29.4.09

Sidewalks are a Riot!

[Defensible space. (via)]

There are lots of reasons why US housing policy skewed so far towards single-family suburbanization during 50s, 60s, 70s. At lot of it had to do with cultivating consumer culture, real estate interests, cold war fears of apocalypse, an ideological fetish for country living, disinvestment in urban housing during the depression, and (yes even) consumer preference. It's a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to leave the cities.

But one of the other big push factors was agoraphobia (a.k.a. fear of crowds). Density, cities, and public protest have a long history, and you can read the idea of political control into a great deal of the history of urban politics and public policy. The history of urban America is dotted with riots, protests, and labor unrest. The Boston Massacre. Haymarket. MLK.

Crowds mean power. Big crowds can burn down valuable private property, or make strong political points. And the right to assembly is a big part of the labor movement, so that sqaushing these crowds has been a central plank in US business policy for a long time. Suburban spaces, decentralized and spread thin, are far easier to control and police. It's almost impossible to have a good riot in the 'burbs.


[The Watts riots.]


And then there's the history of riots in the 60s, which adds a whole nother chapter of fear, race, and longstanding urban poverty took the suburbanization process into a new high gear.

And part of the problem is that density does lead to riots. The very same social dynamics that make cities exciting spaces can make then goddamn frightening.

[Students protesting auto dependency.]

And Dinkytown, dinky as it is, has a lot of the main components for riots: density, sidewalks, young people, and intoxicants. Most of the time these things mix really well, and it's a great place to spend an evening. But sometimes, and for no reason at all, the latent revolution of sidewalks pops out its head.

That's what happened this last weekend. Why did the U students start lighting things on fire? Simply because they could! It's been a long winter...

It's really fun to bike down University Avenue past all the fraternity houses on a weekend night. Especially during the Spring, the front lawns of all the frat houses are filled with young kids having a great time, drinking, dancing, listening to music.

[A spring ritual that would have been familiar to Dionysus.]

But you can see how easily, when the Gophers win the NCAA or when the band cancels the show, they might just drift down the street and start tearing down stop signs for no reason at all.

In a way, aren't sidewalks to blame for the Dinkytown riots? The rumor had it that one my college dorms was designed with no right angles, and in sections, simply to keep students from rioting. Wouldn't life better if we all lived in defensible space? Is this why most high schools so closely resemble prisons?


[The two sides of sidewalk density.]

25.4.09

***Sidewalk Saturday***

Sidewalk Rating: Budding

There are little green things on branches, little colored bits coming out of the ground, things like birds and worms and endless life along the sidewalks...

Baby squirrels and butterflies!

in Just-
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles far and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it's
spring

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old balloonman whistles
far and wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and

it's
spring
and
the

goat-footed

balloonMan whistles
far
and
wee


<<<>>>


This is maybe my favorite recent discovery:




It's some sort of old documentary about the old Hennepin Avenue downtown, back when it was the city's Skid Row, back before the business council bulldozed the life from the heart of Minneapolis.

It's some sort of streaming film, and I admit I don't full understand it. But it is entirely captivating.


<<<>>>


I have an irrational hatred of Trader Joe's. Whenever I go there, I am filled with rage and fear. The frozen meals, the cheerful smiles plastered on the employee's faces, the impossibly inexpensive cheese... there's something about that place that makes me fear for humanity, as if Charles Shaw is Soylent Green. It feels like a Potemkin Village. It feels like the Stepford Wives. It creeps me the hell out.

Anyway, Cam Gordon is trying to prevent Trader Joe's from getting an exemption to the state's liquor store zoning laws, which prevent liquor stores from opening up within 2,000 feet of another liquor store.

This would affect the spot on Lyndale Avenue where Trader Joe's (owned by Germany's richest man) is gunning to go in.

As usual, I find myself agreeing with almost everything Gordon has to say:

Third, and most importantly, this action is at odds with everything we say about supporting small businesses. The direct competitors within a block include the Wedge Coop, a homegrown, cooperatively-owned grocery store, and Hum's Liquor's, a single-entrepreneur business that has been in operation for over 40 years. On this block of all places, why would the City do special favors for a multinational corporation (Trader Joe's parent company is based out of Germany), rather than strengthening and supporting our own small businesses? When Minneapolitans spend a dollar at an outfit like Trader Joe's, how much of it recirculates in the local economy? I'd venture that it's significantly less than when the same dollar is spent at a small business or coop. I would love to see our City moving further in the direction of supporting small businesses over multinational corporations - instead, when we do favors, it always seems to be for the largest operators.


