26.5.10

Wing Young Hiue's publically private lives

Earlier this week, I argued about the important difference between public and private interactions, about how public space is useful precisely because it allows you to learn and encounter many different people WITHOUT learning private details about their lives.

Rather, in public space, on streets, sidewalks, and parks, in checkout lines for grocery stores, buses and at coffee shops, you get to watch, eavesdrop, talk about the weather, and all kinds of small interactions that are important for building loose ties in a community or neighborhood. These kinds of loose ties and causal interactions are what public space and public life is all about.

Well, this is exactly the territory within which local photographer and public artist Wing Young Huie has been making his mark for over a decade. Huie is best known for taking pictures of people on the street and in public spaces (like laundromats), beautiful photos that reveal how people present themselves in public space.

But, more than that, Huie's photographs allow you to do what you cannot do in real life (without seriously creeping people out)....

You can linger, stare and examine all the small details of all the different people that share space in different neighborhoods in the Twin Cities. Instead of just brushing shoulder with someone on the street, you are invited into their homes. The private details of the moment tell small stories, connecting the many public presentations of people in Frogtown or on Lake Street into a far richer relationship. Especially around issues of race and perception, Huie's work works to dispel and foster stereotypes, taking up the challenge of the subtleties of how race works in the Twin Cities.

[Unlike real life, you can stop and stare at the people in your neighborhood with the help of Hiue's photos.]



On top of that, Huie typically displays his photos in public space, near the places where he took the pictures, in vacant lots in neighborhoods, and along business windows.

His latest project is going on right now on University Avenue, and you can either travel along the street, or stop by the vacant lot near the Town House on University, where Huie is displaying all his photographs on a set of large screens.

In contrast to his earlier efforts, Huie's latest project doesn't always let the photos speak for themselves. As part of the University Avenue project, he's added small statements scrawled on a chalkboard, answers to the following questions that he asked his street-side strangers:
What are you?
Describe your life in one word or sentence.
What advice would you give a stranger?
What is your favorite word?
How do you think others see you? What don’t they see?
How has race affected you?
Describe an incident that changed you.
What are hopes and fears of someone your age?

These questions, and Huie's photographs, directly take up the questions of how strangers perceive each other in public space. By doing that, Huie's work fills the gap between public and private space. Hopefully, these photos can begin to think about the Twin Cities' great unspoken conversation: how neatly race divides and segregates us. If you're going down University, take a moment to check out his pictures.



[A short look at Wing Young Huie's private life.]

Reading the Highland Villager #17 (May 26 - June 8 Edition)

[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 # of articles about sidewalks: 9
Total # of articles about sidewalks written by Jane McClure: 8



Title: City Council recommends financing for Carondelet Village; New senior housing awaits HRA approval of bonds, TIF district
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Nuns got the go ahead to replace their convent with a "home for retired nuns" on the corner of Fairview and Randolph. Planning commissioners are debating whether or not there needs to be a sidewalk from the facility to the corner of Randolph and Fairview, and whether or not there needs to be a sidewalk running along the Fairview side of the property. The project will be funded partially by $25M in TIF bonds from the city, and the sidewalk will cost $20K.

Title: Commission lays over request to reopen W. 7th tire ship
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The planning commission is haggling with a company that wants to open up a spruced up tire shop (to replace the old one) on West 7th St near the corner with Smith Avenue. The Planning Commission is prohibiting outdoor car work. The land use seems to annoy many of the commissioners and nearby residents, and doesn't fit with the "compact commercial" [i.e. not car-centric] comprehensive plan in the area. The Planning Commission will vote on it later, probably at the next meeting


Title: Historic designation for former Schmidt Brewery to be studied
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: After prompting from [dogged] Council Member Dave Thune, the St Paul Heritage Preservation Commission is looking at getting historic designation. The request troubles some of the local neighborhood group board, who think that a historic designation will make it more difficult to develop the old brewery buildings. The brewery property has received $2.4M in grants for cleaning up the site, provided they can get a development plan in place "by this summer".


