Twin City Doorways #32

 [New Orleans, LA.]

 [North End. Saint Paul.]

 [Cedar-Riverside, Minneapolis.]


 [Seward. Minneapolis.]

 [Dayton's Bluff. Saint Paul.]

[West Side. Saint Paul.]


Public Character #7: Mark, who hosts a Beanbag League in his Yard off West 7th Street

[Mark, left, and his friend, the chef of the low country boil.]
During certain summer afternoons, just past Skarda's Bar along West 7th Street, you might find a big group gathered along the sidewalks hanging out, drinking beer, and tossing beanbags in a grassy lot along the Bay Street sidewalk.

That's the work of Mark, who has been hosting the league for almost a decade, ever since the 35W bridge fell down.

I was lucky enough to meet Mark and see the league last week!

Mark: Well when the 35 bridge come down we were all playing horseshoes over here at [the] Palace [rec center]. And we’re in the middle of league night and we heard this and we were like, “what the F just happened?” you know. And so we went through that experience playing the horse shoes that night and went home and watched the news and it was not good.

So that was 10 years ago, August. We’re all playing the horseshoe league, and then the same year the City of Saint Paul decided they were going to pull the horseshoes out of Palace and put a refrigerated hockey rink over there.

And so the horseshoes are gone and we got nowhere to go, so I had this yard over here and I sez we’ll go from horseshoes to bean bags. We had a women’s and a men's league over there so we kinda combined the women’s and the men’s league because everybody can play bean bags.

Se we started that and this is our 9-year finale.

So we brought all the folks over here and we play for 9 weeks, the first week of June to the first week in August. Last Thursday was just terrible, it was 50 degrees we got rained out.

And then we have the low country boil dinner that I was talking about. I’m gonna tell you again it’s a damn… First thing you put in there is your baby red potatoes, then you put in your an-dou-ille sausage, and then you put in your shrimp and you gotta spice it up just right. I was serving in the military down in Savannah and we called it “low country boil” down there.

There’s ten boards. We’ve got 38 people in the league, normally this is a lot fuller but U don’t know evidently they got scared away by my low country boil.

My name is Mark. You got that thing F’ing rolling or what? [referring to my iPhone]

Now you got a story.


Four of my Favorite Urban Drawings

Cartoons, drawings, and illustrations have always been central to architecture and design, both ways of knowing based on observing the urban landscape and reducing it to basic principles. Nothing does that better than a great drawing or illustration.

So here are some of my all-time favorites, along with brief explanations of why I think they're so keen!

#1: The "road space" cutaway (by "Todorovic")

I love this drawing because it captures the inequality inherent in our street design priorities. Cars are climate controlled, hermetically sealed bubbles of private space. In general, we give over a huge percentage of our streets to people traveling in relative luxury, while forcing everyone else to share the street's table scraps.

Whenever our cities equivocate between bike lanes, transit, and sidewalks... Whenever we fail to prioritize shared or active mobility, we're propping up privilege. This illustration perfectly shows that fundamental dynamic.

#2. The LOS bulldozer (by Andy Singer)

Saint Paul-based cartoonist and my friend, Andy Singer, is one of this world's car cartoon geniuses -- a small group, to be sure -- and there are so many great Singer cartoons to choose from. If I had to choose just one, my favorite is probably this one, because it connects the dots in a very specific and important way.

(DOTs... get it?)

It's not often that cartoons can capture a structural problem so elegantly, including specific nerdy data like average annual daily traffic (AADT) and level of service (LOS) to prove a point.

For more on how this works, check out my podcast with Andy Singer about his book, Why We Drive.

#3. Daily "suburban mortar-fire" (by Leon Krier)

Architect, urban philosopher, famous Luxembourgian, and overall design gadfly Leon Krier's books are chock full of excellent illustrations that skewer modernist architecture and planning. This one is my favorite, though, because it elegantly captures the violence of sub-urban car priorities and how damaging they are to older, walkable cities.

In a way, suburbs and cities are literally at war with each other, and speeding cars are the weapons of choice. As long as cars are around, no walkable city is safe.

#4. City streets as cliffs (artist unknown by Karl Jilg)

I don't know who made this amazing drawing of a city street as a giant canyon, but it perfectly captures the *feeling* of walking through a car-dominated city.

In many downtowns, and certainly most other urban places too, the danger of the street is everywhere. Technically the street might be "safe" according to modern engineering standards, but being anywhere near a street with cars going at 40 miles per hour just a few feet away feels terrifying. The streets might as well be cliffs, and your kid tugging on your arm might as well be about to fall into a bottomless pit. Crosswalks feel like the bridge in an Indiana Jones movie, and your dog is always in peril.

I love how this drawing captures that feeling so perfectly. This is probably my favorite sidewalk illustration of all time!

That's it. Those are my top four.

But just for kicks, here are some extras that didn't quite make the cut.

Honorable Mention

[A good illustration from Victor Gruen, father of the indoor shopping mall.]
[Another Andy Singer cartoon that is all-too-true.]

[A Tom Toles masterpiece on white flight, including an all-time-great pun.]

[This speaks for itself.]

[Great illustration of bike politics from my friend, Ken Avidor.]

[An excellent New Yorker piece.]
[And what list would be complete without the worst cartoon ever?]


Signs of the Times #129


[Sidewalk. West Bank, Minneapolis.]

