<<< Newsflash Friday >>> #24

Sidewalk Rating: Partially un-heaped

This is getting to be a habit, but there's a heap of a lot of snow out there on the sidewalk. I urge you to shovel it if you haven't already. If you don't you'll find yourself like me, walking down the sidewalk through the deep snow in a very funny way. You hold your arms almost straight out at 45-degree angles from your sides, lean way forward, and take giant steps with your boots through the deep heaps. It's pretty stupid looking, but it works.

Hey, what ever gets you home, right?

[A photo of an icicle barely hanging off the blue awning on the porch at the Kitty Cat Klub.]


One of the things that happens in a blizzard is that all the systems that we're used to depend on all the time get kind of broken. Coats don't work, windows start to fill up with snow, shoes and cars are useless. Pretty much the only thing that doesn't fail us are buildings, so most people stay inside them.

I took the bus home at the peak of the storm, and after a lengthy wait, boarded the #3B. The busdriver was already doing an hour of overtime, and was still driving because a number of the other buses on the route had gotten stuck. She seemed to be enjoying herself, and here are things I saw along the way:

[Apparently the bendy buses get stuck quite easily, particularly if they attempt to go near the curb. Here's one stuck at the corner of Raymond and Como while another bus tries to pass it. It had bumped the bus stop a little bit.]

[This semi-truck was on the Northbound on-ramp leading from Energy Park Drive to Snelling Avenue just spinning its wheels and blocking the entire roadway. I don't know how he got out of that situation!]

[At my stop, there were not one but TWO #3B buses stuck at the hilly corner. I guess they just continued to pile up, one after the other, kind of like beanbags in a funnel?]


One of the fun things to look forward to is this activity, 'sidewalk skating', here taking place in Dubuque...


I'm not sure that I can really understand that atomic paranoia was like back in the 50s. I can only imagine that it was like the GWOT, only far more hegemonic and terrifying.

But, regardless, fear of a nuclear age was used to justify the nation's huge anti-urban freeway system. Part of the idea was to be able to quickly evacuate cities, and part of the idea was to just make cities disappear completely, and have everyone go off and life in the woods, etc.

Tom Vanderbilt had a nice post on this topic this week, and he includes this fantastic ad from the Caterpillar Company which kind of points to the real reason we built all those freeways... to keep the US economy going. Concrete companies, construction companies, car companies, oil companies, real estate developers... they all had a lot to gain from the new roads. Fear of atomic apocalypse was used to sell Americans this nice bill of goods.

Now we have to wonder what sort of con game is lurking under the War on Terror, apart from the obviously insidious Halliburton/Xe nexus.


And speaking of history, this wonderful clip of ignorance in the state legislature is worth seeing, if you haven't seen it already...

... it shows a U of MN civil engineering and urban planning prof talking about the need to think about transportation systems as a matter of energy and military policy.

It wasn't just that the GOP legislator was unwilling to connect the dots between the 'US lifestyle', our impact on the environment, and our military presence around the world...

... rather, the thing that I found astonishing was that she was so unwilling to think through the historical parallel. Somehow, she called a poster that explicitly mimics a US of A World War II propoganda "un-American".

I ask you, what is more "American" than hating Hitler and fighting World War II? It's practically the most 'American' thing we have left, after all our other failed attempts at global domination.

The nice thing is that, even in the typically flame-ridden Strib comment threads, about 95% of the commenters agree that Sen. Julianne Ortman (R-Chanhassen) is a moron.

[h/t Matty Lang for the story.]


Here's a nice and rare story about a local city politician explicitly campaigning on the promise of "fixing the sidewalks".

"As Mayor I will ensure Santa Barbara remains safe, clean and economically viable. Fixing our sidewalks, and paving our streets, dealing with the gang crisis and graffiti removal may not be glamorous, but they are the heart of what a city must focus on to effectively serve its citizens. I will provide proven, experienced leadership as Mayor."

It's not the kind of issue that typically brings home the bacon, but good luck to Council Member Iya Falcone on her bid!


