Sidewalk Painters #1: Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper (1882 - 1967) is at the top of my list of favorite sidewalk painters. He treats sidewalks and streets with such loving detail that you know he must have spent a lot of time looking out his Greenwich Village window, into other New York windows, and hanging around in parks. Plus, you have the added melancholic feeling of looking at the old lost, car-sparse city of the 1920s.

At the same time, to me his paintings are almost all about the inevitability of loneliness. All his images of cities and city streets seem to make the city beautiful but oppressive. The public spaces -- streets, cafes, big urban windows -- just seem all the more distant. Looking through his eyes at other people talking intimately always gives me that feeling of being a stranger, of walking through a city where you don't know anyone or anything, of 'not speaking the language'.

In this light, instead of being comforting, Hopper's virtuosic use of light becomes something frightening, alien, and harsh. Here light is something to shy away from. Yikes! Kind of a terrible vision of the city, but one that still enchants me.


"Hopper became a pictorial poet who recorded the starkness and vastness of America. Sometimes he expressed aspects of this in traditional guise, as, for example, in his pictures of lighthouses and harsh New England landscapes; sometimes New York was his context, with eloquent cityscapes, often showing deserted streets at night. Some paintings, such as his celebrated image of a gas-station, Gas (1940), even have elements which anticipate Pop Art. Hopper once said: 'To me the most important thing is the sense of going on. You know how beautiful things are when you're travelling.'

"He painted hotels, motels, trains and highways, and also liked to paint the public and semi-public places where people gathered: restaurants, theatres, cinemas and offices. But even in these paintings he stressed the theme of loneliness - his theatres are often semideserted, with a few patrons waiting for the curtain to go up or the performers isolated in the fierce light of the stage.

[Mark Harden's Artchive]

Urban architecture and cityscapes were also major subjects for Hopper. He was fascinated with the American urban scene, “our native architecture with its hideous beauty, its fantastic roofs, pseudo-gothic, French Mansard, Colonial, mongrel or what not, with eye-searing color or delicate harmonies of faded paint, shouldering one another along interminable streets that taper off into swamps or dump heaps.” [51]

In 1925, he produced House by the Railroad. This classic urban work depicts an isolated Victorian mansion and marked Hopper’s artistic maturity. Critic Lloyd Goodrich praised the work as “one of the most poignant and desolating pieces of realism.”[52] The work is the first of a series of stark urban and rural scenes that uses sharp lines and large shapes, played upon by unusual lighting to capture the lonely mood of his subjects.


Reading the Highland Villager #11 (February 10 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 # of articles about sidewalks: 7
Total # of articles about sidewalks written by Jane McClure: 6

Title: Commissioners reject revised site plan for new Walgreens store
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Yet another story on the endless Walgreen's/Snyder's Ford Parkway affair. Planning Commission unapproved a previous approval of a “site plan” for a new drug store on the corner of Ford Pkwy and Finn St. Article points out how many new members of the commission there are now, and the new members cited the problem that the plan “follows the pattern of auto-oriented land uses, does not bring a mixed-use development to Highland”.

Also, a few commission members argued that the corner has too many vacant storefronts already. The corner entrance is also apparently not really at the corner [a la the atrocious CVS pharmacy at Snelling and University. -ed.].

Title: Decision made on Coldwater Spring Site: Demolition of federal bldgs, restoration of property planned
Author: Kevin Driscoll

Short short version: Eleven “dilapidated” buildings down by the river near Ft Snelling will be demolished, says the Federal Govt.

Title: Light rail chugs on without the benefit of federal funds. State and local officials risk $42M on project that is still awaiting FTA approval.
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: [Alarmist story about] LRT [shenanigans, apparently w/ the hook that the] project is still not approved. [This is par for the course on projets like this? –Ed.]

Title: St Paul won’t collect streetscape assessments until corridor completed
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: St Paul City Council voted to not collect the $2.9M in streetscape assessments from Univ. Ave. property owners until after the LRT line is running in 2014 [knock on wood -Ed.]. Move probably does a lot to assuage nail-biting business owners.

