***Newsflash Friday *** #21

Sidewalk Rating: Dynamic

Falltime is the right time to walk on sidewalks, ladies and gentlemen. There is a lot going on. Sunsets and sunrises fall at convenient times, hydrology creates beauty like the morning mist on Como Lake, and you finally get to wear that great not-summer, not-winder jacket you bought just for temperatures like this. As the weather changes, so do our hearts and minds. You'll find joy and melancholy on the sidewalks of Minneapolis this week.

*** [WSP: The Musical] ***

This is the greatest song about where I grew up that I've ever heard ...

... I esp. like the shout-out to the remnants of the Signal Hills Mall.

*** [Shelbyville] ***

This piece on downtown Saint Paul's interminable woes came out during all the RNC hullabaloo. Their take is to outline a debate over how residential the downtown area should be, and what the role of minority-owned businesses should be in any retail revitalization. They have this quote from Mayor Coleman:

Unsurprisingly, Coleman feels that things are only going to get better, what with the coming of light rail and potential mixed-use developments such as a project on the riverfront property where the former West Publishing complex and vacant county jail currently sit (this project was stalled at press time). But what about slumping downtown retail?

“Downtowns are different than they used to be,” says Coleman. “That trend started in the ’50s when Southdale opened and started the out-migration of retail [from downtown]. Can retail come back? Absolutely. But it took 60 years to go in one direction. The question is what do you lead with? I think you lead with jobs, you lead with housing, you lead with entertainment, and those traditional shopping things will come.”

I think this is pretty much right on. You cannot try to create retail in an area with no pedestrians, shoppers, or residents. There is a lot of unused space in downtown Saint Paul right now, and you're not going to fill that space with new office workers or shopping. Finding new ways to make downtown residential living appealing is the way to go. and for that, Saint Paul has a lot of sidewalk assets that could be developed. It'd be nice to see self-sustaining streetlife in downtown Saint Paul again someday.

*** [The Mayor formerly known as Mayor Mayor] ***

Speaking of which, I just rec'd this email from Mayor Colemans' office in Saint Paul. Apparently, I signed some sort of petition or statement about the RNC protest situation downtown. I don't rembmer.

But he's gotten back to me with the strangest email.

Firstly, it's from someone named "Mayor Mayor":

Secondly, it's signed with this cryptic Artist-formerly-known-as-like symbol:

I don't know what to say. I guess the StP has a way to go before they master the art of the electronic mail.

*** [Real Life Sim City] ***

This is a cool little program that's kind like SimCity for real life, a 3-d visual simulation of entire cities complete with surface textured modeling of buildings. It's certainly pretty, and they have a swatch of lower Manhattan modeled.

I am not so convinced, though, that it very accurately reflects what these streets are really like on the ground level. For example, this is one of my favorite corners in New York's Chinatown, and it doesn't really look like this at all. I get no sense at all of claustrophobia, density, and vitality that really exists on this corner, next to the Chinese coffee shops and groceries, where there's barely room for a single lane of traffic and the sidewalks are filled with fish vendors and fruitsellers.

Sidewalk imulations have a long way to go before they mean anything. Meanwhile, this just creates a too-abstract auto-oriented image... which problably won't help anything.

[Elizabeth and Hester Streets in Chinatown -- fm. GoogleStreetView.]

*** [Sidewalk Photo Rights] ***

This story of a guy getting harassed for taking pictures on the sidewalk abugs me. OF course this is something I do all the time.

I was out taking some photos for a personal project in downtown today, handheld with no tripod, at 100 South 5th Street(also known as the Fifth Street Towers), taking pictures of the "Jersey barriers" outside the building. About 6 minutes after I got there, the private security guard for the Fifth Street Towers approached me and said that Carter Management, the owner of the building, also owns 20 ft of the surrounding sidewalk space and that there was a rule that no pictures could be taken anywhere near the premises. I stepped about 20 feet back to the edge of the road, but the guard insisted that I leave immediately.

I am going to make a point of conspiculously taking photos of this building every time I walk past it. Maybe you should too?

*** [Mystery Bike Mob] ***

Check out this cool bike ride at the new Gold Medal Park.

