8.5.08

Unconjoined Twin Cities: A Catalogue of Difference III (Juvinalia)

[I'm recycling another entry in the Unconjoined Twin Cities cycle, in honor of finals week. Enjoy!]


Gender stereotypes come easily to Minnesota's Twin Cities. Perhaps it's the landscape. I don't want to paint an overly explicit picture, but it's interesting to note that Saint Paul features rolling riverbluff curvature overlooked by a pair of massive domes, while Minneapolis stands erect and towering over a turbulent waterfall.

But for whatever reason the two cities fit each other like interlocking puzzle pieces. Or alternately like a Rodin statue, or a pair of mating raccoons, or two other things totally unlike square pegs and round holes, and as the years have passed, the two towns have developed separate realms of expertise. They now form a "marriage" of duties, each with neatly separated civic and personal responsibilities. Is the relationship a bit oppressive? Patriarchal? Balanced? Subversive? Who knows… All I know is that we lucky TC'ers live in a vaguely absurd nuclear family amongst a whole slew of suburban children.



Fire Hydrants

[Fun game: find the hydrant.]

It's safe to say that weather problems are the rope that binds Minnesotans together. In particular, Minnesotans share a wealth of Wintertime snowfall, the consequences of which are various, ranging from cabin fever to Snow Emergency Panic Syndrome (SEPS). One particular problem is "snow heapage," a.k.a. the inevitable burial of crucial civic infrastructure by large piles ("heaps" if you will) of snow, crusted and black after months of traffic passage, and probably the worst facet of snow heapage is the burial of city fire hydrants. In response, each city, Minneapolis and Saint Paul, takes decidedly a different path to cope with their dilemma.

In Minneapolis the city maintenance staff opts for the "phallic growth technique" of hydrant revelation, and the red metal infrastructure takes on fantastic proportions. They spring up from street corners sometimes a full three feet in height, and resemble nothing more than a Shivan lingam as seen through the eyes of a thirst-quenched dog. Make of it what you will, but people in Minneapolis seize each and every opportunity to create columns, monuments, or spires.


[Minneapolis's humble beginnings.]

Saint Paul, over on the other side of the river, takes a decidedly more decorative path to infrastructure demarcation. They simply attach two foot wire orange safety flags to their hydrants, which wave pleasantly in the wind throughout the year. They're pretty, albeit in a road construction kind of way, and while Saint Paulites stop short of placing lace doiles on their hydrants, for my money the effect is the same. Both cities get the job done, but perhaps the disparate hydrant technicalities offer some slight Freudian insight on each city's inner workings.



Architectural Preservation


[They demolished the old Metropolitan Building over in Minneapolis.]

A while back I put down my copy of Chicken Soup for a Pet Lover's Soul just long enough to page through something called Down and Out: The Life and Death of Minneapolis's Skid Row, a photographic tome that details how during the 1960's the Minneapolis city council tore up one of their historic main streets, Nicollet Avenue, to replace it with a pedestrian mall. Sure Nicollet Mall was and is a crucial part of the downtown revitalization, and did a great deal to cushion the urban dereliction of the 1970's, but only a cold-hearted cynic could fail to be swayed by the book's elgaic tone.

Go ahead pick any era you like, Minneapolis civic planners have a long utopian history with decades of tearing down old buildings as fast as they to replace them with architectural flavors of the month. Sure the downtown core looks highly modern, but it also looks much like a shopping mall, and finding anything remotely historic is decidedly difficult.

While there are many negative consequences to Mineapolitan anti-historical hubris, Saint Paul just might err in the direction of too much historical fixity. While, thankfully, a few of their downtown buildings have made it through the 20th century pretty much unchanged, Saint Paul can offer a false sense of nostalgia. For example, during the boom-boom days of Mayor Coleman, Saint Paul somehow found the money to use install inlaid red brick into many of their pedestrian crosswalks, giving some corners a tint of bygone cobblestone. And at first Saint Paul passers-by were pleased. It looked good for a while, but then the bricks started popping up a few years after they were installed, only to be replaced with MnDOT tar roadfill. It's a woeful display of early obsolescence and bad masonry, and you can't but help feel that Capital City's Colonial Williamsburg experiment is going a bit awry.


[Questionable brickwork.]

As the relationship sits, Saint Paul sees itself as the keeper of historical fact, it's sights reading a bit like a family photo album. "Look. Here, this is your great uncle Landmark," it seems to say. "And see this picture? That's your ancestral train station…" Minneapolis remains unsentimental in comparison, ripping out the home d├ęcor to install 70's shag carpeting, and a patriotically-endowed series of Block E mallways. "Out with the old, in with the new," it blurts rather callously as it rips up hardwood to install state-of-the-art linoleum.



Skyline Perspectives

One of the first things you notice when you start commuting from Minneapolis proper is how big the downtown looks from this side of the river. Whether you're driving towards the central business district (CBD) from the South, North, or West the city looms large, and spreads out before you like a row of glinting mirrored teeth.


[Saint Paul just can't bring itself to take it down.]

Driving Westward from Saint Paul, by contrast, for some reason downtown Minneapolis seems much smaller. In fact, the three largest buildings in Minneapolis perform a kind of magical illusion when you take East I-94: The Wells Fargo Center and the 5th Street Tower eclipse each other like a corporate sun and moon (creating a rather lovely corona effect) while the IDS Center offers you its narrowest profile, slim and shimmering. The sense of economic grandeur is beautifully diminshed.

The two skyline perspectives are an apt illustration of the larger phenomenon at work within the two city's relationship: something called Second Fiddle Syndrome (SFS). Just like Ireland, Korea, New Jersey, the Boston Red Sox, or Canadians, Saint Paul knows deep down, no matter how much they deny it, that there can only be only one big man on campus, and in Minnesota, Minneapolis gets to captain the football team. They know that Saint Paul will always and everywhere be secondary, no matter how many blinking red #1 signs they place on top of their skyscrapers.

Equal pay for equal work? Not in this city's lifetime, folks. Saint Paulites find themselves going to Minneapolis despite themselves, for sporting events or concerts or just to see the new belated light rail. Minneapolitans on the other hand barely even realize that Saint Paul exists, and would certainly never admit to intentionally crossing the river. Yes, on the East Coast SFS rears its ugly head. Saint Paulites remember, no matter how many times they hear about inversions within the master/slave dichotomy, it's tough living in obscurity, where pride is inseparable from humility.

1 comment:

ldfs said...

Sorry this isn't germane to this specific post: I enjoy reading your blog but noticed recently that the RSS feed is now truncated. Hoping you'll fix that, as I really prefer to use a feed reader and it's annoying to have to click through to read posts.