I guess I'm disappointed in Mpls State Rep. Karen Clark (who when I was working as a House page would insist that the pages bring her Sprite from a can because she believed the plastic in the pop bottles was gradually poisoning her). Maybe somehow they can stop Trader Joe's from opening across the street from Humm's?


<<<>>>


The graph of different country's auto fatality rates:



The USA is pretty near the top, between Bulgaria and Greece.


<<<>>>


A mildly interesting online film about the material landscape of New York City. I am not quite sure what the filmmaker is trying to say here, but at any rate its a nice montage.


<<<>>>


I am a sucker for dioramas (as long as the don't contain Peeps). I love going to the Bell Museum, and to the little train store on Lexington Parkway.

These artworks by Thomas Doyle are really great underbubble dioramas, little scenes of death, melancholy, and what seems to look like the housing crisis.

I particularly like the Distillation series...



<<<>>>

As if Amtrak trains weren't ridiculously nostalgic already, along comes this article on the Barnum & Bailey Circus train. It's a special train that just carries circus performers from town to town, presumably with elephants in tow.

Seriously, your average cross country train trip already feels like a circus, with the wacky Amtrak employees, the mishmash collection of passengers, the absurd stops and starts...

What I wouldn't do to ride on the circus train for a spell?


<<<>>>


A movie about how roads fragment animal habitat:






I highly doubt you'll ever get to see this film.


<<<>>>


A sidewalk triptych for you:

1) An alley in Powderhorn -- h/t Powderhorn365


2) Hollywood Boulevard -- h/t Sutpen



3) Buckminster Fuller's NYC dome -- h/t Where


23.4.09

Signs of the Times #13


Smile
you are
on
camera
when in
this bar!!

[Sign on bar door on Lyndale Avenue, Mpls.]



Caution

[Sign on cracked window in antique store on Randolph Avenue, Saint Paul.]




Free Stuff
Out Back
Alley

[Sign on tree.]



Smile! You're on Camera

[Sign in shop window in Dinkytown, Mpls.]




Ask Me About
My Experience
With
The Box Shop


[Sign held by man who felt ripped off by a small computer repair store on Fairview Avenue, St Paul.]



Not Responsible
For Damage
Done By
Shopping Carts

[Sign on pillar outside parking lot.]

21.4.09

Old Wall of the Week: The Great Wall of China

[This is content recycled from my now mothballed website, www.excitablemedia.com. Please enjoy!]

Chinese is notoriously hard to translate. For example, you might not have heard about the debate raging within the Sino-Anglo Interface community about the so-called Great Wall of China, commonly agreed to be one of the "wonders" of the ancient world.

[The thing in question.]


While many forward-thinking translators grant that this wall is quite large, and almost everybody finds it to be imposing, the term "great" is being re-thunk. The original Chinese adjective, shir-tse, is usually translated from modern mandarin as "above average," or occasionally "magnificent," but according to Sinese scholars at the Univeristy of Eastern South Dakota the ancient character from which shir-tse is derived had an unclear meaning. Speaking pictographically, these academic upstarts have been suggesting that this character, composed of many horizontal brushstrokes, might mean "grate," or "the thing through which water flows."

If they are right, it would be no small irony, given the flawed nature of the ancient, large, and often imposing Chinese wall.


[The Swiss Wall of China.]


For example, if you're a maximum-security inmate you might want to rent one of the great jailbreak movies such as The Great Escape or that other one with Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins next time you're at the video store. Though I'm sure they're popular titles, keep trying! You might get an idea or two.

Or if you're an insomniac, you might try one of the many self-medication regimens available to the modern consumer. Alternately, develop a nice late-night hobby like philately, gluttony, or international terrorism. As a great man once said, "walls are meant to be gone through." In fact, even the greatest wall of them all, the Great Wall of China, really wasn't that great a wall . . . it was more like the Okay Wall of China.

[An equined mongol.]


