2019-12-26

Reading the Highland Villager #249

[A Villager in a Grand Avenue foyer.]
[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: Agreement paves way for 3,800 homes on Ford site; $53.5M in TIF will help pay for streets and utilities, more TIF is expected for affordable housing
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The old truck factory is being redeveloped in to a mixed-use complex of buildings. The city will have to pay for part of the cost, especially for things like roads and parks, etc. They will use deferred property tax money to pay for this, which will cost quite a bit. But eventually it pays off. There was a press conference about it. Article includes a rendering.


Headline: Homeless families find a room at Interfaith inn; Interfaith Action's Project Home is now serving 24/7
Author: Leslie Walters

Short short version: Homeless families can spend the night in church basements. [I volunteered for this a few times, doing overnights. It's sad but a good thing. Only for families though.]


Headline: Parks & Rec lays out preferred plan for repurposing Highland 9
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: An underused golf course across the street from another larger golf course might become athletic fields and a parking lot instead. There's no money to make the change. They would keep a "reconfigured" golf course [for some unknown reason]. Losing the old golf course "roiled golfers". [Golf, by the way, is trending down, unlike soccer.]


Headline: Committee supports coffee shop drive-thru at Sibley Plaza.
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Zoning Committee voted to support a gas station becoming a Starbucks with a drive-thru in the parking lot of a newly remodeled strip mall. [The backstory on this is that the strip mall could have been rezoned and was supposed to be redeveloped into a mixed-use project with far less auto-oriented design features. But this did not happen five years ago and instead it has been remodeled as-is.] Quote features ME: "Commissioner Bill Lindeke said the condition [to check the traffic impacts within a year] should give city staff more tools to work with the property owners. "With Snelling and Marshall, the city felt like it couldn't do much," he said.


Headline: Affordable housing complex proposed at University-Fairview
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A parking lot and some vacant historic buildings might become 279 subsidized affordable homes. It is right next to a light rail station. It will not be mixed-use, because "we've had a lot of retail sit vacant in our developments", according to the developer.  [This developer almost never builds mixed use, even in downtown Saint Paul, of all places. That seems bad.] 


Headline: Ford site TIF is expected to pay for affordable housing citywide; Additional tax revenue from Ford project could generate $1M annually for affordable housing
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The old truck factory that will become housing will also raise money to subsidize affordable housing in Saint Paul. 20% of the units at the factory site will be dedicated affordable, according to the plan.


Headline: Slim City Council majority approves $636M budget for '20
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city budget proposed by the Mayor was passed on a 4-3 vote. Quote from CM Prince: I will vote 'no' on this budget . because it does not cover the basics and it funds extras that my ward cannot afford." She wants more cops. CMs Thao and Busuri also voted against it. [That will be the last we will hear about CM Busuri.]


Headline: Tax levy hearing dominated by calls for more city spending; Appeals for social services exceed please for tax relief
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Some people want the government to do more things, while others do not want to pay for things the government does.


Headline: Making a B Line between Uptown Mpls. and downtown St. Paul; UPC seeks support for new bus rapid transit service on Marshall, Selby and Lake [No Oxford comma for the Villager!]
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There was a meeting at a neighborhood group about a potential new fast bus that would go down Selby and Lake streets [like the streetcar used to do before the bus planners screwed it up!]. The bus would be fast and convenient and amazing. [And it cannot be built soon enough. I am very glad they are going with the longer route that would serve downtown Saint Paul and the Snelby corner.] Neighbors are concerned about long buses turning around corners.


Headline: District council drops proposal for off-leash dog area in Snell-Ham [Rare sighting of the awful "Snell-Ham" moniker.]
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Some people wanted to make a dog park in a "green space" by a large bridge. Neighbors are concerned about parking, noise, A committee met and decided it was a bad idea after all. safety, and poop. A city official said it would be a "dog run" not a "dog park."


Headline: Vine Park is brewing new taproom for 2020
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A DIY-brewery-type-place is going to open a new facility with a taproom on West 7th. It's owned by Asian-Americans. [That's unusual for the beer industry!] 


Headline: Committee supports 7-story building on West 7th-Leech
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Zoning Committee voted to approve a building that would be seven stories tall and have homes and a shop on a site where an auto repair garage was.


