27.3.06

mpls: Walkable City?

I'm a big big fan of The Rake Magazine, not only because it boasts my favorite local journalist, but beacuse of the way it encourages reluctant suburban enclave dwellers to get out and explore our diverse city. Sure that might mean they target a yuppie audience with writeups of the new BMW 330, but that's the price we pay for living in sprawl-ville.

Anyway, there's a must read article by Jennifer Vogel about whether or not the T.C. is pedestrian friendly. (Easy answer: "No.")
I marched along the sidewalk on Marshall Street Northeast, as cars spit up beads of gravel like BBs. I crossed littered sidewalks, closed sidewalks, unshoveled sidewalks. At the foot of the Broadway Avenue bridge, which has to be one of the most unpleasant in the Twin Cities, I was stopped in my tracks by a driver idling in a crosswalk. Of course, he was looking the other way. The backs of drivers’ heads are now very familiar to me, but in those days, as a new walker, the experience was fresh. “Hey!” I yelled, to no avail. The streets of Minneapolis can be lonely and infuriating for those on foot, but blaming local drivers for not noticing pedestrians is akin to blaming Africans for not knowing all the words for snow.

As I headed into downtown, I found my route blocked by The Landings, an enormous suburban-style condominium development that runs along West River Parkway. I picked my way through a labyrinth of winding sidewalks designed to look private (and maybe they are), parking lots, and all manner of fencing. The few gates that would allow passage were so cleverly disguised that I had to squint to detect them.

Every time I go to New York, I end up walking miles and miles every day -- simply because it comes so naturally there, where the streets are filled with things (people, shops, funky buildings) to see. Here, not so much. The few times I walk any great distance around my forgotten nook of Saint Paul I end up feeling like a Mongolian goat herder or something.

Sure it's getting better (thanks, streetscaping), but there's still a long way to go. The basic problem: in order to make a city walkable, there needs to be something to walk to. I'm luckier than most, because there's a corner store three doors down from my house, and many many people in the neighborhood walk to it for groceries, homemade brats, or smokes. In the summer, kids ride their bikes there for a candy bar -- it's fun to watch.

But, there's a long way to go before people actually feel like going for a stroll in this town. And every time I see a new condo with a street-level parking ramp my heart sinks. There, but for the grace of God, could have been an interesting storefront. It might seem a tad simplistic, but the city should really really discourage putting concrete walls at eye level -- simply so that people have something to look at when they're walking around the block. And if you're still not convinced, go stand in front of the CVS store at Snelling and University . . .

1 comment:

Andrew said...

Especially with the CVS Pharmacy, here we have an intersection to do intense vertical development and actually add some vlaue to University Avenue and St. Paul, and what do they put in? A low-density CVS pharmacy without any condos above below or in between, a waste. Minneapolis could get better, especillay if surface lots are replaced by high rises (which they have been) and then parking is put underground or adjacent parking garages are expanded vertically.