"Harsh," you say? Well, I say that the Above-Average Wall of China has failed almost every monumental task it's been given, starting with keeping out the Mongol horsemen. To be sure, the actual building of the wall was an impressive undertaking. The Ming Dynasty emperors who commanded the wall's upraising should be commended for their impressive command of logistical complexity. The large, rock wall stretched all the way from Qinhuangdao to the Gobi desert and many of the Chinese slave laborers died while making at, attacked as they were by brigand bands. In fact, it was these be-horsed brigands that the wall was intended to keep out. Unfortunately for the Chinese ruling faction, the brigands, a very large army of Kokes Manchus, simply went up to the wall and asked its gate keeper, one Wu Sangui, to pretty please open up the gate. And he did, allowing this very large army to conquer all of China. It prompts the question, was this wall a failure?

Today, the Large-yet-Ineffective Wall is known for its monumental status as a spectacle. Most American children hear at a very young and impressionable age that the Mostly-Imposing Wall of China is "the only manmade object visible from space." This is repeated so often that it became something of a mantra, and it seemed for a time that the Boondoggley Wall of China would regain some of its long gone luster.

This all changed in March 2004, when pioneering Chinese astronaut, Lang Yiwei declared that he couldn't see the beloved-though-historically-laughable landmark from his outer space vantage. Since that watershed moment entire textbooks have been rewritten, Manchurian schoolchildren's memories have been erased, Frankenhemier-style, and various upstart Chinese photographic firms have sent cameras in space in the valiant-but-vain attempt to resurrect the Now-Doubly-Fallible Wall of China's monumental stature.


[Unconvincing space pictures.]

20.4.09

Sidewalk Traces

One thing that vexes me about sidewalks is that they have no memory. They forget so easily.

It'd be really nice if, like footprints in snow, we all left some kind of trace while we walked down the sidewalk. If, somehow, our footsteps, our wanderings, our gazings, and our speech left little traces on the streets? What if people could see and hear traces of past walkers on the sidewalks all around us?

Well, there are indeed ways to trace our steps, to turn streets into recording devices for human beings. One way is this thing, called the Contrail, that leaves little chalk marks behind your bicycle. No longer will you bike alone. Rather, each bicycle will leave a colored trace behind it, and you can literally follow in the wheelsteps of your bicycling brothers and sisters. As you ride, you leave a path for others to come, and the street becomes alive with the presence of all hours of bicycles.

Another way to trace our steps, so to speak, is through the camera lens. You're probably familiar with those time lapse images of cities, showing everyone rushing through an intersection like ants, or cars blurring into long streaks of red and white light on the freeway.

This is a photo by Russian photographer Alexey Titarenko, showing a long exposure of people descending a staircase. (h/t Weschler for the link.) The bodies become a black and white blur of shape and shadow, and people are lost in a crowd of humanity moving out of the hard and fast lines of the building walls. Here, there's nothing left but the trace. People become lines for flights of stairs.

As wonderful as Titarenko's photos are, though, they're not even my favorite sidewalk traces. For those, we have to turn to American photographer Peter Funch, who has these amazing photoshopped photos of streetcorners in New York.


[A world where everyone has an envelope.]


He camps out on a streetcorner and takes a heap of photos of the same sidewalks, and then photoshops together people into groups across time (but within space).

You end up with these bizarre and wonderful alternate universes of streets and sidewalks. These photos work like Calvino's Invisible Cities. What if everyone in the city was carrying a manila envelope? What if the entire world smoked cigarettes? What if everyone had a dog with them, all the time? What if the entire city wore green? What if everyone was homeless?

[A world where everyone is moving equipment.]


Sidewalks bunch people.These photos are alternate universes, explorations of urban emergence. If everyone pushed around carts when they walked through the city, the world would be a very different place. Here, the traces of our everyday behavior are gathered together and shown as groups. Moments of the city are grouped, and the tiny ways that we shape our lives are traced and tied together.

This last one is a dead ringer a dead ringer for Cartier-Bresson's famous 1932 photograph of a man jumping over a puddle in Paris, only here everyone is in mid-jump. Nobody is grounded, and everyone skips lightly over the concrete, flying through the air if only for a split second.

Check out all the images. Sidewalks group people. It's absolutely wonderful.



[A world where nobody touches the ground.]

17.4.09

Sidewalk of the Week: Payne Avenue

Diversity is a misleading concept. A lot of people think it means people of different skin color, or people from different parts of the world.

Sure, that's part of the picture. But it's not the whole story. For example these people all come from different parts of the world, but I bet they all shop at the same high-end London haberdasheries.