Title: Committee recommends that test of Marshall parking ban continue
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Union Park district council voted to keep a test of a "once-a-week overnight parking ban" on Marshall Avenue. The ban was intended to make sure that bike lanes along the street remain clear in the winter, after the street went through a traffic-calming treatment that added a median and reduced the number of lanes from 4 to 2. The article also mentions that Marshall will soon have its speed limit reduced from 35 to 30 mph because of the bike lanes on the street.


Title: Land-use plans come into focus for LRT infill stations
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There was an open house this month to review drafts of land use plans for Hamline, Victoria, and Western light rail stations along University Avenue in Saint Paul. There will be public hearings in the fall look at the plans, which "call for small-scale neighborhood redevleopment4 and the preservation of most of the existing commercial and residential buildings." Also, they look to improve "connections for pedestrian and bicyclists". The plan includes a proposal to tear down the Old Home foods buildings [yogurt factory?] and build a "green space" there. The draft plans and minutes are on the city website.


Title: Council speeds up Geordies' bid to serve liquor on patio
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city council unanimously waved a requirement for the extension of liquor service on the patio of Geordie's Bistro near Snelling and Randolph.


Title: City calls for vacant University Ave. building to com down
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The burned-out building at 1559 University must be "removed or repaired" in 15 days.


Title: Stark seeks moratorium, new zoning regs for tobacco shops
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Council Member Russ Stark wants stricter regulations for "tobacco shops, especially businesses where hookahs or water pipes can be smoked".


Title: June is busting out in Highland with new farmers' market; Business association lines up eight vendors of fresh mean, produce
Author:Larry Englund

Short short version: The new farmers market behind the Starbucks on Ford Parkway will officially open up on June 5th. There will be a lot of local vendors to sell meat, produce, herbs, flowers, and freshly packaged hummus.

24.5.10

Principles of Sidewalkery: Public v. Private

[Sesame Street is a bad model for public space. This degree of intimacy and community would be insufferable for just about anybody.]

Often, when I talk to people about the value of sidewalks, I will get into arguments about how much intimacy is appropriate in cities. People assume that, because I want to see more public spaces where different kinds of people ‘share space’ with each other, that I want everybody to hang out and be friends, chatting, singing songs, playing games, and sharing stories. You know, like a Sesame Street episode.

For example, I was talking to my sister the other day about why skyways suck. As we walked along 7th Place in Downtown Saint Paul, I pointed out how cool it was that the homeless people hung out at one end of the block, and café diners hung out at the other. They were sharing space, I said, and it was good for both groups to be coexisting with each other.

“So, why didn’t you stop and talk to the homeless people?” my sister asked.

“That’s not the point.” I replied after a pause. “I’m sure that would have been terribly uncomfortable for both of us.”

The point is that sidewalks, parks, and squares are good public spaces precisely because you can learn about different kinds of people without actually talking to them. That’s exactly what public life is about. Different kinds of people can watch each other, present themselves to each other, interact or not interact as they choose.


[Jan Gehl's excellent (and hard to get) book, Life Between Buildings, is all about the importance and maintenance of these impersonal, public contacts.]


Similarly, when I talk about the importance of ‘neighborhood’, I don’t mean that everyone on the block should be best friends, hanging out with each other all the time. No, that would be a commune or a cult, and would surely end in some sort of FUBAR reign of terror.

Rather, public life and public space are kinds of interactions where you communicate in ambient, diffuse, and subtle ways. You can learn a lot about people just by watching them. And when enough people start to share the same streets, parks, grocery stores, libraries, etc., you begin to create neighborhoods and communities. This is particularly useful if these communities include different kinds of people, from homeless to haberdashers, from vagabonds to Vulcans. It doesn’t happen because people are all friends, sharing names and stories and intimate details. Rather, ideally, it happens when people share space.

[The fountain in Saint Paul's Rice Park is a great public space because it allows people to share space without interacting.]