Headline: Council settles suit regarding inaccessible parking meters
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Someone sued the city because some parking meters are too tall. it will be expensive to fix it. The person who is suing is a convicted murder, and has sued thirty businesses in the city. [He has sued lots of my favorite places in the city, including Mama's Pizza, Keenan's Bar, Mancini's, and many others. You can't make this up.] 


Headline: It'll cost more to get vehicles out of St. Paul's impound lot
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: If you get your car towed, it will cost more to get it back that it did before. The pricing used to be super complicated, but now it's a flat rate. [PROTIP: Move your car and it won't get towed.]


Headline: Mendota Heights establishes Historic Pilot Knob task force
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A suburb is going to try to spend money and time making a sacred Dakota site more accessible and culturally meaningful. [This is a very cool site and important project. I highly recommend riding your bike there.] 

2019-12-20

Plugging Closing Time on Fox 9 with Andy Sturdevant

I schlepped myself out to the Fox 9 studios in Eden Prairie to appear alongside my friend and co-author Andy Sturdevant on the "Morning Buzz." We plugged our book, Closing Time, to the Semisonic tune and spent a few minutes talking about writing about bars

Of course you can get the book on my page (signed by me), on the MNHS website, or in bookstores all throughout the Twin Cities.

Order yours today!

Anyway, here's the video. Enjoy.

2019-12-19

My Public Comment on the Saint Paul Climate Action and Resilience Plan

[Russ Stark presenting the plan to the City Council.]
[Yesterday, the Saint Paul City Council held a public hearing and then adopted the Climate Action and Resilience Plan. You can see the plan here,  listen to a podcast on the topic, or read my column on it. Many people gave testimony before the Council. These were my comments.]

I’m grateful that Saint Paul leaders have crafted this ambitious slate of goals for reducing carbon dioxide emissions within the city. I strongly encourage the Council to pass this plan, and to follow up by meeting these goals with concrete action.

Sitting here today in 2019, the list of things we have to do might seem daunting. When you look at these goals from our perspective, they seem ambitious. To take just one example, the transit and vehicle miles targets included here represent huge strides, compared to what we have been doing in Saint Paul.

But unfortunately for all of us, when you look at climate change action from a different perspective -- from that of coming generations, your children or grandchildren -- things change dramatically. It sorrows me when I hear politicians, like the recent comments by leaders of Minnesota Republican Party, scoff at warming the earth by 2ยบ Celsius, which, by the way, is a hopelessly optimistic outcome.

This existential, global problem is is no laughing matter. Warming the earth’s climate by two or more degrees Celsius will be catastrophic for Minnesota and for Saint Paul. We will experience severe flooding, droughts, death from heat exposure, massive storms, collapsing infrastructure, the extinction of countless species and irreparable transformation of the world. There is no end in sight.

This is why these steps are so critical. Again, unfortunately for all of us, I am confident that, when future generations look back at the 2019 Saint Paul Climate Action and Resilience Plan, they will see not a huge radical change, but the very first steps that we made as a city and as a society. The goals laid out in this plan will look like common sense, only the most basic of adjustments. Even if we meet these targets, people will be saying to their elders: Why didn’t you do more?

Here in Saint Paul, it might feel like we are doing something today. But it will be critically important to act on these goals, and not simply put them on the shelf next to the long library of our city’s ambitious but unmet aspirations.

The most disturbing fact I’ve heard in a while is this: “More than half of the carbon exhaled into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels have been emitted in just the past three decades.” This means that climate change was not inherited, but was caused in my lifetime, and by our actions. This is our problem.

When you vote for this plan, and more importantly, when you act on these goals, it will seem like a big change. But this is just a critical beginning. This plan charts out the first steps toward addressing the biggest political challenge of our lives. I urge you here today to support the Saint Paul Climate Action and Resilience Plan, for our children and their children, in Saint Paul and all over the world.

2019-12-17

Signs of the Times #160

 TRASH ONLY,
NO POOP
PLEASE
:)

[Trash can. Frogtown, Saint Paul.]

 CONCRETE
IDEA

[Location forgotten.]

 BEWARE OF
ATTACK HAMSTER

[Fence. Frogtown, Saint Paul.]

 NOTICE

CIGS, CHEW, CANDY
LIQ, BEER. MISC...
NOW AT THE 
BAR
SORRY FOR ANY
INCONVENIENCE!

[Door. Martell, WI.]

 IDOLATRY

[Statue. Capitol, Saint Paul. (Taken from Twitter.)]