Title: Mixed-use building in Summit hill converted to residential
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Buidlng at 1041 osceola Avenue that has had both storefronts and apartments from 1921 until 1999 will now be a residential only buidling, according to a vote by the St Paul Planning Commission (sought by the owners). The list of businesses that had been in the building included a grocery store, an ice cream shop, a massage center, and a beauty salon.

Title: Village famer's market OK'd by city Planning Commission
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: St Paul Planning Commission is going to allow a farmer's market in Highland Park this summer. It will be behind the Starbucks every Saturday morning (2078 Ford Parkway).

Title: St Paul considers dropping bid for #1M Jefferson Ave. bike blvd. Residents on the east end of Jefferson want it, those on west end aren't so sure
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Article detailing how the $750,000 in Federal pilot program money to build a "bike boulevard" [a street designed explicitly for safe biking, which would still allow cars, in the interest of encouraging people who don't bicycle regularly, such as children and older people, to do so. This works because Bike boulevards are far safer than bike lanes. -Ed.] in Saint Paul may get scuttled because of a lack of political ability to change transportation dynamics in the Capitol City. [Once again, this illustrates how Saint Paul can't do anything even remotely revolutionary. Minneapolis is going ahead with bike boulevards, only with far less money devoted to the projects. -Ed.] The sticking point is the citizens on the West End of the street, where neither the Macalester-Groveland neighborhood group, nor City Coucilmember Pat Harris, is supporting the project.

Update: According to my research, this issue has since been laid over twice by the City Council, and will next be on the agenda on March 10th.


Twin Cities Shop Windows #1

[Downtown Saint Paul.]

[Midtown Manhattan.]

[University/Raymond, Saint Paul.]

[Downtown Minneapolis.]

[Kingfield, South Minneapolis.]


Sidewalk of the Week: South 5th Street

A few months ago, a little news story passed over my desktop. It was about a “guerrilla sidewalk” that one day appeared in a vacant (city owned) lot on Cedar Avenue. Unbeknownst to the city, some neighborhood locals banded together to install a sidewalk. “Foul!”, cried the planning commissioner. “Safe footsteps”, replied the neighborhood. This mystery sidewalk caused no large stir, but (as you can imagine) piqued my interest.

Without missing a step, I found myself walking over to Cedar-Riverside to investigate. For those of you unfamiliar with it, Cedar-Riverside is probably the most interesting spot in the Twin Cities, a historic immigrant mishmash that bears the scars of all possible eras of Midwestern American planning. Bordered on all sides by a trio of freeways and the Mississippi River, it has a ton of old brick mixed-use commercial buildings, an ever dwindling stock of 19th century slapped together wooden homes, a trio of massive post-war institutions, a few low-density pedestrian housing projects, and the largest clump of high rise ‘project’ public housing this side of Chicago’s South Side. Today, whirling mix of Somalis, hippies, frat boys and people with too much education, it’s a fascinating place to be for a city-phile.

At first, the sidewalk in question seems like nothing special. It lies in the vacant lot between the Nomad World Pub/West Bank Social Center and a two-storey building that houses a bunch of Somali coffee shops, a mosque, and a grocery. Its back side abuts a parking lot shared by a bunch of other buildings, including K-Wok Asian Restaurant, Hard Times CafĂ©, and some old apartments. (This particular vacant lot also boasts Minneapolis’s only bona fide memorial obelisk.)

[A guerrilla sidewalk cutting through a vacant lot.]

[Two desire paths leading through the snowdrifts.]

All the uses on all sides means that this vacant lot sees a lot of foot traffic. I’ve cut through this lot many times myself, on my way to or from any of the wonderful places on Cedar. Because of the heavy use, it bears some emergent footpaths (also called “desire paths”, because they are formed by the people’s collective off-road desires). So, in a way, its only natural that someone, somewhere should take it upon themselves to pave the path. (The logic is quite wonderful, actually, resembling an experiment I heard about once where a University campus landscaper left it up to the collective student body to determine which parts of the green space should be paved.)