Diversity really means different ways of living a life in the world. And in the most diverse parts of the city, you'll find a heap of different kinds of buildings, houses, yards, landscapes, stores, etc. You'll find people using space in entirely contrasting ways.


[A mural on the side of a general store.]


The sidewalks of Payne Avenue, just north of Maryland, are a good example, This is an old neighborhood, and walking around you see so many different kinds of buildings. This is not your cookie cutter street. Even though a lot of the houses look home made, there is no ticky-tacky here.


[An odd arrangement of house.]


Instead, there are weird buildings. A long house, all one story with no windows, attached to a factory-esque attachment. Old brick retail space now being lived in, attached to other spaces. Modern poured concrete stores. Places built one hundred years ago and places built in the 1970s sit next to each other, a mish mash quilt of ages, sizes, and building types.

[Two old buildings stitched together.]


Part of the reason this part of the city is so diverse is that there were no rules about how to build buildings. Some of the time, immigrants built their own homes, cobbling together whatever they could find. Most of the homes and buildings were mixes of different styles, incorporating features without any pre-determined plan. Surprisingly, most of these homes are still standing, and have been modified throughout the years in an endless variety of ways. Buildings that were originally stores have been re-used in new ways.

[Furniture sits inside the window alcoves of the furniture store.]

The coffee shop on the corner is a meeting place for many of the different types of people. So much so, in fact, that the Star Tribune found the place newsworthy recently:

Ground Zero for strategic planning is Polly's Coffee Cove, about 3,000 miles, stylistically speaking, from the nearest Starbucks. The shop, which opened in 1921 as a Swedish grocery store, is decorated in Tiki kitsch, antiques, stuffed Elmos and Mickeys.

[...]

In this hot spot, located in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood on St. Paul's East Side, the buzz is palpable on this Saturday morning. Neighbors in sweat shirts and jeans, from their 30s to 70s, pull up chairs, fill up on Peace Coffee, schmooze with three police officers who seem very much at home.

The article is mostly about the crime problems around Lake Phalen, but the coffee shop is a crazy and interesting place, filled with the kind of random bits of matter that come with only the most idiosyncratic of shop keeps: parrot paraphernalia, nautical nets, palm trees, kids books, wooden boats, old stoves, klatch, knick-knacks, doo-dads, bric-a-brac.

It's as diverse as the sidewalks of Payne Avenue.

[Signs, yellow men, and file cabinets on the sidewalks of Payne Avenue.]

11.4.09

***Sidewalk Saturday***

Sidewalk Rating: Walkworthy

It doesn't get any better than this, friend.

Spring is almost here.



<<<>>>


I'm not sure what the point of this is...



Here's the official explanation:
well, he's Keeping his Word. during the show he said he was gonna start at one end of the side walk and go all the way down to the other end doing this: displays example. and so, well there you have it, Foxy Shazam!, a band of their word.


It just shows you that sidewalks are the definition of punk.


<<<>>>


This is a sad story about the closing of the old downtown bakery in Chaska. It's too bad, of course, that Americans don't value tradition enough to keep businesses like this in business. Yet, the reasons that a business like this can't succeed are pretty complicated.

The headline on the front page reads "The Chaska Bakery, opened in 1884, is closing its doors on Saturday because of the recession".

But when you get into the meat of the article, they start listing all the other reasons why the bakery couldn't make it. Including:
  • "growing competition from supermarkets such as Rainbow"... they don't tell you that large markets often receive a bunch of hidden subsidies from cities, including free parking and automobile infrastructure, and often tax increment development money
  • "the opening last July of the new Hwy. 212, which now allows people to speed through Chaska, bypassing the bakery downtown" ... this is a common move in small towns experiencing rapid growth, but it often means that retail activity moves to corporately-owned 'strips' on the edge of town
In a typical newspaper move, the Star Tribune minimizes the economic structures stacked against independent small businesses. There are a lot of reasons why the only bread you can buy in this town is made by "Supermom", and older small town downtowns often sit empty.

In the end, though, I have to blame the people who aren't shopping at the bakery. There are a few really old bakeries in the Twin Cities that I love to go to, including Jerabek's New Bohemian Cafe on Saint Paul's West Side, Tschida Bakery on Saint Paul's Rice Street, and P.J. Murphy's Bakery on Saint Paul's Randolph Avenue. Every neighborhood and every small town downtown should have a bakery / coffee shop.


