Technical Difficulty

My computer is malfunctioning. I keep asking it to open the pod bay doors, but so far nothing's happening. Plus, I'm going on Xmas vacation to a real big city called New York.

Happy Holidays

Look for new posts in 2006.


mpls: Historcal/Modern Hybrids

The diagram for the new condo in Eliot Park, located at 1010 Park where the Hinkle-Murphy mansion currently resides, pictures what the developer hopes will be the future of the site. As you can see, the condo tower swallows and dwarfs the mansion, which is currently being used as an art gallery.

The problem is that the proposal is so clearly weird, and doesn't maintain much of character of the original building. But, it adds much needed density to what had been a parking lot near both downtown and the freeway chasm. How do you reconcile the need to preserve Minneapolis's vanishing history with making the city liveable and vibrant again?

The Strib had yet another editorial today about development, this time discussing the need for preciesly this kind of history-saving attention. Only, from what I understand, the paper is all for preserving historical buildings only if they're in the first ring suburbs or something. What do you think?
It's a shame that Minnesota does so little to preserve the historic character of its cities and towns. It is one of only 10 states that does not offer a specific financial incentive to rehabilitate older buildings. Forty states either allow local governments to abate taxes for historic preservation or, better yet, grant state tax credits to supplement credits offered under federal law.

Keep in mind, this isn't about do-gooders running around trying to save old mansions. This is about giving older parts of cities and towns a shot at competing with the outskirts. Now it's not a fair fight. Minnesota spends untold millions on redundant infrastructure (roads, sewers, schools, etc.) to benefit greenfield construction while neglecting older sections where infrastructure already exists. That's a wasteful approach inconsistent with Minnesota values. A state whose citizens recycle 2.5 million tons of refuse per year can surely understand that its historic structures can also be recycled if given an even chance.

This is also an issue of economic competition. The best jobs and brightest people won't be drawn to the cities with the longest strips of discount stores and soulless office parks. People want authenticity, a true sense of place.

OK. I love the part about authenticity, but I guess I'm still a do-gooder running around trying to save old mansions. And here's an old mansion, and it's being "saved," kind of, and I'm still complaining?

What I'd like to see is more regulatory strength behind the idea of historical preservation. A good example is the proposal for the new downtown Lunds, as covered in the recent issue of the Downtown Journal. The Minneapolis Historic Preservation Commission made a series of minor suggestions about how to keep a Nicollet Mall area building "authentic." Instead, Lunds, a local company that ought to have its values in line with the area, rejected all of them and successfully appealed the ruling.

In my mind, a truly authentic city doesn't have cookie-cutter chain developments, and doesn't constatly insist on giant "showcase" developments. I'm envisioning human scale, less-than-10 story buildings that have smaller footprints and mix gracefully into their rich historical surroundings. It seems like Minneapolis hasn't been doing much of that lately.


density&diversity: PiPress on Open Spaces

Last month, the PiPress had an editorial about how proximity to open spaces is a financial boon to a neighborhood, increasing the value of homes. That should be obvious, but I guess not enough city bureaucratic types realize this. (The folks in Lake Elmo sure do, though they have their own problems... we should be limiting growth and preserving open space around the edges, in places like Isanti and Dakota counties... not right next to Saint Paul...)

Here's the highlight (now in the PiP archives):
Almost two-thirds of people surveyed who had bought in the past two years or plan to in the next two years said they would pay between 10 and 25 percent more for a home in walking distance of an open space, such as a park, wooded area, or wetlands.
The study doesn't make recommendations, it just lays out key findings about costs and benefits for local decision makers that rise on the daya showing higher real estate values near open space and the potential for lower community service costs of such things as storm water management. Another tactic for planners is the idea of offering developers of proposed housing subdivisions a density bonus in exchange for maintaining open space.

This last bit is the key. Open space comes at the cost of density, which is also the key to a healthy community (and lifestyle). Density, like in a townhome or small lot, requires people to get rid of their 14-foot Toro riding mower. Think about it...

The Op-Ed seems like a nod to a new coalition that's trying to moblize people around open space preservation -- Embrace Open Space. Go team. (They're like Jason Schwartzman in I [Heart] Huckabees.)

mpls: Strib Editorial

The Strib came today out with a decidedly pro-urbanism opinion piece. It had the following suggestions:

• Buses may be concentrated on just a few downtown streets. These transit malls would allow buses to pass one another, thus moving twice as many people three times faster than the single-file crawl now imposed on downtown buses. And the frequency of service might allow buses to double as shuttles within downtown, much like Denver's circulators, which operate at intervals of 55 seconds.

• Some one-way "commuter streets" may be converted to two-way "community streets" with wider sidewalks, lots of trees and fewer lanes for cars. The change would reflect downtown's transition to a mixed-use atmosphere.

• Streetcar loops, like those in Portland, San Francisco and (soon) Seattle, might also be considered as links to Uptown and other close-in districts. The Central and Southwest LRT corridors and the Northstar commuter rail line must also be factored in, although rail projects aren't expected to arrive fast enough to accommodate downtown's growth.

Indeed, the entire plan may be futile given that the state holds the purse strings on transit. The legislative trend has been to cut bus service and to reject the dedicated transit funding that other cities enjoy. The state also may be unwilling to alter its 1950s-era street standards to meet the city's needs.

Despite those difficulties, the city would be unwise to ignore the market trends that are reshaping its central districts. We offer three initial suggestions. Major destinations (museums, stadiums, theaters, etc.) should be factored in. The beauty and quality of public spaces should be emphasized. And, the advantages of walking and street-greening should be taken into account.

Altering the street standards is key, as is more two-way streets in the downtown core. Minneapolis should think about changing about half of the current one-way streets into two-way streets. Think about how much that would do to help streets like Park or Portland Avenues as they try to make their neighborhoods safe again.

Plus, downtown I'm all for making some streets bus-heavy. I rode the 6 down Hennepin the other day during rush hour, and not only was it standing-room-only, it was going the same speed as my disabled grandmother.

Even though a streetcar loop along the Midtown Greenway would be pretty darn cheap and incredibly popular, the Strib is not wrong in admitting the rail will not save us. It's not rails fault, either... it's just that it takes so long to build, and the current State gov't is really good at sitting on its hands. If Pawlenty gets reelected, kiss transit goodbye...

density&diversity: The Resurgent Grid

There's a nice article in this month's Governing about how the street grid is making a comeback. This should be music to the ears of anyone who grew up in the suburbs, like I did, where you had to drive around endless cookie-cutter homes for miles just to go visit a friend. Not to mention how difficult it was to go shopping...

Here's a highlight:

For more than a hundred years, the residents of Barcelona didn’t quite grasp what [19th c. city planner Iledefons] Cerda was up to. They saw L’Eixample [his street grid plan] as not only eccentric but also boring. Each side of each block was exactly 113.3 meters long. All the regular streets were exactly 20 meters wide. Cerda seemed to many a compulsive checkerboard-maker who sought to give his city order but succeeded only in making it sterile. One of the city’s most prominent architects complained of L’Eixample’s “total monotony, its lack of grace, its inability to understand that life can be pleasant.”

It was only much later that L’Eixample began to come into favorable reputation, both among residents and among architects and planners worldwide. As Barcelona has prospered and drawn international admiration in the 30 years since the return of democracy to Spain, the octagonal blocks and tree-lined streets of L’Eixample have become the places everyone wants to live in, although few can afford to. “It is Cerda’s plan,” the urbanist Joseph Rykwert wrote a few years ago, “that provided the basis for the revitalizing of Barcelona.”

Now I have a lot to say on this topic, because I think the grid has limits. Jane Jacobs, in her vital Life and Death of Great American Cities talks about the need for short blocks, to allow for alternatives and choice. The grid, oppressive as it may seem, is actually liberatory. It allows for all sorts of possibilities when it comes to a corner.

At the same time, streets that eschew the grid (like Broadway in New York or Hennepin in Minneapolis or W 7th in Saint Paul) become centerpieces, and those intersections are inevitably alive. That's what I think, anyway.

Oh, and one more thing... Death to the cul de sac!

mpls: Nicollet Mall 50-story Condo Still Coming

According to the TC Business Journal, one of the founders of the Nicollet, the big condo that's going to tower over (and evict) the Scientologists from Nicollet Mall, has had to sell his stake in the venture to finance the project. Here's the story (print only):

McDonnell, the 39-year old architect who sheparded The Nicollet throuh the city approval process, sold his 50-percent stake in the $200 million project Tuesday to the Twin Cities-based development partners he signed up last spring -- Len Pratt, John Ordway, and Dan Hunt.
[The tree partners] are negotiating with three national lenders about potential financing packages for the proposed condo tower. The lender might get an equity stake in the project.