21.5.10

Signs of the Times #19

Tsis Muaj
Nraj Laun
NO Pheasant

[Outdoor market. Como/Rice, Saint Paul.]


Due to an unfortunate
fire on Christmas night,
sunny day is closed temporarily.
please give us a call or check
our website for updates our
online store should be up and
running in a course of weeks.
thanks. SDES STAFF

[Burned Building. SE Como, Minneapolis.]

Homemade
Soups
Salads
Sandwiches

[Wall. Snelling/Hamline. Saint Paul.]



NO
Admittance

[Staircase gate. Loring Park/Downtown, Minneapolis.]

This Area
Reserved for
Customers
ONLY

30 Minute
Limit

[McDonald's Wall. Nicollet/Whittier, Minneapolis.]



ART

Minneapolis/Saint Paul

[Instructions for interacting with strangers. U of MN/West Bank, Minneapolis.]


FOR SALE
Pimp Ass Car
1975 Lincoln Continental...

[and]

FOR SALE
35g fish tank & stand
All the fixing!
Fish & Water
NOT INCLUDED

[Window. Richmond, VA.]


DO NOT DUMP SNOW
BEHIND THIS SIGN

[U of MN/West Bank, Minneapolis.]


Dakota
Land

[Sidewalk. Cedar/Riverside West Bank, Minneapolis.]

17.5.10

Sidewalk of the Week: Lexington Parkway and Selby Avenue



[The corner where Isiah Vinson was killed.]

This past week has seen a few too many tragic accidents involving cars hitting pedestrians, bicyclists, and each other.

It makes me think of the similarly tragic incident back in March, where a bunch of high school kids were goofing around and accidentally pushed one of their friends in front of a moving car on close to Saint Paul Central High School

A week or so after that accident, I happened across the Lexington Avenue sidewalk where the tragedy took place, and I found this memorial to mark the site.

In one way, this sidewalk is a rather surprising place for an accident like this. The pedestrian space is pretty wide, and separated from traffic lanes by a good tree-laden buffer zone. In addition, Lexington Parkway is a separated 'boulevard', with a pedestrian median in between the four lanes of traffic.

On the other hand, the width of the street, plus the separated two-lane treatment makes it easy for cars to speed pretty quickly along this stretch. People regularly exceed 40 mph on this road, and anything higher than 25 mph is enough to kill a pedestrian. (This is exactly why calming and medians are so important for places like Snelling Avenue.)

It just goes to show you that cars and people were not meant to physically interact, and that unless you slow cars down pretty dramatically, no street can ever really be safe for kids playing around.

[The makeshift memorial for Isaiah Vinson.]

13.5.10

Reading the Highland Villager #16 (May 12-15 Edition)

[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 # of articles about sidewalks: 4
Total # of articles about sidewalks written by Jane McClure: 4



Title: City OK's Walgreens' plan for Highland; Drug store is just one of three new buildings
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The long-debated new pharmacy on Ford Parkway will go ahead, and has been approved by the St. Paul Planning Commission. They have forced the Walgreens Corp. to add a two buildings (a one-story and a two-story) on the site, and to include an "outdoor plaza" and a fountain on the corner of Ford and Finn.

Title: City to study potential for parks on Ford site
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The St Paul City Council will reroute funds intended for struggling neighborhoods to study putting parkland at the site of the current Ford Plan along the river in Highland Park.


Title: $1 million plan for Jefferson Ave. bike boulevard pedals onward
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The City Council finally voted to accept the $750K federal grant to put a bike boulevard along Jefferson Avenue in Highland Park. They did it despite the protests of Highland Park City Council member Pat Harris, who "believes the improvements would work better on another street, though he did not specify which one". Also, he is "concerned about a traffic diverter that will be installed on Cleveland Avenue".


Title: St. Paul adopts plan to enhance walking bicycling in Central Corridor
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The St. Paul City Council adopted a plan which will allow them to apply for grants to build bike and pedestrian amenities along the Central Corridor route (both on University Avenue, and in the neighborhoods nearby). The article includes some comments by cyclists who are concerned that University Avenue will no longer be a bike route, and that "moving bicycles onto Charles Avenue" won't work because its not a through street.

