Reading the Highland Villager Op-Ed Extra #12

St. Paul would do well to rethink Ford master plan
By Bruce Hoppe

On July 27, the St. Paul Planning Commission narrowly defeated (on a 9-7 vote) a motion to send back to committee the city’s Zoning and Public Realm Master Plan for redeveloping Ford Motor Company’s former assembly plant. This clearly shows that even within the Planning Commission there was a sense that it is time to stop the Ford plan and rethink the development. [The debate was actually about whether it was a good idea to delay the eventual unanimous vote by two weeks in order to further flesh out the amendment to *increase* density. Some people thought it would be better to delay, other thought that the Commission had discussed the issue at length already and there was no need to delay. Particularly considering that there was unanimous support for the plan at the committee level and eventually at the Commission, which was very well informed about the specifics of the issue thanks to the hours of testimony and hundreds of letters.]

The draft master plan was eventually recommended by the Planning Commission unanimously [See that is what actually happened] but that does not mark the end of the efforts of Neighbors for a Livable St. Paul. [This part reminds me of one of those villain speeches in a cheezy action film. shaking fist “You may have won this time, Mothman, but you haven't seen the last of me! I’ll be back! Just you wait! I'll be back. You'll see!" cue maniacal laughter] On the contrary, it marks the beginning of a redoubling of our efforts [redouble our efforts!] to prevent this project in its current form from being adopted over the objections of thousands of St. Paul residents.

Neighbors for a Livable St. Paul began as a grassroots group consisting primarily of a handful of neighbors who live near the Ford site in Highland Park. [Read: Mt. Curve Avenue.] Today we are growing beyond Ward 3 as others throughout the city, and even neighbors from Minneapolis, [Read: Wayzata, Edina, North Oaks, and Mendota Heights] begin to understand the onerous nature of this development proposal.

We are pro-development. We are in favor of wise development, adapted to local needs, that will benefit the neighborhood, residents, workers and visitors, as well as the broader Twin Cities metropolitan area, for current and future generations. We welcome more transit options, a range of housing options and costs, and expanded tax base, better traffic management and a strong investment in new recreational and green space options for the community.

Neighbors and visitors value the active, neighbor-friendly atmosphere of our community [just what is a “neighbor-friendly atmosphere”? Maybe less CO2 would be a start], while still being in reach of two downtowns. Any proposed development should be a harmonious extension of the current neighborhood, not at the cost of losing its identity. [The notion that there is a fixed “identity” for Highland is really the issue here. Who is included in this identity? Who is not?] The current plan proposes a radical increase in population density that will further burden infrastructure [like what? We talking sewers here?] and public services. [I wish for specifics instead of dog whistling.]

We oppose traffic congestion. [OK the specifics are here. Also, spoiler, this is the only thing.] With up to 10,000 more residents, employees and visitors in  the property, there will be thousands of additional vehicles and tens of thousands of additional car trips on neighborhood streets each day. This area is already struggling with traffic congestion [is it?], and this plan will greatly increase vehicle traffic and congestion, both locally and well beyond the Ford site. [Please read the actual traffic study, which was done by actual professionals, and presents something of a worst-case scenario for what congestion might look like in 20 years. And it's not very bad. In fact not much changes.]

We support more green space. Parks and open space for recreation is a crucial component of any development plan for an urban area, and is particularly needed in this part of the city. [Is it?] This plan’s green space allocation is wholly inadequate, providing insufficient recreational outlets for the affected neighborhoods and for the redeveloped Ford site. [Is it? The proposed 9% open space is the maximum that the city can demand from a developer.] The city’s master plan reduces green space by not reestablishing the Little League fields ore replacing them with other recreational space. [These fields are on private land owned by the Ford and might go on land owned by the railroad but who is to say?]

We are concerned about property values. [This is the worst part of the editorial for sure. Also this is the most truthful thing here.] The negative impact of increased traffic congestion, a shortage of green space and over-burdened infrastructure will likely reduce home values. [Actually, property values will increase. I'd bet your house on it.] We can and must do better with this once-in-a-generation development opportunity.

This project does not just affect those living in Ward 3. It affects every single ward in St. Paul. [This is true! But in a good way.] Every dollar that has been spent on this project has taken money away from somewhere else in St. Paul. Every dollar of tax-increment financing used for this project will take money away from somewhere else in St. Paul. [No wait, this is the worst part of the editorial. Because it’s precisely the opposite of the truth. ACTUAL FACT: the "less density" plan would require much more TIF money and/or subsidies from the rest of the city.] Every opportunity that is being focused on 136 acres in Highland Park is an opportunity being taken away from some other St. Paul neighborhood. [So it turns out that “opportunity” is not a zero-sum game. In fact, the opposite is true. We all do better when we all do better, as Wellstone liked to say. If a poor kid on the East Side gets an opportunity to lead a healthy life in a walkable city, it does not take away an opportunity for a retiree in Highland to lead a healthy life in a walkable city, for example. Just the opposite is true.]