Probably the greatest sidewalk music video ever?

via videosift.com

... Jacko back in the day really knew how to walk down the streets.


Here are three photos:

1) A blizzard sidewalk in Minneapolis -- img fm bironic via Flickr

2) Chickens on the sidewalks of New York -- img fm. NYTimes

3) A slow walk down the snowstreet -- img fm news0040 via Flickr


Classic Sidewalks of the Silver Screen #16

Dean Martin attempts to go against the flow ...

... of the packed city sidewalks in The Bells Are Ringing (1960).


Sidewalk of the Week: Block D

[Much like the Grand Canyon, a vast space opens up in front of you...]

If you walk through downtown Minneapolis on a nice day, along the streets and skyways tucked between skyscrapers, you'll come to an odd space round about Hennepin and 5th Street. You might not notice it, you might walk a bit faster, or wonder what to do or where to go next. You might look up and see the giant gap the downtown space, a large surface parking lot in the middle of everything. This is Block D... and it is a chasm, a rift, a rupture, a hole, the the last legacy of a the city's slum clearance daze. It is the last empty Hennepin block, the final frontier.

[The Light Rail Train was designed to connect commuters with one of Minneapolis' finest phallic metaphors.]

It's odd to think that immediately upon exiting the Hiawatha Light Rail Station downtown you find yourself in the entrance of Dream Girls, one of Minneapolis's less well-respected titillation establishments. It's almost as if the train was designed to bring suburban commuters into downtown and deliver them straight to damnation.

But, in another way, the odd juxtaposition of the Warehouse District LRT station makes perfect sense. It pulls right up to Block D, which sits at the accursed nexus of Minneapolis highly contradictory social zones.

I was down there the other day, and thinking about all the different kinds of space you can find downtown. There are so many different kinds of ways of 'being' in the downtown, different ways of behaving and doing and seeing and thinking. And the disjointed architecture of the downtown landscape reflects all that, so that there are sharp contrasts between kinds of spatial experiences within the city.

Here is a short list:
  • 1) skyway spaces of consumption/business
  • 2) street spaces for transit/errands of necessity/gov’t services
  • 3) party spaces for clubs/culture
  • 4) live/work spaces such as the North Loop and the Guthrie area
  • 5) stadium spaces for mass activities and the creation of consumable media representations
  • 6) older spaces that are very diverse and hard to categorize (e.g. the sex industries).

[From Block D you can see the entrance to the 'warehouse district' along 1st Avenue, where people go to get totally wrecked and hookup.]

Each of these spaces demands different relations between architecture and society. For example, the clubs of the warehouse district require more of an outdoor sidewalk freedom that allows for independent engagement with these spaces of excitement. It's a certain kind of freedom that can only come with the streets and sidewalks, and could never happen in the skyway.

[Block D also connects with this space, a long canyon leading down to the new Twins ballpark. What will this new kind of space do to Block D's forgotten nexus?]

From Block D, though, you are not too far from the 'North Loop' and its live/work spaces, which try to create space that is quiet and safe. The downtown retail and skyway parts of town are all about business, money, and consumerism, and they reflect no small amount of control and security. Similarly, the older sex industry spaces require a certain level of anonymity.

It seems to me that these different, fractured downtown spaces all seem to intersect right at the Warehouse District LRT stop, leaving Block D as a completely schizophrenic and blank space, in between all these radically opposed ways of being. When the train pulls up directly in front of the large Dream Girls sign, you know you're in no-place... a place of confusion... a "space intentionally left blank.'

Might this be Minneapolis' most interesting sidewalk?

[Like icing on the social layer cake, one of Block D's last buildings, Glueck's bar, has a giant and fading mural of what is supposed to look like Venice.]


A Grave Dance

[This is content recycled from my now mothballed website, www.excitablemedia.com. Please enjoy!]

