Twin Cities Neon #19

[West 7th Street, Saint Paul.]

[Lyndale Avenue, Minneapolis.]

[Seward, Minneapolis.]

[Midway, Saint Paul.]

 [Downtown, Saint Paul.]


[Rice Street, Saint Paul.]

[North Dakota.]

Twin City Doorways #27

 [West 7th Street, Saint Paul.]

[Linden Hills, Minneapolis, probably.]

 [Downtown, Saint Paul.]

[Downtown, Saint Paul.]

[Northeast, Minneapolis.]

[Lowertown, Saint Paul.]




City Signs as a Conversation, the Introduction from my "Signs of the Times" Photo Book

Some years ago I was walking along a street in Saint Paul’s Cathedral Hill neighborhood, when a bit of paint on the asphalt caught my eye.

“POSSIBLE MONUMENT” it read, scrawled as if by an municipal official next to an otherwise mundane street corner. The nearby fire hydrant? I wondered. The curb? The lamp- post? Or the sign referring to itself?

But a monument to what, exactly? What was being remembered?

Signs like this appear all around the city, but most of the time people move too fast to see them. Noticing these small signs, left for the observant and contemplative, is one of the great opportunities of a life spent on the sidewalks, because the speed at which we move changes what we can see.

Moving faster, speeding along in a car or train, the world begins to blur and details disappear. Signs get bigger, elevating themselves to heights far beyond the stroller’s reach. Signs get brighter, flashing and blinking to attract the scattered focus of the digital gaze. Attention becomes a zero sum game, and many small signs fall through the cracks, seen only by slow and steady, a lost language of attention and observation, seeing the city at a pedestrian pace. 

These are not neon, not the storefront marquee, nor the billboard. For the most part, these are hand-written small notes jotted down for a specific purpose, part of a constant interaction between the non-human city -- the walls, doors, poles -- and the constant churn of people. Passers-by, shopkeepers, employees, rabble-rousers, artists, or neighbors putting up small signs for the choice few to notice, many handwritten and hand-placed with care. This unceasing back-and-forth, the remaking and re-writing of the city’s semiotic surface. Signs on signs on poles. Sometimes graffiti (though that’s not included here). Sometimes official signage, sometimes in a lawn, sometimes on a wall. Signs camouflaged or emblazoned like urban insignia on the margins of the sidewalk. Rarely permanent, these signs fade away or fall apart, are taken down or covered up by another. The changing city is the palimpsest that remains.

These days, we live in an era of scant signage. Compared to the pedestrian-paced days, when sidewalks were full of life, the signs inhabiting our cities have become scarce as streets have sped up and blurred. And the more people walking the streets, the more subtle the small signs; New York City and Chicago are full of these. Yet most of the signs in this volume were visible from the sidewalks of Minneapolis and Saint Paul over the last decade, from the period of about 2003 to 2016 (though there are a few notable exceptions from my various wanderings to other cities).

I sometimes dream that a renaissance of small signs is unfolding, as more signs make walking more interesting, and more walking makes signs more worthwhile. In that spirit, I hope you enjoy these signs of the times. On your journey, look for your own signs. Take notice and stock. Signs disappear when ignored. When seen, they acquire meaning and multiply, each, at that moment, a possible monument. 


Reading the Highland Villager #169

 [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: City unveils plan for redeveloping Ford site with businesses, multifamily housing, new parks and streets
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A city planning task force has come up with concrete ideas for the massive site that was once a old truck factory employing thousands of people. The plan envisions 4,000 housing units, 1,5000 jobs, and $20 million in new annual property tax revenue for the city. The plan includes a street grid, different zoning categories that range in height and density, decreasing as you go closer to the river [and things like stormwater features]. It will still be about 5 years until development is actually open for business. There will be a woonerf. Article includes a small map. [The plan is actually really good. It will be interes4ting to see what the developer proposal looks like once the property is actually sold in a year or two.]

