R. I. P. Jane Jacobs

Patron saint of TC Sidewalks, Jane Jacobs, died this week. The NYT has a must-read obit from yesterday . . .

But it is "Death and Life," published by Random House, that rocked the planning and architectural establishment.

On one level, it represented the first liberal attack on the liberal idea of urban renewal. At the same time, the New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson saw an old-fashioned vision of community that he compared to Thornton Wilder's fictional Grover's Corners. Ms. Jacobs herself thought the book's continuing appeal was that it plumbed the depths of human nature like a good novel.

In 2003, Herbert Muschamp, the Times's chief architecture critic, wrote that Ms. Jacobs's book was "one of 20th-century architecture's most traumatic events," in part because Ms. Jacobs was dismissive about the importance of design.

In recent years, she became an inspiration to architects and planners who espouse what they call the New Urbanism, an effort to promote social interaction by incorporating such Jacobean features as ground-floor stores in suburban developments.

. . . and the Strib had an op-ed obit today.
Instead of bulldozing whole districts, she advocated four principles: an incremental approach that mixed old and new buildings; a mixing of uses that integrated homes with shops, offices, restaurants and parks; small city blocks that created more options for people to get around and more opportunities for storefront business, and a dense population that would add vitality and safety to streets and sidewalks.

In addition, she saw clearly the devastating effects of the automobile on urban livability and objected fiercely to designers who wanted to remake cities in the image of suburbs. These "decentrists," as she called them, while intending to help cities, were "undermining them and killing them."

It's a cliche to say so, but reading Death and Life of Great American Cities changed my life. Thanks Jane.


** News Flash **

The top story is in today's PiPress -- where's theres a long story about rising real estate values along University Avenue, in anticipation of the LRT line there.

The price of real estate on University Avenue is going up fast, the result of new attention that will only grow as plans for a Central Corridor light-rail line connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul unfold. To get in on University Avenue these days, you need more than a dream — you need cash.

"There's an increasing interest and demand to be on the avenue," said developer Bob Long, vice president of the commercial real estate broker NAI Welsh. "Once people see that other people are willing to invest large sums of money on University, they see it as a great investment."

This is kinda good news, and needs to be put in the proper context. But the big problem is the mixed implications for the communities along the street now.

Elsewhere, the Strib has a good Op-ed talking about the economic need for riverfront development in terms of the Saint Paul floodwall battle.

Ugliness is not the biggest problem with the floodwall proposed for St. Paul's downtown airport, although Mayor Chris Coleman's likening of the design to a "sheet-metal pig" seems a fair commentary. This project represents a major alteration of a Mississippi River floodplain, and of a river corridor whose nonindustrial values are belatedly getting the emphasis they deserve.

But it reminds me of local rag, The Bridge, and their similar Op-Ed about how the new CEO McGuire noblesse oblige park also prevents use of the riverfront in the Strib's backyard.

And as good as a big park sounds, it would close off yet another stretch of riverbank from the city’s street grid. The Minneapolis Plan says the city grid should meet the river, and that policy was supposed to guide prospective developers of this site. But only one of the proposals addresses the city’s astonishing failure to join its street system to the Mississippi—and it’s not McGuire’s proposal. Whenever the chance for reuniting its streets with its river has arisen in recent years, it’s as if years of separation have made Minneapolis unsure how to greet the body of water that gave it birth.

And then I got to thinking about the river in general in Minneapolis, and how little people get to enjoy it.

So here's an old MPR article about restoring the Mississippi river to its pre-HHH Lock and Dam habitat . . .

Davis and a group of other state and federal officials recently proposed the idea of restoring the rapids as part of long-range environmental goals for the Mississippi River, called pool plans. The gorge is in the area known as Pool one. But the plan is stalled.

"It's in direct conflict with the nine-foot channel navigation mission. At least that's what the Corp determined and probably it's true," said Davis. "So even though it's included in there, it was not officially endorsed as something to pursue at this time. I think the language says something about if the opportunity presents itself in the future, which to me says if there's no longer a Congressional mandate for a nine-foot channel here, then it would become feasible to consider it. So, there's some roadblocks."

. . . and an update on the proposed downtown whitewater park .

"Look what a beautiful river we have here right in downtown Minneapolis," Dunn said, his body straightening. "It grates on you. Why are we missing this opportunity?"