It goes without saying that the three paragraph essay is dead and gone. You can take that to the bank, stick a fork in it, and tell your 9th Grade English teacher to shove it to boot. As if she didn't already know. They danced on the grave early last year, as far as I can tell, tamping down the loose dirt with some fancy footwork, and now there's hardly a trace left of the party, an empty beer can here and there, dead soldiers, so to speak, occasionally the faint footprint in the shape of a foxtrot. I need not eulogize. Rather, it's all the rage to be percussive, abrupt, hasty, unkempt, disheveled, superficial, unrehearsed, ambivalent, unabashed, ambient, atmospheric, sporadic, slipshod, ramshackle, unfinished, extemporaneous, unstudied, random, helter-skelter, loosey-goosey, downtrodden, happy-go-lucky, carefree, careless, foppish, and stochastic. In other words, expectations of expectoration of expectancy, broad strokes all about the page hoping for an emergent Rorshach butterfly.

But hell even that is yesterday's news. If anyone knows when exactly we hit the fragmentation high tide, would they please let me know? For now all I'm aware of is this strange sensation down below my knees, an invisible, inevitable undertow pulling at the heels, a sort of structural grasping. Something somewhere is demanding refinement. I know there are whole hordes of people yearning for order. I know the type. House walls laden with clocks, rolodexed desktops, galoshes in case of rain. They're sitting around their rock gardens, pruning the hedges and dreaming of grammar lessons, something like My Fair Lady, by jove. And I think I found what they were looking for the other day while walking down Nicollet Avenue, after I did a double take and found myself face to face with the man who repaints the fire hydrants. He told me, with a smile that was missing a few teeth, how there are 800 hydrants on his route, and how, optimistically, he can get to 200 per summer, making a hydrant repainting as common as an olympic game or presidential election. Each little red jobby gets a thorough hand cleaning, inside and out, ball bearings are oiled, and a fresh coat of OSHA Red is applied patiently from the back of a City of Minneapolis pickup truck. Yes, folks, like it or not, structuralism still claims a few square feet of metaphysical territory, lurking underneath the cultural radar just below the sight line, waiting for a 2 alarm chance to prove its mettle.

But try telling that to Uptown crowd, comfortably oblivious to the greedy harangue that's part and parcel with the obsequious smile of an Indian restraunteur prompting the loitering to leave and then clearing the table for the next well-dressed cultural career hound . . . all that goes almost unnoticed. Be sure to take a handful of those little colored caraway seeds as you leave. But for my money, if it doesn't come in a 25 cent crank bulbous dispenser it ain't really worth it.

A quick point of contrast, if you'll be so kind. Jump away to the woman haranguing at the butcher shop up the block, who I am certain likes nothing more in life than ordering her cut of meat. She relishes, savors, sucks the marrow from the moment like any seasoned hedon, for example the habitual Carribean sensual massage-goer (you know who you are . . .). As far as I can tell, she's there daily, with talking points, a ritual litany, a professorial critique of last night's vitual. "I really wanted something closer to the center cut, kind of like the flank from last week, you remember, Friday, cut along the grain close to the femur oblangata, and something a bit younger, don't you have anything from Kansas, they always do such a nice job, oh, wait, now I remember, I was going to serve it with string beans so I really want something a bit softer, less heavy, you know . . ." She knows the beef steak chart like the back of her eyelid. That's one woman for whom skeletal structures still apply.


Sidewalk Closed Signs #2

[A sidewalk closed sign on Pleasant Street at the U of MN campus.]

[A sidewalk closed sign on the pedestrian pathway over Washington Avenue at the U of MN campus.]

[A sidewalk closed sign near the Target Center off 1st Avenue in Downtown Mpls.]

[A sidewalk closed sign off Washington Avenue on the U of MN campus.]

[A sidewalk closed sign on Franklin Ave in the Seward neighborhood.]

[A sidewalk closed sign on Washington Ave by the Open Book building.]

[I think this sidewalk closed sign is in Chicago?]


Name That Sidewalk! #2

It's time once again for another Name That Sidewalk! I saw these two 'surveyors' stretching a tape measure across the street, from sidewalk's edge to sidewalk's edge...