We tried to stop the Planning Commission’s vote on the Ford zoning and Public realm Master Plan because of serious problems with how the data was presented. We identified serious errors in showing the depth of opposition to this project. [But her emails!]

The Planning Commission vote may be advisory, but it represents another step in a process that has been broken, flawed and predetermined by many in St. Paul city government. Neighbors for a Livable St. Paul is determined to prevent this project in its current form from undermining the potential of the Ford plant site to create opportunities for all St. Paul residents. We hope you will join us in stopping the Ford plan and rethinking development. [IMO this editorial is remarkably free of specific actual suggestions. Other than “there will be traffic” and “more parks somehow”, there’s nothing here at all. Just some scary words.]

Bruce Hoppe is a resident of Highland Park and a member of Neighbors for a Livable St. Paul.


Reading the Highland Villager #188

[A pair of soggy Villagers.]
 [Basically the problem is that the best source of Saint Paul streets & sidewalks news is the Highland Villager, a very fine and historical newspaper. This wouldn't be a problem, except that its not available online. You basically have to live in or frequent Saint Paul to read it. Until this newspaper goes online, sidewalk information must be set free. See also: Three Reasons Why I Re-Blog the Highland Villager.]

Headline: Ramsey County eyes 4.3% hike in tax levy; With levy increases likely from city and school district as well, board fears an uproar at tax hearing
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Property taxes are going up.

Headline: Transit-rich Hiawatha balks at Riverview extension [transit rich? A-line and Blue Line are there, I suppose. Is ridership / mode share in the area very high? If you’re going to have a really transit-connected area, why not go “all in”? Downtown Minneapolis is "transit rich" but we have to make it better, for example. Are people like, "oh that's enough transit for me thanks. I'm 'transit rich.'" Maybe "transit rich" in the generally-transit-poor Twin Cities is kind of like like being "hillbilly rich", or something.]
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: People in Minneapolis are concerned about a potential streetcar that might go near people's homes. Article includes recap of Riverview project planning so far. Quote from Minneapolis guy: “You’re destroying a cohesive single-family neighborhood.” [Hm. Actually is he talking about terrible 46th Street? That street is truly terrible. The bike/ped connection to the bridge is a menace to society.] Article quotes CM A. Johnson: “Travel times and costs are more favorable if West 7th Street and Highway 5 are used.” [Strange that the article does not discuss any actual issues with the project other than the “destroying the neighborhood” line. Like how does a streetcar get over / across Hiawatha? There was talk of tunnels and/or property taking. PS if anything “destroyed” the neighborhood, it’s that uncrossable misguided freeway plan from the 1950s.]

Headline: St. Paul increases permit fee, penalties for false alarms
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: if you have an alarm system it’ll cost you an extra $10, and if it goes off and the cops come you’ll have to pay something like $100, depending on how often it happens. Apparently it’s a problem that alarms keep going off and cops keep having to waste time responding. [This seems to make sense.] The escalating $100 fine is the same in Minneapolis.

Headline: City enlists public’s help in redesigning Summit Ave. bridge
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Summit Avenue bridge over [half-assed freeway] Ayd Mill Road  need to be replaced. There was a meeting to chat about it. Preliminary plans call for wider bike lanes with a painted buffer. The bridge is from 1962. [Great example of how all our 50+ year old infrastructure, when we were building tons and tons of road infrastructure, needs to replaced now because its design life is up.] The new bridge will cost $7.25 million. [Think of how many 60-year-old bridges there are in a city like Saint Paul. Roads are super expensive.] In the fall a neighborhood group will help decide what design is best. There are some preservation concerns, for example, that the “stone abutments have been identified as a contributing element.” [Are they from 1962?] There will probably still be a median on the bridge. [Summit Avenue bike lanes should be twice as wide, west of Lexington. No reason not to. The single through lane for cars is something like 16’ wide.]

Headline: St. Paul continues expansion of its parking meter program
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Places where a lot of people want to park will now have meters, only two though: by Seven Corners and on another part of downtown by the Central Station. Article mentions that meters generate money for the city.

Headline: Controversy continues over St. Paul police review board
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There are new members on the police review board. CM Bostrom, a former cop, does not like it.

Headline: BZA approves duplexes on vacant Merriam Park corner
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A guy can build duplexes on a vacant lot.

Headline: Reuse of CP Rail spur will be discussed at Aug. 29 meeting
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version:    There used to be a train that went to the former Ford factory. The tracks are still there. The County is asking people what they would like to do with them. [Greenway-style trail!]