Minneapolis dodged a bullet with the Cedar-Riverside housing project

There was an interesting story in the Star Tribune the other day about how the Cedar-Riverside Plaza public housing towers are slated for a $90 M rehab.

One of the most distinctive structures in the Twin Cities is headed for a two-year, $90 million renovation, partly funded by taxpayers.

The plan is to make the Riverside Plaza apartment complex -- the cluster of 1970s towers in Minneapolis with the multicolored panels -- more energy-efficient. Sherman Associates Inc., which bought Riverside Plaza from the government in 1989 for about $17 million, said it expects to have the $90 million package of tax credits finalized in September. Construction is to start this fall.


Back in 2004, I was working for one of those shady 527 groups, going around the Twin Cities registering voters in front of the Kerry v. Bush presidential election. It was an interesting job, firstly because I didn't have to ask anyone for money, and secondly because I got to see lots of different parts of the Twin Cities that I'd never been to before. I really enjoyed walking the sidewalks of Minneapolis, Saint Paul, and the inner-ring suburbs day after day, night after night.

But on election day, I was assigned to bring people to the polls. I was lucky enough to draw the Cedar-Riverside towers as my task. So, my partner and I started at top of one of the taller buildings in the complex and knocked on every door in the building, working our way down through the 30 or so floors, talking to folks and telling them the location of their polling place (very nearby, it turned out).

I found it fascinating. Most of the buildings house Somali immigrants, and a few of them invited us into their homes to talk about the election. Many times, when we'd knock on one of the four doors on the floor, all the other doors would open up and people would come out into the cramped hallway and talk to each other. It seemed to me that the buildings housed a tightly knit community, very different from anything I was used to in the Twin Cities.

And from what I could see, the apartments are in decent shape. They certainly have wonderful views, and, despite the Brutalist architecture and terribly out-of-place scale, they add to the diversity and excitement of the West Bank scene.

What's truly noteworthy about the Cedar-Riverside Plaza rehab, however, is that fact that its happening at all. Large public housing projects in the US have a justifiably bad reputation. And this is particularly true for the really large Midwestern concrete projects. (On the other hand, many of New York City's smaller-scale projects have aged a bit better.)

[The demolition of the infamous Pruitt-Igoe project took place in St. Louis in 1972.]

For example, the most notorious housing project of all time was the Pruitt-Igoe houses in Saint Louis, which famously lasted won a prestigious architecture award in 1951 before being demolished less than 20 years later.

The same fate was in store for many of the large Chicago projects, including the Cabrini-Green projects and the Robert Taylor Homes, both on the South Side.

It seems to me that part of the reason for the relative success of the Riverside Plaza towers has to do with Minnesota's provincial conservative streak. As a state, we are very reluctant to jump on the trendy bandwagon, the bubbles and bust cycle that strikes with more frequency on the coasts. We were behind the times in embracing the 'conservative revolution', and usually have smaller economic and real estate swings than many of the sun belt and coastal cities.

And we were similarly slow in building large public housing projects. Riverside Plaza wasn't constructed until 1973, after the demolition of Pruitt-Igoe. By then, architects and social scientists had learned a few lessons about how NOT to make high-rise public housing.

I'm not sure what those lessons were (and I've heard rumors that the original plans for the Riverside towers called for a much larger array of Corbusier concrete). But the fact that these buildings, not only are still standing, but are being lived in and remodeled, repainted, and rehabbed... it is one of the more successful stories in the troubled saga of US public housing policy. I guess Ralph Rapson must have done something right.

Here's to you, Riverside Towers. It still sucks to walk around you, underneath your drab slabs of monochromatic uniform towering concrete. But at least you're providing good homes to people that need them. And with a fresh coat of paint, maybe someone with bad eyesight will someday call you beautiful.


