***Sidewalk Weekend!*** #31

Sidewalk rating: Suspenseful

Walking on sidewalks is a thrill a minute as storm fronts blow in and out like an asthmatic breathalyzer tester. Get your ticket to raindrops and drizzle and clouds and wind and humid sunshine today on the sidewalks of the Twin Cities!

[Como Park at night. Video fm. MPR]


This video is one of many on display at the Walker right now in their exhilirating exhibit, The Quick and The Dead...

... It's a Belgian artist named Francis Alÿs pushing ice around the sidewalks of Mexico City, and it shows you one of the many ways in which sidewalk traces can be left behind. It also is the ultimate Sisyphus + pedestrian image.

I highly recommend the show at the Walker! You'll laugh, you'll cry.


I drove up I-35 to Duluth last weekend, and passed a sign declaring that some orange cones were funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), aka. "the stimulus package".

Despite these occasional headlines, all reports suggest that the vast majority of the federal dollars spent these days are going to 'invest' in technologies that will be increasingly obsolete as gas continues to disappear and we continue to destroy our planet. James Kunstler seems more right every day.

In other words, this video pretty much perfectly illustrates the American way of life:


This spoof perfectly captures the matter-of-fact bureaucratic tone that is omnipresent in planning and engineering documents.

I'd like to see similar suggestions: the Stone Arch Bridge sold on eBay to cover Minneapolis's budget deficit, Fort Snelling razed for a new Vikings stadium, the Mississippi River covered over and replaced with a new 8-lane freeway?


This article from a Seattle indie paper is a nice statement of principles about density, and the need for smaller overall projects.

Plan on a smaller scale.

Double the grid density.

Build shorter, narrower buildings with smaller spaces.

Keep the first floors tall (12 feet) and flexible-use, so that they can evolve from residences to shops to offices to garages and back over the years.

Seek diversity.

Make it last.

Cities seem to always want giant complexes that will take up the entire block, huge development projects.

Diversity and intersting places, on the other hand, are far better served by many, many small developments. The same principles applies to big business v. small business. You're far better served by having a diverse economy made of many small, enterprising, and mutually-dependent compaines (San Francisco) than one dependent on a few giant conglomerations (Detroit).


Trying to communicate while driving a car is inane You only have one horn, and nobody knows if you're honking for peace, Jesus, because you think some girl is attractive, or because you're majorly pissed off.

Much preferred:


Here's an interesting way to make drivers more aware of pedestrians: make them nervous with crazy road lines on the side of the road.

Complete streets demands increasing the feeling of safety for all types of users. Ironically, increasing safety will mean making the drivers of cars feel more dangerous, and drive with more caution. It's kind of like what's happening with drivers and bicycles all through the TC, apparently.

Is this a paradox?


Every time I've been to Boston, I've loved to hang out on my friend's back porches. These "three deckers" all seem to have big back porches that open up onto courtyards behind the houses.

It's part of the "vernacular archtiecture" of the Northeast. How can we create a policy landcscape that values keeping original structures around?

[A Boston three-decker. Img. fm. NYTimes.]


I've talked about desire paths before, but these seem more desperate somehow.


Marx takes on cars and cities as two sides of the same coin.


A good bike typography.


Three photos for you!

1) A crit in Uptown. (Img. CarbonSilver.)

2) New York -- Miles Davis, 32, of 881 10th Avenue, a trumpeter now appearing in Birdland, 52nd Street and Broadway, was arrested after fighting with patrolman Gerald Kilduff, who had ordered him to move from crowded sidewalk. In the scuffle, Davis was hit on the head with a blackjack for which a St. Clare's ambulance had to be called. (1959). (Img. Tsupen.)

3) A sidewalk shack by the art collective Hardland/Heartland, at Franklin and Lyndale. (Img. fm. StuffAboutMinneapolis.)


Sidewalk of the Week: 7th Place Mall

Q: What is the difference between Minneapolis and Saint Paul?

A: Minneapolis is a little big city, and Saint Paul is a big small town.

Sometimes it strikes me, that’s just a witty way of saying that Saint Paul has long been the red-headed stepchild of the Twin Cities, fostering an inferiority complex that would put Chicago Cubs fans to shame. Ever and onward the claims of political importance, historical precedence, or cultural relevance echo like so many steamboat horns from the cries of Saint Paul’s defenders, and always the epicenter of the Twin Cities moves westward, slouching towards Edina and America's suburban future. Saint Paul and the East metro are left to fend for the scraps of modernity, grasping at straws, hockey, and the hopes light rail lines.