[Window. West Side, Saint Paul.]

[Door. West 7th Street, Saint Paul.]


[Sidewalk. New Orleans, LA.]


[Telephone pole. New Orleans, LA.]


[Pole. New Orleans, LA.]


[Pole. New Orleans, LA.]


[Window. New Orleans, LA.]


Reading the Highland Villager #187

[A Highland Villager hits the spot.]
[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: Commission gives its blessing to Ford plan with changes; Commissioners seek increased density on river road, removal of private recreational space
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Planning Commission unanimously approved a plan for the site of the former Ford truck factory. It was uncontroversial. The only discussion involved whether or not to add greater density along the Mississippi River Road. The increased density passed on a 14-2 vote, and was also uncontroversial. Some public comments were in an email inbox for a while longer than City staff would have liked, and were delayed in making it into the final City report on public comments. The City Council is going to vote on the plan now [likely in late September sometime].

Headline: Corps reconsiders use of river's locks and dams; Future of hydro power and boat traffic on Mississippi may rest in results of study
Author: Roger Barr

Short short version: Old locks and dams in the Twin Cities area might or might not be changed or removed. The Army Corps would like to not own the infrastructure any more, apparently. [Dammit.] Lots of people are interested in the river though, including the National Park service, who would like to see "natural" rapids brought back to the river. [Before the dams were put in, the Mississippi had very volatile water levels!]

Headline: St. Paul has several balls in air as soccer stadium rises; Port Authority is 'hopeful everything will come together in right timeline'
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A soccer team is building a new stadium in the Midway where a strip mall is currently located. Some leases were "approved" but not "finalized." A developer might be on board but maybe not. The Port Authority guy says that they are "hopeful" about the situation. Existing leases will be honored. [What about the Rainbow Foods and the bowling alley?] There might be a "community benefits agreement" between the team and the City but nobody knows what would be in it yet. There are workers on the site collection taking soil away. Pile driving is complete. A crane will arrive soon. Quote from developer: "once the structural steel arrives you'll see the stadium pop out of the ground." Neighbors are concerned about traffic and parking. [Pretty classic Saint Paul right here.]

Headline: Split City Council OKs $900,000 in TIF for stadium cleanup
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Council approved more tax increment financing for cleaning up pollution at the stadium site, which was formerly a streetcar factory and vacant lot for storing transit buses. The Port Authority is applying for cleanup grants but not getting very many. [Um, try harder? This is the thing you do that you are good at.] The total pollution cleanup cost is $7M maybe. [What is the alternative? Just leave the pollution there? Maybe market it as "ToxicLot Park"?] CMs Noecker and Prince voted against the TIF shift. Quote from CM Prince: "This is the Met Council's site that the Met Council has been polluting." [Good point, right there.]

Headline: City to review plan for 34 units of senior housing on Selby Ave.
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A land trust non-profit is building apartments for old people on lots that have been vacant a long time. The parking lot might be too small. [About time!]

Headline: Organized trash effort proceeds with hopes of lowering fees
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The City Council voted to continue getting the city's garbage companies to work together. The vote was uncontroversial. Neighbors are concerned about freedom [to be trashy]. Quote from Highland neighbor: "I want free choice." Some Council Members want lower fees and/or more recycling. Quote from pro-organized garbage woman: "I would greatly appreciate organized collection." Some people think the organization will reduce dumping. [This all makes a great deal of sense and it's dumb that we're even having this conversation in the first place. See also my recent article on it.]

Headline: Heads-up for The Capp at 46th & Hiawatha; Residents await reveal of grocery store tenant
Author: Bill Wagner

Short short version: Minneapolis is getting a big mixed-use apartment building with retail and a grocery store next to a light rail station, over there in Minneapolis, the city to the west of Saint Paul. It looks good but it is not in Saint Paul at all. [I am assuming there will be property taxes generated from this project that will help the City of Minneapolis pay for things that people living in Minneapolis might want.] Neighbors are apparently unconcerned, depending on what grocery is chosen. [So like, if it's an Aldi everyone will riot but if it's a Trader Joe's that's cool?]

Headline: Mpls. raises concerns about Riverview line; Connecting streetcar to light-rail Blue Line may be problematic
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: [Woah, two Minneapolis stories in a single Villager? Something weird is going on here.] There might be transit down 46th Street [which is a godawful hell-street made from concrete that has San Andreas-like fissures and also connects horribly -- horribly! -- to the Ford Bridge over the river, and to nearby Minnehaha Park, and is generally a pretty terrible street to be near even though it has a median]. Neighbors are concerned about potential tunnels, other disruption, and getting to the park. Quote from neighbor: "we haven't gotten a lot of the answers we need yet."[I had assumed the concerns were about traffic and parking, but apparently they are not. Oh that Minneapolis... always throwing me for a loop.]

Headline: Rondo plaza takes two steps forward
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A small plaza in a formerly vacant lot will be built to commemorate the old African-American neighborhood that used to exist where the freeway exists today [so that people can drive through Saint Paul as fast as possible without stopping and also ignore the city around them]. The plaza will have a column, a "sculpted hill" exhibits, lights and seats. Quote from city guy: "the plaza will create a vibrant space and enhance the character of the neighborhood." A non-profit is raising money for the plaza, and the site used to have a grocery store / barber shop. Quote from the Rondo organizer: "this site was the epicenter of the community."