[The "fountain" inside the Brutalist Riverside Plaza.]

Plant Parts on Sidewalks #2

[Lilac petals. Saint Paul.]

[Maple seeds. Saint Paul.]

[Apple blossoms. Saint Paul.]

[Cherry blossoms. Washington DC.]

12.5.10

Minneapolis Architects' View of Nicollet Mall c. 1978

[A juggler on Nicollet Mall during the 1975 Aquatennial. Img MNHS.]

I just came across this fabulous passage from a short publication called "Streets Alive". It was put together after a study abroad trip led by Ralph Rapson in 1978, where he took Architecture and Landscape Architecture students to Germany and Italy to look at how streets and streetlife came together in Sienna, Lucca, Freiberg, and Würtzberg.

“The Street Not Taken”

Thus, once again, the ultimate question is a social one: what kind of urban society do Americans want?

If I walk down the Nicollet Mall, will I bump into someone I know? Will I stop and chat, or hide my face in a store window? Will I gaze up at the terra-cotta corbels, scrolls, and cornices, the steel-framed department store bays, the molded brick details, the curtain wall glazing, and down at the aggregate walkway and so-called mall furniture (would you put it in YOUR living room?), or will I stare blankly ahead while secretly surveying the number of nose pickers in the passing crowd (would Walt Whitman have approved)? Will I stop in a familiar shop or comfy old bar? Wait a minute! Where do you think I am? What familiar shop or comfy bar? This is Minneapolis, as soon-to-be-transformed by the magic ‘development’ hand of Skidmore, Owings and Merril, the Oxford Corporation, Gerald D. Hines, and a host of other ‘civic improvers’. A soon-to-be city of over-abundant space but hard to find place. My friend Mr. Bus farts his way past me, and I watch through the stench, the ironic imperative “Oughtamobile” – indeed! A pedestrian zone for people and buses. And they wonder why the sleazy drunks linger on Hennepin instead of Nicollet. At least they know what getting polluted is all about. I understand that even the better class of streetwalkers have migrated from downtown to the pedestrian alleyways of hotel corridors along the 494 strip.

What type of urban society do Americans want? Not all the cobblestone, fountains, and sidewalk cafes in Italy could by themselves transform one dead American business district into a streetlive city. Nor, more prosaically, could the careful movement and land use planning evidenced in the German pedestrian zone, by itself, have more than a glancing impact on the visual or social texture of an American shopping mall.

Pedestrian spaces are people spaces, shaped by people in motion, people engaged in purposeful activities of living, working, shopping, or in the aimless joys of strolling, musing, or lazing. The creation of such spaces requires at the most a people, like the Italians, habituated to public living, or at the least, a people like the Germans fully mindful of the public responsibility for accommodating social activities.

Are Americans such people? Immediately we are struck by the gross over-simplification which such a question implies. Americans, good pragmatists to the last, are no more nor less than what they do. And this, perhaps, is the one key to pedestrian system design which we know for certain translates from Europe to America: people are what they do, and their built-environment is the record of their pattern of doing. An American city cannot recreate the history-rich texture of an Italian hill town or a German cathedral town, but it can reflect the activity-determined texture of a lived-in place.

[Mr. Bus farts its way down Nicollet Mall in 1975. Img. fm. MNHS.]

Bike Boulevards are for Mothers

Reacting to a Joe Soucheray column makes me feel a little uncomfortable. It's like that awkward feeling you get when you're talking to someone with a crippling disease. You feel guilty and reckless at the same time. Blogging about Soucheray is like shooting a guy who is shooting fish in a barrel.

But his latest column was so asinine, so idiotic, so tragically out of touch that I cannot resist the temptation. Short of lashing myself to the mast, harpooning my router, and filling my eyes with wax, there's no way to avoid the temptation of Soucheray's stupidity.


[Old people should feel comfortable biking around Saint Paul.]

