
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Three lots that have been vacant forever [in a prime location] on Selby Avenue might finally get buildings. It will be mixed-use commercial and 34 senior apartments. They might be done by 2018. Funding is complicated. It will be "land trust," which means that the people won't own them but they will stay affordable. Article explains the concept. [Land trust is really interesting.]

Headline: Six-story apartment building eyed for vacant Lexington-University lot; Public subsidies sought for $40M building's 243 affordable housing units
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Affordable housing developers want to build on a parcel just South of University Avenue. Funding is complicated. Article includes details about architecture including building materials and landscaping "to maintain its parkway feel." [Parkway feel = freeway speeds.] One neighbor says there's already enough affordable housing in the area. [There's a whole debate about this.] There are no off-street parking minimums for the building because it's close to the light rail, but the developer will build 82 spaces anyway. The site once was the spot of Lexington Ballpark, where the Saints played. [Like everything else] they might open in 2018.

Headline: BZA allows Beechwood lot split for new two-story home
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The owners of a home in Highland will be allowed to tear their house down and build two houses on the land instead. Neighbors are concerned about what it will look like.

Headline: Water tower tour offers view from the top
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: [The Eye of Mordor will be open to the public this weekend.]


This fortnight's Highland Villager was read to the dramatic tones of Verdi's Un ballo in maschera.