[This particular vacant lot sits at the intersection of a bunch of destinations.]

Of course, the city didn’t see it that way. They own this particular property (and a lot of other property in the C-R), and even though city funds didn’t have to pay for the sidewalk, if ever the lot is sold and built upon, the sidewalk will undoubtedly cost more to destroy than that gravel that preceded it.

But there’s something more at work about this act of sidewalk resistance. What at first appears as transgression may just be an act of restoration. Not too long ago, before the engineers of ‘urban renewal’ got their freeway’d fingers on Cedar-Riverside, this particular vacant lot used to be a public street. South 5th Street runs, very awkwardly, into the back of this spot, dead-ending into an access alley. My guess is that the 60s planners chose to cut off the street to keep traffic from congesting Cedar Avenue, which became a key through-way for traffic between the awkward intercourse of Interstates 94 and 35-W. (That’s one reason why Cedar Avenue, which runs through one of the most pedestrian-heavy parts of the entire city, is a four-lane, parking-deprived, narrow-sidewalk’d travesty.)

[The intersection of Cedar and Riverside as it looked from above in 1947 (courtesy of the Borchert Map Library) ...

[ ... and the same place today, post multi-institutional makeover.]

Meanwhile, even after all these years, this bit of gravel covered ex-street could not be repressed. Just because some plan had it marked for a building didn’t mean that it didn’t make a lot of sense as a connecting point for foot traffic. This spot is haunted by the ghost of sidewalks past. The old corner of 5th and Cedar, strangely still marked by a stoplight, continues to whisper at the feet of the adventurous. And this sidewalk, which seemingly sprang from out of nothing, might merely mark the long-dormant rebirth of old Cedar Avenue. It may be the first sign of a spring in your step, after a long winter of concrete and modernism.

[The looming presence of Cedar-Riverside towers over the ghost of South 5th Street.]


*** Sidewalk Weekend *** #36

Sidewalk Rating: Transitional

One side of the street has snow. The other side has mud. You know its that time of year when your bipolar disorder has arrived.

Go for a walk. Just make sure one of your shoes is a rubber boot.

*** Hypocrisy City ***
[Sidewalk vigilante justice, taking it to the man, taking it to the streets.]

*** Asphalt is organic ***
[Pothole Pawlenty strikes again and again and again and again and again...]

*** Bike parking is free ***
[Parking meter recycling.]

*** Sketchy ***
[So much depends on a giant snowpile.]

*** The best mustachio dancing in 100 years ***
[The most awesome old Minneapolis ad.]

*** Slumburbia ***
[The new 'hood.]

*** What NE looks like after a night on the town ***

*** Slime mold is smarter than you are ***
[A slime mold grows in(to) Brooklyn.]

Classic Sidewalks of the Silver Screen #28

Gene Hackman and a mime awkwardly share space in a San Fransisco park...

... in the opening sequence from Coppola's The Conversation (1974).


Snow Morality

[This groundhog does not care about the weather.]

My latest pet peeve has to do with the weather. I've become terribly annoyed by the way that meteorologists and reporters describe weather as either “good” or “bad.”



After enough repetition, you start to think that snow is the end of the world. Well isn't that a little presumptuous?

Maybe its my childhood memories of the great Halloween blizzard that left me “trapped” inside my house, not having to go to school, forced to play in my snowsuit, and clutching a pillowcase absolutely filled with candy, but I kind of like it when it snows.

News broadcasters take great liberties by assuming that certain kinds of weather are better than others. I distinctly remember getting annoyed at MPR describing an unseasonal November thaw (60 degrees) with something akin to Schadenfreude. It was as if Gary Eichten had personally warmed the Earth with his “folksy” Minnesotan accent.

The thing that got me stewing, though, was that the news broadcasters assumed that warm summer weather was a good thing in the middle of November. The assumed that warmth was good, cool temperatures were bad, and that all Minnesotans want to live in a mid-continental Los Angeles.

Au contraire!