 S.O.S
HELP WANTED
INQUIRIES INSIDE

[Sandwich shop door. West Bank, Minneapolis.]

 Go ahead, Get mad
Lady! you treated me like
shit, I treated you back!!
sucks doesn't it? you
tossed me aside for
trash, I threw your shit
in the trash.
You did it
to yourself
Luv.

[Sign. University Avenue, Saint Paul.]

PLEASE
TRY NOT TO
BLOCK THE
WALKWAY!
KEEP OUR INFANTS
& ELDERS SAFE

[Tree. Frogtown, Saint Paul.]

2019-12-13

Villager Editorials Transformed #1

[In which a Villager editorial is run through a GPT-2 machine-learning AI to generate new text. Lines from the actual editorial are marked in red; everything else is written by the computer program.]


Density of Ford Project demands more realistic plan for traffic

Recent comments by elected and appointed officials about how the transportation for the redeveloped Ford site encourages walking, biking and transit are informative in what they reveal: the extent to which that plan is based largely on a preferred policy outcome that is disconnected from facts and objective analysis.

The decisions here are predicated on the type of transportation designed for the renovated Ford site. As noted in the original brief, there is no usable transportation to connect transit to neighborhoods in the existing downtown and Northern Manhattan, so it is unlikely that a return to a more highly-used Ford site would promote more transit.

Moreover, some community groups have questioned Ford's role in the industrial park and urged that one of the properties be used for market rate housing. Not only does the new streetcar have to be paid for by the city, but the land must be developed under a 15-year lease. Until such time as a new streetcar line connects (and stops) to the existing trackage, the city has no recourse but to contract out its maintenance and planning for when the new streetcar line connects. 

It should be noted that this is different from contracting out the bus routes. In this case, city crews work out plans for a new line for the city with the bus agency, but if that doesn't work out, the city would have no results in front of council and some others may be responsible for ending the contract with the bus agency.

The same study also estimates that for mid-rise mutifamily housing units, there will be only one daily commuter trip for every four dwellings, a 7.2 percent reduction, compared with the downtown area. In contrast, car commuters will travel approximately 300 times a day in a downtown area, versus just 57 trips in a mid-rise.

Following my commute from the 9 to 33 bus for three hours a day, I typically use a backpack to pick up my bus fare. I'm an avid fan of using things like The Med & Commute and The Daily Pioneer to routinely and reliably track my miles. While their web site is nice, I'm more comfortable with their apps for Android and iOS. The apps are well-designed and feature a grid of live display colors. There is a variation to the apps that allows users to manage real-time updates for their trip.

Tolbert's and Gallatin's assumptions ignore the elephant in the room. We are about to break ground on an urban development project that is 10 times the scale of the surrounding neighborhood. In the past month, residents, local elected officials, and the neighborhood's other civic stakeholders have had a chance to know it firsthand.

Happily, we have gotten the first, crucial glimpse into the future of City Hall. The American Planning Association has adopted a resolution that seeks to transform the organization's approach to planning and to its mission by stressing the need to encourage innovative community involvement in planning and by encouraging the sharing of information among planning agencies, policy makers, private sector stakeholders and the public."

We can do better. The Ford site development presents a remarkable opportunity for our community. By bringing these projects forward, we can create the homes, schools and other infrastructure we so desperately need to sustain our students and communities."

The city began developing its 5.4-acre site in 2004. In September, the New Westminster Chamber of Commerce's planning committee was asked to give the public a chance to comment on the city's plans. The forum was open to the public but limited to five candidates for mayor and council, meaning the 5.4-acre site was either kept or turned into a headquarters for the campaign, along with offices for their current and former staffs. There were 37 staffers total – and outside observers who expected that a neutral mediator or adjudicator would be hired to keep the two sides apart.

One witness at the council meeting told the Star: "In a city of our size, not having a 50:50 democracy, with 70 per cent of the public being left out and people being pissed off, people were just wanting a return to the days of the 50:50. When you look at the political model here, it looks like anyone who's not with him is a threat. He's leaving the most powerful position to anybody." 

Other councillors also criticized the move. Wrote one: "This does not contribute to our city.”

It is possible to balance the city of St. Paul's environmental and housing goals with a transportation plan that prioritizes bicycles in the city. That is, the numbers can be stacked against each other, and not get so overboard in infrastructure, while adopting pedestrian-only streets and sidewalks.