The developers are hoping to break ground in the second quarter of next year, about six months later than originally planned.

This is just a reminder of what big money is at stake in the downtown building boom, and how there are big banks and big players behind all these lifestyle changes. (For the most part, that's a good thing. Let the big bucks fall where they may, and let's hope it's in the big city.)

It's also a reminder that Scientologists do not belong on Nicollet Mall, unless they're wearing sandwich boards or dressed like Krishnas or something. I know a girl who stopped in for a "free personality test" and they told her she needed to be more submissive...


stp: Big Box Size Limits

I overheard some Green Party people talking about pushing for a city ordinance on big box store size. A bunch of cities have done this, like Madison WI and Bozeman MT. Is it a good idea? Well, it wouldn't accomplish much, except along University Avenue, where the big boxes seem to have a nest, and are reproducing at a regular rate.

The push would seem direced at the Midway bus barn site on Snelling, which, I'm told, used to be where all the streetcars had their HQ. The ground there used to be filled with streetcar tracks, and the little buggers would pop in and out of there on their little rails with their little bells ringing...

But I digress.


mpls: Hodge-Podge

It's kind of slow lately. Does anyone know about anything going on? Post it in comments.

I spend some time on Lake St. today, and noticed that the TC's best mural has been effaced. That's the one on Lake and Lyndale, near the place that was an erotic gift/lingere store. It had a Victorian couple walking down the old street in frilly underthings, but also with tophat and pinafore. It's gone now.

That leaves the Best Mural ward to the mural of the African-American community, on the side of the building on Selby (near Victoria). It's this great painting of a fireman, policewoman, all sorts of civic people grouped together. It's great!


stp: Strib Pushes for University Ave. LRT

The Strib interrupted their breaking shopping news with an Op-Ed about University Avenue development, complete with an opinion about the bus barn, ideas for TOD, and a hefty price tag:
Rezoning the corridor for transit-oriented development, opposed by Randy Kelly's administration, would make a good beginning. A new Lowe's, Best Buy and SuperTarget might still be possible. But their designs should be compatible with a city lifestyle that depends less on the auto for every trip. Questioning Metro Transit's bus garage deal on Snelling Avenue is imperative. Does it make sense to sell transit-owned land next to a future LRT station without requiring that any new development would complement transit?

Let's go, Light Rail!


election reform: End First-Past-the-Post

I just found an opinion piece by Rob Richie, director of the Center for Voting and Democracy. Check it out:
This November, some reformers pushed redistricting reform measures in Ohio and California. Both initiatives had serious money behind them, along with political stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger, John McCain and Common Cause's Chellie Pingree. And both went down in flames - California by 19 percent and Ohio by a whopping 40 percent.

So what now? We can't simply throw up our hands and let the "people's house" lose all electoral connections with the American people. But we need to be both smarter and more open to challenging ideas. We must start with two key points about the limitations of any strategy founded on maintaining all single-member districts:
  • Winner-take-all gives huge power to whoever draws the district lines. Just changing how one draws district lines means taking the power over representation from one set of political elites and giving it to another. We should give that power to voters.
  • Winner-take-all districts simply cannot accommodate three fundamental principles of free and fair elections: universal voter choice, leadership accountability and fair representation. That means anyone truly serious about the problem of lack of voter choice must confront that we have reached winner-take-all's endgame: it just doesn't work effectively in modern politics. We need some kind of multi-seat proportional voting method - ones tested around the world and in a growing number of American cities where voters have several representatives and will likely elect a representative of their choice.

Q: Why can't Minneapolis or Saint Paul be one of these growing number of American cities that is on the cutting edge of the election reform movement?

A: Because DFL powerful work to undermine truly democratic representation. (See: Minneapolis redistricting or the IRV movement in Roseville.)

density&diversity: New Fuel-Effeciency Standards

The NYT had some of the best news I've read in a while about changing the car culture, albeit only in New England and the Pacific Northwest:

The standards are the most ambitious environmental regulations for automobiles since federal fuel economy regulations were enacted in the 1970's. They will be phased in starting with 2009 models and require a roughly 30 percent reduction in automotive emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by the 2016 models.

The new rules will also effectively require an improvement in fuel economy on the order of 40 percent for vehicles sold in the state.

Ten states follow or plan to follow California's air quality rules, which have previously focused on auto emissions that cause smog, and the latest set of rules would for the first time limit carbon dioxide emissions. And as the largest of the 10 states, New York is being closely watched as it institutes the new rules.

If all 10 states and California succeed in enacting the rules, they will form a powerful alternative regulatory bloc accounting for about a third of the nation's auto sales.

"That is so much of the market it should reach a tipping point," Mr. Doniger said. "It won't make sense for the automakers to build two fleets, one clean and one dirty."

If these new regulations survive court challenges, they'll reconfigure American automobile dependency. It'll take years for Minnesota to follow suit, but hopefully that won't matter.


mpls: Ritz Theater will be Remodeled

Article in Mpls Observer, about that empty building between all the art galleries and restaurants on 13th Av.

11/23/05 Ritz Theater Sale Finalized

After more than six years of negotiations and fundraising, the group working to save the Ritz Theater finally has closed the deal.

The Ritz Theater Foundation on October 25 completed the sale of the historic theater at 345 NE 13th Avenue, which will allow the group to complete the planned renovation by Spring 2006, reports Gail Olson in the Northeaster.

“It’s tremendously exciting,” said Craig Harris, executive director of Ballet of the Dolls, which will be the theater’s main tenant. “We’re walking on air. I started working on this six and a half years ago. It’s been a long process, but it’s thrilling.”

The $1.3 million project is seen as the “crown jewel” of the 13th Avenue arts district revival, said John Kremer, who owns the nearby California Building. “It will help the restaurants and bars in the area become economic engines,” he said.


mpls: Issue of the Month is Condo Conversions

Check this article out in the Southwest Journal:

Southwest has been the hotbed of Minneapolis conversions. According to Housing Link, since 2000, Southwest wards 6, 10 and 13 have lost 1,041 units affordable to people making half the metro median - 77 percent of the 1,350 lost citywide. (All but one of the 6th Ward conversions was west of I-35W.)

Add to that more than half of the 256 units lost in partial-Southwest wards 7, 8 and 11, and the area accounts for the vast majority of the lost affordability advocates claim.

mpls: No No Turn on Red

Great read in the Southwest Journal, about the city ridding itself of many 'No Turn on Red' signs.

I particularly like this quote:
Peter Podulke calls the No Turn on Red signs “a big nuisance.” He likes Minnesota's pedestrian right-of-way laws and doesn't mind waiting for pedestrians who cross mid-block, he said. However, Podulke - who lives in St. Paul and teaches creative movement at the Volunteers of America Senior Center, 3612 Bryant Ave. S. - said it seems like Minneapolis bureaucrats got carried away banning rights on red. “They have fewer [signs] in St. Paul,” he said. “It seems like, ‘Minneapolis: The city that hates you.'”

This is a good example of grassroots planning, and citizen feedback.

mpls: Lake Calhoun Condo Kaput

The Lander Group's proposal for a condo at 2622 Lake Street, right at Lake Calhoun, is no more -- this according to the Mpls Observer:
The Lander Group, which had proposed a six-story mixed-use development across Lake Street from Lake Calhoun, withdrew its project today—before the City Council could vote it down.

The project, at 2622 W. Lake Street, had attracted criticism from neighborhood groups because it violated the zoning code related to height in the Shoreland Overlay District near the lake. The city’s Planning Commission had earlier concurred with the critics and denied Lander a conditional use permit that would allow the developer to circumvent the zoning restrictions.

There was “significant” neighborhood opposition to the project, Council Member Lisa Goodman said. The withdrawal “gives the neighborhoods and the developer a chance to move forward together on this project.”

Take that, Star Tribune Editorial Page...

density&diversity: LRT vs BRT

The PiPress’s article about LRT down University yesterday ended by pointing toward the debate between LRT and BRT. While they’re only one letter different, the debate really comes down to how much (and why) people like trains more than buses, and to what extent that makes for a more succesful city transit system and boosts city development.

A few weeks ago, a Strib piece by Laurie Blake tackled just this question:

This preference for rail largely explains why the Hiawatha ridership is exceeding projections. Preconstruction predictions did not factor in positive attitudes toward the train. The Hiawatha ridership is 65 percent higher than predicted. In October, an estimated 742,000 riders used the line.

Rail's smooth ride and consistent schedule make it appealing to riders who would not consider the bus. The permanence of the track and the frequency of service make it easy to use without knowing a schedule.

"Now we have real numbers from observed behavior," Diaz said. "About 40 percent of the riders are people who were not using the bus. That is a huge amount."