Headline: Temporary health car homes will not be allowed in St. Paul
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The City Council voted to not let people park trailers in their yards for sick people.

Headline: Junior Achievement property allowed to encroach on park
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A building that has tiny parts of it that are on public “park” land can stay that way. The park is the [weird] “park” that is in the front yards of buildings along University Avenue.

Headline: Commission to study possible Tangletown conservation area
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Some people that live in Mac-Groveland would like to have a “conservation district,” which will limit development and tear downs in particular ways. [See also the conservation district articles at streets.mn.] The Planning Commission is going to study this. [Didn’t we do Ward 3 design standards already? How much staff time are we going to use to try and halt the basic forces of capitalism, real-estate, and private property? Oh well.]

Headline: Downtown businesses are dubious of city’s plan for bike lanes on St. Peter St.
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A part of the Capital City Bikeway is planned for St. Peter street. Business and building owners are concerned about traffic and parking. [I heard that the lady who runs the never-open “Original Coney Island” testified against it! That’s kind of amazing actually.] Quote from owner of Pazzaluna: “downtown St. Paul in gridlock at every single hockey game. There’s not enough bike traffic to justify bike lanes.” [Gridlock in downtown Saint Paul is very rare. I am serious! There is very little traffic in downtown Saint Paul outside of a half hour or so each morning and afternoon and maybe during an event for twenty minutes. Half the time people crossing the street pay no attention to traffic signals whatsoever, because there are so few cars. St Peter street, in particular, has very low traffic counts. Less then 10K cars per day, IIRC, which is  less than the street in front of my house. And we're talking about the heart of downtown here.] Some other people seem to like the idea. “Loading areas” for delivery trucks are particularly important, it seems. [Let’s get the Jackson Street project complete! Once it’s connected on both ends people might actually use it and folks might notice how much nicer the street is. IN THE MEANTIME HERE IS MY GRIM VISION OF THE FUTURE: Nice Ride pulls out of Saint Paul because the city does nothing to complete the Capital City Bikeway which would have finally linked up downtown with the surrounding neighborhoods. Instead the "downtown dead zone" remains and downtown grows increasingly isolated. The forward-thinking bike share system, much like any sort of economic growth involving younger people, becomes a Minneapolis-only phenomenon, as they are the only place in the Twin Cities that actually invests in bike infrastructure. Tourist brochures and sustainability initiatives become 90% focused on Minneapolis sights and attractions. Minneapolis becomes the #1 bicycling city in the country but Saint Paul, right next door, has nothing other than former-Twins manager Paul Molitor biking around. All the visiting convention goers and business types stay in Minneapolis and occasionally laugh at Saint Paul’s backward ways, where the downtown leaders remain mired in a previous generation’s mentality and petty squabbles over electricity bills, parking ramps, or who will pay for a security guard. People come over from Minneapolis to visit Saint Paul on three-hour tours, kind of like they visit Fort Snelling, and Downtown Saint Paul becomes a historical re-enactment of what life was like in 1985, a time capsule of car culture.]

Headline: St. Paul discontinues longstanding tradition of co-naming city streets
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city won’t put up those [kind of dumb-but-harmless] white signs with alternate street names any more. Some people wanted to name a street after former CM Thune, [but CM Noecker was like “um, this kind of thing is confusing and we should stop doing it.” She didn’t actually say this I am paraphrasing.] Quote from [30-something] CM Tolbert: “If you haven’t lived here for 50 years, you get lost.” [That explains why he is sometimes absent from City Council meetings? Also people have smart phones now.]

Headline: New apartment projects are on tap in Mendota Heights
Author: Kevin Driscoll

Short short version: They are building apartments in Mendota Heights by Highway 110. There will be granite countertops. [When I was a kid this whole area was but a McDonalds and a 7-Eleven. It’s still barely walkable BTW, but for Mendota Heights, it's the best they got!]

Headline: Commission grants permit, variance for apartments near Nova
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: After a year of delay they are finally allowed to build a building next to the school based on ancient Roman culture. [Unlike last time this was proposed] nobody seems particularly concerned. [Kudos to CM Noecker, I am assuming, for working out a compromise whereby dozens of upset mothers-of-classically-inclined-children did not attend the Zoning Committee meeting and angrily testify!] Article includes brief history of the Victoria Park area, [which is interesting and somewhat tragic].

Headline: HPC rejects plans to redevelop historic University Ave. storefront
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Heritage Preservation Commission voted down plans that a developer has to redevelop a one-story building by University and Raymond. Something about brass decorative trim. The building was originally a GM Truck something or other and dates to 1928. [¯\_(ツ)_/¯.]