He has volunteered with the Mississippi Whitewater Park Development Corp., a nonprofit organization set up to promote the rafting, kayaking and canoeing channel. A few years ago it was moving so quickly toward reality that he could almost feel mist from rapids in his face.

But now, in the words of one legislator, the proposed project, which would cost anywhere from $26 million to $30 million, seems to be treading water. The course is being redesigned because the original plan called for filling in too much of the river. And before the project can move forward, officials need to figure out who will own and run it, according to a report by the state Department of Natural Resources to the Legislature last month.

[From the March 23 2006 Strib]


A lucky strike extra, an article on Ralph Rapson!

Over the course of nearly seven decades, Rapson built an international reputation as an influential member of the Modernist movement; an acquaintance of, and collaborator with, many of the era’s foremost architects and designers; and one of the nation’s most respected educators as dean of the University of Minnesota architecture school (from 1954 to 1984). He has lived and worked in Boston, Chicago, and several of the great cities of Europe—yet he is rooted in the Twin Cities, or, more precisely, here in Cedar-Riverside, where he has plied his trade for the past forty years and has no plans to quit now.


** News Flash **

Hate the sound of a diesel? Well there's some great news from MetroTransit -- they're getting hybrid buses.

Metro Transit buses in the Twin Cities will begin burning a fuel mixture that includes 5 percent renewable bio-diesel beginning in July, Minnesota officials announced today.

In addition, the bus agency is ordering 20 more hybrid buses that use battery power to increase fuel mileage and cut noise on city streets, said Metropolitan Council Chairman Peter Bell.

That goes a long way to increasing bus sex appeal for exactly the people who should be riding the bus regularly -- by decreasing noise and environmental impact. I know MetroTransit has no money, but they need more of these hybrid buses. Is there any way to hybridize an existing bus?


In Saint Paul, the MAC and Chamber of Commerce are trying to bully Mayor Coleman into vetoing the Council's decision not to build the Holman Field floodwall. Of course, it won't work. The mayor is being adamant, while seemingto say that he's flexible.
"I do think there's an opportunity to make something go here," said Whitney Clark, executive director of the Friends of the Mississippi. He suggested that elements of a deal might include a realignment of the floodwall, a trail along the river and a conservation easement that would prevent development of the land if the airport closed.
Will they go back to the drawing board, and come back with a neighborhood-friendly proposal? Does the failure of big business bullying tactics bode ill for Trooien's big budget Bridges boondoggle?

The lesson here is that, from now on, Saint Paul developers need to work more with community and environmental groups. Coleman and the Council know on which side their bread is buttered.


And there's more good news on the Saint Paul front as an appeals court ruled in favor of the city regarding the Victoria Park brownfield development.

A Minnesota appeals court ruled Tuesday that the city of St. Paul can use eminent domain to acquire a former tank farm overlooking the Mississippi River, clearing the way for Victoria Park, the largest neighborhood development in recent St. Paul history.

The property sits on 65 acres bordered by West Seventh Street, Otto Avenue, Shepard Road and Montreal Way. The city and a handful of developers already have broken ground on a plan to build more than 800 condos, town homes, single-family homes and senior housing units, but control of more than half of the land has been tied up in court.

This is the kind of development project we need more of. If you haven't, you should drive down West 7th Street and look at this site. It's eerie -- all dirt with some streetlamps sticking up like desert cacti . . .


Minneapolis, too, is making environmental noise.

A plan to make Minneapolis more sustainable is one step closer to completion after the City Council approved a lengthy list of goals at its March 31 meeting.

The list features 24 sustainability targets focused on making the city "greener" and improving the quality of life for residents now and in the future. The goals include reducing carbon dioxide emissions, improving air and water quality, increasing the use of mass transportation, raising the graduation rate and increasing the number of block clubs. The list is the focal point of a broad plan to make Minneapolis the most sustainable city in the nation.
[Southwest Journal]

But talk is cheap, no?


Finally, more people are riding the bus.

Ridership numbers for the first quarter of 2006 are nearly 8 percent higher than Metro Transit's 2006 budget forecast. The agency is making progress toward its goal of 71 million bus and train rides this year.

density&diversity: Independence Party Transit Meetup

Curt Johnson, who was MetCouncil head (among other things) under Gov. Arne Carlson, spoke at an Independence Party meetup at the Loon Bar and Grill in Downtown Minneapolis earlier this week. It's been boom time for Transit meetings these days, as Pothole Pawlenty seeks re-election, and everyone and their mother tries to get some traction in the effort to unseat the Gov.

