2.4.08

Sidewalk of the Week: Penn Avenue

This sidewalk at the heart of Minneapolis's tiny Bryn Mawr neighborhood has to be one of the best extant sidewalks in the Twin Cities. It would certainly make anybody's top ten list, simply because of the beautiful way it shapes street space in this neighborhood.

But that's without even mentioning the role it serves in its community. It's no exaggeration to say that this sidewalk makes the Bryn Mawr neighborhood what it is.

Like many of the little commercial corners in the Twin Cities, it offers a host of necessary services: gas, coffee, pizza, flowers, little food market, some other knick knack-y stuff that I didn't quite catch. There's no hardware store or post office, but the calm streets, good sidewalks, and topography really remind me of Saint Paul's Saint Anthony Park neighborhood, another stellar bit of Twin City sidewalk.

Despite the relatively low-wattage commercial presence, the large amounts of transparency, outdoor tables (even in March!), and sidewalk gardening let the sidewalk space feel comfortable, intimate, and alive.

[A nice mix of uses for space.]


The neighborhood, too, is small enough, crammed in between parks, railroad tracks, and the relatively-recently-built Interstate 394, almost everyone around here is walking distance to these little shops. It's really a textbook case of neighborhood-scale planning. There are even a few hills in this area, and the lack of strict grid-iron mapping for the streets reminds me of the squares of Boston, making a little bit of coherent and surprising space here at this intersection. The way that these three or four streets come together, just a little bit asymmetrically, feels cozy and makes you want to walk around.

[A typical scene on pastoral Penn Avenue.]

Let's look more closely, though, at exactly what's happening on the sidewalks of Bryn Mawr, just outside the big windows of the Cuppa Java coffee shop, which sits in a semi-triangular building on the corner of Penn and Cedar Lake. Sure this is a good sidewalk, but what's happening this photo to make it so walkable, liveable, and hang-outable? Why is this the ideal Twin City sidewalk?

First of all, there are a lot of little gardening touches. The owners of this building, or of the coffee shop, are maintaining a little shub tree right outside the entrance door.

Not only does this little bit of green really spruce up the corner [ha ha - Ed.], but it provides a physical barrier between the entrance of the business and the 'hang out' space on the street. If you're walking out the door, you're that much less likely to feel like someone is lurking just outside. You feel a bit more possessive of the 'door space', a bit more protected. This little demarcation serves a purpose, and helps separate two functions of the street: ingress/egrees from sitting/relaxing.


Amazingly for a Twin City sidewalk, the bus stop on this corner has been moved off the curb, and placed flush against the building. It has a quite interesting effect, giving more of a variegated, diverse texture to the sides of the building. There's quite the agglomeration of stuff on this little patch of sidewalk, and you never know what you're going to find next. So, there's a surprise factor.

I'm not sure if its good if you're a waiting for the bus here . . . but I'd bet you feel slightly more secure in this context. I'd bet that forlorn feeling you sometimes get when waiting for the bus all alone in the middle of the night is a little less poignant at this bus stop.

What's the point of all this? Well, the goal of any sidewalk should be to get people to walk on it and hang out on it. The goal should be to get people outside, enjoying the street.

And this sidewalk does that perfectly. This table is nicely, comfortably positioned between a little fence, the shop window, and the aforementioned planted shrub. That desire, often seen in cats, to have one's back comfortably against the wall can be easily quenched at this sidewalk table. Go ahead and lean back!

And if it wasn't for assholes with digital cameras taking invasive pictures, one would imagine this citizen would be relaxed and enjoying the experience of a fine late-winter afternoon from a rather rarefied sidewalk perch.

Finally, a few more infrastructural details appear on this fine street.

Firstly, the corner curb cut is deluxe pebbled concrete that gently slopes down to the pavement, providing texture and much-needed grip in this, the icy sidewalk season.

After extensive studies, I would say that the average pedestrian is 7% more likely to want to cross the street and walk on this sidewalk simply because of this beautiful sidewalk ramp.

At last, we've answered the age old question: Why did the chicken cross the road? Because there was a beautiful sidewalk on the other side!

Finally, though its hard to see underneath the snow, this stretch of street boasts the gold standard of sidewalks, inset red brick pavers. They really break up the monotonous grey tones of the streetscape, and provide a lovely bit of texture and color for your feet. Trust me, you want to walk on these bricks.

Are they simply for aesthetics, or is there something more in the criss-cross pattern of masonry that lends an intricate harmony to this part of the street?

I could write more about this corner's other stretches of concrete and flowerbeds, benches and mailboxes, tables and chairs, parked cars and phone poles, but instead, why not go there yourself? Unless you live in Minneapolis's Bryn Mawr neighborhood, it's not every day you get to see such a lovely bit of sidewalk.


[An orange barrel adds to the sidewalk demarcation, along with trees and flowers waiting to bloom in the late winter early spring. Soon these tables will have people at them reading the sandwich board signage.]

2 comments:

Reuben said...

oh ya. good call. whoever the landscape architect was who decided to put that orange barrel there is brilliant.

Norwego said...

omg! This is my neighborhood! I have the joy of living in Bryn Mawr. I love it! The sidewalk is indeed pleasing, the neighborhood extrememly walkable. I do believe it is one of the best neighborhoods to live in, in Minneapolis. There are also many old, lovely homes in the neighborhood to gawk at.

Just make sure you don't go to far north on Penn. It gets a little scary.