Headline: Local projects successfully reach for Neighborhood STAR funds
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city gave out grants to some groups for things like park improvements or mentoring. Breweries did not get anything this time. [The golden age of city grants for breweries seems to be over now. Which is good. If you want a new brewery, you’ll have to get some serious investors.]

Headline: Making strides; St. Paul adopts plan to help more kids safely walk or bike to school
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The City Council approved a “Safe Routes to School” plan. [As long as none of the safety improvements call for any changes to existing traffic and parking situations? For example, the rejected Stillwater bike lanes were next to a school and would have added a new crosswalk to the park.] The plan is both specific and vague, and like the Federal program, underfunded. CM Tolbert quote: "in many areas it’s not safe for kids to get across busy streets.” [True! Also this makes me really wish we made safety an actual priority, but for example at the aforementioned Nova school where there is a situation where because nobody can walk, everyone drives their kids there, and there’s huge traffic and speeding and safety issues and so nobody walks. &c repeat forever. Anyway point is that there’s always trade-offs and if we want to really actually create “safe routes to school” we need to do things like get ride of a traffic lane on Rice Street, or stripe a bike lane on Stillwater when we’re repaving it, or exchange parking spaces for bumpouts and stuff like that you see? Also during the presentation on this, the city’s ped advocate said that something like 90% of Saint Paul is technically a “school zone.” The whole city should be safe for walking. I guess I’m in a bad mood today.]


Notable Quotes #10: Jonathan Raban describes Downtown Minneapolis Skyways c. 1981

Minneapolis itself, though, had gone indoors. When it had done all it could to tinker with the Mississippi; when the bridges, mills, power plants, locks and dams had been finished; then the city had turned its back on the river and focused inward on itself. Now it was engaged in yet another exercise in utopian gadgetry; building a city within a city, a perfumed maze of artificial streets and plazas set in midair, four stories above the ground.

No wonder the streets had seemed so empty. The city had gone somewhere else and cunningly hidden itself inside its own facade. To go shopping, one had to take the elevator up to this other Minneapolis. It was a completely synthetic urban space. Glassed-in "skyways" vaulted from block to block, and the shopping plazas had been quarried out of the middles of existing buildings like so many chambers, grottoes and tunnels in a mountain of rock.

Here, fountains trickled in carpeted parks. The conditioned air smelled of cologne and was thickened with a faint, colorless spray of Muzak. The stores were open-fronted, like the stalls of a covered Arab souk. Like all the best utopias, this one was only half-built. It was the nucleus of a dream city designed to stretch out and farther out until Minneapolis-in-the-air would be suspended like an aureole over the deserted ruins of Minneapolis-on-the-ground. If one put one's ear to the walls, one might hear the distant reverberation of workmen with pneumatic drills tunneling out more corridors and plazas in the wider reaches of the city.

The skyway system was as vividly expressive of the peculiar genius of Minneapolis as the roller-coasting freeways are of Los Angeles or the glass-and-cement cliffs of New York. Only a city with really horrible weather could have arrived at such a thing. Here people had left their local nature behind altogether. It was something nasty down below, and the skyways floated serenely over the top of it. "Nature" here was of the chic and expensive kind that comes only from the most superior of florists: ornamental palms and ferns, rooted not in soil but in coppery chips of synthetic petroleum extract

Voices melted into the musical syrup of André Kostelanetz that trickled from hidden speakers in the palm fronds. Footsteps expired on the carpeted halls. At a mock-Parisian street café, the shoppers sat out at gingham tables, drinking Sanka with nonsaccharin sugar substitutes. Skyway-city turned one into an escapee. it was a place where everyone was on the run--from the brutish climate, from carcinogens, from muggers, rapists, automobile horns. Even one's own body was being discreetly disinfected and homogenized by the deodorant air. Up here, everything was real nice: we were nice people who smelled nice, looked nice and did nice things in nice places.

Four floors below, we could see the nasty world we'd left behind. Hennepin Avenue was stretched out in front of us, famous for the Original Sin in which it wallowed. Beneath the skyway, a crummy little store sold rubber wear and shackles. Posters for the blue-movie houses showed nipples and pudenda so imaginatively colored and airbrushed that they'd ceased to look human in origin. A wino pissed in a doorway, watched by his dog. It was a pregnant bitch, and looked vaguely ashamed of its owner.

Looking down on that fallen world from the standpoint of this temporary synthetic Eden, I thought that perhaps Minneapolis and I were really on much the same track, traveling hopefully, never arriving. I loved the audacity of that American principle which says, when life gets tainted or goes stale, junk it! Leave it behind! Go west. Go up. Move on. Minneapolis had lit out from its river. Now it was trying to wave goodbye to its own streets. The skyways were just the latest stage in its long voyage out and away. "Where ya goin'?" said the truck driver to the hitchhiker at the end of Manhattan Transfer. "I dunno. Purdy far." It was the same answer that I'd given to the drunk in Moby Dick's, and on the skyways the whole city seemed to be echoing that classic traveler's statement of intent.