... the only question is: Where in the Twin Cities is this sidewalk?

The first person to post the correct answer in the comments below will get this weather beaten and falling apart copy of Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities, without doubt the greatest sidewalk book ever written.

Good luck and godspeed!


<<< Newsflash Friday >>> #23

Sidewalk Rating: Break out the shovel

Well, I'm a day late for Friday, but a nice new coat of snow has fallen and it feels like a fresh start. Last night surely sparkled with The kind of acoustic magic that I was talking about the other day. The quiet the city gathered slowly but with accumulating force until all you could hear was the sound of your own heart beating inside your hat. The glowing lights of downtown diffused into a vague haze, and the cars were gagged and slowed by rings of everywhite snowfall. Today is a day for a booted wander!

[My sidewalk this morning: before and after.]


This is kind of what I'm talking about, as this kid is having way too much fun...

... people can go play in the street and not worry about becoming speed bumps.


Here's a good plan for how to use stimulus money... Srsly!

This massive economic recovery, the journal claims, should not go to banks, who will just squirrel it away in their accounts, never to see the light of day. Artists have no bank accounts, and the money will be immediately be put in play in local art supply stores, musical instruments, studio rentals, PBR purchases, car repairs and bus fares that can generate jobs for coffee shop servers, bar tenders, and other economic stimulators.

This would have to work at least as well as all the TARP BS....


I really like the idea of 'yarnbombing', sneaking out into the city and discretely covering small bits of infrastructure with soft and colorful yarn.

Yarn Bombing is a blog about knit graffiti. It is written by two knitters, Mandy Moore and Leanne Prain, who live in Vancouver, Canada. In 2005, we met at a stitch and bitch. Mandy taught Leanne how to knit short rows and opened up a world of possibilities for her.

It's exactly the kind of small detailed surprise that makes walking around on sidewalks so fun and interesting.


Obama re-opened a federal department of Urban Affairs, and named a NYC planner to head the department. Even though the Federal Gov't has a strong track record for destroying US cities, I can't see how this could be a bad thing.


This Strib story was highly amusing, about a McCoy v. Hatfield situation in the old-school posh Lowry Hill neighborhood. Even though this has the NYT sort of lionize-WASPy kind of feel, it's nice to see a story about vandalism that isn't about the North Side.

In the meantime, bad things were happening to the Fogels. Their front lawn, plantings and a tree died, poisoned by a chemical. Their driveway was stained by a corrosive substance. Their Range Rover was twice scratched by keys. Even the big billboard displaying Jimmy Fogel's face on Hennepin Avenue was shot with a paintball.

Plus, there's this guy in an actual bowtie.


Crazy story about how rats run through cities, and what kind of difference it makes to have different sorts of urban design patterns in different towns.

This image on the right shows rat movement through either Grid (NYC) or 'organic' (New Orleans) cities morphologies.

Accdg to the researchers:

We've found that routes taken by rats and other members of the animal kingdom tend to converge at attractive landmarks, the same way people are attracted, for example, to the Arc de Triumph in Paris," says Prof. David Eilam from TAU’s Department of Zoology. “Our research takes the art used by humans to create their towns and cities and turns it back to the animal world for testing. We can look at how rats will react to a city’s geography to come up with an optimal urban plan.

It's probably not something you want to think much about, but it is another fascinating parallel between social animals and people.


Speaking of ANTs, here's a short bit from Where thinking through cities and science studies philosopher Bruno Latour...


Here's a song about roads and car mentality...

... Convenient Parking by Modest Mouse.


And finally, a photo triptych for you to look at:

1) A woman in a bubble on the streets of Paris -- h/t ffffound

2) Sunset on the Saint Paul campus of the U of MN -- h/t Reid Priedhorsky

3) Some British sidewalks after WWII, where people's sheep flocks comingled with rubble'd cities -- h/t Tom Sutpen


Tales From The Bus #3

The other morning I took my usual bus ride, boarding the #3B bus in Saint Paul's North End and riding it all the way to Mpls's West Bank neighborhood. It was early in the morning, the sun was not yet above the skyline, and when the slow glowing machine pulled up at the cold curb I was grateful as ever.

