16.1.17

Reading the Highland Villager #172

[An unknown cat seeks refuge in a Villager.]
[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: Public weights in on city's plan for redeveloping old Ford Plant site; Housing density and traffic are big concerns
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city is working on the plan for what to do with the large area by the river and "Highland Village" that used to be a Ford car and truck factory. Neighbors are concerned about traffic, building height, and building design. Quote from neighbor: "In my neighborhood there is just disbelief." The plans call for developing the 130+ acres of land into a network of streets and buildings of different scale set around a daylighted stream. Another neighbor is quoted saying "I think traffic is going to be the Achilles heel for the Ford site plan." [Wouldn't it be cool if when people said they were worried about traffic they actually meant "speeding cars" and "pedestrian safety" instead of being stuck in traffic and not being able to drive fast enough?] The traffic projections in the city plan call for a significant mode share for transit and claims that many existing streets are underused. [This is true, believe it or not, especially one like Saint Paul Avenue. Also the Riverview corridor transit proposal is intimately connected to this conversation.] Some neighbors want more green space. [It kinds of reminds me of density concerns such as the ones that came out of the John B. Calhoun rat experiments.] If the plan works Saint Paul will increase its tax base by more than $20 million annually. [Well that's important, isn't it?]


Headline: City's Capitol lobbyists get marching orders [I like this headline, probably because I like the image of lobbyists actually marching.]
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The state legislature is meeting in Saint Paul again, like they do every year. [And not paying any property taxes for the space that they use, of course.]  The city will ask the state for tax exemptions for the soccer stadium and more [well deserved] local government aid funding [both of which they already passed but the change got nixed because of a clerical error by state lawyers or someone like that].  23% of Saint Paul's city budget is LGA from the state. [That's really high ratio, much higher than Minneapolis. If it goes away should, for example, a Republican win the Governor's race, Saint Paul will be immensely screwed.] The city would like a transportation funding bill passed. [That has zero chance of happening.] Bridges are falling down and the city would like $43 million to replace the Kellogg/3rd bridge, for example. [The existing bridge is currently 2-inbound and 1-outbound lane wide for some reason, one of two mindbogglingly asymmetrical bridges in and out of downtown.] The city would like the ability to officially and legally levy its controversial "right-of-way fee". [This too seems very unlikely with a GOP controlled legislature that ran on an explicit anti-urban platform.] There's a bunch of other smaller stuff listed too, including a environmental center by Crosby lake and a state rule change allowing city-control over speed limits. [Well that's one of my favorite ideas! I was just in Utah, North and South Dakota and all of those states have 25 or even 20 miles per hour speed limits within cities. It's impossible for me to believe that it wouldn't make a difference toward improving safety along urban streets.]

Headline: Transportation projects top county's wish list
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Just like the above piece only for Ramsey County. They would like over $20 million dollars for a new freeway interchange at Rice and 694. [How about a road diet on the rest of Rice Street, you know the part where all the kids, people of color, and disabled people live that has been killing and injuring people for decades? I wish Ramsey County priorities would be more focused on pedestrian safety instead of increasing car throughput.] There is also a BRT transit project heading North to Forest Lake [better than nothing I suppose] and funding for a homeless shelter.


Headline: Conleys plan to renovate vacant downtown, Snell-Ham buildings [WOW! A real non-ironical use of "Snell-Ham". Let's not let this happen again, shall we?]
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Some people who own old buildings want to fix them up. Article includes some history of the buildings. They will be mixed-use apartments and retail, hopefully. There need to be some zoning changes. [If any neighbors are concerned, it is not mentioned here!]


Headline: BZA grants variance for garage, woodworking shop in Highland
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A couple can build a garage and woodworking shop behind their home if it's not too ugly and they take care of the gutters. Neighbors are concerned about the size of the garage and whether or not trees will be cut down.