[From British travel writer Jonathan Raban's 1981 book, Old Glory: an American Voyage, about a trip down the Mississippi from Minneapolis to New Orleans.]
[Downtown Minneapolis in 1981.]


Twin City Doorways #32

 [New Orleans, LA.]

 [North End. Saint Paul.]

 [Cedar-Riverside, Minneapolis.]


 [Seward. Minneapolis.]

 [Dayton's Bluff. Saint Paul.]

[West Side. Saint Paul.]


Public Character #7: Mark, who hosts a Beanbag League in his Yard off West 7th Street

[Mark, left, and his friend, the chef of the low country boil.]
During certain summer afternoons, just past Skarda's Bar along West 7th Street, you might find a big group gathered along the sidewalks hanging out, drinking beer, and tossing beanbags in a grassy lot along the Bay Street sidewalk.

That's the work of Mark, who has been hosting the league for almost a decade, ever since the 35W bridge fell down.

I was lucky enough to meet Mark and see the league last week!

Mark: Well when the 35 bridge come down we were all playing horseshoes over here at [the] Palace [rec center]. And we’re in the middle of league night and we heard this and we were like, “what the F just happened?” you know. And so we went through that experience playing the horse shoes that night and went home and watched the news and it was not good.

So that was 10 years ago, August. We’re all playing the horseshoe league, and then the same year the City of Saint Paul decided they were going to pull the horseshoes out of Palace and put a refrigerated hockey rink over there.

And so the horseshoes are gone and we got nowhere to go, so I had this yard over here and I sez we’ll go from horseshoes to bean bags. We had a women’s and a men's league over there so we kinda combined the women’s and the men’s league because everybody can play bean bags.

Se we started that and this is our 9-year finale.

So we brought all the folks over here and we play for 9 weeks, the first week of June to the first week in August. Last Thursday was just terrible, it was 50 degrees we got rained out.

And then we have the low country boil dinner that I was talking about. I’m gonna tell you again it’s a damn… First thing you put in there is your baby red potatoes, then you put in your an-dou-ille sausage, and then you put in your shrimp and you gotta spice it up just right. I was serving in the military down in Savannah and we called it “low country boil” down there.

There’s ten boards. We’ve got 38 people in the league, normally this is a lot fuller but U don’t know evidently they got scared away by my low country boil.

My name is Mark. You got that thing F’ing rolling or what? [referring to my iPhone]

Now you got a story.


Four of my Favorite Urban Drawings

Cartoons, drawings, and illustrations have always been central to architecture and design, both ways of knowing based on observing the urban landscape and reducing it to basic principles. Nothing does that better than a great drawing or illustration.

So here are some of my all-time favorites, along with brief explanations of why I think they're so keen!

#1: The "road space" cutaway (by "Todorovic")

I love this drawing because it captures the inequality inherent in our street design priorities. Cars are climate controlled, hermetically sealed bubbles of private space. In general, we give over a huge percentage of our streets to people traveling in relative luxury, while forcing everyone else to share the street's table scraps.

Whenever our cities equivocate between bike lanes, transit, and sidewalks... Whenever we fail to prioritize shared or active mobility, we're propping up privilege. This illustration perfectly shows that fundamental dynamic.

#2. The LOS bulldozer (by Andy Singer)

Saint Paul-based cartoonist and my friend, Andy Singer, is one of this world's car cartoon geniuses -- a small group, to be sure -- and there are so many great Singer cartoons to choose from. If I had to choose just one, my favorite is probably this one, because it connects the dots in a very specific and important way.

(DOTs... get it?)

It's not often that cartoons can capture a structural problem so elegantly, including specific nerdy data like average annual daily traffic (AADT) and level of service (LOS) to prove a point.

For more on how this works, check out my podcast with Andy Singer about his book, Why We Drive.

#3. Daily "suburban mortar-fire" (by Leon Krier)

Architect, urban philosopher, famous Luxembourgian, and overall design gadfly Leon Krier's books are chock full of excellent illustrations that skewer modernist architecture and planning. This one is my favorite, though, because it elegantly captures the violence of sub-urban car priorities and how damaging they are to older, walkable cities.

In a way, suburbs and cities are literally at war with each other, and speeding cars are the weapons of choice. As long as cars are around, no walkable city is safe.

#4. City streets as cliffs (artist unknown by Karl Jilg)

I don't know who made this amazing drawing of a city street as a giant canyon, but it perfectly captures the *feeling* of walking through a car-dominated city.