But I was surprised when I got on the bus and found it to be different.

Unlike every other bus I've been on in the Twin Cities, for this bus (which wasn't painted like any of the others) the seats were all arranged along the the sides of the walls. Instead of the usual parallel rows of two seats running down each side with an aisle in the middle (like on an airplane, this bus had all the seats in two rows. It had two parallel benches aiming at each other, creating a giant space running down the middle of the bus.

Like everyone else who got on the bus that day, I did a quick double take before beelining for the very back of the bus, where there were some of the 'normal' seats that I'm used to sitting in (the kind where you have two in a row and get to lean against the window).

I found it odd, but was kinda sleepy and paid it no heed. Until, that is, I started to notice how, when people boarded this odd bus, they almost immediately made a beeline for the very back seats (where seats were arranged two-by-two, in the usual manner). In fact, this is exactly what I did...

Now, this is very unusual behavior for a bus. Almost always, people boarding buses occupy the seats beginning with the front, and moving gradually towards the back. But this bus, this odd parallel bus was funneling people down to the very end, down to the back of the bus with its loud engine and large bumps and awkward sightlines and trapped feelings. This bus was workign in different ways!

[The bus as it started to accumulate people, a few people sitting comfortably and spaced far apart along the parallel rows of seats, their heads either craning to the side or fixed on the floor.]

Well, this got me to thinking about how this odd bus may be working. I hypothesized that bus design was meant to provide for maximum stuffing capacity, like the subway trains in Tokyo, that this bus would allow for twice as many people to cram the center aisles back-t0-back, and allow the people along the sides to sit fairly comfortably in a way that was perpendicular to the direction of travel.

In fact, I started counting the seats, and began wondering if this bus could hold more people than the traditional two-by-two bus... How many seats were there? How many people could fit into the center aisle? Would the parallel rows of sidewalks seats force people to look at each other? Would the cavernous undifferentiated space of the bus create long and puzzling silences? Forced public interactions? Would people stare at their shoes twice as much as normal?

These questions filled my head like black flies in the August woods.

[The bus fills and people clump like barbells on either side of the long awkward aisle.]

Well, I started watching as people got on board, as the bus crawled Westward toward Minneapolis and away from the rising sun. At each stop, another commuter boarded. And the sideways seats gradually filled so that people were almost, but not quite, touching each other.

The next thing that happened was that people started standing. It happened first with a Japanese guy who'd put his bicycle on the front rack, and leaned against the plastic obstruction right by the front door reading a book. Then the next few standers clumped by the back foldy door, and then another stander joined the man in the front.

Nobody was sitting in the in-between seats along the sides, and nobody was standing in the awkward aisle. It was intriguing!

[The sideways seats fill up, and the awkward aisle starts to accumulate warm bodies.]

Well, as the bus started to reach its peak ridership, right before the first stop on the U of MN campus, I was interested in seeing how my Tokyo subway hypothesis would play out. Would people stand two-by-two, thereby maximizing the bus space? Could Minnesotans properly crowd?

Well, as it turned out, as every seat filled and the crunching of bags to bodies started to increase, as people boarded the bus and density reached its climax...

Nothing. There was no crowding, no proper use of the awkward aisle's massive spaces. Instead, people gave each other the regular distance, only this time it was all the more awkward because the people in the sidewalks seats were having to face the folks in the center, averting their eyes, etc.

As it turned out, there was absolutely no point in the odd arrangements of this particular bus, with its sidewalks seats and its awkward aisle.

I got off the bus on the West Bank and went about my day.

[Full steam ahead in the odd-bus. Nobody moves, for fear of landing on a stranger's lap. Everyone holds their breath until they can de-bus.]


Unconjoined Twin Cities: A Catalogue of Difference

[This is content recycled from my now mothballed website, www.excitablemedia.com. Please enjoy!]

