26.8.09

Reading the Highland Villager #4 (August 5 - 18 Edition)

[A bit late, but here's one anyway... -Ed.]

[Basically, the problem is that the best source of local streets & sidewalks news in Saint Paul is the Highland Villager. This wouldn't be a problem, except that its not available online. I'm reading the Highland Villager so that you don't have to. Until this newspaper goes online, sidewalk information must be set free.]

Total number of stories about sidewalks: 5
Total number of stories about sidewalks by Jane McClure: 5


Title: City Hall waylays Walgreens' plan for Highland site
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: StP Zoning Commission tables oropsal to build a Walgreens on Ford Pkwy b/c of concerns over additional traffic on the corner. The vote came after a very close vote about rejcting the plan, on grounds that there is already a Synder's drug store on the very same corner.


Title: New zoning regulations for Holman Field
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: StP Zoning Comission are aking the Metro Airports Comission to reconsider recently passed zonining recommendations for the Holman Field (DT StP) airport. The changes would restrict height and new building construction in a very large area around the airport that includes much of DT StP, potentially killing the proposed new StP Saints stadium in Lowertown.


Title: StP may revisit a system of organized trash collection
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: StP City Council is looking at a system that would consolidate trash hauling. [Currently StP has a fully private system where citizens hire their own trash haulers, which means that almost every day a noisy garbage truck is going down your street early in the morning. --Ed.] A Mpls-like system of public hauling is mentioned. Article also mentions "small businesses" that will be killed, but also points out that 65% of current trash hauling is done by one of three large national corporations. Councilmembers Thune and Stark are behind the push for "organized trash collection."


Title: Committee favors East Mall rezoning, despite SHA objections
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: StP Zoning Cmttee voted to re-zone the mixed-use bldg on 841 Grand Avenue to favor "more intense" land uses. Article points to a rather obscure battle over B2-C, B2, and BC zoning, which are different levels of mixed-commercial and mixed-residential uses.


Title: BZA grants parking variance for Crossift fitness center inf Merriam Park
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: New fitness center gets to build its new fitness center w/out building 16 new parking spots in the Merriam Park neighborhood of St Paul. Says it will limit the size of classes and not increase demand for parking in the neighborhood.

7.8.09

*** Sidewalk Weekend ***

Sidewalk Rating: Pacific Northwest

It's like Seattle out there, folks. I'm sure you own an umbrella. Now's the time to take it out.
And, if its going to get hot out tomorrow, you can trade it in for a parasol.

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I'd like to see more of this kinds of 'foots-on' approach to sidewalk advocacy...



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As if I didn't loathe Denny Hecker already, now I get to read about his trial for "reckless driving."

On Dec. 3, Hecker crashed his SUV into a pole near his home in Plymouth. He spent several days in the hospital recovering from his injuries.

We later found out this man's bloodstream was a mobile pharmacy. A state lab reporter a plethora of prescription drugs in his system including three painkillers, a stimulant, an anti-anxiety medication and sleeping pills.


I'm sorry Hecker apologists, but this guy personifies everything that's wrong with America today. Watching him go down in flames is the very personification of schadenfreude.


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National Night Out is an awesome idea, but I'm not sure why all the news reports about it always emphasize crime. It's as if these people are desperate, starving pioneers clinging to each
other for protection in the big, harsh nasty world of the the city, surrounded by thugs, arming themselves like against a mob of bad guys like its the Alamo.

Rather, NNO should be a simple chance to meet your neighbors. This report by the TC Daily Planet got it right, by emphasizing the simple fact that people who live near each other are meeting each other and saying hello. There's no need to turn that experience into a horror movie.


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Very similar to the burgeoning TC Open Streets movement, play street sounds like a great idea, too. (You know, for kids!) It's like the block party suggestion I happened across a little while ago. Can't we make places where you actually interact with people who live around you...

[Kids playing in the street is a sign of a good neighborhood.]