Officials have spent more than a year correcting the metro area's forecasting methods to better reflect rail's appeal. This change could be important for ridership predictions on a proposed central corridor rail line along University Avenue linking St. Paul and Minneapolis.

An upcoming environmental impact statement will compare the pros and cons of a rail line with bus rapid transit. Ridership will be central to that comparison and a key part of the choice between rail or bus, Diaz said.

My take on a recent report (not available online) by New Urban News, is that "Bus Rapid Transit," while better than “Bus Slow-as-Molasses Transit,” is just another name for a good bus system. Such systems are being planned in many cities, though right now a real BRT exists only in Boston. To put it another way, “BRT” means fancy buses, with such things as:

  • new buses that require no step-up
  • dedicated bus lanes
  • special bus stops with LED signs that tell you the time until the next bus
  • timed stoplights

All these things add up to much better bus service, and a cosmpolitan progressive city should invest in exactly these sorts of things if it want to have an attractive mass transit system. The truth is that the TC, no matter how many rail lines it builds, will always have a bus-dependent transit system, and people ought to be embracing BRT ideas with open arms.

However, Light Rail must also be a big part of the long-term answer. Sure it’s more expensive, but as an investment, it pays for itself by encouraging development all along its route. The same New Urban News article that talks about BRT benefits, mentions this:

Nearly everyone New Urban News spoke with agreed that developers are less excited by bus systems than by rail transit. The permanence of a rail line encourages developers to make long-term investments along it. Also, despite the introduction of quiter, clean-buring engines on the latest generation of BRT buses, the public’s preferred mode of mass transit is trains. This August, community groups in Boston forced the MVTO to postpone plans for constructing an $800 million, one-mile bus tunnel fo rthe final leg of the Silver Line; they wanted it to be light rail.

Shelly Poticha, president of Reconnecting America, said some streetcar projects have been “only modestly more expensive” to build than BRT and have done better at generating mixed-use development.

According to the Strib article, LRT has between a 25% to 40% advantage over buses in adding new riders, not to mention any extra boost in development monet. The Twin Cities, one of the weathiest, fastest-growing urban areas in the country, should be talking about both LRT and BRT. University Avenue is the perfect place for a train – both wide enough, and desperate for development money – and and we should be looking at changing some of the other well-travelled bus routes into “Rapid Transit” corridors – by adding quieter buses, improved bus stops, and right-of-way improvements.

density&diversity: Metropolis Article

My favorite design mag, Metropolis, has a take article on gentrification in NY. As it's behind a suscriber wall, I've posted it in its entireity.

In Praise of Gentrification
Why our traditional assumptions about economic development are all wrong.

Posted November 21, 2005

A shopping mall opens in a former girdle factory on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, long since colonized by artists and retroactively claimed as their birthright. A cry goes up all over town--the neighborhood is being taken over by corporations! As it turns out, the owners are Hasidic Jews who have been in the neighborhood for generations, and the stores that open in the "mall" are all small businesses--a bookstore, a caf�, a novelty shop, and a clothing boutique.

No matter: there are other things to whine about. A 20-story hotel is going up on Rivington Street, on Manhattan's Lower East Side, in the last decade transformed from a heroin alley--where shootings were common and cab drivers refused to drop off passengers--to a neighborhood teeming with nightlife and overwhelmed on weekends by the "bridge-and-tunnel" crowd: suburbanites coming to the city to unload their cash. Gentrification! But the owner--if anyone bothered to find out--is a longtime resident who invested his own money in daring architecture to create a new local icon.

It's a never-ending refrain in New York City--a beggar can hardly get a new pair of shoes without a murmur about gentrification. The word was only a rumor to me before I moved to New York from southeast Michigan in 1995, but I was conditioned to hate the phenomenon before I had ever heard the word. As a middle-class lefty with novelistic aspirations surrounded by others of the same mind, it would have required a herculean questioning of assumed values to have thought otherwise.

The rest in the comments...

stp: December Edition of Avenues

Lots to read in this edition of Avenues, the new Saint Paul local paper (unfortunately, no website).

  • A nice article about Victoria Park, a neighborhood at West 7th and Otto, where old industrial land is being developed along TND lines.
  • An Op-Ed about how the city's PED (Dept. of Economic Development) has laid off a whole bunch of planners, and has become less sensitive to neighborhood groups in the last decade or so. The article comes down hard on the city for screwing up the dreams of a Tatoo artist named Grease Lehman. I've heard about this story before, and it seems like the perfect example of old-fashioned overwrought overplanning.
  • The Heritage Presevation Commission is trying to get local historic designation for the Schmidt Brewery (also on W 7th), an important step for keeping any future development true to the spirit of the place.
  • And an update on the Grand Avenue formula business code plans. The Planning Commission is meeting today to review a public hearing that took place on the beginning of the month. The city council is trying to figure out what to do, and the two sides are drawn along traditional lines: neighborhoods and most citizens on one side, the Chamber of Commerce on the other.

My take on the Grand Avenue ordinance is that there's nothing wrong with the neighborhood getting together and trying to control what sort of commercial development occurs on the street. The sorts of size and format limitations they're discussing sound perfectly reasonable.

I'm not in favor of getting rid of the "rule of five," though. Really small businesses shouldn't need to provide their own parking lot, and the sorts of places that do (Grand Avenue liquors) are just paving green space.

stp: CVS Still Bad News

The PiPress had yesterday an entire article about the aforementioned eerie CVS pharmacy coincidence...

"The news media want to write about how big bad George is going to beat up poor little Johnny," said Johnson, 59, the bespectacled owner of five drugstores in the state. "Would I like to see the chains out of Grand Avenue? Yes. But is it probable, feasible or even right?"
When a flashy CVS store — literally flashy, thanks to the building's changing electronic billboard — opened Oct. 30 on University Avenue, Johnson was watching from seven blocks away from another of his stores, the old-fashioned Lloyd's Pharmacy at Snelling and Minnehaha avenues.

The story was on the front page of the PiPress Local section. The back page was covered in a CVS ad offereing $25 to anyone willing to switch their prescriptions. All this, plus a report of a Saint Paul city ordinance bypass allowing CVS to have two flashing red signs on their University Avenue location.

That, for me, none of this is a big deal. What irks me still is CVS's monolitic brick wall at the corner of University and Snelling. It's horribly unappealing to stand there, where an entrance or some interesting windows could have been if only the corporation had been willing to design their building according to neighborhood guidelines.


mpls: Strib Pushes for Action on Nicollet LRT

A few weeks ago the Strib had a fascinating Op-Ed about land around the new (almost-finished) library.

These all seem like good suggestions:

Efforts to develop the city-owned block just north of the library suffered another setback in September when no bidder emerged to place housing above the existing Metro Transit station, which was to have been moved underground. Instead, the Opus Group, owner of two other empty blocks next to the library, proposed a land swap. It would build the sought-after residential towers north of the library if the city would arrange for the bus station to be moved to the old Powers department store site, next to the Nicollet Mall light-rail stop. Opus would get air rights over the station for an office tower to be built when the market improves.

It's an intriguing idea with severe complications.

First, Metro Transit would have to agree to the new bus location. Second, two smaller parcels on the Powers block would have to be acquired for any new underground station to succeed. Third, bus traffic in and out of the station would have to comport to changes now being studied in bus and auto traffic movements downtown.

In addition, the city should require Opus to agree to certain things before any deal is struck, among them:

• To actually build the residential and office towers within a certain time frame, and to develop the block immediately east of the library. The company has been sitting on these properties for decades.

• To include in all of these projects a generous swath of public greening that would, in essence, extend Gateway Park from Washington Avenue, past the library, to the LRT station at 5th Street and Nicollet Mall. It's this linear park that would help give the library the green context it deserves, as well as provide an inviting pedestrian link from riverfront condos to the LRT station and downtown shopping.

If Minneapolis is to capitalize on its downtown housing boom it must greatly upgrade walkways and public spaces. The new library deserves a better setting than it's getting.

It's hard to believe that Opus Group doesn't think the Downtown market is hot enough. It seems to me that it's on fire, kind of like the asteroid coming through the atmosphere in Armageddon...

roseville: Big Box "Twin Lakes" Still On Ice

I've heard a bit about this project up in Roseville, where some developers are trying to get the city to pay TIF money to clean up what had been an environmentally-messy site so that they can redevelop it into a mixed-use big-box/housing complex.

The project pits the mayor and a city councilmember against the rest of the city council, two of whom were recently re-elected. Here's the PiPress update on what's happening now:

A property owner in Roseville has sued the city and developers for making a "low-ball" offer to purchase its properties in the planned Twin Lakes redevelopment, alleging that is a tactic that would lead to an improper use of eminent domain.
The city has granted approval to the master developer, the Rottlund Cos., to build 730 housing units, 225,000 square feet of office space and 325,000 square feet of shops and restaurants in the area north and east of Cleveland Avenue and County Road C.