Barring natural disasters, there is no such thing as “good” or “bad” weather. There is only weather that is “good for” certain things, and “bad for” other things.

There is weather that is good for jogging, and weather that is good for snowballs. There is weather that is good for skiing, and weather that is good for staying inside with a warm cup of tea and a book. There is weather that is good for growing corn, and weather that is good for long walks on the beach.

Instead of appreciating what different kinds of weather can be “good for”... Instead of liking snow for what it is (white, powdery, tree-accenting, slow-falling, gravity revealing, friction-undoing, unique, stratified, semi-solid water precipitation)... we focus on how it changes our commute on the Interstate. It's as if journalists have been replaced by a gaggle of transportation engineers describing the world through standard-issue petroleum-colored glasses. Every time a Minnesotan looks at the falling snow and thinks only of her commute to work, somewhere a small and beautiful bird is crushed to death.

Here in the upper Midwest, we have a rather unique climate that is marked by extremes. Far from the mollifying effect of warm, current-filled oceans, we have stark opposites. This time of year, after months of snow, its hard to remember what grass looks like, or whether or not trees ever were covered by leaves. But that doesn’t mean that summer is better than winter.

A few years ago I picked up a rather ravenous cross country ski habit, and ever since then I’ve been loving winter weather. I’m particularly fond of late February, with its powdery snow, warm days, and late afternoon sunshine.

[Snow is beautiful, and fun to play in. This is true even if you are an adult.]


Reading the Highland Villager #10 (January 27 2010 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 # of articles about sidewalks: 7
Total # of articles about sidewalks written by Jane McClure: 7

Title: Remember Rondo! African-American groups threaten to sue Central Corridor planners to prevent light rail from harming the neighborhood the way I-94 did.
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: This article could be re-titled: "Baseless Lawsuit Raises Legitimate Gripes". Essentially a report on the lawsuit from a coalition in the Black community between the StP NAACP and business owners. The list of complaints includes "failure to include three tnrasit stations" [ironic, given the next story. -Ed.], "violations of the NEPA and other laws meant to promote social justice, and "overlook[ing] the series of disruptions that have affected the adjacent neighborhood over the past half-century". [None of these seem like legitimate reasons for opposing the LRT, except for allegations of social injustice that are a lot more complicated than a transit project. -Ed.] Lots of quotes from community leaders. Key ideas here: MPR and the UMN started a feeding frenzy competition for limited gov't money. Buried at the end of the piece is this key concern: "[Plaintiffs] are also asking for mitigation funds to help businesses threatened by the lost parking during and after the light-rail line's construction". [This money is what the whole thing is about. -Ed.]

Title: Rule change raises hopes along Central Corridor. Prospects improve for three more University Ave. transit stations.
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: As has been reported elsewhere, the Obama administration's change to the Cost Effectiveness Index (CEI) means that the three stations at Hamline, Victoria, and Western Avenues will be built. Quotes from bigwigs Coleman, Carter III, and Peter Bell.

Title: Streetscape assessment decision postponed
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: StP city council delayed a vote on how to fund the [absolutely vital -Ed.] streetscape inprovements to University Avenue [Sidewalks, lampposts, etc. -Ed.] over concerns over tax assessments from business owners along the street. [The City has since passed this. -Ed.] The city is asking for property owners to chip in $2.9M for the project.

Title: St Paul to lobby legislature with 15 pages of bonding requests
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Not much sidewalk related info here other than a $10M request from the state to help pay for the aforementioned streestscape improvements. Sidewalk-related requests also mentioned: extension of the TIF-district that funded the Snelling and University "Spruce Tree Center" [The most god-awful building in Saint Paul! -Ed.], $25M for a lowertown StP Saints stadium, and $3M for rebuilding pedestrian bridges over I-94 at Aldine and Mackubin Streets.

Title: County's wish list supports holding onto what it already gets from state.
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Similar to above article, except for Ramsey County. Prominently mentions the $10M for University Ave streetscaping.