Monday's column was about the recently approved Highland Park bicycle boulevard project, which Joe thinks is a terrible waste of money. Bicycle boulevards, he argues, are for:

Hypocrites who have a car or two in the driveway at home will now put on the Italian racing suits with jerseys that look like the labels on olive jars and turn Jefferson into a slogfest of starts, stops, bump-outs, speed humps and something at Jefferson and Cleveland called a pedestrian refuge, where, if you are a pedestrian, it sounds like you are stranded or given some sort of green card status until you can be rescued and brought safely to one side of Cleveland or the other.

I really have no comment about that. Soucheray makes his living off of personifying all the car-dependent 50's male stereotypes he can lay his fat fingers on. So, this is right up there with the notorious GW Bush ad about the New York Times-reading liberuls from Vermont.


[Kids should be safe when they bike around their Saint Paul neighborhoods.]

But, where the column goes tragically wrong is when he enrolls the help of a Mrs Kelly, mother of 5, who will be brutalized by the bicycle boulevarding of her street.

In any event, Kelly had her eyes opened to the project around Christmas. She was trying to get some of the brood to Nativity for a Scouting meeting. There was some event at church, and the traffic was all gummed up around Prior and Jefferson. Kelly discovered that the slowdown was caused by a bicyclist. She saw his small twinkling light as he struggled through the slush.

"There was a time when you saw the poor bloke,'' Kelly said, "and you thought maybe one too many DWIs or that he had fallen on hard times, but not anymore. Basically, what you have now is somebody exercising their moral superiority.''

Kelly, as a stay-at-home mom, is a credible source of moral superiority. She is not at all opposed to bicycling. She and her kids ride bicycles, for fun. What concerned Kelly was what was going to happen to her neighborhood.

It's not as if Soucheary doesn't have an inkling of a point. Currently, bicycle culture is a little bit intimidating. It's dominated by a few groups of people -- the spandex crowd, the daredevil messengers, the impossibly hip -- and its true that there is an 'us v. them' divide bewteen cyclists and the "garage logic" audience.

But there are two things points that are screamingly obvious when you think about this column for even the splittest of seconds. First, and most obviously, cyclists have a right to safely use the road. Bicycling in the winter is not akin to "moral superiority". It's actually a valid mode of moving from place to place. And cyclists at all times of the year should be allowed to use the street with dignity.


[People carrying fragile things should be allowed to bike safely through Saint Paul.]

But second, and more importantly, bicycle boulevards are designed precisely for mothers who have children. Apparently, Mrs. Kelly "and her kids ride bicycles, for fun".

Well, Mrs. Kelly, you'll be happy to know that bicycle boulevards are designed to make it far safer and easier for people who might feel a bit uncomfortable riding in the middle of the street or in a busy and crowded bike lane. People like Mrs. Kelly and her children are exactly the people that bike boulevards are designed to serve.

Unfortunately, the Twin Cities bike system as it is currently arranged makes it uncomfortable for anyone who isn't a little bit brave. And that's why most cyclists in the Twin Cities are either young, risktaking, poor, or committed environmentalists. The crappy bike lanes and generally uncertain conditions make it very unlikely that parents, kids, or older people would risk biking anywhere on any of the main streets.

And its exactly for this reason that we need bicycle boulevards, places where people on bikes can truly feel safe. Places where they have the right of way on streets that are designed for safe and and secure biking for people of all ages, skill levels, and cycling types. Building a good network of bicycle boulevards is the first step in getting many more different kinds of people out bicycling around the Twin Cities, and will be crucial for increasing the diversity and raw numbers of people enjoying exercise, their neighborhoods, and the out-of-doors on their bicycles.

Someday I'd like to see Mrs. Kelly and her 5 kids cycling around Saint Paul and waving at an angry Joe Soucheray, stuck sitting in traffic, listening to himself rant about potholes and the price of gas on the radio.

[I want to live in a world where even precarious eggs can bike safely around the city, without fear of getting hit by Joe Soucheray's SUV.]

Bonus:

Actual conversation between two Pioneer Press reporters:

"Hey, what's with these bikers on Summit?''