Out of towners tend to imagine that the Twin Cities are one large conglomerated urban area, but people who live here know better. The TC is better described as a symbiotic binary system where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, the distinct differences between each city creating areas of specialization, the two cities polar focii. I grew up in Saint Paul, but now for the first time I find myself living in Minneapolis, and I'm starting to notice their differences, which while minor, are more than enough differentially-speaking. Each city's enviroment provokes in its residents a uniquely unique uniqueness. To wit:
  • Street Orientation

[Local Rectangular Landscape.]

Travelling upstream to the Northermost navigable reaches of the Missipppi River, you reach a point where the river bends to the south, then curves back to the north before it rushes torrentially over a large waterfall. This point of curvature is where the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul happened to have been planted, long ago, and as they grew up, aligned alongside their respective river-segments, they formed axially-contrasting rectangles. Minneapolis is thus oriented longways North-South, while Saint Paul is longways East-West. Furthermore, for each city the microcosm of the urban street grid mirrors the macrocosm of the larger city's orientation, their individual rectangular urban blocks running parallel to the river, so that the front doors of a Minneapolis home will generally face East or West while the houses in Saint Paul will generally face North or South.

This foyer-facing differential reconfigures individual dispositions in relation to sunshine, so that the phrase "the sunny side of the street" takes on radically different meanings in each city. This contrast is further accentuated during the long sunshine-deprived Winter months for which Minnesota is justifiably famous. While the street orientation of Minneapolis works to equalize the amount of sushine exposure received by its residents, Saint Paulites across the river must cope with "photosynthetic polarity phenomenon (PPP)," where one side of the street (the Southern Exposure side) receives dramatically more sunshine than its opposite number. Because of this simple fact, mood swings in Saint Paul display greater amplitude, and inter-street division is marked, which means that Saint Paulities as a whole tend to view Wintertime as an extremely trying experience, perhaps more so than their more atmospherically cohesive counterparts across the Mississippi, where at the very least all residents experience roughly the same degree of sunshine exposure.

[Night/Day Transition.]

The street orientation differential also manifests itself during the night/day transition period, commonly called "sunset" and "sunrise." While each urban area boasts many "main drags," broadly speaking the main streets of Minneapolis tend to run North-South (e.g. Hennepin Avenue, Nicollet Avenue, Central Avenue) whereas heavily trafficked Saint Paul boulevards run East-West. Thus, during those periods of the day where the sun sits low in the sky, Saint Paulites who happen to be stuck in their cars will experience more of its glare (depending on the direction of commutation). On the other hand, for Minneapolitans, the sun's blinding light, being peripherial, is much less of a problem. The precise effects of this difference are unknown, but it might account for the varying rates of vision loss, the tendencies of each city's citizens to work "regular hours," or the stark traffic accident disparity.
  • East/West
While the two cities are separated by a mere river, their two downtowns lie farther apart. Roughly 10 miles stretch between the two downtowns, Saint Paul nestled in the East, and Minneapolis towering high in the West. But the river that separates the two cities isn't just any old river, rather, it's the mighty Mississippi, the great American dividing line, which symbolically divides the nation into East and West. Consequently, Minneapolis identifies with the radical West Coast while Saint Paul, spiritually speaking, sees itself as an the last bastion of East Coast civility.

[Our country, East and West.]

This difference manifests itself in many disparate ways, ranging from diet to sports preference, but perhaps the most striking example is the different call numbers of the two city's media outlets. As you probably know, all TV and radio stations East of the Mississippi must begin with the letter "W," whereas on the West side they begin with a "K." To the extent that the alphabet represents progress (as it does for each child first learning to read), each city's self-image corresponds to either the beginning of the end of the alphabet, the Romanized Alpha or Omega. Saint Paulites, represented by "W," the 23rd letter, are largely content to stay as they are, knowing as they do that end of the alphabet lurks just around the corner. In contrast, the "K" of Minneapolis, only the 11th letter, compels those on the West Bank to launch themselves into a vast and unknown future.