Roseville City Hall has seen it's share of scandal, and the election has to be good news for people who want to see somehting else happen to this land. Right now is a critical time, even though, a judge recetly rejected another environmental review. Of course, inner ring infill is great. What isn't great is seeing taxpayers subsidize Big Box/development profits...

density&diversity: State Transit Funding 2006

The environmental lobbying group, ME3 (Minnesotans for an Energy Efficient Economy) had an update on transit funding efforts at the state level in their most recent newsletter. After last year's near-almost victory, it'll be interesting to see how many Republicans put pressure on the Gov. to sign something progressive in an election year.

Here's what ME3 says:

ME3 and Transit Partneres will continue efforts to obtain funding for the transportation choices Minnesota citizens need and deserve. We will also be working with a broad coalition of business, transit, and environmental groups to promote the passage of the constitutional amendment to dedicate the motor vehincle sales tax to transportation in the 2006 general election. Economically sound and environmentally friendly transportatoin policy options are available. Stay tuned for ways you can help make them state law in the next legislative session.

This is a great group to support if you want to see better transit choices, as is Transit for Liveable Communities.

stp: PiPress on Central Corridor

The PiPress put the Central Corridor all over their front page today, with a story about how University Avenue business owners are trying to put the kibosh on the street's oft ballyhooed LRT project. The piece mentions the curmudgeous owner of Midway Books (@ Snelling & Univ.) as well as the publisher of the Asian American Press.

Not to disrespect anybody, but these people are either selfish or stupid. And my guess is selfish. University Avenue business owners have been complaining about the University LRT project for as long as it's been talked about, which is almost twenty years at this point, and it's probably mainly beacuse they're worried about getting priced out of an improved University Avenue real estate market. That's self-centered, short-term thinking.

There's no question that the LRT line would radically change the street, but anyone who's ever walked around Frogtown/Midway alone after dark would agree things could get better. As both the PiPress online poll and the Hiawatha ridership show, an LRT train is overwhelmingly supported by the citizens of Saint Paul. The only issue is how soon the city can get federal and state funding, and whether or not the project planners will be able to stave off the folks who want it to be a "Bus Rapid Transit" line.

More from the story:
The draft environmental impact statement projects 32,000 daily rides on light rail when it begins operation in 2008 and 26,500 on the busway.
Also, the model had to be reworked because it was doing a poor job of accurately predicting ridership when compared with the actual Hiawatha line numbers, said Nacho Diaz, transportation service director for the council. The model is important in calculating a cost-effectiveness ratio that the FTA uses when awarding money.

Diaz said he expects to send all the data to Washington by the end of the year so the council can make a final decision on whether to go with the busway or light rail and then proceed with the final environmental impact statement.

More on this later, but it's safe to say that changing the LRT to BRT would make Saint Paul a second-class city for decades.

stp: Malt Shop, Citgo Bank-Bound

The Citgo station on the Southeast corner of Snelling and I-94, along with the yellow-awninged Malt Shop behind it, will be the site of a new Anchor Bank branch building, according to the Twin Cities Business Journal. The report:

The bank just acquired a prime piece of Interstate 94 frontage and will build a new office where The Malt Shop and a Citgo gas station operated for years near the Snelling Avenue interchange. Demolition of the two existing buildings begins immediately. Then, Wayzata-based Anchor Bancorp Inc. will erect a two-story, 15,000-square-foot building -- large enough to catch the eye of just about anyone traveling on I-94 or Snelling.

I was wondering why that Citgo station closed down, and I guess this is it. Bad location for a malt shop, and this piles on the fact that Liberty State Bank, which used to corner the banking market in this neighborhood, has been sold twice in the last five years.


stp: The R&R Books Fiasco

The city of Saint Paul is trying to ruin one of the more interesting corners on University Avenue. This place -- the multi-building complex on the corner of University and St. Albans -- is such a diamond in the rough that it actually houses "Capitol City Hatters," where you can have your fedora cleaned and blocked. Sure, the new Frogtown branch of the Saint Paul library is great, but the city is over-reaching by trying to clean up the neighorhood with eminent domain. Here's the City Pages' take on what's going on:
Earlier this month the St. Paul City Council, acting as the municipality's Housing and Redevelopment Authority, voted unanimously to spend up to $2 million to condemn the properties, seize them through eminent domain, and tear down the existing buildings. (A vacuum cleaner retailer that would also be adversely affected by the project has agreed to sell out to the city for $780,000.) Under the current plan, a development group led by the Welsh Companies would then build a $6.8 million, 21,000-square-foot commercial office building.
What's more, a report prepared by the city's Department of Planning and Economic Development assesses the worth of Olson's property at $481,000--or barely a third of the price that Olson has negotiated on the open market. And to make matters more puzzling, the report erroneously claims that the liquor store is currently "vacant." "I don't know why they keep on insisting that it's vacant when it's not," Seltz says.

The bookstore and the next-door liquor store are the last remnants of what was the epicenter of Saint Paul's smut district. I've been to this liquor store a few times, and I'd be the first to admit that it's sketchy as hell. The brick building that houses R&R Books is a pretty nice, two-story brick structure, and University Avenue needs to keep all those buildings intact.

There are so many unused spaces on University Avenue. Take the Wendy's across the street, or the Dale St. police station, or the Saxon Ford that's recently closing. If the city wants to build an office building, they should look at any of these places, and not tear down occupied businesses.

Minneapolis didn't try to tear down Augie's strib club just because the light rail train stopped in front of it. The magic of city is in it's unplanned juxtapositions. How often do you have a hattery right next to an adult bookstore?


stp: Economic Darwinism and Local Pharmacys

Here's an odd coincidence: National mega-Pharmacy chain CVS has recently decided to build in the TC market. Where are they building their new Saint Paul stores?

  • The one on Grand Avenue is right across the street from independent pharmacy, Bober Drug
  • The one on Maryland Avenue is only blocks away from long-time independent now-out-of-business pharmacy on the East Side
  • The one on Snelling is only 5 blocks away from long-time independent pharmacy, Lloyd's

I'm sensing some kind of pattern, but I can't put my finger on it...

election reform: Voter ID Regulations

According to Campaigns & Elections magazine, the states of Georgia, Indiana, and Arizona have all passed new, restrictive voter ID laws. These laws require all voters to have government-issued photo ID's, and that those without these high-end ID's wouldn't be issued provisional vallots, as required by the '02 HAVA.

There ought to be voting regulations at the federal level. We need to be making it easier for people to vote, not adding new hurdles. Thank god Minnesota has same-day registration, but even that hasn't done much to stop the erosion of turnout, as evidenced by last week's all-time-low numbers.

Anecdotal stories about voter fraud, which is what prompts laws like Georgia's, are blown way out of proportoin. They're the modern verision of Reagan's "Welfare Momma in a Cadillac" tall tale.

Why not move election day to a weekend, or make it a holiday? Why not make state ID's free to all? In Australia, voting is mandatory!

density&diversity: Hidden Cost of Parking

The U recently hosted this guy, Donald Shoup, the expert on how the business community is forced into subsidizing auto transport by adding parking for every new building. Parking has been a big issue with many of the developments throughout the TC. For example, the Grand & Victoria commerical strip has a parking lot in the back, and when Best Buy's new store EqLife wanted to move in, they needed to get a parking requirement exemption.

Shoup's arguement is that these sorts of requirements only encourage people to drive more, and are one more way in which our society subsidizes auto transit. He argues that cities should eliminate off-street parking requirements, and suggests that businesses ought to use parking revenues to improve streetscapes and sidewalks.

The only thing I know is that the multi-story parking lot inside the new condo at 26th and Nicollet is really ugly. Whenever I see a beautiful building filled with cars, I want to throw a brick through a window.

mendota heights: Pilot Knob Free for Now

The really old, sacred for Natives hillock Pilot Knob, in Mendota Heights overlooking the airport and Ft. Snelling, has been saved from condo-i-fication. Mendota Heights City Council said no to the developer who was going to build some luxury housing on top of it.

There's a lot of building going on in Mendota Heights lately, and most of it is very good. Along the river, they turned a Highway 13 gravel quarry into luxury homes a few years back, and the Ecolab building at Wachtler and Hwy 13 is being turned into condo housing. Plus, the mixed-use develpment at Dodd Rd. and Hwy 110 is a nice addition, bringing some much-needed retail space into what had been a monolithically residential area.