<<<>>>


Thankfully, the ban on couch porches didn't pass... Here's Cam Gordon's report:
The data provided to the Council by our Fire Department makes abundantly clear that upholstered furniture on porches is not a major driver of fires in our city: less than one-third of one percent of the fires in Minneapolis over the last three years have had anything to do with upholstered furniture outside. As importantly, there has been at least one fire caused by upholstered furniture manufactured for outdoor use (which would have been expressly allowed under CM Hofstede's proposed ordinance). Together, these facts make clear to me that this proposal was never really about fire prevention.


He correctly suggests that the ban wasn't really about fire safety, but doesn't really name the political motivations for the ban. Was it as simple as "aesthetics", or is there a larger project in the minds of Hofstede and her supporters?


<<<>>>


Apparently, people in certain parts of Brooklyn like to park their cars on the sidewalks when they can't find other parking.

It leads to situations like this:

Wheelchair-user Jean Ryan says that the ever-increasing traffic jam of cars on the community’s sidewalks have forced her to risk dangerous descents over curbs or even into traffic.

“We should not have to share any sidewalk with cars,” said Ryan, who has started to photograph offending vehicles. “The sidewalk is for pedestrians only.”


<<<>>>


Here's a nice video from the TCDP about TC families who keep their own chickens:



Of course, that might make us more suceptible to H5N1!

(This is a joke, people keeping chickens will not increase our proximiny to H5N1.)


<<<>>>


One of my favorite websites is the blog by Bike Snob New York, particularly his travelogues about commuting through New York by bicycle.

Here's
a good one.

He also shared a link to a revolting article by a MSU college student about how "bicycles should stay on the sidewalk" and shouldn't be allowed onto roads.

Having seen the auto-oriented landscapes of the South, I can see how much of an uphill climb bicycle culture has down there.


<<<>>>


Here's a nice piece about the interdependency of transportation systems and sidewalks. The basic point is that you can't just have transit systems OR walkable neighborhoods. You need to have both of them to really craft an alternative to the automobile.

He looks at L.A. and Savannah, GA as examples of places that can't really develop walking lifestyles on their own.

Savannah has precisely the opposite problem. Its historic core is a glorious pedestrian experience: Tree-lined sidewalks, slow traffic, beautiful greens, and median strips characterize the streetscape, while the houses all face the street and none hide behind garages. And yet you cannot get from the airport to downtown without a car. If you do not have a car it is $30 for a cab. So whereas L.A. has a bus from the airport to the central train depot, Savannah chooses not to capitalize on its own accessibility. The result is that no one, except for a few students who bike around, can live there without a car.



<<<>>>


Here's a U of MN study about the spillover effects of well-designed transportation projects. One of the most difficult thing to study in transportation and energy modeling is the degree to which certain changes (e.g. a new transit stop) 'trickle down' and 'multiply' to affect other systems. For example, how much does a transit station change the land use nearby? How much might it change property values? How much might it increase pedestrian traffic in a neighborhood?

These sorts of multipliers are the reason why so many studies show drastically different results about the efficacy of transit, sidewalk improvements, etc.


<<<>>>


This is the original version of a nice song about sidewalks that you've probably heard before...



I like image of the woman out on the sidewalk, looking in at her own reflection. There are two sides to every window.


<<<>>>


A photo triptych for you:

1) What the sidewalks of small town Russia looked like in 1908 -- fm. the Prokudin-Gorsky archives.


2) A William Gedney photo of a sidewalk in front of a snowy diner -- h/t Tom Sutpen


3) I'm not sure what this means (Фотограф под ником), but this is a beautiful photo of what is presumably a Russian street -- h/t Where

8.4.09

Classic Sidewalks of the Silver Screen #17

If you've ever wondered what a sidewalk feels like when it's not allowed to attend a cocktail party, forced eternally to wait outside...



... then Jaques Tati's famously critical architectural humor may be for you, in Playtime (1967).

7.4.09

Couches on Porches


[This and all following photos are pictures of porches with upholstered furniture taken in the North End and Frogtown neighborhoods of Saint Paul.]

Minneapolis City Councilmember Diane Hofstede recently floated an amendment that would ban couches on porches in the city of Minneapolis. The proposed amendment to the general nuisance ordinance reads:

Any upholstered furniture not manufactured for outdoor use, including upholstered chairs, upholstered couches, and mattresses placed in any front yard, side yard or rear yard abutting a street or on any opened porch exposed to the elements, shall constitute a nuisance condition.