In many downtowns, and certainly most other urban places too, the danger of the street is everywhere. Technically the street might be "safe" according to modern engineering standards, but being anywhere near a street with cars going at 40 miles per hour just a few feet away feels terrifying. The streets might as well be cliffs, and your kid tugging on your arm might as well be about to fall into a bottomless pit. Crosswalks feel like the bridge in an Indiana Jones movie, and your dog is always in peril.

I love how this drawing captures that feeling so perfectly. This is probably my favorite sidewalk illustration of all time!

That's it. Those are my top four.

But just for kicks, here are some extras that didn't quite make the cut.

Honorable Mention

[A good illustration from Victor Gruen, father of the indoor shopping mall.]
[Another Andy Singer cartoon that is all-too-true.]

[A Tom Toles masterpiece on white flight, including an all-time-great pun.]

[This speaks for itself.]

[Great illustration of bike politics from my friend, Ken Avidor.]

[An excellent New Yorker piece.]
[And what list would be complete without the worst cartoon ever?]


Signs of the Times #129


[Sidewalk. West Bank, Minneapolis.]

[Window. West Side, Saint Paul.]

[Door. West 7th Street, Saint Paul.]


[Sidewalk. New Orleans, LA.]


[Telephone pole. New Orleans, LA.]


[Pole. New Orleans, LA.]


[Pole. New Orleans, LA.]


[Window. New Orleans, LA.]


Reading the Highland Villager #187

[A Highland Villager hits the spot.]
[Basically the problem is that the best source of Saint Paul streets & sidewalks news is the Highland Villager, a very fine and historical newspaper. This wouldn't be a problem, except that its not available online. You basically have to live in or frequent Saint Paul to read it. Until this newspaper goes online, sidewalk information must be set free. See also: Three Reasons Why I Re-Blog the Highland Villager.]

Headline: Commission gives its blessing to Ford plan with changes; Commissioners seek increased density on river road, removal of private recreational space
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Planning Commission unanimously approved a plan for the site of the former Ford truck factory. It was uncontroversial. The only discussion involved whether or not to add greater density along the Mississippi River Road. The increased density passed on a 14-2 vote, and was also uncontroversial. Some public comments were in an email inbox for a while longer than City staff would have liked, and were delayed in making it into the final City report on public comments. The City Council is going to vote on the plan now [likely in late September sometime].

Headline: Corps reconsiders use of river's locks and dams; Future of hydro power and boat traffic on Mississippi may rest in results of study
Author: Roger Barr

Short short version: Old locks and dams in the Twin Cities area might or might not be changed or removed. The Army Corps would like to not own the infrastructure any more, apparently. [Dammit.] Lots of people are interested in the river though, including the National Park service, who would like to see "natural" rapids brought back to the river. [Before the dams were put in, the Mississippi had very volatile water levels!]

Headline: St. Paul has several balls in air as soccer stadium rises; Port Authority is 'hopeful everything will come together in right timeline'
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A soccer team is building a new stadium in the Midway where a strip mall is currently located. Some leases were "approved" but not "finalized." A developer might be on board but maybe not. The Port Authority guy says that they are "hopeful" about the situation. Existing leases will be honored. [What about the Rainbow Foods and the bowling alley?] There might be a "community benefits agreement" between the team and the City but nobody knows what would be in it yet. There are workers on the site collection taking soil away. Pile driving is complete. A crane will arrive soon. Quote from developer: "once the structural steel arrives you'll see the stadium pop out of the ground." Neighbors are concerned about traffic and parking. [Pretty classic Saint Paul right here.]

Headline: Split City Council OKs $900,000 in TIF for stadium cleanup
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Council approved more tax increment financing for cleaning up pollution at the stadium site, which was formerly a streetcar factory and vacant lot for storing transit buses. The Port Authority is applying for cleanup grants but not getting very many. [Um, try harder? This is the thing you do that you are good at.] The total pollution cleanup cost is $7M maybe. [What is the alternative? Just leave the pollution there? Maybe market it as "ToxicLot Park"?] CMs Noecker and Prince voted against the TIF shift. Quote from CM Prince: "This is the Met Council's site that the Met Council has been polluting." [Good point, right there.]

Headline: City to review plan for 34 units of senior housing on Selby Ave.
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A land trust non-profit is building apartments for old people on lots that have been vacant a long time. The parking lot might be too small. [About time!]

Headline: Organized trash effort proceeds with hopes of lowering fees
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The City Council voted to continue getting the city's garbage companies to work together. The vote was uncontroversial. Neighbors are concerned about freedom [to be trashy]. Quote from Highland neighbor: "I want free choice." Some Council Members want lower fees and/or more recycling. Quote from pro-organized garbage woman: "I would greatly appreciate organized collection." Some people think the organization will reduce dumping. [This all makes a great deal of sense and it's dumb that we're even having this conversation in the first place. See also my recent article on it.]