But there's no reason to create high-visibility housing on one of the most ancient space in the Twin Cities. Pilot Knob is an ancient Indian burial ground, very near to old Mendota, where some of the first houses in Minnesota were built. Plus, Fort Snelling, which already has airplanes going over it all the damn time, didn't need to lose any more of its natural landscape.

According to the Strib piece, the cemetery on Pilot Knob is still trying to sell some of its land, and the neighborhood historical groups are going to have to stay vigilant if they want to keep this space natural.

mpls: Strib Calls Lake Lovers a Bunch of NIMBY's

Decide for yourself about today's Strib editorial on building height. Here is a highlight:

We're talking about busy commercial/transit corridors -- along Lake Street, the Midtown Greenway or the Hiawatha line, for example -- where there's growing demand for mixed-use condo buildings of a medium height -- five to 15 stories -- but where neighbors and some city politicians are putting up stiff resistance.

That's self-destructive. If Minneapolis truly values progressive politics, if it really wants a government that looks after parks, lakes, schools, public safety and people in need, then willing taxpayers will be required -- and the more the better. The city's greatest advantage right now is that throngs of young professionals and aging empty-nesters want the urban lifestyle that Minneapolis provides. But too many are getting the cold shoulder from locals who sing the old NIMBY tune: not in my back yard.

Two complaints stand out. One is an aesthetic aversion to height, part of the prairie DNA, perhaps. There's a blind spot to the notion that a taller, slender building can have less visual impact than one that's shorter and more massive, with less room for green space.

Since when is 15 stories a "medium height building?" Personally, I'm not sure the paper is giving Calhoun-area neighborhood groups their fair shake. As I've said before, there are a number of questions about this development:

  • It would involve cutting down trees along the lakeshore that currently stand in between Lake Calhoun and Lake Street.
  • It violates decades-old Lake-area building codes restricting building height to treetop levels.

The debate isn't about building height. It's about size and impact. Particularly alongside the lakes, there is a real incentive to keep the landscape as natural as possible. Density is great, and the city needs to encourage density, but why further urbanize valuable parkland? There are plenty of places to build up, but there are only a half-dozen lakes in the city. A building like Lander's would surely set a trend that would be hard to stop, and we would end up with our chain of lakes surrounded by tall buildings.

If it was shorter, and within typical building codes, I like this development quite a bit. The property used to be an uninteresting semi-industrial office, but ten years from now it will be a dense, mixed-use building. That's a good thing.

The important point is that this will be valuable property no matter how tall it is, and the Strib shouldn't be pushing the city to give Lander (or any other developer) free reign to squeeze extra revenue out of his real estate by skirting building codes. The Strib makes it sound like there's a choice between good development strategies (like sidewalk landscaping) and big building height (10 stories). I don't think those are the only options.


stp: Hoa Bien Mea Culpa

(an Open Letter to Hoa Bien)

Dear Hoa Bien:

I'm sorry. I got it all so very, very wrong.

When I drove to try and eat at you and I tried to turn into your parking lot and there was nothing but a crater, I was filled with rage. I wanted to lash out at the evil corporation that was building a giant, un-special brick building on the corner of Lexington and University. Why did their parking lot have to be where you used to be? Why did they, just for the fun of it, have to bulldoze your nice little ramshackle eatery where I had enjoyed many a fine vegetable spring roll, Pho soup, or make-it-yourself lettuce-wrap-dip-thing?

The other day I looked again at the place you used to be, the giant dirt pit that was your Vietnamese grave, and just as I was about to again curse the American hubis that has been levelling all things Vietnamese since we took over for the French, I saw the sign:

Coming Soon!
All New Hoa Bien Restaurant and Conference Center

You! It was you. It turns out you were pulling a Mai Village, and expanding madly, transforming into a restaurant empire, and becoming a destination for all. It turns out that when I turned to point a finger, I should have been pointing the finger at myself.

Because I'm still mad at you, Hoa Bien. I'm sure you're going to raise your prices by a factor of 2. I'm sure all kinds of annoying types are going to come in and have loud conversations while I'm trying to eat your food. I'm sure that guy in the yellow Hummer is going to park in your lot. Alas, my haven is no more.

With great sadness,

stp: Downtown Housing Quasi-Boom

A quick glance at unknown local paper The Saint Paul Downtown Voice finds two stories about turning downtown StP back into a residential neighborhood.


  • The new buildings at the upper landing (under the high bridge) are selling. Apparently one buildilng housing 53 units is amost full. (those units retail at $219K – $580K.) There are around 120 more units available in the complex.
  • Around 25-30 of Lander development’s “printers row” units (on East 9th St. downtown) have been sold. Those prices range from $159K - $550K, and there are 84 total units.

Add to this the LoTo restaurant finally doing something positive with 80’s boondoggle Galtier Plaza, and downtown Saint Paul might actually, eventually, maybe, someday have more people than pigeons.

mpls: Downtown Billboard Debate

I spotted these two conversationally-related billboards downtown the other night.

mpls: Molly Quinn's and the Smoking Ban

The denziens of Mnspeak.com had an interesting discussion about the smoking ban, set off by the news that the relocation of an East Lake landmark, Molly Quinn’s Irish Pub, to an Ethopian restaurant’s ex-haunts, wasn’t going so well. Somehow, the bar owner, ended up blaming the city’s smoking ban for his slow business, despite the fact that:

  • 1) his Irish bar is in an Ethopian restaurant
  • 2) he has built a designated outdoor smoking patio
  • 3) the entire country of Ireland has passed a smoking ban

Let me remind you that not only is Ireland the most alcoholic country on the planet, but it’s completely run by the mob. If Ireland can survive a smoking ban, so can the Twin Cities.

If the owner of Molly Quinns (which I happened to like very much at its old location) is looking for someone to blame for his economic woes, might I suggest SuperAmerica? It was their unnecessary expansion plans that led to a classically beautiful Irish pub annexing a classically beautiful Ethopian restaurant. There are plenty of parking lots that SuperAmerica could have turned into a Super SuperAmerica, but they had to choose the one with a local bar on it.

But that debate is ancient history, as will be Molly Quinns in the not-too-distant future. Too bad their Ethopian/Irish hybrid dinn’t take off. Now that Chang O’Hara’s is gone, that leaves Twin Cities Irish fusion in dire straights

More interesting is the never-ending debate on the smoking ban, which the Strib profiled today:

"What I'm here to ask you is to please, stay strong," said [Saint Paul City Councilmember Dave] Thune, who urged leaders of the state's most populous county not to amend its ban, and promised that St. Paul would soon adopt a measure similar to what's on the books in Hennepin County.

Now’s the perfect time to talk about this, because right now smokers throughout Hennepin County are trying to light their cigarettes in fifteen-degree wind.

This bit from the Mnspeak comments speaks volumes:

I've said it on here before that I support the smoking ban. That said, it does suck that places are closing, but I also think that the smoking ban is an easy excuse. IMO, places are closing because they didn't know how to support their business, they kept waiting for the government to come and save them by removing the ban.

Smoking patios are fine for some places, but maybe not for others. So as a business you need to keep thinking about what you can do to bring in more customers. Those that don't will fail, but those that can, will move on.

My $.02 on the subject.
»» Submitted by »»» moe at 8:58 PM on November 14

Bars should always be adapting to their changing neighborhoods and their new clientele. If you’re an African-American bar and all the black folk are leaving your neighborhood, you’re in trouble. The same goes for smokers. Schroeder’s, my neighborhood bar on Front and Maryland, just spent some cash and put some windows in their previously-monolithically-brick wall (see picture above). I’m sure they did this to attract a more interesting and niterested (in the outside world) clientele.

Good for you Schroeder’s. That’s what small, smoky corner bars are gonna have to do if they wanna stay in business. Next stop, Costello’s, where Dave Thune will finally get his way and end years of unnecessary smok-idy smoke-smoke.


mpls: Strib lashes out at Downtown boom

Great article today about downtown liveability. The Strib appears to be accusing the Minne-apple of being Minne-Detroit. Check it out:

Minneapolis looks more like Detroit than success, researcher says

According to [city planning academic guru Eugenie] Birch's text, Minneapolis seems more like a St. Louis or Detroit than a real success story. She classes the city's downtown residential trend at the bottom of five categories -- three notches below "emerging," and two below "on the edge of takeoff." That's a sharp blow, considering the readership she will have among opinion shapers across the nation.

She agrees, however, that things are changing fast, with new developments supplanting data used in her report.

But she still scoffs at local boosters' claims that the City of Lakes is now a national model for downtown revivals.