The Twin City relationship is nothing new, of course. Ever since the great Twin City census war of 1890, each has been trying to outdo the other. Yet, while Saint Paul has a few advantages, the wrestling match today has all the suspense of a Globetrotters v. Generals contest.

[The lovely patio of the Wild Tymes bar and restaurant on the 7th Place Mall.]

The case in point? Each town’s downtown pedestrian mall.

Now, a pedestrian mall is a tough thing to pull off. Like many of the 1960s' modern downtown planning trends, most did more harm than good to their cities’ . Minneapolis’ Nicollet Mall is a national exception, somehow managing to barely hang on to a critical mass of retailers and street activity through the 20th century’s bleakest urban decades.

Saint Paul was not so lucky. As with many futuristic panaceas, Saint Paul watched what its more successful sibling was doing across the river, and then kind of half-heartedly copied it.

(It makes you think of the popular song, “Everything you can do, I can do too / Yet always in a more depressing way... / Pave the roads and live with me / In the Capitol Ci-tee!”)

Instead of a long, landscaped stretch of street running through the center of town, Saint Paul’s downtown mall is single seedy block of antiquated rarity, a microcosm of economic futility and humble charm.

[The Great Waters Brewpub sits on the corner in the beautiful and gargantuan Hamm building, where the 7th Place Mall ajoins the historical center of the city.]

If Saint Paul is a big small town, then the one block long 7th Place Mall is like the convenience store where locals sit and to watch traffic going by. Its a fine bit of sidewalk with a bleak sort of charm. It epitomizes Saint Paul's micro-energy, the sense of unique cultural remoteness that makes the Twin Cities great. You see, there’s a special creativity to boredom and abandonment, and when the 7th place mall fills up with a few folks, you really start to feel special, part of a small world where everybody knows your name.

[One of Saint Paul's many delightful alleys abuts the 7th Place Mall near the Park Square Theater.]

A complete list of things found in 7th Place: The pair of bars on the end of the street, The Artist’s Quarter jazz club, the Park Square theater, the huge and abandoned Palace theater, a pair of dueling sandwich shops, Candyland, and an impossibly-early-closing drug store. Closed off on one end by the epic revitalization failure of “town square” and on the other end by the absurdly out-of-place Saint Paul Cos / Traveler's building, which fits into its historic neighborhood with all the grace of a Smithfield pig at a hypochondriac convention, 7th Place is a lovely mix of Saint Paul's historical pasts and its economic present.

[Kids play music before the Jimmy John's in the 7th Place Mall.]

Sometimes the bleak emptiness of the 7th Place mall overwhelms you with the distinct sense of being a restless teenager in downtown Mandan. But on other nights, it can have the warmth and coziness of the New York’s famous Paley Park, a little pocket of life in the middle of a city. As you turn the corner and walk down the little block stretch to find your way, to find a blues guitar player or an old man picking his nose before a pigeon, you realize that Saint Paul is not a place that will overwhelm you. It’s a place that’s just big enough to understand, just big enough to make you feel at home. And someday, when the 7th Place mall fills to capacity, it might just exceed your expectations.

[An elderly fellow picks his nose before a pigeon on a bench in the 7th Place Mall.]


A North End Sidewalk Tragedy

[The sidewalk outside Schroder's Bar in Saint Paul, where the terrible accident took place.]

A few months ago, I went into my neighborhood bar and ordered a Summit from my favorite bartender. She seemed a bit sad, and when I asked about it, told me a terrible story...

She'd been working the previous Sunday night, and this young couple had come into the joint to celebrate their 21st birthday. While they were leaving, putting stuff into their car on Front Avenue, a car blew a red light, speeding down the street, and plowed into the two people. One of the girl's legs had to be amputated.

It was one tiny instant of car culture in America, and in this case, it turned into a complete tragedy. It changed these two people's lives forever. Neither of them will ever be the same. My bartender friend saw the whole thing, and she could barely talk about it.

Schroder's is just a little blue collar joint in the middle of an old Saint Paul neighborhood. People go there to hang out and be a part of a community. The corner (Como/Front/Dale) used to be very walkable, back when all the businesses fronted the nearby Great Northern railroad. This corner still has a lot of businesses, but the intersection is wide open pavement.

Is this another case where the suburbanization of urban streets (helping to increase traffic flow) led to a tragic accident? Could bump outs, or traffic calming efforts, have decreased the likelihood of something like this occurring?

