*** 25 Weekend Sidewalk Links for You! ***

Sidewalk Rating: Slippery

With a clamor of bells that set the swallows soaring, the Festival of Summer came to the city Omelas, bright-towered by the sea. The rigging of the boats in harbor sparkled with flags. In the streets between houses with red roofs and painted walls, between old moss-grown gardens and under avenues of trees, past great parks and public buildings, processions moved. Some were decorous: old people in long stiff robes of mauve and grey, grave master workmen, quiet, merry women carrying their babies and chatting as they walked. In other streets the music beat faster, a shimmering of gong and tambourine, and the people went dancing, the procession was a dance. Children dodged in and out, their high calls rising like the swallows' crossing flights, over the music and the singing.

[From Omelas, by Ursula Le Guin.]

[Saint Paul's West Side before the cold front blew in.]



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Banning cars is as simple as it sounds: It’s restricting private automobiles from entering a geographic area. You might have already seen how this works in a pedestrian-prioritized historical district, which is common in bigger cities. So we start the ban there, in the biggest cities


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You made another point about China. I have been to China recently as well. They are building lots of things, and the reason we shouldn’t be directly comparing the United States or developed countries in Europe or Australia with China directly is that it is starting from a much less developed base. So, when you’re in a country with no intercity highways, it’s very important to build freeways. When you’re in a country where we finished the interstate highway system in 1982, more or less, it’s much less important to build new highways because we’ve already connected all of the places that need to be connected and we’re just arguing about the widening of roads and capacity expansions rather than building connectivity in the first place.


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“Back in the late sixties, James’s comments about his former life in Minneapolis and teaching experience at the University had made me skeptical of the city ... I thought of it as ugly and his life there as sad and lonely. … When negotiations with the University concerning the placement of James’s papers to the Manuscript Department took place, I realized that ‘the bad guys’ had long left the University and the new ‘good guys’ involved were devoted to James’s work.”


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Twin City Shop Windows #16

[West Bank, Minneapolis?]

[West Bank, Minneapolis.]

[Marshall Avenue, Saint Paul.]

[West Bank, Minneapolis.]

[West 7th, Saint Paul.]

[Memphis, TN.]

[New Orleans, LA.]

[Lafayette, LA.]


Talking aboot Winnipeg versus Twin Cities Urbanism with the CBC

A few months ago, I went on a lovely trip up to Winnipeg, Manitoba with my mother. The city is about a seven-hour drive, but when you get you your destination, you're in a different country!

Winnipeg was fun to wander around, and I ended up blogging about my experience and observations there over at streets.mn.

You can check that article out there, but here's a highlight:
By the way, mode share in Winnipeg is something like 14%. That’s the metro area stats, by the way.  
Are those numbers in metric or Canadian dollars or something, because that is far far higher than Minneapolis?
The equivalent numbers for Minneapolis are something like 9% city-wide and 5% metro-wide. In Winnipeg, they are doing something right with the transit planning. I suspect its a complicated series of land use, planning, and financial incentives that create this more transit-friendly environment. Whatever the reason, it makes me jealous!

At any rate, Winnipeggers seemed both pleased and nonplussed by my piece, and I got a lot of good comments from Canadian readers on streets.mn and social media. My little observations got so much attention, in fact, that the CBC called me up yesterday and interviewed me for their afternoon news show on the local CBC.

Must have been a slow news day up north (LOL), but what an honor! I'm a big fan of the CBC and Canadian media, so this was pretty exciting.

Here's the whole interview, for your listening pleasure. We chatted about urban freeways, walking, skyways versus tunnels versus sidewalks, and some experimental bike lanes.

If you listen closely, I think you can hear the host seem rather astonished that I actually liked Winnipeg. "Really? You liked it? Wow," he keeps implying. It's rather amusing, eh?


BONUS, eh!


The Last Ice Palace of Saint Paul

[Plans for an ice palace that will never be built.]
The forecast high temperature today, on December 4th in Saint Paul, Minnesota, is 58 degrees. That might seem unusual, but it shouldn’t.

The warm air reminds me of a little-noted event that happened a few weeks ago. It was the announcement, made by a group of civic boosters, that despite the upcoming Super Bowl, there would be no ice palace in Saint Paul this year.