Title: Planning commissioners postpoint Walgreens vote. Highland Village site plan is hung up over questions about the Snyders next door.
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Hopefully the last in the comical story of the Ford Parkway drugstores. Apparently, even though Walgreens bought Snyders, they still want to go ahead and build a new drugstore on the corner (across the street from the old drugstore, which they also now control). [This perfectly illustrates the idea of 'cannibal retail', that new retail construction only cannibalizes the old retail. Shopping malls, chain restaurants, and Super Targets are all eating each other at the expense of consumers, real estate, and construction waste. -Ed.]

Title: Grand Old Day 2010. Stage set for return of -on-street imbibing.
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Somehow, Grand Old Day organizers got neighbors around Dale and St. Albans streets to agree to have an outdoor "festival garden" on a block of Grand Avenue next year. ["Festival Garden"? Because nothing says "garden" like endless piles of greasy, beery paper trash. Who are they kidding with that branding? What about "Vomitorium"? or "Frat Boy Holding Pen"? -Ed.] This would include a stage and beer consumption in massive quantities. [I just wish the music at GOD didn't suck so much. -Ed. ]


Twin Cites Shovelers #2

[A woman just finishing her 2nd Street sidewalk shovel. NE Minneapolis.]

[A woman shoveling her Western Avenue driveway. North End Saint Paul.]

[A triumphant man, post-shovel. North End Saint Paul.]

[A man works on his steps. North End Saint Paul.]

[A man demonstrates the 'hook shovel' toss on his walkway. North End Saint Paul.]

[A woman clears off the co-op entryway. Selby-Dale Saint Paul.]

[A man trimming his steps. North End Saint Paul.]

[A snow-suited man clears off his Maryland Avenue driveway. North End Saint Paul.]

[A man takes it to the next level, with a jackhammer. Como-Front Saint Paul.]


This post will change your life!

[No matter how much you shovel, this is bound to happen eventually.]

Q: Are you a Minnesotan planning to move to Tuscon, Arizona? Fort Meyers, Florida? Buying a timeshare in Mexico?

A: If so, you are not alone. Thousands of Minnesotans of a certain age flock to warmer climes in the winter, seeking the sun, searching for escape from the extremes of climactic variation.

But what makes them go? Is it the cold? The darkness? The lack of flowers or green things?

I’d be willing to guess that the #1 reason people flee the tundra is that the ice makes you feel like a hampster in a wok. If you’re of a certain age, you’re justifiably terrified of slipping and falling on icy sidewalks. That’s the kind of accident that can dramatically, and irreversibly change your life. And, as this winter’s quick freeze/thaw cycles prove, its almost impossible to keep streets and sidewalks free of ice and snow. For many Minnesotans, the choices is clear: stay inside or risk certain death.

Well, into this dark void comes a shining hero, ready to step in and clamp down on winter’s slippery slope. Yes, I am talking about Yak Trax.

I was talking with my mother the other day and she started gushing about this new invention. She got a pair, and all of a sudden winter was her playground once again. She could walk down the driveway to get the mail. She could go into and out of her car without fear. No longer confined to the indoor parking garage, she was giddily describing how many sidewalks and snowbanks she had successfully escalated. YakTrax had changed her life!

I’m kind of a luddite, but could this be one of those rare cases of true technological liberation?

Particularly during the winter, technology has a very subtle role to play in our daily lives. We wear clothes that give keep our warmth. Insulation and furnaces, fires and long-distance fruit shipments keep linked to warmer worlds. Cell phones, those magical memory machines, keep us from our cabin fever. TVs offer antidotes to loneliness. Imagine what it would be like to live without electric lights? Our days would be shorter indeed.

But there’s a way that the best kinds of technology end up becoming invisible changing our ways of life from the closest possible distance. In a way, the glasses on our noses are far beyond the horizon. We take them for granted. They escape our notice. Technology is too close.

So its about time that technology stepped in and saved Minnesota winter. So instead of running away to the desert or the swamp, strap on a pair of YakTrax and start living the icy high life.

[This Brianna Lane song seems to be about YakTrax.]