They might have. But I'm not so convinced, in this case. This was a dude fleeing from the cops, out of control, and going down a relatively narrow street without concern for other human life.

It does raise the question of whether or not police should pursue people through urban neighborhoods. Am I wrong, or do some cities ban high speed pursuits through cities just for this very reason?

[An old North End factory in Saint Paul, circa 1900. Img. fm. MNHS.]


St. Paul gang member who injured couple while fleeing police is sentenced for drugs - Pioneer Press

A St. Paul gang member was sentenced in federal court to 11 years in prison in connection with the North End crash that left several people severely injured Aug. 27.

St. Paul police were chasing Wendell Raymone Jones, 21, when he smashed into the back of a car on Front Avenue, crushing Mari Plaster and her boyfriend, Dan Sanford, both 21, between that car and the one in front.

The couple had been loading gifts into the car trunk after celebrating Plaster's 21st birthday at Schroeder's Bar and Grill.

Plaster's left leg was partially severed below the knee and had to be amputated. Sanford had multiple fractures in both legs. Plaster's father and his wife were also injured.

Jones, a known member of the Selby Siders gang, was sentenced Thursday on one count of possessing with intent to distribute 50 grams of crack cocaine. U.S. District Court Judge Ann Montgomery also sentenced him to five years of supervised release. He was indicted Nov. 13 and pleaded guilty Jan. 29.



Signs of the Times #15


[Sign near Washington Avenue. Stadium Village, Minneapolis.]

[%%Name obscured$$] No Longer Lives Here
Go Away!!

[Sign in window. Phillips, Minneapolis.]

Green Beans

[Sign in coffee shop window. St. Anthony Park, St. Paul.]


[Sign in sidewalk. Myrtle Avenue, Brooklyn.]

Leave Your
SHOES in your

[Sign in front door. Seward, Minneapolis.]

Press on the
Lever to Open
The Door
otherwise it will not

[Sign in front door of clothes store. Selby Avenue, St. Paul.]

Needels Co.
Customer Parking
All others
Will be Tagged

[Sign in alley near East 7th St. Downtown, St. Paul.]


Classic Sidewalks of the Silver Screen #22

Sidewalks and alleys in Thailand go crazy...

... as Tony Jaa escapes the evil statue head gang in the wonderful chase scene from Ong-Bak: Thai Warrior (2003).


America Retouched

[This content recycled from my now mothballed website, www.excitablemedia.com. Happy USA Day!]

I gotta tell ya, America, you're not looking so hot. Look at that wrinkly shirt. When's the last time you've been to a laundromat?

America, seriously. Get out of bed, its five in the afternoon. The sun's going down.

America, I remember your smiles. What happened to those?

Look, America, you can stay here for another week, but then you gotta start kicking in some rent, okay?

Hey America! Quit pissing on that tree. You're in the middle of Town Square.

Yeah, that was me waving to you the other day as you walked, or should I say stumbled down Main at three in the afternoon. That was me waving to you, shouting out "America! America," while you turned around the wrong way and fell down on top of your bag of baloney and Wonder Bread. I'm proud of you anyway, America, for getting that far.

[Even in the past...]

America, did you eat the rest of my sausage pizza? I was saving that for tomorrow's lunch. You could ask next time, you know.

Ginsburg is dead, America. Due to that wrinkle with his estate, you're not getting any royalties.

America, thanks for dinner the other night. I never knew a half-can of pork 'n' beans could feed so many.

America, I'm getting the sense that hygiene's not really your thing. Here's a buck, buy some soap.

America, I'm tired of driving you around all night because you're too sauced to remember where you live. Why don't you get out of the car right here?

Sunday is kitchen clean-up day, America. Can I count on you to be there this time? Please?

America, okay, I know you're an allright guy. Remember that time when we did that thing together? That was fun.

America, if I have to pick your dirty socks up off the TV again, I'm gonna scream.

[... children are the future.]

To Anacreon in Heav'n,
Where he sat in full glee,
A few Sons of Harmony
Sent a petition
That he their Inspirer
And Patron would be;
When this answer arrived
From the Jolly Old Grecian:
"Voice, Fiddle, and Flute,
No longer be mute,
I'll lend you my name
And inspire you to boot,

And besides I'll instruct you,
Like me, to intwine
The Myrtle of Venus
With Bacchus's Vine."

--Ralph Tomlinson, To Anecreon in Heaven.
The original lyrics for the melody that became The Star Spangled Banner.

[The future is now.]