Ward 2 Councilmember Cam Gordon posted a terrific argument on his blog last week about the reasons why this ordinance is a bad idea. He argues that:
  • there is a public safety benefit from people sitting on porches and keeping their 'eyes on the street'
  • there is no evidence that couches on porches constitute a fire hazard
  • this ordinance would unfairly target the poor, who can least afford fancy porch furniture
  • it is environmentally beneficial to re-use furniture
  • and, additional regulation is unnecessary because the city already has the ability to remove 'foul' items from property
Let's hope this ordinance goes down in flames. It seems to me like a clear case of over-regulation and aesthetic elitism. I remember when Hofstede first got elected, and she seemed to me like the classic philanthropic liberal, filled with 'good' intentions about 'reforming' and 'civilizing' the unwashed urban masses.

But enough name calling. I wanted to add my two cents about this issue. I think there are two questions: firstly the notion of porches as mediator between inside and outside, public and private; and secondly, the question of the rights of property as exchange value versus land as having use value.

First, open porches are a wonderful and rare piece of architectural technology that operate half-way between inside and outside. They are private space that is 'in' your house, but they're 'outside', exposed to the world, and you can sit on them and look around at your neighborhood, watch the street, enjoy the sunshine, and pay attention to things that happen in public. These kinds of publicly-oriented private spaces are an endangered species, and the idea of the front porch has become a symbol of a different era of urban connection, community, and walking.

The post-war landscape saw a turn away from houses with front porches toward houses with back yards. This happened firstly because of an increasing sense of the need for privacy, particularly around the idea of 'the family' as the building block for American society. The back yard culture of private fences, barbecues, and decks emphasized the notion of control over private property. The old culture of front porches and front stoops oriented toward the street, sidewalk, and neighborhood disappeared (at least in newer, white suburbs). The front yard became more of a symbol, not to be used, but to represent the family inside the house through fake pillars, well-tended lawns, gardens, etc. Secondly, the increased dependence on cars meant that the front side of the house was increasingly dominated by driveways and ever-larger garages. The separation of cars and people, pioneered in the planned garden city of Reston, VA, became the de facto position of homes, porches, and yards.

Even today, porches are a hot spot for conflicts over property and propriety. Because they serve as a mixture of private and public space, both inside and outside the house, they are a transparent and porous boundary that exposes the private worlds of people to the public world of the street. Things like couches, decorations, christmas lights, etc., become moments of representation and conflict over land use, and can provide the kind of spark that ignites a prudish totalitarian like Diane Hofstede. Conflicts over social class and cultural difference are waged through porch warfare, and a host of zoning, aesthetic, and regulatory ordinances intended to maintain 'property values' based on a particular notion of beauty advocated by realtors and tax assessors.

This brings me to my second point, the issue of use value and exchange value. These two terms, which come from Marx's analysis of the commodity, are one of the main analytic concepts in urban geography. The use value of property comes from how people can use it, the kinds of benefits it gives to its inhabitants like a roof overhead, warmth in walls, space for playing, indoor plumbing, etc. The exchange value of property is simply its monetary pricetag, which stems from the marketplace each time land is bought and sold.

The battle over gentrification is often a conflict between these two kinds of value. Building owners neglect the maintenance of their property, minimizing its use value and focusing only on its exchange value, which is often speculative and based on future returns in a 'better economy'. Often, the people living in (but not owning) properties get screwed as the buildings start to deteriorate around them.

At the same time, exchange values are talked about through the language of 'property values'. Understandably, keeping property value high is one of the prime concerns for homeowners and city governments. These values represent the main source of wealth for most Americans, and the taxbase is the main source of income for cities.

Yet, a focus on maintaining property values at all costs often turns into a war on the poor. For a variety of persistent reasons -- cultural conflict, a lack of appreciation of diversity, intolerance -- mixed-income neighborhoods tend to bring down property values. Many things that are done to increase and maintain property values end up restricting the ability of poor people to live in many neighborhoods. In some ways, the older regime of segregation through restrictive covenants, redlining, and steering has been replaced with aesthetic ordinances.

Frankly, its difficult to find any good intentions in Hofstede's porch ordinance. Urbanism is the idea of diversity and density, and requires an appreciation of many different ways of using space. People sitting on their porch should be one of the great American pastimes, and the last thing Minneapolis should be doing is making it harder for people to enjoy the life of the sidewalk.