Headline: Heads-up for The Capp at 46th & Hiawatha; Residents await reveal of grocery store tenant
Author: Bill Wagner

Short short version: Minneapolis is getting a big mixed-use apartment building with retail and a grocery store next to a light rail station, over there in Minneapolis, the city to the west of Saint Paul. It looks good but it is not in Saint Paul at all. [I am assuming there will be property taxes generated from this project that will help the City of Minneapolis pay for things that people living in Minneapolis might want.] Neighbors are apparently unconcerned, depending on what grocery is chosen. [So like, if it's an Aldi everyone will riot but if it's a Trader Joe's that's cool?]

Headline: Mpls. raises concerns about Riverview line; Connecting streetcar to light-rail Blue Line may be problematic
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: [Woah, two Minneapolis stories in a single Villager? Something weird is going on here.] There might be transit down 46th Street [which is a godawful hell-street made from concrete that has San Andreas-like fissures and also connects horribly -- horribly! -- to the Ford Bridge over the river, and to nearby Minnehaha Park, and is generally a pretty terrible street to be near even though it has a median]. Neighbors are concerned about potential tunnels, other disruption, and getting to the park. Quote from neighbor: "we haven't gotten a lot of the answers we need yet."[I had assumed the concerns were about traffic and parking, but apparently they are not. Oh that Minneapolis... always throwing me for a loop.]

Headline: Rondo plaza takes two steps forward
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A small plaza in a formerly vacant lot will be built to commemorate the old African-American neighborhood that used to exist where the freeway exists today [so that people can drive through Saint Paul as fast as possible without stopping and also ignore the city around them]. The plaza will have a column, a "sculpted hill" exhibits, lights and seats. Quote from city guy: "the plaza will create a vibrant space and enhance the character of the neighborhood." A non-profit is raising money for the plaza, and the site used to have a grocery store / barber shop. Quote from the Rondo organizer: "this site was the epicenter of the community."


Signs of the Times #128


[Tree. New Orleans, LA.]


[Building. New Orleans, LA.]


[Door. Lafayette, LA.]



[Wall. Lafayette, LA.]


[Doorway. New Orleans, LA.]


[No Parking sign. New Orleans, LA.]


[Levee wall. New Orleans, LA.]


[Building. New Orleans, LA.]


Limited Space Available - Obscure Museums of Minneapolis Bike Tour Next Saturday

[Hennepin History Museum.]
Everyone knows about the big museums, but what about the small museums? What about the museums that aren't even museums?

We will be going to visit four such "obscure museums" of Minneapolis. Hopefully this is the first of many such tours.

NOTE: Because museums are smallish, space is limited. You must buy a ticket to reserve your space.

Here's the agenda:

Bike ride is approximately 5 miles, non-strenuous, and relaxed paced. Tour is approximately 2.5 hours.

What: Guided bike ride to 3-4 obscure "museums in Minneapolis
When: Saturday 8/12 2:30 - 5:00
Where: Meet at the Hennepin History Museum
Why: Why not?
Who: Anyone who buys a ticket and is willing to ride a bike

Get your ticket today! If this works, I will get another one in planned. I have a long list of strange museum-ish spaces that would be interesting to explore.

[One wing of the Flem museum.]
[The hall of Minneapolis City Council members, past and present.]


Ten Years Later: 35W Bridge Collapse and the Sudden Visibility of Infrastructure

[Hurdling the guardrail.]
Ten years ago, this blog was in purgatory. I'd unplugged from writing very much about anything about Twin Cities' urban design, and had just begun graduate school in Geography to study seriously some of the fundamental dynamics of cities and street life.  I wasn't really that interested in continuing to blab on the internet, and for good reason, because blogging is probably not the best use of anyone's time.

But then some gusset plates snapped, and the bridge fell into the river down the street.

The fantastic failure of a basic piece of Minneapolis' built environment re-captured my attention, focusing it particularly on how we take our infrastructure for granted. That something so massive and seemingly permanent could disappear in an instant -- and also that life and traffic would go on -- illustrated how temporary and fragile our cities really are.

Here's my blogpost from ten years ago, reprinted. Oddly, moments like this are both unforgettable and they aren't. In a way, we must forget incidents like this, where the regular order of the city fails spectacular. We go on as if nothing like this had ever happened, resuming our frenetic lives.

But it's worth pausing and remembering that all the infrastructure around us is material, fallible, and human. At least for a day or two, don't take your bridges for granted.