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This is an angle I never thought of before: the idea that the increasing concentration of industry and fincance in 'global cities' and in the Global South (e.g. China), means that many of the second-tier cities end up dominated by 'pro-growth' business interests. So that really the only people left with memberships at the Minneapolis Club are people who make their living building suburban developments, and that local city 'growth machines' end up being intractable interests lobbying for ever-expanding sprawl.

Just a thought...


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I don't know about you, but red light cameras always seemed like a good idea to me. It's awfully hard to take the side of the dude running the red light. That's a hard position to defend, even if you're taking some sort of constitutional stand.*

It reminds me of this post by Cam Gordon, about how cities need to start taking advantage of all their revenue streams if they're going to get increasingly budgetarily reamed by the state.


* (And on that note, why wouldn't the same sort of rights issue apply to the automatic ticketing of people using the MN Pass lanes illegally?)


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A nice op-ed about the twilight of the automobile era (from Canada). I can't really believe that this is happening anytime soon, though, particularly with the CARS bill proving so popular.


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A nice thought about how much more pleasant transit can be than driving in your single-passenger vehicle.


[A dude using a laptop at a bus stop. Img. fm. Roadguy.]

It's hard to use a laptop while your driving. (Though many people do this regularly.)


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Three photos for you:

1) Cedar Avenue Hockney collage. Img. fm WBSC.


2) The Stone Arch Bridge in 1886. Img. via. WeLikeItHere.


3) A nice CU of the 7th Street sidewalk in St. Paul. Img. fm. TCDailyPhoto.

Other City Sidewalks: Morgan Park, Duluth



[The sidewalks of Morgan Park lead you into the past, the birthplace of suburbia.]


Tucked away along the mouth of the St. Louis River is a part of Duluth you probably haven’t seen, where tourists from the cities rarely go. This is the old industrial section of the city, where the riverfront was lined with factories and worker housing all throughout the first decades of the 20th century. It’s one of the reasons that Duluth was once one of the wealthiest cities in the US, and there’s pretty much nothing left. All the factories are gone, and today the waterfront fills up with forgotten feelings, ghosts of another era. Well, except for a neighborhood called Morgan Park.

Morgan Park is a piece of this history, a “factory town” built all at once by the giant US steel corporation sometime in the 1910s to house workers for one of its big iron ore steel mills. Like Pullman, Illinois, or Lowell, Massachusetts, it’s one of the more famous examples of “welfare capitalism”, a very brief attempt by the big oligopolies to alleviate worker strife by creating small company-centered utopias as part of their industrial infrastructure. Not only was it planned and built by the US Steel corporation, but it was completely owned and run by the company until 1933. (Other examples haven’t aged so well.) At the same time, its a very early example of something like suburban development, but it’s also an interesting look at the values practiced by earlier forms of urban planning. And, at least to my eyes, it’s aged pretty well, barring the odd choice of housing materials.

Today the steel mill is long gone, but the factory town is still there, well-used and seemingly loved by the people who live in it. Finding Morgan Park is difficult, and involves knowing where to turn of Hwy 23. But once you get down into the little nook, you find a little one of the that is a little world unto itself that seems both familiar and strange.


[The sidewalks of Morgan Park, lined with duplexes and single-family homes.]


[All the houses in Morgan Park are made from concrete, each painted slightly differently.]

[One of the larger townhome row-houses in Morgan Park.]


It's familiar because it resembles many suburbs and planned communities you might find today. All the buildings are the same age, and little curving streets are lined almost uniformly with residential homes sitting in a park-like setting. Just like many of the suburban areas you might find in any US city, it has a well-developed brand identity that is blazoned on all the lamp-posts, yard signs, and even the bus stops. Morgan Park could be the name of any one of the new greenfield developments from Eden Prairie to Maple Grove to Woodbury, and in a way, this might be the one of the earliest predecessors of the modern American city.