  • Skyways
One of the more unique aspects of the Twin Cities is the extensive downtown skyway system. During the industrial rejuvination of the 1960's, the cold regional climate dictated that each city start to build artifical sidewalks or "skyways" to connect the urban office core of the downtown areas. As is often the case, building these skyways became a matter of pride for each city's business council, locked as they were in fierce competition for the same local commercial tenants. Skyway development reached its peak during the early 70's, fortunately coinciding with a dramatic growth in government, so that by the time the urban recession rolled around, prompting declining central business district (CBD) vitality, each city had done much to integrate its urban core into a single, interconnected pedestrian web.

[Saint Paul on top, Minneapolis on bottom.]

That being said, the two skyway systems in Saint Paul and Minneapolis display distinct differences. Foremost among them: The Saint Paul skyways are all owned by the City Council, whereas the Minneapolis skyways are owned by their individual real estate tenants, and they respectively represent the public and private models of social infrastructure construction. All the Saint Paul skyways thus conform to a single model, a pewter-esque metal design featuring modernist Van der Rohe sensibilities infused with classical adornment. On the other hand, the Minneapolis skyways were designed and constructed according to the individual whim of each building's architect, and vary greatly in style, dimension, and accessibility. The greater general vitality of the Minneapolis downtown means that their skyways are also more diverse from a commerical standpoint, although in my opinion that has little to do with their public/private manner of contruction. The difference boils down to a matter of taste, although the general consensus is that the diversity of the Minneapolis skyways makes for a more interesting walkabout.


Classic Sidewalks of the Silver Screen #15

A ghostly Robert Downey Jr. has lots of fun...

... singin' on the sidewalks of New York in Heart and Souls (1993).


Sidewalk of the Week: Medicine Lake

[A shantytown assembles.]

It is a common misconception that sidewalks are pieces of concrete poured onto the dirt. This is, in fact, untrue.

Sidewalks should be considered states of mind that form wherever two or three people are gathered together to walk or stroll from A to B and back again. In other words, sidewalks are people, and go wherever people go, even sometimes onto frozen lakes.

[People stroll on sidewalks of ice.]

In fact, a frozen lake might be the ultimate kind of sidewalk, a literal tabula rasa. A perfectly flat, perfectly white, perfectly flawless plane on which anything can happen, any order can form.

[Do croquet balls have their own sidewalks?]

I kind of reminds me of those famous experiments on certain college campuses, where the landscape designers leave open the field grass until students walk on it, forming paths. Only then, do the planners put down the sidewalks. These spaces are self-organizing sidewalks, places where "desire paths" take the first step.

[A huddled bunch cast long shadows.]

Of course, the sidewalks I mention are spaces surrounding the Medicine Lake art shanties, the loosely assembled bits of buildings annually dragged onto an unfortunately melty frozen lake in the NW suburbs. There are all types of exploratory people walking around these shanties, and it's delightful to approach a little shack and open the door without knowing what you will find inside. Will it be knitting? Fishing? Map making? Puppets? A group of arctic explorers marooned in a frozen sea?

Apart from opening the door, there is no way of knowing who lives in each house, and one senses that a lost form of neighborliness and a culture of 'visting' can be found on this bit of temporary surface.

[This is a very important shanty. Also, there are no bathrooms on submarines.]

[This shanty moves of its own accord, and is difficult to catch.]

Shanties, though, are particularly good on an icy lake, and have characteristic sidewalks befitting a self-organizing, bottom-up urban collection. For one thing, shantytowns always abound on the most moveable, shakeable, marginal spaces... for example the parts of mountains that fall down in rainstorms, or the sides of train tracks, or the patches of earth in between one thing and another. Some cities in the global south have 'squatters rights' rules that allow anyone to keep their shanty ONLY IF they can build it all in one night, which makes the quick and delicate construction of shanties all the more quicksilver.

Unfortunately, it seems that the ice is melting too quickly beneath our feet. This is the end! Carpe shanty, if you dare.

[Transient ice is only water frozen in place.]