Headline: Riverview study opens new year eyeing six alternatives for transit
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Hopefully a committee will make a decision by June or July about which of the many route and mode possibilities that are on the table for a new transit investment along West 7th is the best one. [Note: I am on the Technical Advisory Committee for this project and have been impressed at the wide range of choices available. I am really disappointed in the community backlash to a proposal that is just one of many proposals and hope people can keep an open mind about a potential investment that would greatly improve the lives of many poor and transit-dependent people who live in this part of Saint Paul, not to mention the potential for sustainable urban development in a city that could really use it, not to mention the potential for improving pedestrian safety on a major deadly street.] The article lists the many choices including BRT, streetcar, LRT, and on- and off- the CP rail spur or West 7th itself in two-way or one-way pairings, through or not through the Ford site. [I'll be very curious to see the rough cost and ridership estimates. The run-time estimates for the different routes were eye-opening. The CP spur does surprisingly well because it can go slightly faster and the Ford site route adds about 12-20 minutes to the overall runtime which seems quite reasonable to me considering all the extra stops it will be making.] Engineers are concerned about geology. Neighbors are concerned about parking.


Headline: New rules for outdoor sales considered
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The City Council may approve regulation changes that owuld allow businesses to display and sell things on the sidewalk. [Many stores, such as antique stores, already do this anyway and it's awesome and adds a lot of vitality and interest to the street as long as people can get through. See this example.] Nobody seems very concerned.


Headline: St. Paul seeks funds reo study replacement of RiverCentre ramp
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A huge expensive parking lot is falling down and it will cost $1 million just to figure out what to do about it. The ramp is from the 70s and has 5 years left to life. The ramp generates about $2 million per year and will cost $50 million to replace. [So do the math and you have a 25 years to pay for itself, only the convention center gets the money and the city or some government agency will likely pay for the ramp, so this is pretty much a convention center subsidy, just another of the many ways that our governments invisibly subsidize driving and parking, no?] Some people hope the state will chip in for the cost. [They should, I reckon, as things like the Science Museum, the Wild arena, and the cat show are of statewide importance.]


Headline: With shift in TIF, city allocates $7M for stadium infrastructure
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The City Council approved a shift in its TIF funding district to build some sort of "public infrastructure" around the new soccer stadium. [What kind of infrastructure? The article does not say. Perhaps some parking lots? Let's hope not.]


Headline: DNR publishes new rules for development on Mississippi
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Department of Natural Resources has some new rules that affect how close you can build buildings to slopes and bluffs. [That has a huge impact on the city especially in places like the West Side, where I live. Hopefully the rules are not too restrictive for the urban areas of the river, and allows traditional types of urban density along the river.]


Headline: Latest appointments fill all 21 seats on Planning Commission
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Some new people are on the Planning Commission now. [I'm on this. See below.]


Headline: City committee recommends new median for Snelling Ave.
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Transportation Committee [which I chair] recommended approval for the proposed median on Snelling Avenue between Randolph and Ford Parkway. It will close some intersections and add turn lanes to others while making it easier for people to cross the street on foot. Mn-DOT and the City are paying the $2 million cost. [A no brainer, IMO. Snelling has long been dangerous for anyone walking around, and crossing it often involves taking ones life into ones hands. We really need this to happen between Summit and Selby as well.]

2.1.17

Twin City Sidewalk Closed Signs #11

[Railroad Island, Saint Paul.]

[Pretty sure East Side, Saint Paul.]

[Saint Paul.]

[Saint Paul somewhere.]


[Location forgotten.]

[Medford, MA.]

 [Probably Chicago, IL.]

[Downtown, Saint Paul.]