[The old bus stop bench bears the Morgan Park 'MP' logo.]


At the same time, there is something very different about this place. For one thing, it’s old. You can sense that by looking at the buildings, or the sizes of the trees. For one thing, all the houses were made out of concrete, which is (I think) one of the earlier uses of this material for housing. Compared to brick or wood, it hasn’t aged all that well. It has a vaguely dirty look to it, and certainly would be strange material to walk around on and live inside. But, beyond the simple aesthetics of the place, Morgan Park has a very unusual feeling that you’d never get in a new suburban development.

For one thing, it actually has sidewalks that run down every street. I can’t emphasize enough how much I like sidewalks. The reasons are simple: they give you a place to walk around (a place that isn’t in the middle of the street where cars drive). This is the kind of thing that seems really useful, and to my mind, every home should have one. Morgan Park stems from the era when it would be absolutely insane not to build a city with sidewalks, where people using their feet and legs to move around was a common sense idea about locomotion, before the advent and rise of the cybernetic car-people that can only move around their worlds with their asses strapped into a 2-ton machine, driving through movies and banks and restaurants and grocery stores and pharmacies and coffee shops.

Secondly, Morgan Park has emphasized these sidewalks by placing their garages (for these car-machines) behind their houses. Yes, like much of South Minneapolis, the planned community of Morgan Park, Duluth has an intricate system of alleyways and detached garages that allows the fronts of homes to have porches and windows and gardens, rather than driveways and giant 3-car garages with their bleak and blank doors. Having actual fronts of houses along the street is what gives these homes that “old-fashioned” look, but it also places far more emphasis on the streetscape, on the front yard, on the sidewalk, on the front garden. While most front yards in modern suburbia are strictly ornamental gardens, mere simulations of yards that rarely used by anyone, these front yards seem to have a life to them. People seem to sit on their porch, and perhaps even throw the football in the grass along the street.


[One of the entrances to the ubiquitous alleyways the run behind the homes of Morgan Park.]



[The backyards of Morgan Park, where the homes are set about 20 ft, from each other.]

[Even though it was built at the very dawn of the automobile era, garages sit behind the homes of Morgan Park.]


Third and finally, Morgan Park has a real diversity of housing types. While, like modern suburbia, they were all planned and built by the same exact company, at the same exact time, you’ll find a real mixture of sizes and types of homes in this neighborhood. There are lots of traditional single-family homes, but there are also duplexes and attached row houses (in groups of four) that line the streets. This kind of diversity allows many different choices for many different types of people and families, and especially different income levels. Rather than everyone getting a giant 2,000+ sq. ft. house, there are all sorts of different sizes and arrangements. And, what’s more, they’re all mixed together, so that you likely end up with a more diverse set of neighbors that you might in a modern cookie-cutter development.

The other parts of the planned community, the school, the community center, the park, seem to have aged pretty well, too, with one big exception. Morgan Park still has a ‘main street’, where, presumably, businesses catered to the residents with grocery stores, hardware stores, or whatever other types of retail you had back in the1920s. In today’s era of big box shopping, except for one little hair salon, this commercial stretch is almost entirely abandoned. The row of empty shops sits there, waiting for a time when more localized time that may never arrive.


[A bank along Morgan Park's main commercial street.]

[The strip of commercial shops along Morgan Park's main street sits almost empty.]



But, if you want to see a suburbia baby picture, where the idea of 'a city in the country' first was put into practice, head up to Duluth go off the beaten track, down South along the river, until you find Morgan Park. Walk around and imagine what it might have been like back when US Steel was the largest company in the US, and the place was a wholly owned company town. It's an interesting piece of American planning history, and even today, it seems like a really nice place to live.

[One of the many strange carriage house-esque buildings that sit around in Morgan Park, unused today.]


[The Bob Stoner Memorial Garden at the North entrance to the community of Morgan Park.]

5.8.09

Let's Blame the Homeless!