Third parties, though, are a tough nut to crack, and your intrepid reporter was in attendance as Johnson gave a very sensible lecture to the IP audience. I was curious how the third party crowd would react . . . Is the Independence Party for or against well-funded mass transit? Their official party principles seem rather libertarian, emphasizing things like local control and personal responsibility. How does that fit with a Light Rail train?

But first, a few quotes from Curt Johnson's speech (apologies in advance for the rough crib notes version of the talk):

Nothing is ever going to cure congestion except a really bad economy [ . . . ] If you want to move somewhere with predictable travel times and no traffic, move to Toledo. [ . . . ] Beyond a certain point, congestion is a problem. Choice matters. Having an alternate system matters. [ . . . ] Right now, the State of Minnesota has two transportation systems. One[, roads, and the gas tax,] is equipped with a fiscal faucet, and it's always on. And. even so, for the first time we barely have enough money to keep the potholes filled.

Transit is even worse. Transit advocates have never been equipped with anything other than a bucket. [ . . . ] We will make no progress on transit in this region unless transit has a faucet too.

We in Minnesota are better than anybody in the nation at admiring our problems. [ . . . ] It's particularly Minnesotan to be stuck in inertia.

[Then Curt Johnson talked about LRT programs in "conservative" areas of the country, like Salt Lake City, Charlotte, Phoenix, Dallas and Denver. He pointed out how only here, in Minnesota, has transit become such a partisan issue.]

Something's gone wrong in Minnesota in the last 10-15 years where we have lost our confidence in our ability to invest in the future.
It was a nice speech, and I thought he did a great job of making such a complex situation simple and straight to the point.

Of course, then the people in the audience started peppering him with questions about PRT, people's inherent desire to be "independent," how nobody likes being around other people on a bus or a train, and how we should really be building a monorail.

But those were just the outliers. I think about half the audience was pretty receptive to his arguement, and I'd like to think that even the Independence Party is getting behind mass transit in the Twin Cities.


Peter Hutchinson made an appearance. I do like him, but I can't stand the fact that his run for governor will cost the DFL candidate the election -- and likely put Pothole Pawlenty back in the Governor's office. If Hutchinson gets more than 7% of the vote, I'll eat my hat.

mpls: City's 10-Year Transportation Plan Public Meetings

Tonight I attended a workshop on Minneapolis's city-wide Transportation Action Plan, held at the CWA Hall on East Lake Street. Attendnace was pretty sparse, but some consultants were there to take input on where there should be transit corridors, bikeways/bikelanes, sidewalks improvements, and street plans.

When completed, the Transportation Action Plan will be a citywide plan that addresses a full range of transportation options and issues, including pedestrians, bicycles, transit, automobiles, and freight. The 10-Year Action Plan will also include a transit and street operations plan for downtown and new street design guidelines.

Pre-registration is not required. Since the workshops include presentations followed by structured dialog, participants are encouraged to arrive at the designated meeting start time.

Workshops will be held at these Minneapolis locations:

Tuesday, April 25 – 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Harrison Recreation Center
503 Irving Ave. N.

Thursday, April 27 – 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Martin Luther King Park Recreation Center
4055 Nicollet Ave. S.

Tuesday, May 2 – 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
East Side Neighborhood Services
1700 2nd St. NE

Attendees were an almost perfectly equal ratio of young transit groupies (e.g. myself) and longwinded, disabled bus riders (e.g. crazy bus lady). It's a relatively easy way to have some measurable impact on Minneapolis's future development.

mpls: Northwest Metro Transit Study

Metro Transit is developing some sort of plan for the fast-growing NW Metro area, at least according to their latest Takeout:
Metro Transit is at work on the Northwest Metro Transit Study, a project that will restructure bus routes in north Minneapolis and in the northwestern suburbs of the metro area. The goal is to update routes based on recent growth and – without spending more money – make transit service more effective.
A concept plan soon will be available for public review, followed by open houses and a public hearing where customers and residents can offer comments about the proposal. Look for hearing dates and locations in the May issue of TAKEOUT, available on buses and trains and on this site beginning May 4. Route changes are set to be implemented starting in 2007.