30.12.16

Reading the Highland Villager #171

[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 officials wrestle with Little League's future on Ford site; Local sports organizations seek a shared use of fields [LOOK O MY GOD THIS IS THE SAME ARTICLE AS THE ONE IN THE 1951 IMAGE!]
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There is a debate about whether the parks and fields that will be part of the development on the old car factory should be only for little league baseball or for little league baseball and also other types of athletic activity such as lacrosse etc. Article includes history of little league baseball [see Highland Villager from the 1950s in above image]. Quote from a railroad official, on whose property the fields may be located: "No one has approached us with any viable plan to turn our property into fields for a nonprofit organization. I really have misgivings about the way this is being portrayed." People who play soccer also want to play on the green green grass.


Headline: Council adopts a city budget with $31M in contingency; Uncertainty over street maintenance fees leaves new initiatives up in air
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The City Council voted to adopt a city budget but there some question marks [because decades ago the then-mayor decided to try and get non-profits, schools, and government agencies, of which there are many, to pay for street maintenance by assessing an annual fee]. There are two pending lawsuits from upset property owners like churches, for example, so the city has put in a bunch of loopholes into the proposed budget in case the money disappears. [Should this come to pass, it would really suck. I am skeptical that the City Attorney has this in the bag.]


Headline: Minnesota United breaks ground on prop soccer stadium in Midway
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There was a ceremony in an old parking lot where hundreds of people weilded shovels in a symbolic manner. [Seems awfully cold for a "groundbreaking" IMO. Isn't the ground frozen?] There are lots of unclear details like something called a "plat" and the fact that no "permits have been pulled" as of yet. The team still needs to buy the Rainbow Foods [and put a bulldozer through the front door]. There are negotiations between Supervalu and the strip mall owner. Nobody knows when this would happen or when the stadium will be done, though it will take over a year. [So basically this is a total mess slash game of chicken between a bunch of rich guys trying to make as much money as they can.] Nobody knows when or if it will receive a property tax exemption.The stadium will be bowl-shaped but "more rounded and less boxy." [Phew!] Also it will be covered in colorful LED lights. [Why? Why not? I don't know.]


Headline: Fee or tax: City reassesses right-of-way maintenance charges
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: [See budget story above.] There is an ongoing dispute and debate over whether the city's "street maintenance fees" are legal and there are lawsuits and options and judges and courts. It might take a few years for the issue of whether these fees are legal to be resolved. There was a "closed door" City Council meeting to discuss the issue.


Headline: Commission lays over request for Quarry Farm Park on West End
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There is a [heated!] debate over what to name the park that is part of the development between West 7th Street and the river. The neighborhood group wants it to be called "Quarry Farm Park" but the developer would like it to be called "Victoria Park." Another lady wants the neighborhood to be called "River Bluff Village." [Reminds me of the shenanigans over the proposed names for neighborhoods in Edina, like "Dressage Glen."] Quote from a local historian: "People have never been happy with the name Victoria Park." [Can't argue with that!] Article includes some history of the area. [Fuel Tank Farm Park seems like the most historically accurate name, though "too polluted for housing park" would also work. Or "Exxon/Mobil Liability Park"?] There is a petition to keep the name as is. One of the parks commissioners is named John Mountain. [WOW! The best parks commissioner name I have ever seen, second only to little known 19th century commissioner, Forest Q. Riverbottom.]


Headline: University Ave. bars are fined for failing compliance checks
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Saint Paul Police officers ordered beer at two dive bars and then walked out with their beer and came back in. Both bars have been fined and will install new cameras etc. [These two bars, Hot Rods and The Trend, were both on the Green Line Dive Bar Tour.]


Headline: City waives vacant building fee for North Garden Theater
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The couple that have spend a lot of time [forever, it seems] fixing up an old theater will get more time to finish without having to pay a fine. Neighbors are concerned about noise and parking. [There are currently three old theaters being remodeled at great time and expense in Saint Paul. I am putting odds that this one comes in Second Place.]

28.12.16

The Top 30 Twin City Sidewalks Posts of 2016

[See also: the best of Twin City Sidewalks 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.]