Not so, says the pres of the Downtown Council:

[Sam] Grabarski added that the statistics come from a consultant he trusts, and that downtown is on a roll. "On almost all fronts we have kept pace with or exceeded almost all the statistics of the 100 largest cities. In 2004, downtown completed, started, or announced the construction of 6,000 housing units. You can't find five cities in the U.S. that in the last 10 years have built more than one office tower of more than 1 million square feet, and we've built five. Not more than ten cities in the U.S. have daytime workforces of 160,000, as we have, even though Minneapolis barely makes the top 50 in overall population.

The Strib tried to make some waves with a eye-grabbing headline, but even they admit in their own population graph that Minneapolis ranks really high on the list of downtown populations. They're near #10, while having the #44 total city population. Of course, if you take the metro area as a whole, the TC is about #15.

The facts are clear: more people live downtown than in the past. In fact, we have almost as many people downtown as Detroit. And what's more, our downtown residents are mostly wealthy white people -- a choice demographic that, in Minnesota, lives in gated downtown condos downtown, rather than gated suburban community.

Indeed Minneapolis turns up as one of the nation's leaders when it comes to a highly educated downtown population, with nearly half of all downtown dwellers holding college or graduate degrees. Downtown also continues to house the poor, however; parts of downtown Minneapolis are several times richer than other areas of downtown just a few blocks away.

If history is any guide, having a commercial-only downtown is a sure way to have your city suck. Your downtown zone will rot every evening and weekend, like downtown Saint Paul in a desert, tumbleweeds of newspaper blowing in the wind down empty streets while concrete parking lots reproduce like feral rabbits.

More people downtown, on the other hand, ensures all-hour vibrance. It ensures a host of restaurants, and truly public gathering spaces that can be used for any manner of PR stunt. I'm sure that by this time in 2008, we'll have passed Detroit on the downtown population list.

mpls: More Lowry Bridge

Quizzical reader Smartie wonders aloud about conflicting news on the Lowry Bridge.

After some digging, I find out: Yes, they did just spend a lot of money fixing up the bridge, and yes, some people are thinking about replacing it anyway.

Here's an older story from Camden News:

The Lowry Avenue Bridge will have re-opened by the time most people read this article if all goes as planned. Bernie Jahn, from Hennepin County’s Transportation Development Design Department was at the site mid-March and he commented on the progress. The bearings to stabilize the shifting were in the process of being installed, with the installation expected to take one week. “After the installation, monitoring and clean-up tasks are needed…[and] the bridge will be open by the end of March.”

Much of the delay was placed on funding issues as well as the custom fabrication of the bearings. Jahn dismissed comments that the structural solution developed would not be sufficient. The consulting company Wiss, Janney and Elstner of Chicago, has been involved in many other bridge projects, including the Ford Parkway Bridge Structural Investigation and Rehabilitation. Once repaired, the bridge is expected to serve as a crossing for many years to come. Jahn added that the lengthy closure has brought discussions about replacing the Lowry Avenue Bridge to the forefront. He admits that he isn’t involved with the replacement issue, which could be at least 10 years away, but the first step is finding the funding.

I love the bridge as is, and I think it would be a travesty if they built another one. In fact, I think it's a travesty to even talk about it. It's not often that a bridge has character, but when it does, you need to keep it. That's happening in Stillwater right now. In fact, the bridges are quite similar!

Attention businesspeople: it's impossible to put a dollar value on the sound it makes when your car goes over the little metal ridges of the Lowry Bridge


This from Hennepin County:

The county Transportation Department discovered structural problems at the large pier on the east side of the navigation channel last fall while the bridge was closed to traffic for a repainting project. At that location, movement had occurred between the bridge trusses and the pier that supports the trusses.

The bridge remained closed while Transportation Department engineers and a bridge consultant determined the extent of the problems and what repairs were needed. The recommendation was made to replace the bearing assemblies on Pier 3, and a contractor has now completed those repairs. The Transportation Department will continue to monitor the bridge.

The repainting project in 2003-2004 consisted of painting the structural steel of the bridge and installing new lights. Work also included minor repairs on the concrete abutments and piers and to the bridge superstructure.

Plus Again: Bill Gates Agrees Lowry Bridge is a "Landmark"

As you can see here, the good folks at Microsoft (Flight Simulator division) deemed the Lowry Bridge to be worth of landmark status.

Replaced Missing Landmark Bridges -
In Flight Simulator 9.0 we replaced many old bridge models with new bridge models. During this process many bridges that were in previous versions of Flight Simulator were inadvertently omitted and the new bridge model was never placed. We replaced approximately 160 missing bridge models that were omitted from Flight Simulator 9.0.


mpls: Lowry Ave Bridge, in the Camden News

Camden News has this:

The Hennepin County Board did pass the $30 million funding for the Lowry Corridor and Lowry Bridge (as written about by John Helgeland in the August 2005 Camden News). The resolutions authorize County staff to submit requests for State capital bonding appropriations on behalf of the Lowry Avenue Corridor project in the amount of $5 million (pursuant to Department of Finance requirements). They also authorized County staff to submit requests for State capital bonding appropriations on behalf of the Lowry Avenue Bridge Replacement in the amount of $24,300,000.

mpls: Bad Waitress opens at 26th and Nicollet

The Bad Waitress, the new effort by the folks who brought you Spyhouse, opened on Tuesday. It's a big change to the corner, and, frankly, Nicollet Avenue feels great. I'm seeing bikes and people and all sorts of life. I think people feel more secure now that there's something other than a parking lot occupying the space on this corner. Once people start moving into the condos upstairs, it'll get even better.

Erica Christ across the street at the Black Forest told me that she had been looking forward to this place opening, and more density for the neighborhood. Most people who live here already, though, insist that parking spaces are needed. I suppose they're right, only it's too bad, because a whole half-block of this building's street front space is being used by a parking lot.

Of course, not everything is going according to plan. The Bad Waitress, which had hoped to close its kitchen at 3 p. m. every day, is going to start keeping it open until 10. Apparently nobody has been showing up just to hang out here, given that the Spyhouse is only a block away.

Spoiler Alert:

You should know that there are no waitresses here.


mpr: great show on the future of cities

Tuesday's Midmorning was fabulous, despite the litany of annoying callers. (Yeah, let's ask this guy in L. A. about PRT or White Bear Lake shorelines...)

The first 30 min. featured two mayors, one from Minnetonka and one from Chevy Chase, talking about political hurdles to regional planning. The second 30 min. had a urban historian and futurist. Wow, it's just like the 20s again!

Mayor Karen Anderson from Minnetonka (past pres. of LMC) notably said that "one of the great recent miracles has been getting suburban communities to support affordable housing."

That would be great, if it happened. I'm skeptical, of course. The mayor then made some caveats about how politically precarious it is to raise suburban taxes for anything, let alone something that has impact outside the city lines. She pointed to the recent Denver transportation sales tax as something that will likely spur the ouster of a suburban mayor or two.

But I wonder: Isn't this why we have the Met Council? So that progressive suburban mayors have someone to blame when regionally-focused decisions are made? C'mon Peter Bell. Come to New Urbanism...

Mayor William Hudnut from ritzy burb Chevy Chase MD (and ULI fellow), added some predictions:
There is new credibilty attached to Transit Oriented Development (TOD)... Cities will empty out, there will be such a population surge... Some people will trickle back downtown, just 2-3 demograhpic cohorts, I call them the singles, the mingles, and the jingles, and they're basically anyone w/out kids in public schools... In the long run the Central Business District (CBD) will become the central social district... This endless sprawl is unsustainable, someone calculates land is being develped at 45 acres/hour... We must learn to have more compact devlopment as we go down the trail... There will be a lot more jobs created in the suburbs... Its always a fight to get jobs to come into the central city... it took me 17 mos. to persuade an insurance company to move to downtown Indianaopolis rather than build in the suburbs... Today's the regional metropolitan form is not heliocentric, its like a constellation.... But you still need to have a strong central city... you cant be a suburb of nothing."

Finally, "futurist" Joel Kotkin looked into his crystal ball and pointed out that Minneapolis is one of the healthier cities in the U. S. He's from L. A., so that makes sense. He thinks the downtown will eventually have what he calls "a convening function," which is apparently a very old thing.

Hmm... something to chew on, I guess.

mpr: citizen activism from the citizens league

MPR's Kerri Miller had a good show today on democratic involvement. In the light of the low turnout numbers in the TC this week, it's a nice topic.

The talk was hosted by the phoenix-esque Citizens League, and featured Richard Horwood who is an expert on the history of citizen involvement. He said something about how too often development discussions are between people who are 100% pro-growth or 100% anti-growth, and that the vast majority of people are in the middle, trying to control or contain growth, and direct in a certain way.

I couldn't agree more, though I found the rest of what Horwood had to say to be a bit banal.