In a process called design oversight, an ownership group draws up a neighborhood vision for a development project. Then, after 15 years, any changes are subject to an open housing ordinance.

Mayor Chris Coleman and Plan Commission Chairman David Mitchell have declined to offer any kind of plan.


Reading the Highland Villager #248

[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: Carter proposes adding $1.68M to '20 budget to make city safer; Funds would help steer youths away from crime
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: They mayor has a city budget proposal.


Headline: Food shelves respond to rise in hunger; Families pinched by higher costs replenish their larder with help of local charities
Author: Carolyn Walkup

Short short version: People are hungry and need food. Sometimes they get some, thanks to hard work of volunteers and charities.


Headline: County kicks off series of truth-in-taxation hearings
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Property taxes are going up. There are meetings to explain why and hear from people that don't like taxes.


Headline: City Council reviews public financing package for Ford site
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Development of the Ford site is going to take a bunch of public money for things like infrastructure (e.g. streets, parks, stormwater stuff). Article explains the TIF (tax increment financing) proposal, development economics, etc. The construction will take a long time.


Headline: Variances raise building heights limits at Ford site to 48 and 65 feet
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Some of the buildings at the Ford site can be a bit higher. The heights were "included in the master plan."


Headline: New solar array for Ford site proposed for top of landfill
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There might be solar panels installed on an old dump called Area C [and the subject of much handwringing and vague notions]. People don't really know what is down there. The site is still owned by Ford. [Seems like the best possible outcome.]


Headline: No charges are filed following inspection of GABA's finances
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A local business association might or might not have lost a bunch of its money, but the case was closed regardless. The SPPD and US Attorney's Office looked at the org's books. GABA seems to be in disarray.


Headline: St. Paul agrees to sell part of Nathan Hale Park to neighbors
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A [rich] couple can buy a tiny part of a park that they fenced off near Summit Avenue. [See my story on this.] They are [only] paying $32,000 for the bit of yard.


Headline: Applicants sought for Allianz Field benefits fund committee
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There is a group forming to spend a [small] pot of money to help the area around the soccer stadium.


Headline: High water requires a reduction in parking planned for the Pitch
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Water underground of a new development is higher than people thought which means the developer has to build a car elevator. There will be fewer parking spaces, and there are no parking minimums in the area. Quote from neighbor: "I'm excited to hear that there will be less parking. It will show other developers that there's not as much of a need for parking." They are going from 142 to 85 spots for 158 homes. [A "car elevator" sounds like a very expensive way to construct 30 parking spaces.]


Headline: Committee still poring over plans for coffee shop drive-thru in Sibley Plaza
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A Starbucks coffee shop wants to open where a gas station is located, next to a strip mall parking lot. The Committee wanted to know more about how to monitor the drive thru in case it turns into a traffic nightmare. [Update: this passed the committee yesterday with some additional conditions about ensuring that queue traffic does not affect the intersections. I voted for it, if you can believe that.]


Headline: County lays out its plans for new Dale St. bridge over I-94
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The County is rebuilding a key bridge over the freeway and making both the sidewalks and the street wider. [That is counter-productive, as more lanes makes it inherently more dangerous and harder to cross the street.] 

Headline: Committee looks into loosening St. Paul's off-street parking rules
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Planning Commission [which I am on] heard about a study from the city that will change and reduce [and maybe get rid of] the city's minimum parking requirements. Neighbors are concerned about traffic and parking, and also concerned about requiring people to build too many parking lots. Article cites some of the proposed changes, including having exemptions for historic buildings and reductions for smaller buildings. [Article does not lay out, however, the reasons for this, which are threefold, at least: parking minimums that require parking lots are expensive to build and hurt businesses or property owners; minimums that require parking lots are bad for the city's tax base as parking lots are not valuable; minimums that require parking lots incentivize driving in an era when we are trying to reduce fossil fuel use; minimums that require parking lots create pollution and pour runoff, oil, and salt into the water; minimums that require parking lots are not based on meaningful research as parking demand is notoriously squishy; and minimums that require parking lots force people who do not drive cars -- often poor people and people of color -- to pay for the car storage of people who do, a hidden, regressive tax. Stay tuned for more on this developing story.] 


Headline: Task force shares ideas for Grand's future
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: People who care about Grand Avenue [consisting only of business owners and property owners] met to talk about how to improve the street. Ideas include reducing taxes, not green space and more signs, closing Grand to cars four times a year, making more public space, better maintaining the sidewalks, and "multi-modal accessibility." [How about parking meters to make it easier for more folks to park and raise money for these efforts at the same time? This would be a great parking benefits district.]