Here’s what one report said:
Even if they’d gotten the money, however, organizers also faced the challenge of having a place to harvest the ice. In the past, it could be chopped out of area lakes but too often lately the lakes don’t freeze early enough.

The planners envisioned an ice palace reaching 170 feet at its apex, which would break a current world record of 166 feet set in Minnesota in 1992 — also during a Super Bowl.
Though no fan of the Super Bowl, the story stuck with me because the plain truth is right there. There will never be another Ice Palace in Saint Paul.


That’s a crazy and absolute word, but it’s true. Saint Paul’s lakes will never freeze thickly and quickly again. People will never harvest blocks of ice, never again build a fantastic palace of frozen water. A tradition that's as old as anything in this city is dead forever.

[The 1887 Ice Palace in Central Park, built from 30,000 blocks if local lake ice.]
The first Saint Paul ice palaces were built in a park that no longer exists, Central Park by the State Capitol complex. The park was partly funded by a distant relative of mine, a wealthy merchant who built a mansion on its northeast corner in 1880. A few years later, in defiance of the long cold relentless winters, they began the Winter Carnival, an annual celebration of the city's most infamous season.

A few decades later, F. Scott Fitzgerald grew up in Saint Paul, and wrote an early story based on the Saint Paul ice palaces. It tells the tale of a southern girl named Sally Carrol who moves north for love, and quickly becomes alienated by the winter’s cold. The tale centers on the ice palace:
After another ten minutes they turned a corner and came in sight of their destination. On a tall hill outlined in vivid glaring green against the wintry sky stood the ice palace. It was three stories in the air, with battlements and embrasures and narrow icicled windows, and the innumerable electric lights inside made a gorgeous transparency of the great central hall. Sally Carrol clutched Harry's hand under the fur robe.

"It's beautiful!" he cried excitedly. "My golly, it's beautiful, isn’t it! They haven't had one here since eighty-five!"

Somehow the notion of there not having been one since eighty-five oppressed her. Ice was a ghost, and this mansion of it was surely peopled by those shades of the eighties, with pale faces and blurred snow-filled hair.
The story does not end well.

[The 1896 Ice Palace, built the year Fitzgerald was born.]

In the 1940s, they again built ice palaces in Saint Paul, designed by a man named Cap Wigington, the city’s African-American civic architect. Compared to the utilitarian buildings he was normally tasked with, the mercurial ice palace designs became elaborate dreams. The palaces were a chance for him to create the incredible, to capture the hopes of the city in ephemeral blocks, frozen for but a moment in time. Wigington made six ice palaces, and each of them melted crazily in the springtime.

[Wigington's 1937 Saint Paul Ice Palace.]
Growing up, I remember going to the Ice Palace as a kid. It was in 1986, when I was seven years old, and I  recall the cold smell of the crowd that lingered in the air, the dry scrape on my feet from the corners of the walls. The thick blocks, the lights shining in pastel colors, the monumental towers and the sheer impossibility of the building stick in my mind like a barely remembered dream. To me, that palace was the most fantastic.

A few years later, for another Super Bowl, they built another one, with cleaner modernist lines.

[The world record 1992 Ice Palace, that bankrupted the Winter Carnival. The record might never be broken.]

[The 2011 ice wall, a shrine to the lost past.]
In the remaining years, whatever was left of any Winter Carnival ice had shrunk to the size of a simple wall erected in a downtown park. A candle seemed to flicker alongside the ice as people strolled past, the light glowing like a shrine.

That was the end of the Saint Paul ice palaces. I saw them, and they are gone forever.

Climate change is typically viewed as an event horizon. By 2100, so they say, the seas will rise and Miami will flood. But in fact, climate change has already taken place. A major piece of culture that I personally remember has gone extinct, and Minnesota winter itself rapidly follows suit.

As I write this, the annual ice fishing show has just wrapped up at the downtown arena, but it’s hard to envision much future in that endeavor.  So too with cross country skiing, outdoor hockey, dogsledding, and snow forts, all things that will disappear on my watch, reduced to nothing by our collective climactic failure.

Years from now, when I am old, I will tell children about Saint Paul's ice palaces and they won’t believe me.

“When I was your age, we walked on lakes in the wintertime,” I will tell them. “We even drove trucks across them! People would build houses on the lakes and stay out there for weeks on end. And the snow covered the ground for months and months without melting.”

“We don’t believe you,” they will say. “That’s not possible!”

“When I was young, there was a blizzard on Halloween,” I will tell them. “Snow plied up to the windows, and everyone stayed home from school. In January, when I was your age, it got so cold that your nose hairs froze, each tiny little hair, frozen like a popsicle! When I was little, the air got to be twenty below zero! Once I took a pot of boiling water outside, tossed it the air, and it froze immediately. It disappeared and never hit the ground.” 

"You're lying to us!" they shriek.

“No I am not," I insist with a smile.

"When I was little, there were huge castles made of ice, right here in Saint Paul in the wintertime,” I will say. “I saw them with my own eyes. I went in one! When I was your age, I walked in a ice palace that was over a hundred feet tall. It had towers and lights and stairs of frozen water.”

They will say, “Are you telling the truth?”


Saint Paul Flags #3

Reading the Highland Villager #195

[A stack of Villagers loitering by a pole.]
[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: City council commits $4 million more for infrastructure around new soccer stadium; latest outlay will pay for new streets, walks, drainage system
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city is spending more money on infrastructure around Snelling and University where the soccer stadium is being constructed. CMs Bostrom, Noecker, and Prince voted against, including floating an amendment that would strip out $250K for the “great lawn”, a public/private park. The park will be mostly controlled by the soccer team. $2.3M is going to the stormwater management project. [Still waiting for the tax-paying development part of this to kick in…] There is a debate about whether to move the stoplight at Snelling and Spruce Tree Drive, but it is likely to happen.

Headline: Public debates the merits of streetcars on West 7th; supporters held sway at hearing that drew 200
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There was a public meeting about the proposed Riverview / West 7th streetcar and lots of people came. Article includes brief summary of the project, with “proponents outnumbering opponents.” [That goes contrary to every narrative about “neighborhood opposition” I have seen written or spoken anywhere. A good sign I reckon, for people like myself who support the plan’s potential.] Some people are concerned about existing businesses or pedestrian safety or future bike lanes or on-street parking. One guy would like it to serve the Ford site. The project might be done by 2027.

Headline: Organized trash will lower fees for some; new system could be operating by next fall
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: It took 14 months for the city to get an agreement with the garbage companies. CMs Bostrom and Prince voted against, because of “increased costs.” Costs will be something like $20-30 a month, depending on the size and frequency. [Seems reasonable to me. Have to include the collective savings for reduced road wear, which is a large unknown number.]

Headline: Pre-leasing begins for new tenants around soccer stadium
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: New places are going into the old strip mall, the part that wasn’t torn down. [I want new buildings, and new office / retail / residential spaces in the old parking lots! Replacing a Radio Shack with another tenant isn’t what I was hoping for.]  Quote from owner: “the current L-shaped space on the eastern side with 20 active businesses will remain following the demolition of Rainbow, Walgreens, Home Choice and Big top Liquor.”

Headline: County seeks new proposals for jail, West site in downtown
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The County is still trying to develop the land right on the bluff by City Hall. The last project fell through when the County would not agree to subsidize a huge parking ramp. [Good for them, but we need something amazing here. It’s certainly worth waiting and doing it right.]

Headline: Hearing set on plans for senior housing at old Riverside site
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: An abandoned elementary school will become subsidized senior housing. It will also likely reconfigure Lexington Parkway [also mentioned in my recent West 7th ideas piece, now updated with a rendering!] where it meets West 7th, which is currently really dangerous. 

Headline: Mc-Grove rejects proposal to study student housing district
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A neighborhood group voted against extending the “student housing zoning overlay” to the area around Macalester. [I think the current policy should be evaluated before being expanded.] Some people are concerned about the increase of student rentals in their neighborhood. [One perverse impact of the overlay is that it will “push” students to live just outside the boundaries of it, no matter where you put the boundary. Treating students / young people with a default stigma is not that great of a thing to do, IMO.]

Headline: HRA agrees to sell Selby Ave. lots for mixed-use projects
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Two city-owned Selby Avenue long-time vacant lots will become mixed-use senior housing and live-work retail.