*** [Social congestion] ***

[An illustrated page from Johnson's Emergence, showing a human brain and the city of Manchester, England.]

One of my favorite writers is Steven Johnson, author of Emergence, Interface Culture, and The Ghost Map (among others: terrific books, all). He's also the former CEO of the neat outside.in spatial web aggregation project, which is a great idea. His blog is also interesting, for example this description of the "social traffic jams" that happen on sidewalks and in cities, where you constantly run into people you know:

Yesterday morning, coming back from the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket with breakfast (green tomatoes!), I ran into one of my best friends from college out walking his dog. This morning, picking up pastries for the family at Colson Patisserie, I saw my college girlfriend with her two kids sitting outside in front of the bakery. So both days, I showed up fifteen minutes late with breakfast to a household of ravenous boys.

I've started thinking of these little incidents as social traffic jams -- you're trying to get from point x to point y, but your social network gets in the way. I think they're probably pretty rare, at least in most environments that Americans now call home. They don't happen in car-centric cities and suburbs, for obvious reasons; you need public space and pedestrian speed of sidewalks to stop and have a chat with your neighbor.

This kind of encounter is so important to me, and happens all the time in the Twin Cities. t's the kind of thing that guarantees a large network of 'weak ties', allows you to find out important nonmedia information, and creates the spatial idea of neighborhood in a very concrete way for people. It's precisely this kind of thing (Putnam's "social capital") that is lost in so many US landscapes today.

*** [A tryptich] ***

Three photos:

  • (What I initially thought was a dead bird but is actually) a Jack Russel Terrier on a sidewalk somewhere in the T.C. -- fm. phantom readings


Minnesota's "personality"

Apart from the Twin Cities, the only places I've ever lived have been on the East coast. And according to this recent British psychological study, the "personalities" of Minnesota and states along the Boston-DC corridor are very different. According to this study, East Coast-types are more stressed, neurotic, and unfriendly. Minnesotans, on the other hand, are "extraverted" (#5), "agreeable" (#2), but not very "neurotic" (#41) or "open" (#40).

The one that might surprise you is "extraversion". According to the study, that means that people:

tend to seek out socially stimulating environments, whereas people high in N [lack of extraversion] tend to avoid highly stimulating environments.

I wonder if they're talking about the State Fair?

Garrison Keillor aside, I think that regional difference has less to do with ethnicity and far more to do with the economy, levels of regional in- and out-migration, and patterns of urban form. And in my opinion, the Twin Cities has a pretty unique culture simply because of its distance from other large metro areas. Much like Denver, Colorado, we're a long way from anywhere else.

[Chart from Renfrow, P. et. al., A Theory of the Emergence, Persistence, and Expression of Geographic Variation in Psychological Characteristics. Perspectives on Psychological Science Volume 3, Issue 5, Pages 339 - 369. -- Click to em-biggen.]

Of course, my octogenarian uncle is convinced that weather causes dramatic differences in behavior, and that long winters discourage violent behavior, creating peaceful societies and social democracy. I keep telling him about ragnarök.


Classic Sidewalks of the Silver Screen #13

The sidewalks are the star in post-WWII Vienna ...

... hiding The Third Man (1949) again and again.


Sidewalk of the Week: Canal Park, Duluth

[Duluth is long, dense, and skinny. It's perfect for transit.]

I am in love with Duluth. It's always been a magical place for me, ever since I was a kid growing up in a Twin Cities suburb. Summers can get awful long, particularly when you're stuck in the middle of a continent as big as this one. Land all starts to look the same: trees ground flat house tree flat tree farm cow farm corn tree ground sky tree flat flat corn... &c.

It gets mighty old, and sometimes, to break the tedium, my folks would drive us up to visit my Aunt and Uncle in Duluth, back when Gino's Pizza Rolls were all the rage and Duluth was still an industrial mecca. And it seemed like a magic place, to get on the Freeway, drive until you got bored, stop at Tobie's (back before it became terrible) and drive North. The land gets hillier and hillier, and billboards become more and more frequent, and you go up a rise and down a valley and you feel like any minute you'll disappear and vanish and find yourself over a rainbow in some faraway land.

