Sidewalk of the Week: Block D

[Much like the Grand Canyon, a vast space opens up in front of you...]

If you walk through downtown Minneapolis on a nice day, along the streets and skyways tucked between skyscrapers, you'll come to an odd space round about Hennepin and 5th Street. You might not notice it, you might walk a bit faster, or wonder what to do or where to go next. You might look up and see the giant gap the downtown space, a large surface parking lot in the middle of everything. This is Block D... and it is a chasm, a rift, a rupture, a hole, the the last legacy of a the city's slum clearance daze. It is the last empty Hennepin block, the final frontier.

[The Light Rail Train was designed to connect commuters with one of Minneapolis' finest phallic metaphors.]

It's odd to think that immediately upon exiting the Hiawatha Light Rail Station downtown you find yourself in the entrance of Dream Girls, one of Minneapolis's less well-respected titillation establishments. It's almost as if the train was designed to bring suburban commuters into downtown and deliver them straight to damnation.

But, in another way, the odd juxtaposition of the Warehouse District LRT station makes perfect sense. It pulls right up to Block D, which sits at the accursed nexus of Minneapolis highly contradictory social zones.

I was down there the other day, and thinking about all the different kinds of space you can find downtown. There are so many different kinds of ways of 'being' in the downtown, different ways of behaving and doing and seeing and thinking. And the disjointed architecture of the downtown landscape reflects all that, so that there are sharp contrasts between kinds of spatial experiences within the city.

Here is a short list:
  • 1) skyway spaces of consumption/business
  • 2) street spaces for transit/errands of necessity/gov’t services
  • 3) party spaces for clubs/culture
  • 4) live/work spaces such as the North Loop and the Guthrie area
  • 5) stadium spaces for mass activities and the creation of consumable media representations
  • 6) older spaces that are very diverse and hard to categorize (e.g. the sex industries).

[From Block D you can see the entrance to the 'warehouse district' along 1st Avenue, where people go to get totally wrecked and hookup.]

Each of these spaces demands different relations between architecture and society. For example, the clubs of the warehouse district require more of an outdoor sidewalk freedom that allows for independent engagement with these spaces of excitement. It's a certain kind of freedom that can only come with the streets and sidewalks, and could never happen in the skyway.

[Block D also connects with this space, a long canyon leading down to the new Twins ballpark. What will this new kind of space do to Block D's forgotten nexus?]

From Block D, though, you are not too far from the 'North Loop' and its live/work spaces, which try to create space that is quiet and safe. The downtown retail and skyway parts of town are all about business, money, and consumerism, and they reflect no small amount of control and security. Similarly, the older sex industry spaces require a certain level of anonymity.

It seems to me that these different, fractured downtown spaces all seem to intersect right at the Warehouse District LRT stop, leaving Block D as a completely schizophrenic and blank space, in between all these radically opposed ways of being. When the train pulls up directly in front of the large Dream Girls sign, you know you're in no-place... a place of confusion... a "space intentionally left blank.'

Might this be Minneapolis' most interesting sidewalk?

[Like icing on the social layer cake, one of Block D's last buildings, Glueck's bar, has a giant and fading mural of what is supposed to look like Venice.]


Anonymous said...

Do you know anything about Block D's ownership and future plans? Is it a city lot?

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