Reading the Highland Villager #2 (July 1 - 14 Edition)

[Basically, the problem is that the best source of local streets & sidewalks news in Saint Paul is the Highland Villager. This wouldn't be a problem, except that its not available online. I'm reading the Highland Villager so that you don't have to. Until this newspaper goes online, sidewalk information must be set free.]

Total number of stories about sidewalks: 7
Total number of stories about sidewalks by Jane McClure: 7
Total number of stories likely to piss off Editor Mischke: 0

Title: Controversy over new Walgreens prompts hearing on store's site plan
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The new Walgreen's mentioned last fortnight going in on the corner of Snelling Avenue (directly across the street from an already existing giant Synder's drug store) doesn't violate any city codes. Building the new drug store will mean widening a half block of one of the streets to "better accommodate turning vehicles". The building would be one of those faux two-story buildings that looks like a two-story building but isn't one. People in the neighborhood are PO'd, mostly because of the sheer ludicrous-osity of the way in which stores parasitically compete in America these days [e.g. Starbucks, CVS, or any other retailer. -ed.].

Title: Jefferson Ave. eyed for new bicycle boulevard
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: People in the neighborhood didn't know what to make of the new proposed bicycle boulevard, which was originally scheduled for Highland Parkway but (after tons of complaints) is going to be moved to Jefferson Avenue. [You may recall that Oberstar earmarked some federal $$$ for a bike boulevard in st. Paul a while back, and this is the free money that the city is trying to spend, even though nobody in St Paul seems to like any sort of change. - ed.] The bike boulevard, according to the St Paul Public Works, would run all through the city from W 7th to the Mississippi, and be a primarily bike street, where cars have to yield to bikes. The article doesn't' really explain why this is a good idea, or what a bike boulevard is intended to do [It is intended to empower more bicyclists to use city streets by creating a really safe environment, particularly older or younger people that might not be biking under the current auto-centric street regime. -ed.] Most comments in the article are positive, expressing concern about speeding.

Title: St. Paul sees uptick in requests for Neighborhood STAR funds
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Lots of people are applying for grants for the city. Proposals are mostly for building improvements, including the as-yet-un-begun Penfield Condo development on the Northern edge of Downtown St Paul. [This is the building that still has a sign saying "Coming Fall 2007" in front of a vacant lot. -Ed.]

Title: Judge disallows St. Paul's ban on billboard extensions
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: St Paul can't ban billboard extensions, those bits that stick out over the top or off the side of the billboard. The attempted ban is illegal because it doesn't have reasons. Clear Channel won the lawsuit against the city [which has been trying for a long time to limit billboards and outdoor advertising. -ed.].

Title:Comment sought on Central Corridor light-rail transit EIS
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The final environmental report is out, and people can look at it at the library or online. The public can comment until July 27th [though nobody will pay the slightest bit of attention to your comment. -ed.]. Article mentions the PBHRC, who are upset with the LRT b/c of the loss of parking, increased taxes, and gentrification in general.

Title: Council to decide fate of neighborhoods' dated small area plans
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Old small area plans for all the city's district councils may be thrown out because they are too old. The small area plan for the Summit hill area is mentioned prominently, as being particularly old and needing an update, even though the neighborhood assn for the area still wants to keep it. The plan currently places heavy emphasis on historic preservation. District council people are pissed in general because they update these plans, but then the city doesn't really do anything with them anyway. List of plans that will be "decertified" include: Selby Avenue (1997), Grand Ave West (1983),.

Title: City unveils 2010 bonding requests
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: St Paul is gonna ask the state for money next year: $25 M for the St Paul Saints stadium [Yet another publically funded stadium! -ed.], $20 M for the University Avenue streetscape [Badly badly needed! -ed.], $11 M for the Como Zoo, $17.5 M for the Ordway theater's new concert hall, $5M for turning the old Hamm's brewery into a Asian cultural center, $3M for pedestrian bridges over I-94 at Aldine St. and Mackubin St. [The state will be broke, though. -ed.]

Denny Hecker's Abandoned Car Lots #1

Perhaps it seems unruly to take such pleasure in another's economic pain? Oh well.

Enjoy these photos of Denny Hecker's abandoned car lots, provided by my photographer friend Chris Thompson.

If you have photos of Denny Hecker's abandoned car lots, please send them to... blindeke@gmail.com


[A migratory goose pooping on one of Denny Hecker's abandoned car lots.]

[Star spangled banners yet waving above the empty pavement of one of Denny Hecker's abandoned car lots.]

[A glittering streamer advertising the empty spaces of one of Denny Hecker's abandoned car lots.]