"First one to see Lake Superior gets a quarter", was the rule of the road, and we'd crane our necks over every rise to try and get a glimpse of the big blue lake stretching off into the horizon. And finally, you'd find that final rise and there it was, Duluth and the Lake! Some sort of industrial Minnesota fantasy of bridges and smokestacks and ships and a big old downtown and giant piles of something or other. And somehow in this flat, flat state you'd find yourself on a giant ridge, with hills straight out of San Francisco, cliffs of old houses and dilapidated Victorians, and Superior Street and the Train Station and the library that looked to my young eyes like a spaceship.

[The place to be was in front of the coffee shop. Cars were lined up around the block just to let people out at this corner.]

Still, though Canal Park was where you went when you got to Duluth. It was this little isthmus in the middle of the lake, the first place you get to where you can actually touch the water.* And it's got that crazy lift bridge, still going up and down each time the smallest and biggest ships shipped along. I've found myself there a few weeks ago, kind of randomly. It happened to be the week that the "tall ships" were visiting the harbor, and Canal Park was insanely packed. I have never seen a place so many cars and people jammed onto such a tiny spit of land...

[There was more jaywalking here than on Leno's show.]

Whenever I've spent a little time in the Duluth (a few days here or there, on- and off-season) I've come away thinking that it could be a great city. At the very least, it could be an ideal college town. The geography of the Duluth site makes it a really compact and dense place, almost perfectly designed for walkability and transit. It's long and narrow, located in a kind of boomerang shape along the harbor. It's a joy to walk around, and has a ton of historical building stock and mixed-use infrastructure. Plus, its situated on a truly unique landscape, probably one of the Earth's most incredible inland waterfronts.

Some of my favorite places include:
  • The Nor-Shor theater**
  • The Chinese restaurant that has the story about the bear
  • The bookstore with the tons and tons of books
  • The other smaller bookstore run by the really nice lady
  • The Budd car
  • The main street in West Duluth
  • Morgan Park
  • Park Point beach
  • The Train Depot,
  • Fitger's brewpub
  • The Electric Fetus where I purchased the two most life-changing albums of my life***
  • The awesome hippie britpub across the street from Fitger's
  • The wonder that is The Duluth Family Sauna****.

[Some of Canal Park's many, many parking lots. They should rename it Canal Parking.]

That said, as its currently structured, Duluth has a long way to go to capitalize on its natural strengths. For some reason, the city built an interstate right through the middle of town (the last few miles of I-35, before it ends in Two Harbors). The freeway, even though its in a semi-tunnel, really starkly separates the lakefront from the downtown, making the large investments like the DECC convention center and the aquarium into underpopulated boondoggles. The downtown has a bunch of skyways, which I cannot believe get much use. Sure it's cold there, but because they split the city's pedestrian population in two, they really make it that much more difficult to revive the economy downtown.

[People scurry across the crosswalk near the Canal Park clock.]

What the city really needs is a way to connect itself more closely with the Twin Cities, and a way to connect the downtown area more closely to Canal Park. It needs to be a place where people can stroll around and wander. It has more unused sidewalk potential than any other place in Minnesota, including downtown Saint Paul. Some transit investment would be a great move, and politicians have been talking for a long time about re-creating a train line that would run to and from the Cities. Bike lanes wouldn't hurt, either. There's certainly plenty of space for them.

I'm not sure how to go about reinvigorating Duluth's sidewalks. What I saw when I was there last month was a tragic misallocation of automobiles. I'd bet that the percentage of the Canal Park ground cover that is devoted to surface parking lots is way over half. Cars were coming out of every corner of the city, and all so that people could stroll around the lift bridge and enjoy the experience of being on a teensy patch of lakeshore. Did they know that there is far more to Duluth than just the Shipping Museum? Give me 4th Street any day over Canal Park.

I realize, of course, that it's a vacation town, and that during the 9-month off-season, Duluth is deader than the late Jerry Garcia. And the terrible, terrible state of the Duluth city budget means that none of these ideas will come to pass anytime soon. They're literally selling the city out from under the people, and laying off half the civic employees to try and fill a huge budget deficit. They are really missing their Local Government Aid.

It makes me sad. I love you, Duluth! I hope you feel better someday.