Anyway, I like what the Citizens League is trying to do. I'm thinking it's in the same vein as the Westminster Town Hall Forum, only more locally focused. Getting the mainstream to meet up can't be a bad thing.

stp: PiPress op-ed on Snelling Ave bus barn

It just sits there, filled with gravel. The excellent University United folks have all the info you could possible need.

But, here's a recent PiPress opinion piece that seems to have its heart in the right place:

We're happy to report that the debate over how the bus barn site can be sold is now settled. For the longest time, some, including the Met Council, argued that it had to be a land swap because that was the only means by which to keep happy the Federal Transit Administration, which gave the Met Council huge subsidies for the property long ago. That no longer appears to be the case.
City Councilman Jay Benanav agrees with developers and community activists like University United's Brian McMahon that 807 Hampden is a bad site for the bus barn.

"We're going to ask the Met Council to just sell the land and take that money and use it to reduce their bonding request for transportation from the state Legislature," Benanav said. "That money could even be used for light rail."


That's the other issue roiling the development of the bus barn site. There are plans in the works to build a Lowe's home improvement store and a Best Buy on the site. But McMahon, Benanav and others argue that the last thing the congested intersection needs is big box retail, which will only bring more traffic.

"That's a concern," said Benanav. "It doesn't mean it's a deal killer, but that area is already pretty congested."

We agree. A new transit study is the works that's expected to confirm that University and Snelling avenues is one of the busiest intersections in the state. It's also expected to include recommendations on what to do about it.
Finally, what moves into the bus barn site needs to be decided with an eye toward the future, namely its impact on local traffic and its fit with light rail. Those are the questions that must be answered before anything can be done with the site.

The paper comes to the dramatic conclusion that "the discussion is important." I come to the dramatic conclusion that LRT needs to happen ASAP.

mpls: New Eliot Park condo tower on Park Ave

Speaking of Eliot Park, the Downtown Journal has another story on condo/community relations:

The city is inviting public comment on the 1010 Park development, two sets of condo towers that would rise up to 40 stories - or 459 feet - above the Elliot Park neighborhood.
The project will rise above the block's existing Baker and Enger buildings, RS Eden and Balmoral apartments, the Learning Center and the historic Hinkle-Murphy mansion. The Enger building will be incorporated into the lobby of the east tower, according to the EAW; early plans were to move the building to a different location on the block. Current Enger tenant Outsiders and Others Gallery will occupy the Hinkle-Murphy mansion.

Susan Braun, Elliot Park Neighborhood, Inc. (EPNI) executive director, said that Heritage Development has been “very responsive” about retaining current businesses, such as Gallery Atitlan and E.P. Atelier cafĂ© - both in the Baker Building on 10th Street. “That was part of the deal with the neighborhood,” Braun said.

Downtown density is great, but that area is changing so quickly your head spins. Public comment is due by 11/23.


I went by this corner today, after eating at the Band Box. This area could definately use some more structural density. It's rife with open space and parking lots. At the same time, old buildings like the Drexel Apts. Hotel and the Hinkle-Murphy mansion need to be preserved. They are our historical legacy, and if this project does what is says it will do, I'm giving it my seal of approval.

mpls: riverfront boom continues

Again, this piece from the Downtown Journal:

Developers are eager to lay claim to the land parcel just east of the new Guthrie Theater - a 200,000-square-foot, city-owned parking lot between North 2nd Street, West River Parkway and 11th Avenue South.

Because of the interest, the city, neighborhood representatives and Guthrie officials are discussing appropriate uses for the parcel, said Anne Calvert, principal project coordinator for Minneapolis' Department of Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED). After discussion, the city will ask developers to propose projects for the site.

The city acquired the parcel in three separate land acquisitions in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Calvert said. The site has been the focus of development talk before - as a potential Twins stadium site and, more recently, as part of the Guthrie project, until the theater complex was scaled back to a more vertical, two-block design, said Calvert.

I'm blown away when I read that the Guthrie project was "scaled back." WFT? It's a 10-story mega theater factory!

mpls: Eliot Park meeting next week

Eliot Park NRP meets to decide what to do for Phase 2.

The Downtown Journal reports:

“The whole intention of Phase Two is to leverage funds by working with private and public organizations,” she said.

That means Elliot Park will stay out of future development projects similar to East Village and Grant Park. “There's so much less money,” Braun said. “Now that private investment has started [in Elliot Park], we don't need to give money away anymore.”

Instead, EPNI might purchase and fix up a building, then lease it out, for example.

There's been a firesale on land in Eliot Park lately, and there's still a ton of beautiful housing stock in that area.

Meeting is at Eliot Park Rec Center. 11/14, at 6 p. m.


stp: Grand Avenue neighborhood plan

The folks at Amore Coffee over on Grand and Milton are big proponents of the street's formula moratorium. They've posted a sheet outlining the proposed neighborhood plan, that would end up in the city code:
Adopt TN2 design guidelines for East Grand Avenue, without changing the underlying zoning designation.

Limit new buildings to a footprint of 25,000 sq ft or less.

Limit new building total size, above ground, to 75,000 st ft or less, including (aboveground) parking.

Limit building height to 30' for commercial, and 36' for mixed-use projects (or 3 stories, whichever is lower). No additional height for setbacks.

Prohibit fast food restaurants (high volume restaurants), including in multi-tenant buildings.

Elimate the "rule of five" and other grandfathered parking supply exceptions.

Consider a formula business cap to maintain indy businesses.

They also have "unchain America" Lance Armstrong-type wristbands for sale. They're red. And, they have links and pamphlets for the new local TC indy business association. (It was started by Umansky, of the late-ex-Hungry Mind.)

That's the kind of multi-pronged, sustained effort it will take to compete with big corporate interests. Go Grand Avenue!

mpls: Whitter Globe highlights

Well, let's see here... Two community meetings, many condos cookin'.

First, the Business Association Meeting, chaired by Erica Christ of Nicollet Avenue's Black Forest Cafe. Apparently a local develper named Huey Fung is proposing a new development on the corner or 26th and Nicollet. That's where a mid-size mixed-use project is about to open up (w/a new restaurant named Bad Waitress grounding the thing.) Fung's proposal, I'm not sure where it is, would have four stories of underground parking, and be six stories tall with 80 offices.

If that sounds really big, it's because it is. He's asking for a city variance on buiding height (so is everyone else, by the way), and for some city $ assistance b/c of the big parking lot.

The city feels that a variance in this case may set a precedent and encourage other builders to seek variances to et around the four-story limit. In terms of parking, the city wants to promote public transportation and feels that having such ample parking that close to downtown wuld encourage the use of personal vehicles. Fung sees the underground parking area not in terms of the "downtown effect' but as potentially helping parking issues in the immediate Whittier area.
If there's one thing everyone in Whittier can agree on, it's that there's not enough parking.

Second, the Whittier Alliance (the NRP group) met in September and approved measures of support for a new 12-unit development at 2809 Pillsbury Ave, and the preservation of the Midwest Machinery building at 2848 Pleasant Ave. It looks like the Cornerstone Group (the owner of the bldg) is trying to sell the property.

stp: Bike lanes, finally

St Paul has at long last gotten its act together, and put some bike lanes in.

Como Avenue from University to Dale was repaved and reduced from four lanes down to two (+ a bike lane).

John Ireland Blvd was repaved from the capitol to the cathedral, and reduced from four lanes down to two (+ a bike lane).

The only question is, what took them so long? This kind of change makes all the difference. It slows down too-fast traffic and makes it safe for pedestrians and bikers.

Extra points because: the new bike lane icon has a helmet on.

mpls: back in the day

I was paging through Larry Millet's Lost Twin Cities, and I learned that the peak population of Minneapolis (in the 1940's) was:





mpls: Lyndale & Lake condo tower

The November issue of the Mpls Observer has a note about a possible 10-story condo going up at Lyndale and Lake St.

As Robin Repya reports in the Southwest Journal, Greco Real Estate Development plans to acquire the former Arcee Rental building at 29th and Lyndale as well as several other parcels for a proposed 250-to-300 unit condo project that would range from two to 10 stories high along the Midtown Greenway.

Critics of the Lagoon Project, the develper of which is revising the design after the City Council rejected its 130-story condo tower, have said the council's stated willingness to accept a 10-story design at Lagoon will encourage higher density projects through the area. "We were assured that [the Lagoon project] would not be a precedent-setting decision," said Laura Norkis-Crampton.

mpr: cheif economics correspondent reports condo boom is over

Yes, today the Daily Show's Collin Farrel said that the condo boom is over. He also said the real estate boom.

Soon this website, and all its condo'd worry, will be nothing but a dream.

stp: Randy Kelly, why still talking?

I was listening to the MPR mayoral debate today, and it's like looking at a home movie of someone who died tragically a little while ago. Kelly is so over, it's almost painful. How can he not now turn into a bitter, bitter man?

