|[One of the old rights of way on the West Bank.]|
Earlier this summer, I was startled to find one of my favorite shortcuts fenced up.
|[While I was taking this picture, a woman climbed over the 5' fence.]|
Years ago I wrote about a particular spot on the West Bank, the city-owned vacant lot on Cedar Avenue where 5th Street and the Dania Hall used to be.
Here’s what I said about this neat Minneapolis shortcut back in 2010:
But there’s something more at work about this act of sidewalk resistance. What at first appears as transgression may just be an act of restoration. Not too long ago, before the engineers of ‘urban renewal’ got their freeway’d fingers on Cedar-Riverside, this particular vacant lot used to be a public street. South 5th Street runs, very awkwardly, into the back of this spot, dead-ending into an access alley. My guess is that the 60s planners chose to cut off the street to keep traffic from congesting Cedar Avenue, which became a key through-way for traffic between the awkward intercourse of Interstates 94 and 35-W. (That’s one reason why Cedar Avenue, which runs through one of the most pedestrian-heavy parts of the entire city, is a four-lane, parking-deprived, narrow-sidewalk’d travesty.)
Meanwhile, even after all these years, this bit of gravel covered ex-street could not be repressed. Just because some plan had it marked for a building didn’t mean that it didn’t make a lot of sense as a connecting point for foot traffic. This spot is haunted by the ghost of sidewalks past. The old corner of 5th and Cedar, strangely still marked by a stoplight, continues to whisper at the feet of the adventurous. And this sidewalk, which seemingly sprang from out of nothing, might merely mark the long-dormant rebirth of old Cedar Avenue. It may be the first sign of a spring in your step, after a long winter of concrete and modernism.
Since then, the city installed way finding signage and a new traffic signal at 5th, and even added a Nice Ride station in the lot for a time. And just this month, after a half-century of treating people walking on the West Bank like lepers, they’re finally reconstructing Cedar Avenue to expand the sidewalks and improve one of the most dangerous and inhumane spots in the city.
|[Hard Times democracy.]|
|[Where the sidewalk ends.]|
So I shrugged, grumbled a bit to myself, and thought no more about it. I even went to the Nomad a few times to watch a match or two.
Except that the fence is still there, and it’s September now.
I asked the bartender at the Nomad about the space, and he shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. “It was supposed to be temporary,” he told me. “But the city hasn’t told us to take it out. So we’re just using it for things once in a while.”
What is an Alley Worth?
|[Privatization of public sidewalk.]|
Cedar Avenue in particular was designed to maximize car traffic at the expense of anyone living in or walking through the area. The powerful institutions on the West Bank (the U of MN, Augsburg, and the Fairview Hospital) are continually buying up housing stock and expanding their parking lots and (often poorly designed) institutional campuses.
The last thing the city should be doing is fencing off more of the access points that people use to get around.
How much is an alley worth? Don’t people on the West Bank have a right to walk around the city?
I don’t often put up ‘calls to action’ on this site, but I sent an email to Abdi Warsame's office, the city council member for this part of Cedar-Riverside. Feel free to join me if you value what’s left of old 5th Street.
Dear Council Member Warsame:
I work on the West Bank campus of the University of Minnesota, and am writing to express my desire to see the sidewalk at Cedar and 5th opened up again. It was fenced off during the summer to expand the patio next to the Nomad Pub, but I believe it is important to maintain access for people walking around the west bank. Historically, 5th street provided a key connection for people crossing Cedar Avenue and getting around the neighborhood.
The city owns this property and should keep it open to the public.