* What I mean is, it seems like all the waterfront in Duluth is actually used,
as a waterfront! Like, they have ships and stuff that ship things using water for buoyancy, and the shorelines are devoted to things that actually use water for practical purposes. As an avid Minneapolis waterfront fan, this is a bit hard for me to figure out.
** Now a "gentleman's club".
*** Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, and Glenn Gould's Goldberg Variations (the second one), still my favorite albums after almost 20 years of near-constant listening.
**** I have never patronized this establishment, but I have taken a tour.


My Brother's Cognitive Mapping

[The hand drawn Twin Cities, penned by my brother.]

Somehow, my brother scored a frontpage piece (below-the-fold) in the Strib's Variety section yesterday. In what has to be the unlikeliest newspaper column of my lifetime, my shy MN-expat sibling gained some notoriety for posting some of his many "hand drawn maps" onto the website of the Hand Drawn Map Association, a new and wonderful internet compendium. Here's the piece:

On the East Coast, where people "don't have a good idea of what the rest of the country looks like," it's helpful, in conversation, to have a map.

So Glen Lindeke drew one.

Now his maps (two, in fact) are on display with nearly 60 others at the Hand Drawn Map Association (HDMA) website, www.handmaps.org.

Lindeke, a 27-year-old analytical chemist from Mendota Heights, moved to Groton, Conn., where he doodled a map of the Midwest with special attention paid to Minnesota, including the Boundary Waters and the northernmost point in the continental United States, the Northwest Angle.

"Every once in a while I just want to draw from memory and freehand it," Lindeke said.

The piece goes on, but not for much longer. It even includes a shout out to me! ("His low-fi cartography flows from personal interest and his brother's study of geography, cities and sidewalks at the University of Minnesota.") Apparently, the piece was penned by an intern at the Strib, looking to fill some space in the fluff section.

[Senate candiate and all-around mensch Al Franken hand drawing the USA.]

It made me think, though of something we occasionally talk about in Geography called "cognitive mapping." Here, people draw the city as they remember it, piecing together how they perceive space. Particularly when thinking about urban planning, and what makes a good landmark, avenue, or "legible" space, these kinds of maps can be really interesting. What are the landmarks in your life? When you give directions, what do you remember?Do you think the distance from Saint Paul to Minneapolis is really far, or really close? Is Saint Anthony falls next to the Guthrie in your mind?

(For example, judging from these two hand drawn maps: my brother is clearly from Saint Paul and doesn't spend a lot of time in the SW suburbs, doesn't think much of Iowa, and has a thing for Lake Michigan and Chicago. Al Franken, meanwhile, is a crazy genius who doesn't think much of the Rocky Mountain West.)

Next time you doodle a direction map on a bar napkin, why not put it in your pocket and send it to the Hand Drawn Map Association? We might learn a thing or two about how we perceive the world.

[Minnesota lopsidedly towering over a too-square Iowa in a Glen Lindeke original hand drawn map.]

* Never in a million years did I think I'd see a map of the awesome indoor mini-golf course my bro made in his Norwich, CT apartment published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

He always won on the course. He rigged the tees around the furniture to benefit right-handed mini-golfers. The cat was in play, too. For better or for worse, she would sometimes attack the ball.



Like A Troubled Bridge over Water

Here at Twin City Sidewalks, I promise to bring you all the latest in Minnesota faulty bridge news, as it happens.

For example, here is the latest on the faulty Washington Avenue Bridge connecting the two campuses of the University of Minnesota. Tonight's email from Kathleen O'Sullivan:

This is to update you on the latest developments regarding the Washington Avenue Pedestrian Bridge.

Based on the recommendations of engineering consultants,
Hennepin County officials have closed the outside
portions of the Washington Avenue Pedestrian Bridge.
While other scenarios were considered as fencing was
constructed, county officials decided that use of the
pedestrian level must be limited until the deck is
strengthened. As of this afternoon, all pedestrians
and bicyclists must use the middle area inside the
covered enclosure.

To keep everyone safe, bicyclists should dismount and
walk their bikes across the bridge. The solution is
certainly not ideal and the congestion on the bridge
will be significant. Please continue to be considerate
and cooperative to other members of the University

I understand the University community's concern over
the bridge closure and the frustration with the changing
plans. I have stressed to Hennepin County officials the
vital role the bridge plays in the daily life of the
University and will continue to work closely with County
officials to protect the safety of our community and ensure
adequate pedestrian and bicycle movement across the
Mississippi River. Hennepin County is working to fast
track the project and work is expected to be completed
in the spring. We will continue to provide updates
throughout the project.