"They are still out there,'' I replied.

"Well, if they fall down in front of me, I will run over them in their snowmobile suits and squash them like a bug.''

"That's dramatic.''

"Oh, I'll call 911 and tell them where the body is, but I ain't stoppin'."

[link]

11.5.10

Animals on Sidewalks #2

[Dog on sidewalk on Como Avenue. St Anthony Park, Saint Paul.]


[Dogs on sidewalk. Eastern Market, Washington DC.]

[Dog on sidewalk. Adams-Morgan, Washington DC.]


[Dog on sidewalk. West Bank, Minneapolis.]


[Dog on sidewalk. Northeast Minneapolis.]


[Dog on sidewalk. Northeast Minneapolis.]


[Dog on sidewalk. Location forgotten. (Chicago?)]


[Dog on sidewalk. Location forgotten.]


[Dog on sidewalk. West Bank, Minneapolis. (The same dog?)]



[Dog on sidewalk. Powderhorn, Minneapolis.]

7.5.10

Crowds and Power and Stock Market Crazies

[The police state must believe it can master the brutal science of crowd control.]

I have been reading Elias Canetti's famous book on crowds lately. He was a well-connected, wealthy, and eccentric social theorist during the mid-20th century whose book on the life of crowds has become a definitive account of how crowds of people form and behave.

I thought of Cannetti when I was reading the local accounts of yesterday's stock market down-spike, where, for no apparent reason, stock prices plummetted a huge amount in about five minutes.

The Star Tribune was full of ashen-faced traders scratching their heads, and choice quotes like this:

No one was sure what happened, other than automated orders were activated by erroneous trades. One possibilility being investigated was that a trader accidentally placed an order to sell $16 billion, instead of $16 million, worth of futures, and that was enough to trigger sell orders across the market.

The truth is, nobody really knows why the stock market goes up or down. It behaves according to its own will, follows its own rules, and the people 'in charge' are just along for the ride. (That is, if there are even people making decisions any more. Now, most of the time, its automated computer programs that are buying and selling shares.)

The descriptions of spontaneous action reminded me of how Cannetti described crowds. Crowds are, he said,almost like magic.

The crowd, suddently there where there was nothing before, is a myterious and universal phenomenon. … suddenly everywhere is black with people... most of them do not know what has happened and, if questioned, have no answer.

Crowds act without warning or reason. They are the opposite of the calculating, rational indivdual. They are the anti-homo economicus, creating chaso and disorder wherever they form.

In a way, the rise of urban planning in the 19th and 20th centuries is almost synonymous with attempts to control, catalyze, and break apart crowds. From Haussmann's famous boulevard-ing of Paris following the 1848 Revolution to 50s urban renewal projects to the 60s urban riots to the "free speech zones" during St Paul's RNC.

The crowd forms the basis for the fear of the city. And today, sitting in the midst of Minneapolis's terriblly misanthropic Gateway district, you can see how, despite their best efforts, modernism was unable to exorcise the crowd from its midst. It lives on in the "inexpliciable" "irrational" behavior of the market, in the mystery of the traffic jam, in whispers of the rumormill, and in the contasion of yawning.

[Crowds form at the Mayday Parade each year, like chaotic clockwork.]

***Sidewalk Weekend***

Sidewalk Rating: Crap

Time to stay inside, folks. It is wet and wooly out there. You will need your wool, too. This is what it feels like in the Hebrides.



*** ***

Is this a Root Canal for Sidewalks?





*** ***

A geography professor links the encroaching slick to our automotive habits


*** ***

Perhaps the caption "by drawing attention to the neighborhood's depressed economic conditions, investment and revitalization eventually followed" is an oversimplification?


*** ***

Locally connected writer, Stacy Mitchell, pens a column on the importance of local ownership.



*** ***

My favorite Chimney Swift chimney in town is right across the street from Cafe Latte on Grand Avenue.



*** ***




*** ***

My fav-o-rite new blogging thing is this: