31.1.17

There Might Be Something in the Duluth Reader

Whenever I find myself in Duluth, it's like going back in time in at least one sense: the "alt weekly" game up there is intense. In the Twin Cities, the formerly thriving free, vaguely left, weekly ecosystem has been thinned out, literally and figuratively, leaving only the twice-bought City Pages to fill a wide void. Meanwhile, there are at least two regular weekly papers that still  sit around every week on the streets of Duluth. The Duluth Reader is my favorite, an impossibly thick weekly full of eclectic opinions, ads, and fluff. (The Zenith City Weekly is good too, by the way, slim and inexact as a dull razor.) I always grab myself a copy of Reader, and savor its many bizarre pages.

One thing I love about it is is unabashed left wing slant. The paper offers a raw labor / left politics, a dozen or more articles (many nationally syndicated, and a handful local) about topics that range from multiple strange horoscopes to environmental diatribes to defenses of indigenous rights to quack medical advice to odes to living in the woods to Garrison Keillor to meandering radical histories of the human condition. All in all, there is probably more working-class left-wing thought in one copy of the Reader than in a week's worth of the Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, and City Pages put together.

After I picked one up last weekend, the Reader grabbed my attention anew. In our current Trump era, I've been hunting the weedy margins of the media landscape in search of left wing politics with actual traction. The vacuum of purchase in the mainstream liberal media toward anything smacking of economic populism really sucks.

[The revolution will not be Public Radio podcasted.]
Take, for example, the featured podcast topics from NPR: Code Switch covers race and identity, Fresh Air has interviews about the arts, the TED Radio Hour offers techno-liberation, Ask Me Another is for laughs, Hidden Brain is popular science,  Latino USA and NPR Politics are self-explanatory, and Planet Money offers financial advice that only reinforces the uncritical stance of mainstream liberal media toward the stock market. Nowhere in this array of media choices do you find anything that might speak to white working-class interests.

So too with Kerri Miller's new "indivisible" show, explicitly designed as a reaction to the Trump White House. Here's the description from the press release:
Thursday nights, MPR News host Kerri Miller takes the microphone, focusing on American identity at this moment of change: Who is a part of the national narrative, who feels left out, and how might our long-term sense of ourselves change?
It's distressing that identity politics has become a negative buzzword, but it's not an exaggeration to say that the mainstream left has become much more comfortable in the domain of identity and rights than in discussing the root causes of economic inequality.

A focus on identity and rights isn't wrong -- especially in a moment when many of these rights are being sorely tested, divisive fissures mined by a team of venal powerful people --  but without a Sanders-esque focus on class at the foreground, I fear that the movements on the left will remain politically ineffectual and constrained to beseiged cities. Here's part of Robert Reich's recent list of political reforms for the Democrats:
5. It’s not enough for Democrats to be “against Trump,” and defend the status quo. Democrats have to fight like hell against regressive policies Trump wants to put in place, but Democrats also need to fight for a bold vision of what the nation must achieve – like expanding Social Security, and financing the expansion by raising the cap on income subject to Social Security taxes; Medicare for all; and world-class free public education for all. 

And Democrats must diligently seek to establish countervailing power – stronger trade unions, community banks, more incentives for employee ownership and small businesses, and electoral reforms that get big money out of politics and expand the right to vote. 
(The rest of the list is also worth reading.)

In addition to an open, diverse, and opportunistic resistance movement, the left -- and the Democrats if they are to survive -- sorely need economic issues that can cut across the widening racial and cultural fissures in our country. A perfect example is the $15 minimum wage debate (though even that has its limits). Another good example is Governor Dayton's proposal to open MinnesotaCare to everyone in the state, including the (mostly white) middle class.

[More of this please.]
That's why the Duluth Reader is refreshing! Inside you find legitimate class politics, wide ranging, even wacky critiques of the excesses of capitalism. And what's more, the stories are interspersed neatly alongside a dynamic localism, chock full of small businesses. At the bottom of half the pages are inset public service spots that state "Why Shop Locally?" (Reason #9: Preserve entrepreneurship; Reason #1: Keep dollars in Duluth's economy.) I love the combination.

Sure Duluth has problems. Overall, the city fits more clearly into the "rust belt" category than alongside the relatively thriving "knowledge economy" of the Twin Ciites. The old industrial town has been slowly shrinking for generations. West Duluth is struggling problems, as is much of downtown. The city budget is stretched even thinner than in Saint Paul.

But there are wonderful old buildings and wonderful small businesses in this town. Most of the big box crap has been relegated to Hermanntown up over the hill, and there are dozens of great bars, restaurants, shops, and other institutions along the old main streets.

It's weird to say about a newspaper that carries a full-page astrology report completely devoted to Aquarians -- best bit: "You signal your contrariness by dressing in eccentric clothes to ensure that we all recognize your fascinating 'otherness.' These types of Aquarians usually 'HIVE' together in places like Portland or Seattle, thus creating a gigantic flux in the space-time continuum" -- but I love the way that the Reader, this somehow-still-thriving alt weekly in an old industrial city, combines two strands of politics that I feel we need now more than ever: left-wing class politics and economic localism.

[Duluth in the spring.]
Next time you're in Duluth, grab a copy and see how it strikes you. It might be a great political concoction to sip: think and shop locally, practice a critical stance toward economic power, and build class bridges across racial and cultural lines.

The Twin Cities, with its historical devotion to big box retail and corporate HQs, is not likely to be the place where the necessary coalition of political thought sets its roots. Instead, these models might still be lingering in places outside the mainstream liberal plexus, places where main streets have not yet been fully gutted by Targets and mega malls, places that still retain some weary labor roots.  Places like Duluth.

29.1.17

Reading the Highland Villager #174

[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: Even with 4,000 new homes on Ford site, Highland traffic will remain at acceptable levels, city study says
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: People who live in a nice area of the city showed up to a meeting about traffic. The city hired engineering consulates to study how traffic might increase with new development at the site of an old factory. [They really must have hit an "old factory nerve" because something stinks!] With thousands of new people living in the neighborhood, some of them will drive cars, but not as many as many people think. Neighbors are concerned about traffic. One quote: "I've never heard why we need 4,000 new housing units!" That is about 9,000 people. A city engineer says that some people will have cars but not everybody. One neighbor stated "You wouldn't do this on Grand Avenue!" [Well, it would be a great idea to have more housing on Grand Avenue if you ask me.] The best quote by far: "It wasn't too many years ago that you could sunbathe in the middle of the street." [This is called the "Saint Paul dream" and it's like the American Dream but  more boring. ] 10% of Highland residents have three or more cars. [Holy moly. Three or more cars in Highland? One for every season.] The neighborhood group would like to see some changes to the street like traffic signals, turn lanes, or traffic circles. [Is the problem congestion or speed and safety? Those are very different "problems" and only one of them is really solveable. I would like to see neighbors get concerned about safety and not congestion. The idea that we can't build dense transit-oriented housing for people in Saint Paul because they will all drive cars is such backwards logic. There is a huge range of driving habits that exist in the world. Some people have three cars and drive everywhere. Others have zero cars and never drive. Many people are in between and there is a lot of range if you compare different places. Cars are expensive so some people don't have them for that reason. You get the kind of city you design for. Saint Paul is a place where some people have cars and others don't. This is pretty classic "Keep Saint Paul Boring" logic at work. You'd think that the Onion transit logic would intervene. The city should keep mentioning the expected $20M in annual tax revenue that the development will provide. People seem to like lower taxes.]


Headline: Twin Cities join nationwide surge to sing with your suds; Local Beer Choir kickoff set Jan. 28 at Summit Brewing
Author: Loren Green

Short short version: People will drink beer and sing. [I like it.]


Headline: St. Paul welcomes 2017 with more fee hikes
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: It will cost more to get water and get rid of your poop or empty bottles. Also permits. Nobody seems concerned.


Headline: City dispenses with competitive capital improvement process; CIB budget for '18-19 will be devoted to maintaining the city's existing facilities
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The normal two-year "process" to dole out money for different things ranging from bridges to buildings to bike lanes will not happen this time because all the money has already been spent. [There will also be efforts to reform the situation so that a non-negotiable falling down bridge isn't pitted against cops or bike racks. See my article on problems with the current process.]


Headline: With carts, recycling is no longer free for small organizations; Eureka's curbside service ends for small businesses and nonprofit institutions
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Neighborhood groups and other nonprofits will have to pay for recycling like everyone else.The city didn't have time to pass a new ordinance about it. There are new carts with wheels and the idea is to get more people to recycle. [Also, they are alive and sentient like Wintermute and coming for your freedom.]


Headline: St. Paul makes it easier for older properties to pass housing inspections
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: People who own old houses can have them "grandfathered in" more easily when the inspector comes over to inspect them. Landlords had been complaining that city inspectors were requiring "egress windows." But now they don't have to do that so much. [Living in an old building without an egress window is like being at a public meeting about parking but not sitting by the door. You are trapped!]


Headline: Ash borer battle moves to both Highland golf courses
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Ash trees will all be cut down. [Did you know that the city's golf courses are highly subsidized by taxpayers? Golf is a sport that used to be more popular that it is today.]


Headline: Plans continue for brewery's office building and rathskellar
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: An old building in the brewery complex that is owned by the neighborhood group is going to open someday, maybe early 2018.


Headline: Campaign wants Walmart to pay its share of police services
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A group of activists are trying to get Walmart to pay more money for all the times they call the cops. [This makes sense and should happen.] The Midway Walmart gets three police calls every day, on average.


Headline: City questions efficacy of Greater MSP
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Saint Paul pays $125K to a group that does business branding but the group only "counted" 70 new jobs that have come to the city over the past five years. [That seems really really low and this kind of "counting" is all statistical smoke and mirrors anyway, much like traffic projections.] Minneapolis just cut its contribution to the group. CMs Tolbert and Noecker were complaining about it. [My guess is that a large percentage of the attention of the group is regional, focused on "jobs" in suburbs like Shakopee and Eden Prairie. Does Saint Paul benefit from suburban growth? Good question. The answer is, not necessarily. Regional business priorities and Saint Paul's specific priorities are not the same. Sometimes they are but often they are not.]


Headline: Comment sought on St. Paul's 20-year plan
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city is writing a new comp plan. The nine "themes" are livability and equity, job, parks, community, public safety, road safety for bikes and peds, investing in people, affordable housing, and development. [Not a bad list. Keep it simple though! A plan is only as good as the number of people who understand it.]


Headline: Variances approved for Dayton Avenue duplex
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A guy can renovate and expand his duplex but not expand it by as much as he wanted. Neighbors are concerned about building size and the presence of students. [It would be a lot simpler if we just fitted Tommies with radio ankle bracelets.]


Headline: Jury still out on Linwood; Work on Adams, Highland, Mann expansion projects set to begin soon
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A crowded school might or might not be expanded. Neighbors are concerned about traffic and the loss of "open space".  [Kids today...]

24.1.17

Downtown Saint Paul Skyway Tour this Saturday! *First Ever*

So I've done three or four walking tours of the Downtown Minneapolis skyway system. It's fascinating labyrinth that illustrates all kinds of architectural and social science principles and it's one of my favorite things to do. Each time I experience a slightly different perspective on the city, and learn something new about everyday Minneapolis.

Well Saint Paul has a skyway system too, and its differences are small but really meaningful. Most importantly, each skyway in Saint Paul is identical with the next (with one exception) and each was publicly bought and owned by the city itself. That changes things in some ways, and is an irrelevant (and perhaps counter-productive) difference in others.

So with some research help from an urban sociology class at Augsburg University, we're going to dive in and explore the Saint Paul skyway on a Saturday afternoon, an unmagical land of mundane beige brimming over with failed urban renewal efforts, paradoxical public/private situations, spaces for lease, actually existing businesses, bastardized historic preservation and more!

[The end of a little remembered era.]
Here's some food for thought:
The Unwritten Rules of Skyway Etiquette, by Mark McGinty
1) Stay to the right.
2) Move quickly towards your destination in an orderly manner.
3) No zig-zagging.
4) No stopping to gawk at merchandise.
5) No stopping at all.
6) No looking at merchandise.
7) When traveling in groups, stay close together in tight little packs - do not walk side-by-side-by-side-by-side.
8) Keep the luggage to a minimum.
 9) No phone calls unless you're using an earpiece or headset in which case you kind of look like a D-Bag. 
10) By all means if you need to turn around, exit and enter somewhere else - do not just stop, turn around and start walking directly into the coming masses, people! 

Follow these rules and you will live longer!!!

Skyways are one of those rare urban design topics where I almost always have a good discussion with people who disagree with me. Come and find out for yourself and discover a new perspective on Saint Paul and its small but firmly entrenched skyway system.

[Your "standard" Saint Paul skyway looks like this.]
[A typical mid-day scene in the Saint Paul skyway's ambiguously "successful" urban redevelopment epicenter.]

What: First Ever Tour of the Downtown Saint Paul Skyway System (approx. 2 mile walk)
Who: Anyone, free to the public 
When: Saturday, January 28th, 2pm to 4pm
Why: To learn about the past and present downtown Saint Paul
Where: Meet 7th Place and Wabasha Street, between the trees by the "no feeding the pigeons" sign

[A typical scene from Saint Paul's newest skyway, the controversial "Central Station" connection.]    
More reading from over the last 10+ years:

Minneapolis, Saint Paul Separating on Skyways

My Way or the Skyway

Four Suggested Skyway Improvements

Unconjoined Twin Cities: A Catalogue of Difference

16.1.17

Reading the Highland Villager #172

[An unknown cat seeks refuge in a Villager.]
[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: Public weights in on city's plan for redeveloping old Ford Plant site; Housing density and traffic are big concerns
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city is working on the plan for what to do with the large area by the river and "Highland Village" that used to be a Ford car and truck factory. Neighbors are concerned about traffic, building height, and building design. Quote from neighbor: "In my neighborhood there is just disbelief." The plans call for developing the 130+ acres of land into a network of streets and buildings of different scale set around a daylighted stream. Another neighbor is quoted saying "I think traffic is going to be the Achilles heel for the Ford site plan." [Wouldn't it be cool if when people said they were worried about traffic they actually meant "speeding cars" and "pedestrian safety" instead of being stuck in traffic and not being able to drive fast enough?] The traffic projections in the city plan call for a significant mode share for transit and claims that many existing streets are underused. [This is true, believe it or not, especially one like Saint Paul Avenue. Also the Riverview corridor transit proposal is intimately connected to this conversation.] Some neighbors want more green space. [It kinds of reminds me of density concerns such as the ones that came out of the John B. Calhoun rat experiments.] If the plan works Saint Paul will increase its tax base by more than $20 million annually. [Well that's important, isn't it?]


Headline: City's Capitol lobbyists get marching orders [I like this headline, probably because I like the image of lobbyists actually marching.]
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The state legislature is meeting in Saint Paul again, like they do every year. [And not paying any property taxes for the space that they use, of course.]  The city will ask the state for tax exemptions for the soccer stadium and more [well deserved] local government aid funding [both of which they already passed but the change got nixed because of a clerical error by state lawyers or someone like that].  23% of Saint Paul's city budget is LGA from the state. [That's really high ratio, much higher than Minneapolis. If it goes away should, for example, a Republican win the Governor's race, Saint Paul will be immensely screwed.] The city would like a transportation funding bill passed. [That has zero chance of happening.] Bridges are falling down and the city would like $43 million to replace the Kellogg/3rd bridge, for example. [The existing bridge is currently 2-inbound and 1-outbound lane wide for some reason, one of two mindbogglingly asymmetrical bridges in and out of downtown.] The city would like the ability to officially and legally levy its controversial "right-of-way fee". [This too seems very unlikely with a GOP controlled legislature that ran on an explicit anti-urban platform.] There's a bunch of other smaller stuff listed too, including a environmental center by Crosby lake and a state rule change allowing city-control over speed limits. [Well that's one of my favorite ideas! I was just in Utah, North and South Dakota and all of those states have 25 or even 20 miles per hour speed limits within cities. It's impossible for me to believe that it wouldn't make a difference toward improving safety along urban streets.]

Headline: Transportation projects top county's wish list
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Just like the above piece only for Ramsey County. They would like over $20 million dollars for a new freeway interchange at Rice and 694. [How about a road diet on the rest of Rice Street, you know the part where all the kids, people of color, and disabled people live that has been killing and injuring people for decades? I wish Ramsey County priorities would be more focused on pedestrian safety instead of increasing car throughput.] There is also a BRT transit project heading North to Forest Lake [better than nothing I suppose] and funding for a homeless shelter.