Looks like we're going to have to let the bridges fall where they may, and U students will be walking their bikes across the Mississippi River this year. That'll be quite the pain in the ass.

Personally, I'm going to miss looking down from the Washington Avenue Bridge's pedestrian path onto the twisted, fallen steel remnants of the I-35W bridge, still sitting on the banks of Bohemian Flats.

I guess it beats the alternative, though...

[The thought of the Washington Avenue Bridge collapsing onto the twisted remains of the 35W Bridge makes my head spin. -- Img. fm. Jeremy Boyder.]

Malls are Sidewalks, Too

I'd like to call your attention to a fabulous new local blog devoted to infrastructural changes at the Mall of America.

It's penned by a friend of mine (who shall remain anonymous). He has gone to the MOA multiple times a week for the past five years, and has finally been convinced to share some of the things he's learned there. (Trust me, he's knows way more about the MOA than this guy ever did.)

For example, a post about the new MOA South Side fountain:

A new, rather plain looking fountain has been added to the South side.

Same fountain from a different angle.

Other excellent posts include comparing the new Chipotle to a prison, an ode to the lost Orange Julius, and the confusion of the extraneous new mall signage.

Long live the MOA! Here's to another decade of exhilaration.



Classic Sidewalks of the Silver Screen #12

This is a scene cut from Chaplin's (1931) film, City Lights...

... set in front of a window, Chaplin's tramp has a good time with a grate, a store dummy, a picture window, and a slew of passers-by.

Saint Paul's RNC Police-State Makeover

[From this vantage, it's almost hard to tell that Saint Paul has declared martial law. The little red boats in the Mississippi are Coast Guard patrol boats, each carrying two large machine guns.]

A while back I wrote about how great it felt to be in downtown Saint Paul during a political rally. That night, when a certain candidate gave his "I have won the presidential nomination" speech, the streets of Saint Paul had a remarkable energy. I attended the speech, but my best memories were of the time spent standing in line on Saint Paul's sidewalks, enjoying public space with thousands of people. Here's what I wrote:

But that's the kind of thing that was happening in the line. There was a real magic in the air, and everyone seemed happy. I talked to a dozen strangers, and even though I stood there on the corner in front of Pazzaluna for over 2 hours, I barely got bored!

And that's the magic of sidewalks. A good sidewalk can shrink time. It can make an hour seem like ten minutes, and make the world endlessly interesting.

Well, I went down to Saint Paul this evening and the scene was very, very different. Where there had been thousands of people lining up, talking with each other, sharing stories, helping each other out, cooperating as they went through the hockey arena's metal detectors, there were nothing but the most defensible of spaces. Fences, concrete barricades, street signs, fancy automobile-preventers, and (of course) lots and lots and lots of police and military folks, representing branches of our government I hadn't even heard of. (e.g. the United States Federal Protective Service?) The transformation of the streets of downtown Saint Paul was amazing, and remarkable.

[The street in front of the Ordway Center. The sidewalks on either side of this roadway are open to the public.]

Probably the most interesting change was the removal of streetspace, and the restriction of cars. Barricades all through the area surrounding the few-block radius around the hockey arena left the street with an oddly 'negative space' feeling. Usually, as drivers of cars, we encounter the streets of Saint Paul in a particular way. The really useable stuff is between the two curbs, and the sidewalk spaces are neglected. This was the opposite experience. Nobody but police could use use the driveable space, but the sidewalks were free and clear.

[The 'stop' barrier down Kellogg Boulevard, right next to City Hall. You are welcome to walk on the sidewalks, though!]

This was a strange inversion. While people being forced to use the sidewalks is normally the kind of thing I would like to see, these circumstances were a bit awkward, to say the least. I literally had to push my way through a bunch of loitering police and military folks to access the sidewalks, and even so they just led you to yet another fenced dead end.

[The streets and sidewalks in front of Rice Park, with the fenced police barricades lurking in the distance.]

