[This is content recycled from my now mothballed website, www.excitablemedia.com. Please enjoy!]
Out of towners tend to imagine that the Twin Cities are one large conglomerated urban area, but people who live here know better. The TC is better described as a symbiotic binary system where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, the distinct differences between each city creating areas of specialization, the two cities polar focii. I grew up in Saint Paul, but now for the first time I find myself living in Minneapolis, and I'm starting to notice their differences, which while minor, are more than enough differentially-speaking. Each city's enviroment provokes in its residents a uniquely unique uniqueness. To wit:
- Street Orientation
Travelling upstream to the Northermost navigable reaches of the Missipppi River, you reach a point where the river bends to the south, then curves back to the north before it rushes torrentially over a large waterfall. This point of curvature is where the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul happened to have been planted, long ago, and as they grew up, aligned alongside their respective river-segments, they formed axially-contrasting rectangles. Minneapolis is thus oriented longways North-South, while Saint Paul is longways East-West. Furthermore, for each city the microcosm of the urban street grid mirrors the macrocosm of the larger city's orientation, their individual rectangular urban blocks running parallel to the river, so that the front doors of a Minneapolis home will generally face East or West while the houses in Saint Paul will generally face North or South.
This foyer-facing differential reconfigures individual dispositions in relation to sunshine, so that the phrase "the sunny side of the street" takes on radically different meanings in each city. This contrast is further accentuated during the long sunshine-deprived Winter months for which Minnesota is justifiably famous. While the street orientation of Minneapolis works to equalize the amount of sushine exposure received by its residents, Saint Paulites across the river must cope with "photosynthetic polarity phenomenon (PPP)," where one side of the street (the Southern Exposure side) receives dramatically more sunshine than its opposite number. Because of this simple fact, mood swings in Saint Paul display greater amplitude, and inter-street division is marked, which means that Saint Paulities as a whole tend to view Wintertime as an extremely trying experience, perhaps more so than their more atmospherically cohesive counterparts across the Mississippi, where at the very least all residents experience roughly the same degree of sunshine exposure.
The street orientation differential also manifests itself during the night/day transition period, commonly called "sunset" and "sunrise." While each urban area boasts many "main drags," broadly speaking the main streets of Minneapolis tend to run North-South (e.g. Hennepin Avenue, Nicollet Avenue, Central Avenue) whereas heavily trafficked Saint Paul boulevards run East-West. Thus, during those periods of the day where the sun sits low in the sky, Saint Paulites who happen to be stuck in their cars will experience more of its glare (depending on the direction of commutation). On the other hand, for Minneapolitans, the sun's blinding light, being peripherial, is much less of a problem. The precise effects of this difference are unknown, but it might account for the varying rates of vision loss, the tendencies of each city's citizens to work "regular hours," or the stark traffic accident disparity.
This difference manifests itself in many disparate ways, ranging from diet to sports preference, but perhaps the most striking example is the different call numbers of the two city's media outlets. As you probably know, all TV and radio stations East of the Mississippi must begin with the letter "W," whereas on the West side they begin with a "K." To the extent that the alphabet represents progress (as it does for each child first learning to read), each city's self-image corresponds to either the beginning of the end of the alphabet, the Romanized Alpha or Omega. Saint Paulites, represented by "W," the 23rd letter, are largely content to stay as they are, knowing as they do that end of the alphabet lurks just around the corner. In contrast, the "K" of Minneapolis, only the 11th letter, compels those on the West Bank to launch themselves into a vast and unknown future.
That being said, the two skyway systems in Saint Paul and Minneapolis display distinct differences. Foremost among them: The Saint Paul skyways are all owned by the City Council, whereas the Minneapolis skyways are owned by their individual real estate tenants, and they respectively represent the public and private models of social infrastructure construction. All the Saint Paul skyways thus conform to a single model, a pewter-esque metal design featuring modernist Van der Rohe sensibilities infused with classical adornment. On the other hand, the Minneapolis skyways were designed and constructed according to the individual whim of each building's architect, and vary greatly in style, dimension, and accessibility. The greater general vitality of the Minneapolis downtown means that their skyways are also more diverse from a commerical standpoint, although in my opinion that has little to do with their public/private manner of contruction. The difference boils down to a matter of taste, although the general consensus is that the diversity of the Minneapolis skyways makes for a more interesting walkabout.