Here's a link to their info page. Now's the time to have an opinion.

mpls: Twins Stadium About Face

Just like Doug Grow, I'm gonna take a new tack here with the Twins Stadium proposal. I was at the House Tax hearing yesterday for the Twins presentation, and I'm getting much more impressed by the stadium proposal as it currently sits. Maybe it's because the Twins are getting smarter with their design, but the stadium architect said a lot of good things when he was describing the proposed stadium.

A few things I like about it:
  • It's open air (no expensive transformer roof) and the field is real grass
  • The stadium entrances will be "pedestrian oriented," which probably means they'll be at street level with a nice facade
  • It's a "green building," and uses the nearby steam plant as its heating source
  • It will be a "bridge" over the Great Northern rail corridor that currently separates the Warehouse District from the North Loop area of downtown. Presently, there's a big gulf between these two booming areas of Minneapolis, and this large stadium thing might help increase accessibility from one part of downtown to the other.
  • It will be right at the intersection of two rail transit lines and a new dedicated bike path, and will probably increase transit use throughout the greater Minneapolis area
All that, and it'll probably have the votes to pass. "Stadium fatigue" has really set in, and even the most ardent opponents seem to have lost some steam when it comes to organizing the political forces needed to stop a well-funded lobbying effort. (Just look at the Strib article if you don't believe me.)

All I know for sure: It's gotta be tought to be Phil Krinkie right about now. He's gotta feel like Sisyphus these days.


Personally, I'd like to see this proposal changed to abolish the DH.


The vote was closer than I thought:

County leaders want to enact the tax without a voter referendum, as state law requires, and they need the Legislature's approval to have the vote waived.

The committee rejected an amendment that would have required a referendum by a 15-13 vote.


mpls: Twins Bill House Hearing Today

The MN House Taxes Committee is hearing the Twins Bill at 3pm today.

I'll keep you posted on how that goes, but just for the record, I went to the game last night, and after the way they played, they don't deserve a new stadium.

Meanwhile, the Stribs otherwise identical lefty columnists are split on how the State Legislature should vote on this initiative. Here are the pro- and the con- views. Who has the sounder argument?

(Hint: His name is Coleman.)


density&diversity: Light Rail Discussion Tonight

It's last minute, but the Independence Party is having a LRT meetup tonight. As follows:

April 17th, 2006

The Future of Light Rail in the Twin Cities (Please RSVP)

Take the train or a bus or carpool on down to the famous Loon Cafe in the warehouse district of Minneapolis. It's just steps away from the current end of the line LRT station. You know... that "line to nowhere" that no one will ride. Parking ramps are within a couple of blocks too. And yes, we've checked and there are no Target Center events or a Twins game that night!Curt Johnson, fomerly head of the Citizens League, will be our guestspeaker. Curt has come full circle on the LRT issue. Back in the 20th century, he was a strong voice against building light rail. Now, in the enlightened 21st century, he is a forceful advocate.And while Curt will leave the enginnering to the technical folks, we need to talk about not wheel type but "more lines or not", lines to where?, and how to justify & allocate the costs. Hear how he came to new conclusions as he learned more. Ask some questions.

Starting Time: 7:00pm
Ending Time: 9:00pm Location: The Loon Cafe
Address: 500 1st Ave N, Minneapolis, MN 55403
For More Information Contact: 612-332-8342 Category: Transportation
Group: MN Independence Party
Website: www.mnip.org/
Ticket information: independence.meetup.com/1/events/4869702

Admission to this event is: FREE

** News Flash **

The PiPress has a report on how pollution issues might affect the Ford Plant site and an almost unreadable Joe Soucheray bitch-fest about yuppie developments.

Elsewhere, MPR ties the gay marriage issue into Richard Florida's arguements about the creative class -- before Pothole Pawlenty, the Twin Cities were doing very well on Florida's creative class rankings. Now? They have to be falling fast . . .

Meanwhile, the Strib is all stadium, all the time, with an Op-Ed on how Hennepin County needs a new Twinkie ballpark. The Twins stadium should be in the news a lot the next few weeks, as the Legislature is hearing the stadium bill.

Don't get me wrong. I'm a big Twins fan, but this is a horrible waste of development money, as Richard Florida also argues in his book. Look at the cities that have built new ballparks (Saint Louis, Pittsburgh, Detroit, San Diego) and you'll see cities struggling to build diverse economies and/or vibrant downtowns. Here's a question for the Strib board: What's more important for the future of downtown Minneapolis -- a new Twins stadium, or good relations between the MPD and the African-American community?