That said, Saint Paul did have a lot of nightlife, and except for the space inside the fences any citizens can access most of Saint Paul. For example, Rice Park is a really interesting place to hang out these days. There were the usual semi-vagrant types, plus a crapload of protesters and various activist-y folks mingling with the omnipresent media and occasional delegate. There was a lot going on! For example, in the photo at right, you can see a man from The Onion handing out a "special RNC edition" to what is presumably a tourist, a be-suited fellow walking from his hotel, a police man scolding a bicyclist, and a military fellow in camouflage adjusting his heavy equipment bag. Plus, there was some sort of performance group had staged an 'improv everywhere'-type thing where a dozen or so twenty-somethings were listening to their iPods and dancing in the middle of the park, just like they do in those old neon iPod commercials. They were, for my friend and I, the highlight of the Saint Paul experience.

[One of the iPod dancers in front of Rice Park's media stage.]

Now, those less anti-misanthropic than myself might argue that the heavy police presence is absolutely necessary in downtown Saint Paul, required to protect private property from the anarcho-terrorists bent on total destruction. Of course, I think that's entirely silly.

Sure, there were a bunch of windows broken downtown. From what I've heard, a cop car was smashed, along with windows from the (always depressing) Saint Paul Macy's store, and the empty storefronts of the First Bank building. I feel pretty strongly that these acts of violence were, for the most part, incited by police. The previous few days of over-the-top and misleading raids hardly set a scene for a peaceful demonstration. Hundreds of people were arrested, and who knows how many were injured. But I wasn't there, and others can talk about this issue better than I can. Details will come out, I am sure...

For example, the Pioneer Press erroneously reported that someone had smashed a window of Hymie's Haberdashery:
Several shops were open downtown St. Paul. But as protesters made their way through downtown, their front doors closed. A window was broken at Heimie's Haberdashery, a menswear shop on St. Peter Street, when the owner and employees were trying to move a table out of the way of protesters."

So I was awfully surprised to find the owner of the men's clothing store sitting out in front of the place, looking peachy. She told me that no windows had been broken, but in fact their employees had accidentally broken one of their outdoor tables for fear of protesters that never arrived.

[The unbroken windows of Hymie's Haberdashery, with cars being forced to turn left around the block.]

The streets of Saint Paul, though, are a lesson in architectural flexibility right now. I urge everyone who can to go down to look at how easily the military and government can turn our streets and sidewalks into a defensible fortress. Don't be shy. These are still public spaces! We need to claim our right to the sidewalks of Saint Paul, no matter what circus is in town.

And while you're there, there is some fun to be had. (Especially here!) Downtown Saint Paul is well worth a visit this week. Just don't think it will be easy to park.

[Wild Tymes rolls out the red carpet for folks from the red states.]


You know, I'm going to rescind my earlier statement about police provoking violence. I'm reading a bunch of trustworthy news accounts about groups of you protesters acting idiotic. One of the best is Aaron Landry's description of a march gone terribly stupid:

They chanted “join us, join us” until they had a large group. Bennett stayed behind and Stacy and I followed the group to the Cathedral, down towards 35E where they crossed a pedestrian bridge, crossed 7th Street and travelled down towards Irving Park with little or no property damage. Two kids took a dumpster and after a few attempts were able to tip it over in the middle of an intersection. Getting near the perimeter, police stayed a block away in riot gear, forcing the mob to move to the river. A couple folks in masks made a makeshift blockade with a couple detour signs to “stop the cops.”

I don't know who is going to join them. Don't they know that nobody lives in downtown Saint Paul?

There's also this one over at Slate.com. Once again, I find myself in agreement with Rich Goldsmith.

Update Update:

Hell, who knows. Molly Priesmeyer's helpful article has this to say:

For one thing, despite the media fearmongering and the ominous presence of riot cops–some aiming tear-gas guns at protesters from garages–and the 12 cop cars following us down the street at one point, for the most the 60 or so protesters in this group were fairly benign, though there were about 15 of them whose worse crime committed was pulling newspaper boxes into the street, and in one case, a Dumpster. When that happened, about five people in the group stopped to clean up the trash that had fallen to the street.

I rescind my earlier update. As you can see, this is complicated.