Anyway, I identified two urban planning-related differences between the candidates. First, the age old problem of Ayd Mill Road. Kelly said he's definately connect the "transit corridor" to I-94 immediately, if someone gave him the money to do it.

Coleman referred back to some plan that was around when they re-connected the South side of the road to I-35 back in '02. Apparently, there were plans to "partially connect" the road to 94, though I think that's what Coleman is talking about has already happened. I.e., it's the Selby Ave bumpout thingy, what which keeps cars from going superfast around Snelling and Selby Avenues.

Of course, traffic there is horrible, but it's a much better situation than having horrid bumper-to-bumper all the way up and down Lexington Avenue. But plus, Coleman said something about development and bike paths along Ayd Mill which, while highly unlikely, would be great.

Second, the two candidates stated their differences on the Snelling Ave bus depot site (the Northeast corner of I-94 and Snelling, behind Big Top Liquors), which has lain fallow for years and years now.

The issue is that some developer representing Best Buy and/or Loews has offered a "trade" to get his hands on the site. The plan would be more big box for the area, on top of the Target, Wal-Mart, Cub, and Raindow.

Gary Eichten asked the two about this, and Kelly said, "Well, gee, Gary. That's a great idea," and proceeded to say what a good place for a big box was Snelling and I94.

He's right, but thankfully Coleman disagreed anyway. Coleman was ultimately equivocal, but did allude to the (deus ex machina) University light rail train, and talked about planning for the future. He said pedestrians will want that corner to be a walkable place, and perhaps big boxes aren't really the answer.

Good for you, Chris Coleman. Now, if only you can tell that to CVS.


stp: Favorite eatery Hoa Bien is crater-ized

I was going out to lunch the other day, driving down University heading for my favorite local joint, Hoa Bien. It was a downscale cheap-but-good-but-healthy Vietnamese place with decent, quick service.

I liked the make-them-yourself lettuce rolls, and I was headed there only to find a crater, a bulldozer, and the building that's being raised (rather than razed) on the Northwest corner of Lexington and University.

That's progress? Let it be known, Twin Cities, I'm pissed off and hungry. Where art thou, Hoa Bien?


The fabulous University United site has a chronology of the new TCF bldg (under construction) that has so rudely uprooted Hoa Bien.

Update Plus

Astute reader KK has this good news:
Just yesterday I went past the Hoa Bien corner on the bus, and they have a sign up now indicating the new building there is indeed going to be for Hoa Bien... I think it said "restaurant and banquet center."

mpls: New condos at 619 8th Ave SE

The Bridge (no website?) has an article about some construction beginning on new condos in the Marcy-Homes neighborhood, right across the street from the 8th St market.

Apparently most of the 50 condos have been sold, to a "range of buyers ... empty-nesters, younger first-time buyers and others who want the convenience of living in the middle of the city."

The highlights:

Developer Niles Schulz of Dolphin Development, he and DBA Architects of Oakdale met with the Marcy-Homes Neighborhood Association (MHNA) several times to exchange design ideas. Their plan followed the guidelines of the neighborhood's master plan, Schulz said, which calls for buildings on Eighth Street that enliven street and ground-level areas.


When completed, in uly or August 2006, the four-story project will have 50 two- and three-bedroom units in a row house facade, with an exterior faturing brick, stucco, stone, slate campoies and a landcaped garden terrace using "green roof" technology.

This condo sounds good, but I'm beginning to hate "row house facades." They're not fooling anyone. Who's driving past and thinking, "Wow. Look at those individually constructed row houses." They're unique in the same way that individual suburban homes are unique.


tales from the bus: Pope, line one...

Sure, sometimes I talk on the phone when I’m riding on the bus, but at least I do it quietly.

The other day I got on and sat down, and immediately I could hear someone having a way overloud cell phone conversation. I sat down as far away as possible, but it wasn’t far enough.

“There’s no hope for this country. That’s what the pope said. The blessed virgin won’t sit back and let this happen any more,” some lady was saying into a phone. She had a theater voice, the kind that can reach the cheap seats.

After a conversational pause she’d continue.

“It’s all lechery and lewdness. What’s happening in our country, there’s no hope.”

Or, “They’re spitting on the blessed virgin.”

Or, “There’s going to be a war. The Catholic countries won’t stand back and let them do this to our lady. There's going to be a war, and this forsaken country will learn its lesson.”

Or, “The pope knows, they’re violating our lady.”

Or, "This is not the time and place for this conversation. I'm on the bus."

She went on and on, for almost half an hour. She’d get louder and softer. It was rhythmic, like the ocean's tide, like your mother rocking you to sleep at night, only your mother is some sort of Catholic Osama bin Laden.

“Look, can we talk about this some other time?," she'd ask her unseen interlocutor.

This went on, and I tuned her out.

But once the U of M students started crowding onboard, standing room only, I started noticing the lady again. She was still talking, and it was getting rather uncomfortable.

“All this fornication,” she’d say, well within whacking distance of dozens of hormonal collegiates. “They’re violating our lady.”

She went on and on about “our lady” and “the blessed virgin" until, finally, a girl got off at the campus center and said rather pointedly, “That’s not funny. I’m Catholic.”

The lady went off like a roadside bomb.

“Do you know who I am?,” she yelled. “Do you know who I am? Do you know who I am?”

The girl didn’t know, apparently. She got off the bus without another word, and it was a wise decision.

But our lady had more to say, and kept right on going with lewdness and violation, chatting away.

Curious, I switched seats to get a glimpse of our lady. She was white, in her 50’s, wearing a purple hat. I stared into her beady eyes, and she stared right back, blank as a Hollywood pistol. She was looking right through me, and that’s when I realized she didn’t have a cell phone.

mpls: Prospect Park neigborhood has history of racism?

Tuesday I was listning to Mid-Morning with Gary Eichten. It was a great show, with two old Twin City civil rights activists talking about what the TC was like for blacks back in the old days.

There were many great details, like bits about Rondo Avenue or job hiring practices. But one thing that caught my ear was a tale about one of the guest’s friends, a middle class black family, that tried to move into the Prospect Park neighborhood of Minneapolis.

Apparently, the black family that tried to buy a PP house was met with organized neighborhood reistance. According to the guest, people got together to try and discourage the family from moving there. The guest added a bit about how that neighborhood was filled with “educated, university types,” and that she was taken aback by the racism.

The story caught my attention because, earlier in the year, I’d been talking with a Prospect Park resident about the “liberal” neighborhood’s particular hypocrisies. He told me a story about a friend of his, an African University professor, who’d moved to the neighborhood and felt decidedly unwelcome. He’d eventually left after too many stares and awkward silences.

I’m not trying to single Prospect Park out in particular, because there’s an inert racism throughout much of Minnesota’s “nice” white culture. Party because of our size, our isolation, and our Scandinavian-centrism, people here are not very used to dealing with a cosmopolitan, international, multi-racial world (unless it involves a cash register). And, we should be reminded, this is true even in the most liberal of neighborhoods.

density & diversity: the Kelo decision

Last month's Harper's Magazine had a scary (Halloween?) piece about the Supreme Court's recent Kelo decision. The reported described how often eminent domain is being used (or merely threatened) in order to expidite big box development.

I think Kelo is a bad idea, and I saw John Norquist, hunky head of the Congress for New Urbanism say as much on Lehrer the night the decision went down. I remember seeing him talk about how Kelo, and the large-scale urban redevelopment projects that it engenders, hearkened back to the era of 60’s Le Courbousier garden city disaster. City development ought to be bottom-up and decentralized. It ought to involve many actions by many individuals.

Here's a relevant bit from a recent Philadelphia Inquirer column about the legacy of their mid-century city planner, Kevin Bacon:

Although The Gallery [a shopping plaza] brought shoppers back to Center City, it did not bring them back to Market Street. Instead, it plunked a suburban shopping mall down on three prime blocks, following standard principles of mall design -- one of them being that the public must come inside the building to experience the action. Except at a few corners, the amll presents a blank wall to Market Street. Instead of adding life to the street, The Gallery sucks it into itself.

Or take Society Hill. Although the project succeeded in transforming a rundown neighborhood into a civic jewel, it did so by turning it into a monoculture. Except for a small commercial strip near its center and Headhouse Square at one corner, the entire neighborhood is strictly residential.

Contrast this with neighboring Washington Square West. Its residential side streets are as quiet as Society Hill's, but its main thoroughfares mix residential and commercial activity. Where Spruce Street in Society Hill is silent, in Wash West it hums with life both day and night.

People don't come to the city for a mall experience that they can get in any newly paved farm field. They go because the density and history of cities are palpable.

Except in New Haven. That place is a hole.