For an alternate viewpoint, read this article in Governing magazine about how most cities are saying "no" to stadium welfare.

stp: Bridges Shenanigans

The Boon-doggley "Bridges of Saint Paul" project is at it again -- with shenanigans and full page PR offensives in the local rag. I found the giant ad on the back page of the local section this last weekend, and then I started reading the ad's iffy content. The PiPress's great blog, City Hall Scoop, is doing some good reporting on this issue:

No one was more surprised to see St. Paul Riverfront Corp. head honcho Patrick Seeb’s quasi-endorsement of the Bridges project than Seeb himself.

The czar of all things Mississippi River related was quoted in a full-page ad in the Sunday Pioneer Press, taken out by the JLT Group on behalf of the billion-dollar mixed-use real estate development Jerry Trooien is proposing for the West Side.

“I didn’t say what was written there,” Seeb told the Scoop this afternoon. “We have not endorsed the project. We have a number of outstanding issues that are awaiting a response from him.”

As do quite a few other folks, no doubt. There hasn’t even been a formal application to the city yet for the necessary paperwork to break ground on the project, let alone approval for what could be changes to zoning, river corridor standards or a host of other issues.

The comments from Seeb were pieced together from a June 10, 2004, cover letter offering public comment for an Alternative Urban Areawide Review, addressed to St. Paul city planner Lucy Thompson. Seeb says the original language included some key caveats, like encouragement for Trooien to conform to city regulations.

Can the Saint Paul govt's new-found spine on urbanism issues (e.g. the floodwall, the smoking ban) withstand the pressure of a megalomaniacal millionaire developer? Is the Bridges Project too big for its bridges?

All this, and more, in the next installement . . .


AD Report

This is from a friend of mine that occasionally publishes what she calls a Pamphlet:

The Bush Administration has never given a clear statement of what its goals are in Iraq. As American citizens, however, we can largely agree that what we would most like to see now is peace and stability in that country. Unfortunately, our military campaign in Iraq is not achieving that goal. On the contrary, the insurgents are increasingly taking the offensive, conducting large-scale attacks against Iraqi and American targets. 2005 polls indicate that Iraqi public support for the insurgents is increasing.

Our best bet for promoting peace in Iraq is to withdraw our troops immediately. We must not by fooled by President Bush when he tells us that peace will come if we just “stay the course.” What the President has done is akin to lining up his troops in Minnesota, ordering them to march westward, and telling them not to stop until they reach New York. People say that to support the troops we have to respect their mission. They’re marching so quickly and efficiently, carrying such heavy loads, and cleaning up the road as they march along. It is of utmost importance that they reach New York and, the President insists, to stop them now would be to tell them that all their effort and sacrifice had been wasted. They don’t deserve such disrespect.

(The rest in comments)

** News Flash **

Over in Minneapolis: The Strib has a story on the new McGuire park next to the Guthrie ("How a parking lot becomes a park") -- the Downtown Journal has firsthand reporting on the "crime wave" -- while the City Pages castigates the media of boosting ratings by playing to fear of immigrants.

In Saint Paul: The City Council sends the Chamber of Commerce back to the drawing board with the Holman Field floodwall -- a move the bodes well for urban development in the Capitol City. Perhaps it has something to do with the new widely-reported mayoral rapprochement?

In politics, the GOP House passed a big bonding bill that funds Northstar and the Univeristy Avenue LRT -- even though Pothole Pawlenty is still devoting a lot less money to state infrastructure.

In development, there's all sorts of stuff happening: the uptown Borders is closing, and let's hope that Ford Plant is going to be something great when it finally closes.


** News Flash **

The Bridge has a critical opinion piece on the proposed McGuire downtown park; I'll have more on this soon.

The Strib outdoes the PiPress in summing up the Downtown St. Paul floodwall debate. The PiPress has a bit of property that would be affected by the floodwall -- but they don't have any editors that would be affected by the conflict of interest?

In the legislature, the Twins stadium moves ahead slowly -- while Session Weelky has a report on the status of Rail Transit proposals.


** News Roundup **

In the PiPress: one Good story on sidewalk width in Cottage Grove, and one bad headline about the Saint Paul floodwall: Critic Calls Floodwall "Ugly."

And in the Strib, history of the Union Depot -- which will really help bring life to Downtown Saint Paul.

The Downtown Journal has a story on how to make historic preservation strides, and the Minneapolis Observer reports that the Minneapolis City Hall will soon have a green roof.