2019-12-05

Cindi Katz on the History of Household and Families from a Marxist Perspective

[Photo by Chris Arnade.]
The idea of the nuclear family is not only part of our culture, it's embedded in the zoning code. In Minneapolis and Saint Paul, for example, the definition of family forms one of the key concepts in zoning and enforcement, For example, in Saint Paul zoning code, "family" is defined as:

Sec. 60.207. - F.
Family. One (1) or two (2) persons or parents, with their direct lineal descendants and adopted or legally cared for children (and including the domestic employees thereof) together with not more than two (2) persons not so related, living together in the whole or part of a dwelling comprising a single housekeeping unit. Every additional group of four (4) or fewer persons living in such housekeeping unit shall be considered a separate family for the purpose of this code.

Basically more than four adults who are not "direct lineal" cannot be a "family" under this definition.

I was listening to the David Harvey Anti-Capitalist Chronicles podcast, much of which is quite good,  digestable commentary on current political or economic affairs, or Harvey explaining basic Marxist concepts. The other day he uploaded a great conversation between Harvey and geographer Cindi Katz about the Marxist concept of "social reproduction." In other words, how we organize everyday life -- community arrangements around food, clothing, shelter, and child-rearing -- to ensure the welfare of future generations.

Along the way, Katz discusses how the concept of "the family" has played a central role in so mu h of our culture and how this occurred. Social reproduction in everyday life is her specialty, and I found her discussion of the concept to be very interesting.

Cindy Katz: Of course its very hard to get into social reproduction very far without getting into question of what is a household, what is family... What do we mean by family? What is communal work, you know processes and can you speak a little bit about all of that? 
CK: First off all the notion of what is a family or a household is itself a question of social reproduction. (You’ll see that for me everything is social reproduction.) [laughs] 
But in many ways, it is. So that how we constitute what is a normal household, what is a family, how do we feed clothe and take care of future generations, [that\ is a heteronormative idea. It's completely classed and radicalized. 
And ways around or under these conditions, might be to share, to have an extended family… 
I was just at this workshop on adolescence in Africa, and the idea of the extended family being able to absorb many of these sorts of [economic] shocks is something that we’ve offloaded onto individual households. And the pressure on the heteronormative nuclear family is huge. 
But there’s also a sense of, where does the labor to sustain it come from? So the more global question of social reproduction is [that] we see so much labor migration, and that’s a radicalized question [about] where inequalities among countries come from. 
We have domestic laborers who come to the Global North and to work in wealthier households, but even upper-middle class households, as relatively cheap labor, because they come as lone migrants for the most part. And their children in their households are being sustained by their extended family, again, in a stressed and disinvested state. 
And by having domestic labor who can help privileged families, the gendered division of labor doesn’t really change. And the kind of exploitation that’s trans-local, and goes across national boundaries, is enormous. 
But there are incredible transfers of wealth in that way, around the [concept off the] household, and [these transfers] stabilize the kind of heteronormative, white household. And that moves to having sets of struggles around redefining the household and domestic labor and how it can get accomplished.
Katz argues that the nuclear family is rooted both in the exploitation of women through a long history of patriarchal inequality, and also rooted in the exploitation of poor people through colonial and post-colonial inequality. After all, who is taking care of children and the elderly, in many cases, throughout American cities?

I would love to see the notion of the family removed from the zoning code altogether. Our cities need to make sure we are allowing a diversity of different kinds of communities and relationships, including intentional communities, extended families, cousins, grandparents, and basically anyone who considers themselves as such.

Check out Part 1 and Part 2 of the conversation if you are into good podcasts.


2019-12-04

Presenting Ayd Mill Road: The Music Video

Well, my dream has come true thanks to you, dear readers.

Presented without further ado, I give you Ayd Mill Road: The Music Video.

Experience the hit song "Ayd Mill Road" as you drive through Saint Paul's most infamous trench.

Credits:


Enjoy!


2019-12-02

Twin City Doorways #56

[Hamline-Midway, Saint Paul.]

[La Crosse, WI.]

[Trempealeau, WI.]

[Trempealeau, WI.]

[Onalaska, WI.]

[La Crosse, WI.]

[La Crosse, WI.]

[University Avenue, Saint Paul.]