[A disgusting, mockable woman demonstrating one of the uses of sidewalks.]

At first glance, this desperate plea for attention by the CityPages is kind of cute. At second glance, it's completely wrong-headed and destructive, painting a cartoon picture of poverty and homelessness that only further dehumanizes people who need help.

Thankfully, most of the comments are far more thoughtful than the article: For example, this great comment from MarsBars:
This kind of article just makes people more angry and scared of the people walking down the street next to them. It breeds negativity toward our neighbors and insensitivity toward the very real issues these people are facing: racism, discrimination, childhood abuse, mis- or undiagnosed mental illness, substance abuse, unlivable wages, ridiculously high rents, the high cost of healthcare, etc.

I'd be willing to bet that all of the people mentioned in the article have severe mental health problems. Sure, the "personal responsibility" mantra suggests that everyone needs to be blamed for their own actions. There's a big difference between an addict and a murderer. What good is pointing your finger at someone who can barely put his pants on, let alone feed himself? Is desperate poverty a personal or a social problem?

Cities are one way that we deal with social problems. Especially in the US, we closely identify "the city" with crime, poverty, and social ills, and debates about "funding cities" are codewords for taking care of the poor. That's one reason why we have such a starkly segregated and suburbanized landscape, where social problems are increasingly concentrated within the downtown fringes of US cities. Places like the Near North Side or Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis, or the Dorothy Day Center in Saint Paul become the only politically acceptably sites for social services and homeless shelters. Poor neighborhoods like North Minneapolis and Saint Paul's East Side become increasingly isolated. Building affordable housing in suburban areas becomes increasingly difficult, only further concentrating poverty and overloading already stressed social service networks.

Like it or not, living in the city means confronting and taking care of all parts of our society. We have a responsibility to those least able to take care of themselves. Rather than calling names, pointing fingers, and mocking the truly pathetic lives of "King Listerine" and the "Skyway Jerkoff", perhaps we should be interviewing people who deal with homelessness every day and asking them how we can solve this problem in Minneapolis?




[One person's description of actually helping homeless people in Minneapolis.]

P.S. Believe it or not, many years ago I used to actually read CityPages. I remember lots of great moments: hydropower up in Manitoba, Budd Rugg, Dara, calling out city politicians. But I haven't touched that paper in many years. Every since that cover story about Derek Boogaard.


Update: Nice Op-Ed by Barbara Erinreich about the "criminalization of poverty".

3.8.09

Pulling Apart Patios

[Some Minneapolis patio details. From top to bottom: Common Roots Cafe, Loring Pasta Bar, Mac's Industrial Bar.]

In many parts of the world, sidewalk dining is the classic urban experience. Here in the US, though, it tends to be a bit uncommon. In New York, for example, it's very difficult to find anything resembling a sidewalk patio. The streets are choked with traffic, and the inevitable sight of garbage on the sidewalk is a bit unappetizing. (I still remember bringing 4 Bulgarian friends to New York for the first time and all of them saying how uniformly ugly the city was.)

While the summer still has legs, I'm kicking off a series about patio dining in the Twin Cities. We seem to have had a patio renaissance in the past 5 years, and sidewalk dining has become more and more common. These days, and during this cool summer, you can see why its so popular.

But not all patios are made equal. You will find patios that are laughable attempts to place tables on skinny, traffic-addled sidewalks. You will find patios that are luxurious, spatious, pleasant places to sit and enjoy the people'd streets.

So, what makes a good patio?

Here are some possible ideas:
  • A sense of separation between auto traffic and tables with food
  • A sense of separation between people traffic and tables with food
  • Nice buildings to look at
  • Nice people to look at (i.e. people watching)
  • A view of some sort of landscape
  • Comfy chairs / tables / awnings
  • Lots of room
  • Quiet-ness
What do you think? Which of these things are the most important? Are we living in the golden age of the Twin Cities' patio?


[The legendary patio at Sally's in Stadium Village.]