Headline: St. Paul property owners brace for tax increases in 2018; but fist they may want to sound off to city, county, school district officials
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Property taxes will go up. There will be meetings.

Headline: City eases rules for raising chickens; ordinance removes the required consent of neighbors for flocks of one to six hens
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: You have to ask forgiveness rather than permission for having chickens now. The city maximum is 15 chickens. [That’s a lot of chickens!] CMs Tolbert, Prince and Bostrom wanted to keep the permission rules in place even for smaller numbers of chickens.

Headline: Downtown’s Pedro Park won’t be as large as supporters had hoped; city favors plan to sell police annex for use as ‘creative’ office space
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Land that had been earmarked for a park for a long time will now still be earmarked for a park but only one that’s half the size because the some people at the city do not want to tear down an old building that it owns but instead want to redevelop it instead. The new developer would pay for the new park, and there’s a proposal in place. The City Council voted 4-3 to sell the old building on the proposed park to a developer for an undisclosed amount that is more than $1.13M. The proposal for the building will be a mix of office and retail, as well as $650K to improve the remaining part of the park. [The original park budget was $30K.] CM Noecker, Prince, and Thao opposed the sale of the building. Some people think downtown needs new office space. [Q: how public will the new park be? Will it look like a park only for people in the new building, or will anyone be comfortable in it?] People who really liked the idea of the full half-block-size park are upset about the loss of half the proposed park. The park was originally proposed in 2009. Building the park would be expensive.  [As long as it doesn't continually play Mozart concerts out of a deadened empty stage in the hopes of keeping homeless people at bat, like they do over Mears for some reason.]

Headline: Variance denied new James Ave. home; contractor placed front of home closer to street than survey indicated
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A new house that was built on James Avenue is almost a foot closer to the property line than is permitted. The home is 19.3’ from the property line, but code says it must be 20’ from the line. The Board of Zoning Appeals denied a [post-facto] variance. The contractor made a mistake, and admits it but wish that the city had said so sooner.Quote from neighbor: “this house is bigger than any other on the block. Standing in our front yards and looking up and down the block, the house will block the views.” The original home was once lived in by a young Charles Schultz. [Insert Charlie Brown “kite stuck in tree” joke.] Nobody knows what will happen next, but “tearing down part of the structure” is listed as an option. [This is an extremely Saint Paul moment, right here.]

Headline: St. Paul strengthens its efforts for dealing with vacant buildings
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: City inspectors will now be able to coax building owners to rehab vacant buildings a bit more easily because inspectors have tracked them more closely. Article includes lots of stories about vacant buildings, which come in three categories, and are mostly located in the East Side, North End, and Frogtown. Last year, about 40 vacant building were razed. [I remember this being a big thing in Minneapolis’ North Side as well.]

Headline: City, county adjust their proposals for leasing Highland reservoir site
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A large piece of land that used to be needed as a water reservoir [and is located just across the street from Highland Villager HQ] will be reused as something, but nobody knows quite what yet. The city wants more rec fields, and maybe a bit of a parking lot. The county still wants a big parking lot, and maybe ice rinks someday. There is also a “more ambitious” County proposal involving ice rinks, a “water tower park” [WTH?] and retail. [Can we not with the surface parking lots? It seems like “pave it for parking” is like the #1 answer, no matter the question asked.]


Another Dive Goes Down as Tracks Bar Hits the End of the Line

Tracks Bar on University Avenue has long been one of the weirder ones. Probably most people think that it’s called “Tracks” because it's near the railroad tracks. This is absolutely not the case! The true story is weirder, and you can read it below.

I liked Tracks, and would often meet people there to give them the flavor of the Midway neighborhood. Tracks was the bar and restaurant of the Midway Days Inn, and hanging out at Tracks was always food for thought. During the day, the place would be a mix of old alkies and bored budget travelers, the perfect place to wallow in vague depression. It was connected to the hotel hallway, and to get the the bathroom you had to go past both the bar fish tank and the hotel swimming pool, each of which had its own distinct aroma.

I remember drinking beer with a friend and watching a messed-up man fall asleep on the bus stop out the window. He leaned way over, drooling on himself before gradually succumb to gravity and slipping into the sidewalk. After a half-hour or so, a cop came and told him to move along.

