[People staring off into the distance as I point at the sun. All photos courtesy of Molly P. Thanks Molly!]
Well, I’m happy to report that the first official Twin City Sidewalks-led sidewalk tour of Minneapolis was an uproarious success. Turnout vastly exceeded expectations, and a good time was had by all.
I want to first thank all those who made the tour possible. Thanks to the kind folks at the Soap Factory and the Common Room, particularly Andy Sturdevant and Sergio Vucci who were crazy enough to invite me to lead a tour and provided me with both guidance and valuable psychogeographic bingo card-making skills. Judith Martin was, as always, generous with her time, meeting with me in her office to share some Nicollet Island stories. Thanks to Mike Brauer for his precious alleyway lore. I owe huge debts to Larry Millet’s invaluable AIA Guide to the Twin Cities (the origin of the majority of my facts) and Greg Brick’s literary historical excavations. Valentine Cadieux deserves thanks for introducing me to such a great group of people. And finally, thanks to Owen for co-leading the tour with me. Next time it’s on you, kid.
But more importantly, I want to thank the Minneapolis weather. It was a perfect day for a walk about the city, and that may be one reason why far more people showed up to the Soap Factory that I was expecting. Initially, I’d hoped for about a dozen folks to show up, maybe a few more. But then the entire MFA program from Montana State appeared, as well as a good group of U of M geographers, my BURP crew, and many of my loyal long-time Twin Cities’ friends. And then a whole bunch of other folks that I’d never met before appeared. Families with children, folks of all ages, all kinds of people gathered to experience whatever it was I had to offer. It was magnificent and not a little frightening, but my vocal chords held up through the event. Props to everyone who took “five steps forward” when asked.
[The planned route of the tour. I ended up cutting some corners along the way due to time.]
The tour began in the Soap Factory’s back yard, among the tall grass, abandoned train tracks, and the back sides of the old Pillsbury mills. There, as is my pedagogical wont, we talked vaguely about the nature of sidewalks. And after a short and largely failed interrogative exercise, I defined sidewalks for everyone. It went something like this: a sidewalk is “public space useful for moving between places.” Or, more intriguingly, a sidewalk is “the corona that surrounds movement.” At which point, intentionally obfuscating the issue, I explained how “many things that are sidewalks are not sidewalks, and many things that are not sidewalks are sidewalks.”
And with that made clear, we ventured off across the river. We stopped at the junction of the Metal-Matic factory and the Stone Arch Flats apartments, where my friend the ex-Cleveland urbanist Steven Gross told a story about living in the strangely industrial condominium complex.
We then walked across the stone arch bridge, where I stopped briefly to spin tales of Minneapolis’ milling past, including awesome details about Pettigrew’s Amusement Resort and Mineral Springs, the origins of Chute’s Cave, and the infamous “Nesmith Hoax” of 1866.
We then delved deeper into the downtown core to examine the old Milwaukee Road depot, before proceeding to the underside of certain skyways. Following a lengthy and failed attempt to actually enter the longest skyway in Minneapolis (thanks for trying Valentine!), we went to the “plaza” underneath the entrance of the ING building, where I tried to resurrect the essence of old Gateway Park.
Next our brave tour traversed the traffic-laden crosswalks across Hennepin Avenue, and entered the vast alleyway jungle of the Warehouse District to emerge at the wonderful treasure that is the alley behind the One on One Bike Studio where my bicycle messenger comrades were happily loitering (as per usual).
At this point the tour became slightly more Situationist, as I led the entire group down a tempting desire path that inadvertently took everyone across the freeway on- and off-ramps for I-394. (Curse you, I-394!) And so we wandered through the alleys, stopping briefly to admire the beautiful Commutator Building, before heading down the Cedar Lake Extension to check out the old foundations underneath the Hennepin Avenue Bridge.
Finally, as the sun was going down and the mosquitoes were rabidly descending, we went onto Nicollet Island where I talked about how close the beautiful island had come to being razed and turned into a freeway. Then we, at long last, returned to St. Anthony and its lovely Main Street to admire its two failed urban renewal projects and its many beautifully restored ancient factories.
And so the tour was complete, many folks retreating to their homes, many others enjoying a few drinks at Vic’s (which was the only place large enough to seat us all). Thanks for the champagne, Janaki. And thanks to everyone for coming out. I’ve rarely enjoyed myself so much!
[The end of the tour, facing the neon lights of Main Street.]
PS. There are more Common Room tours each of the next two Wednesdays. Come along for the Smell-o-tour or the Wish List tour. Meet up at 6:30 at the Soap Factory. You probably won't regret it!