Despite the dumpster fire, 2016 was a good year in sidewalk blogging, with over 200 posts of photos, words, and links to share. Here are my favorite two dozen or so. In roughly chronological order:


#30. Be the Driver You Wish To See in the World

A blogpost about how to become a better driver, one of a few of these I tried to write this year about the psychology of urban driving. I drive sometimes when I can borrow or rent (Hourcar) a car, and like every other person who drives, I have thoughts about it. When you do it so rarely, though, and when you spend so much time thinking about pedestrian and bicycling perspectives, driving becomes a learning experience. So here are some of my thoughts on how you can make safer streets in our city even if you personally don't ride a bike or take the bus.

#29. The Complete "Beer By The River Test" Rankings 

One of my "rankings" posts, this one based on a passing reference to the fact that the mayor wanted to be able to drink a beer by the river. As it turns out, I also often want to drink a beer by the river. So, based on years of river-beer experience, I put together this list of the best places for for drinking a beer near the river. It's not an inspiring list (though it did get better as the year went by, when Red River Kitchen opened up).

#28. Mister Rogers the Anti-NIMBY

Something I've been meaning to write for years, some thoughts on Mister Rogers and how he relates to urbanism. Sometimes people's negative attitudes about change, young people, and the state of the world get me down. And Mister Rogers, relentlessly positive and optimistic about humanity, offers a salve for negativity. Plus he lives in Pittsburgh and likes streetcars.

#27. Why I Love the Green Line: an Open Letter to my Fort Road Neighbors 

After I saw the anti-transit posters start to go up on West 7th Street, including in the windows of some of my favorite businesses in the city, I felt compelled to lay out why I think we desperately need transit investment and street design changes on West 7th. The status quo is terrible, and unless you get out of your car, you never really understand how revolutionary good quality transit can be fore people. Here was my best attempt to convince folks that we need change along the Riverview corridor. (And yes, I do love the Green Line!)

#26. Five Statues of Liberty of Saint Paul

[Nothing says "freedom" like paying out your ass for your refund.]
Another thing I've been thinking about for years, ever since I first noticed a wooden statue of liberty in Crocus Hill, and then another on Railroad Island. This is part of my ongoing "numbers of things" countdown series of blogposts, along with the outdoor pop machines.

#25. Is the Highland Villager Accountable for its Misleading Anti-Bike Lane Advertisement?

One of two hot-take reaction pieces based on something bike-related in the Highland Villager. In this one, I pull apart an advertisement by a local anti-bike-lane pro-parking resident who apparently had a few grand to blow on a large advertisement in a local newspaper that I'm fond of reading. Anyway, the ad was RIDONKOULOUS, complete with badly-drawn cartoon, and I felt absolutely compelled to debunk it to my best ability.

#24. Union Depot, Public Space Petri Dish, Still Waiting on Actual Trains

An homage to the Union Depot, which is a great train station with only one problem. I go to SPUD (the acroymn) a lot and hang out there, and like hanging out there. But I always get sad when I imagine what it must have been like in the 1940s when there were hundreds of trains a day going to all corners of the state and the country. In fifty years, we might be lucky to have three.

#23. The Other Thing about the Saint Paul Cop “Run Them Over” Story

I'm really interested in the intersection of political protest and the built environment, and there's was an interesting moment of this in early 2016 where a cop put on Facebook that people should run over a #blacklivesmatter demonstration. Vehicular violence is something that we absolutely ignore in our society, and so this moment revealed for me how blunt this fact has become in our society. In a way, driving car is a license to kill.

#22. UNANSWERED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE SNELLING-UNIVERSITY DEVELOPMENT AND SOCCER STADIUM

A reaction to a local political gadfly's reaction to the proposed and pending Minnesota United soccer stadium at the Snelling-Univeristy Midway site. In general, I am opposed to stadium subsidies. But if there ever was going to be a stadium deal that was actually good for a city and a neighborhood, this is what it would look like. So I thought I'd add some context to the conversation that was taking place, and tried to do so using a tone (and ALL CAPS MEDIUM) that matched the conversation that preceded it.

#21. The Irreplacable Loss of Stu and Stasny's

One of the saddest stories in Saint Paul this year was the tragic North End fire that devastated my old neighborhood, killing one butcher and obliterating a popular century-old shop. I lived two doors down from this butcher shop for seven years, and it was one of my late uncle's absolute favorite places. When I heard about the fire and the death, I was heartbroken, and wanted to share my thoughts to the best of my ability.

#20. TCS interviews Lars Christiansen, Urban Sociologist and Civic Engagement Pioneer

This is one of my long-form interviews, with a good friend of mine and urban social science colleague, Lars. I have wonderful conversations like this from time, but only rarely do I take the time (and it takes a LOT of time) to transcribe them. Lars is smart, thoughtful, and a great listener, and hearing him talk about Saint Paul streets is a treat that simply must be shared.

#19. Interview with Dan Ibarra, Graphic Designer and Student of Everyday Life, about Caution Car Approaching Klaxons

[You can hear it in your head, can't you?]
Another long-form interview, and it's no exagguration to say that this one has been a long time coming. I first taped this intrerview with Dan Ibarra back in 2012 (I think). It was originally supposed to be for the streets.mn podcast, but I screwed up the audio and it wasn't of high enough quality too use. But I stil had the recording of the wonderful conversation, about Ibarra's art project on the "CAUTION CAR APPROACHING" klaxons. So I finally transcribed it, and then went out and recorded some of the announcements at various parking lots around Minneapolis, to illustrate the piece. Trust me, this is the definitive work on CAUTION CAR APPROACHING klaxons that you will find on the internets.

#18. Another Predictable Tragedy in a Maryland Avenue Crosswalk

I am in the habit of writing about the stakes of street design each time someone is killed walking or biking in the Twin Cities. This is another one of these moments, after Elizabeth Durham was killed on a four-lane death road (Maryland Avenue, one of the worst!) after dropping her kid off on the school bus. It was and is horrible! This article isn't great, but it's important.

#17. Saint Paul in 1989 Revisited

One of my favorite pieces, based on an obscure poster that hangs in the bathroom in my dad's farmhouse in Martell, Wisconsin. The poster is from 1989 and has illustrations and drawings of downtown Saint Paul shops. Many of these shops are long gone, and I did my best at trying to figure out what had become of the old illustrated landscape. Some of the old city is still clinging on!

#16. The Revenant Rabbithole and Minnesota's Missing History

This is the 2016 piece that I probably spent the most time on, and took the most care in crafting. After watching The Revenant, I started getting curious about Minnesota's Native American history. I read a few books about it, talked to a bunch of people, and this blogpost is the result. Once you start thinking about Minnesota's Dakota genocide, nothing ever looks quite the same again. It's very unsettling, but I believe coming to terms with the violence of our shared cultural past is something that we all need to do.

#15. At the Very Least, Stop Stopping Climate Change Solutions

This was one of those "off the cuff" posts that proved to be popular. One day I just got depressed and angry about climate change, and especially people who continue to lead environmentally devastating lives as the ice caps continue to melt faster and faster. I joke a lot about parking, but seriously... we need to stop burning fossil fuels yesterday. It's not OK. Quitcherbiching and start being part of a solution. Here's a list to help.

#14. Ranking the Saints Ushertainers

[Seigo Masabushi.]
Another blogpost that I was thinking about for a few years. This is simply a ranking of the "ushertainers" (e.g. The Nerd, Coach, The Chef). I go to a lot of Saints games and did some rough analysis. Of course it's B.S., but hey, why not? Anyone who takes the Saints too seriously is missing the point anyway.

#13. End of the Line for The Terminal Bar's Flem Shows how Dives Are Precious

Another poignant eulogy, this time based on my work on Twin Cities dive bars. In this case, it came after the death of a guy who had been running the same little hole in the wall for a half-century. One of the reasons why I write and give tours about dive bars is that nobody else seems to care much about these places. But a spot like the Terminal Bar has an amazing story to tell, and is just as much part of our history as more famous places like monuments or mansions. (Stay tuned for an update on this soon!)

#12. Is It OK to Protest on a Freeway?

A think-piece on the politics of freeways, protest, and public space. This is going to continue to be a huge issue, both locally and nationally. What is the relatoinship between the automobile and racism? Between regional and local claims on public spaces like roads or rail tracks? I fear that, as Trump takes office and takes off the shackles of state violence, as our society continues to become polarized and segregated, these kinds of demonstrations and actions will be more common. But sometimes connecting the dots around infrastructure and racism is exactly what we need to do if we want to change the conversation.

#11. Saint Paul as Westeros

A fun piece, a follow up to my earlier Harry Potter map, based on the House Stark flag I saw on Summit Avenue. It's a Saint Paul/Westeros mash-up map. I almost got it right, too, except that Kings Landing is actually in Targaryen and not in Baratheon. Whoopsies! I don't care.

#10. Interview with John Ohl, Recently Retired Police Chief of Saint Anthony

[Interviewing the chief.]
Certainly the most politically important and widely-read piece I put on the site this year, a long-form transcription of an interview I did with the Police Chief of Saint Anthony before the tragic shooting of Philando Castile in Falcon Heights by the Saint Anthony Police. In the interview, the Chief flat out states that there are no problems in policing in general, and in the department, in particular. After Castile was killed, I knew I had to put this online, and I did. It was national news for a hot second. The story is still really important and unresolved.

#9. The Slow Joy of Bicycle Touring

A poetic description htat poppedinto my head, congealing thoughts I'd had on a long weekend bike tour. I was lucky enough to go on a few multi-day bike rides this year and it's a wonderful experience. One of its great joys is that the pace allows you to really dwell in your thoughts. When you do, things like this come out. These posts are my favorite kind of writing to write.

#8. Introducing the Twin Cities Original Chains Map

A map of original places that are now locally-based chains, e.g. the "original" Dunn Brothers coffee shop on Snelling and Grand where I'm typing this "best of" post right now. I crowd-sourced a list of chains and then researched where the original one was located. It's kind of interesting. For example, did you know the first Super America was on East 7th in Lowertown, Saint Paul? Look for this to be updated next year.

#7. Six More Thoughts You Have While Sitting in a Slightly Less Vacant Lot next to the High Bridge for Two Hours

My annual "two-hour bike/walk count" post, which has become a tradition for me. Maybe I should sit around for two hours watching people go by more often, because it always provides food for thought. In this case, I ended thinking a lot about speed, society, and the high bridge. There's a certain phase transition involving public space and human interaction that I'm very interested in catalyzing. This is the closest I've come to properly describing it.

#6. New Cleveland Bike Lanes Bring Saint Paul Closer Together

If 2015 was the year of fighting about Saint Paul bike lanes, 2016 was the year of actually getting to ride in them. And let me tell you, there was something truly amazing about riding in the Cleveland bike lanes for the first time and experiencing the magic that a tiny bit of paint can create for someone on a bicycle. I did my best here to describe the strange geographic nuance that the new lanes revealed for me. It was like a spatial magic trick. Hooray for Saint Paul!

#5. Minneapolis, Saint Paul Separating on Skyways

Thoughts on the divergent futures of the "skyways to nowhere" in both downtowns. If there's one topic besides sidewalks that I've dwelt on in this blog, it's skyways. You'll find more information and opinions about skyways here than just about anywhere else on the internet. And I really do believe that the two downtowns, despite what you might hear, are headed in different directions when it comes to skyways. This was my most optimistic attempt at making the case why Saint Paul is doing skyways right.

#4. Notes from the Empire Builder III

The only thing I like better than writing about long bike rides is writing about long train rides while actually riding the train. I got to take a train trip out to Boston and back this fall, and here are my notes about it. It's the third in a series, and let's just say that, once again, the Empire Builder did not disappoint. This is my favorite.

#3. Reading the Highland Villager Op-Ed Extra #11

OK so I write this while on the Empire Builder too. It's a snarky transcription and diatribe about one of the most idiotic pieces that has ever appeared in the Highland Villager. I just had to share it, and do my best to debunk and mock the points of this man, Roger, who somehow believes that bikes should be licensed or something. Enjoy catharsis.

#2. On Cities and Trump

[Happy New Year!]
After the election, and after the post-election hangover subsided, I went into despair like many others. Not that I was a Clinton fan, but goddamn. Here is my long-winded effort to understand and think through some of the consequences. Oof da. I still thing these things -- devolution, separation, conflict between governmental scales -- are more likely than not to come to pass. Next year's "best of" list might look bleak indeed.

#1. Safe Streets Still a Social Justice Issue in Saint Paul

Another sidewalk death post-mortem, this time about a Kareni immigrant who was killed crossing the street not far from where I used to live. This kind of thing needs to stop. We can do it if we change our attitudes about what role the car has in our lives and cities. We need to do this at the local level, city by city. I hope I don't have to write any of these next year.

[You can support my work on this blog by becoming a Patreon patron. Thank you for reading!]

19.12.16

On Doorways, Introduction from my New Sidewalk Photography Book

[Introduction essay to "Notable Doorways", my latest book of sidewalk photography. You can purchase it today in the Sidewalk Store.]

We take few things more for granted than a doorway. The whole assemblage — knob, hinge, door, and frame — works together to dumb us to our material world, slammed, shut, automated, locked, we surround ourselves with these mute machines and rarely think twice. The very act of grabbing a doorknob was one of the early 20th century philosopher Martin Heidegger’s most well-worn examples of spatial embeddedness, the way that we always exist within a world that precedes us, the way that our cities shape us as much as we shape them. All this is found in a doorway.

With the simple act of passing through, the separation between inside and outside, the doorway is a metaphor for change. Inside is a new world, outside offers escape. And even when not passed through, simply passing by a doorway can be enough to provoke perspective. This is why doorways are a key to a great walk. The more doorways you pass by, the more possibilities exist before you, a whole city of potential entrance, encounter, and transformation. Famous Danish urban designer Jan Gehl offers what he calls the “Gehl Door Average,” defined as the number of doorways per 100 meters, a simple shorthand for walkability. The more doors, the merrier, as the city comes to life. A doorless street, a dead corpse; a dozen doors, and the sidewalk is alive with possible worlds.

Yet in these days of consolidation and growth, we too easily overlook the decline of the American doorway. In pre-Modernist days, architecture announced a doorways with a fanfare of stones and ornate decoration. But these days, by contrast, many doorways have become slight, functional, utilitarian rectangles. Form follows function, and a doorway is just a doorway.

American urbanist William Holly Whyte once called Saint Paul “the blank wall capital of America,” and the city, like many of today’s downtowns, is sadly bereft of doorways. Saint Paul is hardly unique. As buildings grow to geologic proportion and merciless parking lots expand, our walls seem to stretch to the horizon, concrete slabs unfenestrated and uninterrupted. Entire city blocks have solidified to become grey concrete, marred only by a sparsely framed utility exit. We have mirrored our downtowns, mothballed entrances creating DINOs (Doorways In Name Only), doorways blocked or locked or simply forgotten, dead doors like zombies.

And yet, old and interesting doorways remain accessible to the curious eye. Doorways are all around us, waiting to be discovered and found. This collection of noteworthy doorways reveals some of the creative potential of the entrance. Older doorways, often mounted by transoms, offer a careworn sense of the hand-made. Newer doorways display a wide range of abstraction. And every doorway in between is another potential entrance, a road not taken.

[Purchase "Notable Doorways" today in the Sidewalk Store!]