Over the years, Tracks has tried to change, adopting a classic University Avenue Asian-American menu, for example, or rearranging their darts machine. Off in the corner sat the last remnants of the old “supper club”, a previous incarnation (described below). It was a great place for pull tabs, darts, odd encounters, frozen pizza, and long beer-fueled silences. It was also a comfy well-fenestrated hangout for people in Saint Paul uninterested in $10+ burgers (as punk poet and Tracks fan Paul D. would tell you).

Tracks was a stop on my 2015 Midway Dive Bar tour, and Dickinson was there to greet us. I think he was grading creative writing assignments, and looking out the window. Midway is a part of town that is rapidly changing, but I thought that Tracks would stand the test of time.

I guess I was wrong.

Get there while you can, because tomorrow is the last day. So long, Tracks.

[My excerpt on Tracks from my Dive Bars of the Midway guide booklet follows. Buy the entire guide online!]


Dives come in all shapes, sizes, and temporalities. Tracks, about a half-mile West of Snelling Avenue,
offers a most curious story. 

Far back in time this was a “surf-and-turf” white tablecloth joint named Mr. Joe’s. “It was hopping,” one old patron once reminisced, which is difficult to imagine today because, somehow, Tracks transformed from a swank steakhouse into a drab motel bar the color of an expired nectarine.

Today, Tracks is the bar connected to the Midway Day’s Inn, one of the only hotels around, and here small worlds collide. Midway regulars, railroad drunks, cheapskate travelers, and innocent tourists mix to an unmatched social flavor. Where else can you spend an hour playing pull tabs with tourists in town from Iowa for the Hawkeye game while watching people cross University Avenue.

Adding to the human cocktail is the hotel pool, whose chlorine scent sometimes wafts through the door past the fishtank, occupied by two or three goldfish and an inky bottom feeder, and whose sounds echo through the hallway on your way to the bathroom. I’ve a recurring fantasy of renting a room at the Tracks Day’s Inn over a birthday weekend (or out of impromptu despair) and maintaining an assembly/conga line between the bar, the hotel room, and the hot tub waiting between them. Tracks combines the curt familiarity of the dive bar with the uneasy liberation of the hotel bar, a magical and overlooked fiasco, especially in the middle of the city. 

The hotel dive: likely a creature of circumstance, most often found in the suburbs. But here it encroaches into the Midway.

Should you achieve intimacy with Tracks, you’ll notice the strange gold protuberances punctuating the rail along the bar in the shape of huge horse heads. Funny story. Back in the 80s, when Tracks was weathering its nadir, there was a fire, and the club went through a deep identity crisis. Meanwhile a fantastical development was taking place at the very edges of the Southwest suburbs: speculators were building a racetrack named Canterbury Downs. It was to be the first ever Twin Cities’ horse track, and the imaginations of the risk-prone filled with visions of easy money. It was around this time that Tracks was re-named and re-modeled to capitalize on the soon- to-be-burgeoning culture of pony players. Tracks was to be the city’s first off-track betting (OTB) establishment, conveniently located in the Midway, right between the two downtowns. Everything was going to come together, like a great 80s metal cover. 

Alas t’was not to be. The State of Minnesota never legalized off-track betting, and Tracks became just another Midway hotel / dive bar / former surf-and-turf restaurant with gold horse heads guarding its island of alcohol. 

A common pastime at Tracks is to sit at one of the window-side tables and watch the bus stop on the corner. For some reason, this particular shelter attracts vagrancy, and I’ve wasted many a pleasant hour ignoring my problems with beer, watching a man with more problems struggle to stay upright, people drag large bags across the street, or the transit police appear to deal with the addled over-exuberance emerging from the #16 bus.

It would be remiss to point out that this building is hideously ugly, a monochromatic pale orange with vague late-80s cartoon modernist flair. Tracks and the attached motel form a “U” of bad architecture that belies the fact that, inside, you’ll find some of the city’s finest bartenders, sarcastic and firm. 

Appearances can be deceiving. Highly recommended.

[Get your own copy of Noteworthy Dive Bars of the Midway or any other of my dive booklets today!]