Headline: Conleys plan to renovate vacant downtown, Snell-Ham buildings [WOW! A real non-ironical use of "Snell-Ham". Let's not let this happen again, shall we?]
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Some people who own old buildings want to fix them up. Article includes some history of the buildings. They will be mixed-use apartments and retail, hopefully. There need to be some zoning changes. [If any neighbors are concerned, it is not mentioned here!]


Headline: BZA grants variance for garage, woodworking shop in Highland
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A couple can build a garage and woodworking shop behind their home if it's not too ugly and they take care of the gutters. Neighbors are concerned about the size of the garage and whether or not trees will be cut down.


Headline: Riverview study opens new year eyeing six alternatives for transit
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Hopefully a committee will make a decision by June or July about which of the many route and mode possibilities that are on the table for a new transit investment along West 7th is the best one. [Note: I am on the Technical Advisory Committee for this project and have been impressed at the wide range of choices available. I am really disappointed in the community backlash to a proposal that is just one of many proposals and hope people can keep an open mind about a potential investment that would greatly improve the lives of many poor and transit-dependent people who live in this part of Saint Paul, not to mention the potential for sustainable urban development in a city that could really use it, not to mention the potential for improving pedestrian safety on a major deadly street.] The article lists the many choices including BRT, streetcar, LRT, and on- and off- the CP rail spur or West 7th itself in two-way or one-way pairings, through or not through the Ford site. [I'll be very curious to see the rough cost and ridership estimates. The run-time estimates for the different routes were eye-opening. The CP spur does surprisingly well because it can go slightly faster and the Ford site route adds about 12-20 minutes to the overall runtime which seems quite reasonable to me considering all the extra stops it will be making.] Engineers are concerned about geology. Neighbors are concerned about parking.


Headline: New rules for outdoor sales considered
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The City Council may approve regulation changes that owuld allow businesses to display and sell things on the sidewalk. [Many stores, such as antique stores, already do this anyway and it's awesome and adds a lot of vitality and interest to the street as long as people can get through. See this example.] Nobody seems very concerned.


Headline: St. Paul seeks funds reo study replacement of RiverCentre ramp
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A huge expensive parking lot is falling down and it will cost $1 million just to figure out what to do about it. The ramp is from the 70s and has 5 years left to life. The ramp generates about $2 million per year and will cost $50 million to replace. [So do the math and you have a 25 years to pay for itself, only the convention center gets the money and the city or some government agency will likely pay for the ramp, so this is pretty much a convention center subsidy, just another of the many ways that our governments invisibly subsidize driving and parking, no?] Some people hope the state will chip in for the cost. [They should, I reckon, as things like the Science Museum, the Wild arena, and the cat show are of statewide importance.]


Headline: With shift in TIF, city allocates $7M for stadium infrastructure
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The City Council approved a shift in its TIF funding district to build some sort of "public infrastructure" around the new soccer stadium. [What kind of infrastructure? The article does not say. Perhaps some parking lots? Let's hope not.]


Headline: DNR publishes new rules for development on Mississippi
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Department of Natural Resources has some new rules that affect how close you can build buildings to slopes and bluffs. [That has a huge impact on the city especially in places like the West Side, where I live. Hopefully the rules are not too restrictive for the urban areas of the river, and allows traditional types of urban density along the river.]


Headline: Latest appointments fill all 21 seats on Planning Commission
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Some new people are on the Planning Commission now. [I'm on this. See below.]


Headline: City committee recommends new median for Snelling Ave.
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Transportation Committee [which I chair] recommended approval for the proposed median on Snelling Avenue between Randolph and Ford Parkway. It will close some intersections and add turn lanes to others while making it easier for people to cross the street on foot. Mn-DOT and the City are paying the $2 million cost. [A no brainer, IMO. Snelling has long been dangerous for anyone walking around, and crossing it often involves taking ones life into ones hands. We really need this to happen between Summit and Selby as well.]

2.1.17

Twin City Sidewalk Closed Signs #11

[Railroad Island, Saint Paul.]

[Pretty sure East Side, Saint Paul.]

[Saint Paul.]

[Saint Paul somewhere.]


[Location forgotten.]

[Medford, MA.]

 [Probably Chicago, IL.]

[Downtown, Saint Paul.]