Headline: City envisions over 40 acres for parks, recreation on Ford site
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Around the housing will be a "public realm" with trees, green space, water feature, and ballfields. They will not necessarily be in the official parks department. Quote from neighbor: "Are we assuming there'll be just senior citizens or millennials living there?" [[The lack of] Kids today.] There will be a "public square-type park" and a bike path.

Headline: Potential routes for Riverview transit narrowed
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A potential transit line between downtown and the airport is not going to be planned along the CP main line from downtown or Shepard Road. [Good because both these routes lacked a key ingredient for transit: people.] Neighbors are concerned about traffic and parking. Quote form planner: "[there is] a constituency that is very clearly against rail or a dedicated guideway." [This is true and also depressing. Hm, I wonder what people who actually take transit think? There are still lots of options on the table along W7th Street and the CP spur, in mixed traffic or dedicated ROW. Surprisingly, the "hybrid" mixed-traffic then CP-spur route has very competitive route timing with the dedicated ROW W7th route option, primarily because of the higher speed potential and clearer ROW on the CP spur past the Schmidt Brewery.] The route should go through or skip the Ford site, and might or might not have grade-separated rail connections through Minneapolis to the Blue Line. It will be either be light rail, a modern streetcar, or a bus. [The next step is to see what the ridership and cost estimates turn out to be, and then we can make an actually informed decision.]

Headline: Public hearings set on proposed 2017 property taxes in St. Paul; Tax increases vary across city with median at $93
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Taxes are going up by a margin that seems relatively small compared to other things.

Headline: BZA grants variance for luxury apartments near Union Depot
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Board of Zoning Appeals has approved a variance to build a six-story 70-unit building on a parking lot in Lowertown. There will be 54 parking spaces. The FAR is 5.7, whcih is slightly higher than the zoning limit without a variance. [I think this is the lot with the tree, but it might be the one across the street, but I don't think so.]

Headline: Developer drops plans for St. Clair-Snelling apartments
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A company wanted to build a six-story 155-unit apartment building on Snelling [which makes sense given that it's a major street with high-frequency transit service] on the site of a strip mall. There is a study to change the zoning on the site. Developer claims water table factors were an issue in the change in plans. [Weird that it would be a problem here but not for other large buildings along this street or in the area. Article does not mention that neighbors were concerned about traffic, parking, and height, but they certainly were.]

Headline: Federation favors Quarry Farm as name of new West End park
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Victoria Park development off West 7th street is park that might get the name Quarry Farm. [Lovely and charming name there... yikes! Glad they didn't go with Oil Spill Park, Enviornmentally Un-remediable Preserve, or Koch Tank Meadow.]

Headline:  Bennett's to close for spell due to lapse in insurance coverage
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A bar and steak house will have to close for ten days because they forgot to fill out paperwork and the City Council is imposing a penalty. There was debate on the council about how long the penalty should be and whether to have it be more flexible. [Whatever. Slap 'em on the wrist, I say. Don't let it happen again.]

Headline: Union Park receives city's blessing for first district plan
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A neighborhood group made a plan for things like walkability, bike lanes, development, growth, and neighborhood improvements. [Well done, I say.]

Note: This Highland Villager recap written to the dulcet tunes of Monteverdi's Orfeo.


Signs of the Times #121

Closed Monday
(August 1st)
Family Funeral

[Location forgotten.] 


[Pillowcase. Bottleneck, Minneapolis.]


[Door. University Avenue, Saint Paul.]


[Yard. Dayton.]

Standing Rock

[Guy sitting. Lowertown, Saint Paul.]


[Lowertown, Saint Paul.]


Atlas Staffing is a place of business. Please to NOT let your kids run around and be loud. It is NOT safe and also it is disruptive to the Atlas staff as well as other applicants applying. Please be consdierate and thank you in advance for cooperating.

*** We will ask you to leave and come back another time with the application should it be otherwise.


[Door. Downtown, Saint Paul.]


[Highland. Saint Paul.]


[Boulevard. Railroad Island, Saint Paul.]