Interstate Bridge of the Week: 35W Mississippi River Bridge

[The view from the River Road, biking toward the collapse on 8/1/07]
This week's Interstate Bridge of the Week is the 35W Mississippi River Bridge near the West Bank/U of M/Metrodome area of downtown Minneapolis. It collapsed today into the river, and obviously it's a terrible tragedy in which many people lost lives or were horribly injured. My friend called me from the area five minutes after it happened, and I biked down to the U of MN campus to see what was happening.

I was living in Brooklyn during 9/11, and what happened in the Twin Cities today was a lot like New York six years ago: so many people stopped what they were doing, people called their friends and family on the phone, and crowds gathered around television sets to watch, comment on, and share the experience.

But at the same time it strikes me that there are a host of differences between the two events. The most important is that, unlike 9/11 or the San Francisco earthquake, there was nothing in particular that caused this collapse. It just happened, like entropy, or spontaneous combustion. The bridge reached a tipping point where it could no longer support the collective weight of steel, concrete, and cars, and its commuters suffered the consequences.

We should all be truly shocked that this was just a case of bad engineering. From what I've heard on MPR tonight (in a great bit of internet research by someone named Aarsanden Totten (?)), this bridge was a unique bit of engineering lacking the structural 'redundancy' that serves as a crucial backup in case the primary support fails. It might have been rust, or even one too many potholes on the bridge's surface, but in all likelihood this is a case of cutting one too many corners, either in the bridge's construction or its later maintenance. (Let me point out that the WTC collapse was in no small part due to the unique structural supports of the building. The outside of the building held it up, allowing more office space to occupy the interior, just as this bridge was uniquely built to allow an uninterrupted span to cross the Mississippi. Is this technological progress? Ingenuity?)

It makes you think about all the common infrastructure that we share, all the freeways, power lines, satellites, buildings, and sewers... all the the police, firefighters, and hospitals that we all count on whether we know it or not. This is not to mention the flows from farms and factories that provide everything we eat and use. We even rely on the media -- those bastardized televisions, radios, and cell phones that we use every day -- to let us know what's happening in our cities and countries, and throughout the world. So much relies on so much steel, sand, and stone.

But of course we forget. People think when they slam shut their car door, flip on the A/C, and crank up KS95 that they're invulnerable. We think that our walls are solid, and that homes are ours and ours alone. We believe that bootstraps are the only things holding us up, but we forget that cars are just as reliant on public infrastructure as everything else, as trains or buses or electric sockets. In fact, this country has pumped trillions of dollars during the last 50 years into building a vast, vast network of highways, bridges, and concrete overpasses. We've spent more money on highways in this country than on any other public works project (unless you call the military budget a public work), but it's the kind of thing that's easy to forget about until something reminds us that somewhere, at some point, some guy under a fluorescent light designed everything we take for granted.

No, the real story today is that we've been reminded that we're all in this together. The reporter on MPR right now is explaining that she's most surprised by all the people, and their collective response to the crisis. "The people the just keep coming and coming and coming", she says, "trying to see if for themselves" and "standing in groups, talking to each other." Yes, its a shock in the U.S.A. to share a collective experience, to join a group of your neighbors and witness the world around you. We demand a spectacle, like fireworks, football, or a good war parade.

When I went past the old bicycle bridge at the University of Minnesota (just South of the scene) I found it covered with people, and most of them were there because they knew they were part of a community. It could have been them in those cars, and if there had been any way to help out, somehow, they would have. For a moment, we were all in this together, and it reminded me of Manhattan in 2001 where, just like today, I was able to stop and talk to complete strangers about the world around me. (Hell, Channel 4 just interviewed a Hispanic family who was involved in the accident. It's probably the first time they've interviewed a Hispanic family all year. "They drive cars too?")

It's a cliche to say so, but it is times like this we pull together as Minnesotans, as Americans, and as people. Only it's sad that it takes a fucking tragedy to realize that we're not all atomized individuals, and that we all depend on each other all of the time. For some reason when something like this happens, I only wish that we could muster one tenth of this kind of engagement during our everyday lives. I wish that the radios, televisions, and newspapers would carry more stories about cuts to the transportation budget or layoffs at the Hennepin County Medical Center, and more importantly, I wish people would read and care about these stories. I wish that people all over the state, no matter where they live, would realize that the schools in Minneapolis or Baghdad matter just as much as the price of gas or property taxes, and that democracy might be more important than Kevin Garnett. Today we've seen the news doing what it does best, and really making a difference. But maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but someday, soon, and for the rest of our lives we'll go back to reading about Paris Hilton above the fold and caring about our checkbook more than our neighbor. And that, as much as the obvious destruction, is why I find times like today so sad... so sad, and at the same time, strangely hopeful.

[Traffic next to the 35W bridge collapse.]