NIMBY is Code for Property Values

[Woodbury's Stonemill Farms, land of diversity and tolerance.]

Following the ins and outs of local development and zoning debates can be an overwhelming experience. Heated arguments about "quality of life" or "preserving the character of the neighborhood" make you wonder what people are talking about.

These empty words fade away, and all you see is the mortal combat. On one side, a horde of frothing, pitchforked parents and homeowners masses at the door of city hall demanding justice, peace, and eternal stasis for the green green grass of suburbia. On the other side, some befuddled non-profit employee stands blinkingly watching her years of hard work and fundraising vanish in a poof of bureaucratic smoke.

The Star Tribune today has a surprisingly interesting look at how one such debate in the bougie community of "Stonemill Farms" in Woodbury, which is adamantly opposed to the proposed siting of an Alzheimer's patient clinic. People are arguing that scary old people will slaughter their children, or something. "Not in my backyard!", they scream. Old people must live somewhere else, far from my golf course.

In addition to the battle of Woodbury v. the elderly, the article includes this long list of recent NIMBY problems in other Twin Cities' neighborhoods:

Though the proposals may vary, the concerns of the Woodbury neighborhood have been expressed in many metro communities in recent months:

• Plans for an eating-disorder clinic in Orono by the nonprofit Emily Program were scrapped last week after fierce neighborhood opposition. The program is now looking at other cities to locate.

• Signs have gone up in Edina's Countryside Neighborhood voicing opposition to the scope of plans for a four-story, 150-unit senior housing complex being developed in partnership with Colonial Church.

• In August, plans to add a foster home in Centerville for four teenage boys with developmental and mental disabilities were derailed after neighbors objected.

• In 2008, more than 120 residents signed a petition against a planned expansion of Martin Luther Manor in Bloomington. Several other developments for seniors in that city have also drawn opposition.

• In New Brighton, plans for the church-affiliated Clifton House -- at six beds the smallest nursing home in the state -- drew neighborhood opposition before being approved two years ago.

It's so ironic that people in the outer burbs are worried about this kind of thing. Places like Woodbury, Orono, and Edina are the kind of places where, thanks to the total lack of sidewalks, you never, ever have to meet your neighbors. Yards are huge, and well-fortified. Subdivisions have walls, moats, and berms. Driveways are endless, and often hemi-spheric. SUVs march around like hummers through the green zone. How is housing for the elderly a major threat?

Liquid and chimeric, NIMBY can take many forms. But Reporter Jim Anderson does a good job of laying the blame, often a confusing mishmash of ideas like security, safety, threat, change, anxiety, etc., at the foot of the real problem.

The Alzheimer's facility is the latest in a growing list of projects across the metro that are meeting resistance from neighbors who perceive a threat to their communities or fear their property values will erode.

[The St Croix river, where change in my backyard is OK as long as its made by rich people.]

This point is rather perfectly illustrated by another article in today's Star Tribune, about the desire for more local control over land use along the St. Croix river, just on the other border of Afton from the threatening Woodbury old-folks home. Here, change is seen as a good thing by local people, but only if that change comes in the form of local media mogul (L.) Ron Hubbard's new riverside mansion.

Really, the only way to explain the many paradoxes of NIMBY-ism is through property values, which are all based on perceptions of what people think other people this is valuable. On the one hand, it's hard to blame people for feeling this way. Most Americans have absolutely no fiscal worth apart from their homes. A lot is at stake when the county assessor comes over to visit, and tiny differences in the perception of a neighborhood (e.g. whether there is a 'facility' nearby) can make a big dollar difference for a lot of people.

But on the other hand, this concern for maintaining every last dollar of one's equity leads to the most perverse sorts of discrimination. Everything now hinges on maintaining the facade of wealth and stability. Symbolic front yards (that must never, ever be used) become very important. Fake pillars proliferate. Anything that smacks of 'the city' must be exorcised. Old people, Alzheimer's patients, "low-income" anything, any sort of diversity... these are all kept at maximum possible distances. Over time, as more and more of these diverse land uses get placed in the politically easiest spots (Minneapolis' Whittier neighborhood), our metro area becomes a starkly segregated place.

Sidewalk Poem #1

Who was it that said it all in a homegrown tango
Whose drawn-out, lovely sweetness made me pause
Under some unassuming little balconies
In that leafy neighborhood that isn't even yours?

All I know is that in its sorrow I saw a simple yard
Within whose earthen walls the whole sunset fit,
A place I'd glimpsed a few months ago in some slum,
And that I loved you more than ever, hearing it.

Caught in that music, I stayed there on the sidewalk
Facing the lonesome moon, the heart of the street,
In the relentless wind that came down driving the night.

That infinite tango pulled me toward everything.
Toward the fresh stars. Toward the chance of being a man.
And toward that clear memory my eyes keep seeking.

[Jorge Luis Borges, from The Sonnets.]

[Sidewalk in Buenos Aires. Img fm Blmurch.]


Is IDS center a "good tall building"?

"There is abundant evidence to show that high buildings make people crazy."

I've been becoming a big fan of Nikos Salingranos' work lately (he us #11 on the Top 100). His models of urban space as networks are very interesting.

But what do you think about his 'tall building' theory? He believes that tall buildings are almost always bad ideas, from both social and environmental points of view. The taller a building is, the more of its interior space that must be taken up with structural materials. He argues that 4-6 story buildings are an optimum balance between energy efficiency and density. (You can see his whole talk at the bottom of this post.)

However, Salingaros does admit that certain tall buildings can be good parts of the urban fabric. While Salingaros is probably intending to talk about older 'skyscrapers', like the Flatiron Building in New York City, when I see this list of good qualities I think of the the IDS center. Of all the large skyscrapers I've been in, the IDS center with its "crystal court" is by far my favorite. Somehow it manages to reasonably mimic an actual public space.

If tall buildings are indeed energy sucking gateways to insanity, the IDS center might be the best of the worst.

[Salingaros' 20 minute talk on the social and energy costs of tall buildings.]


Hey, look at that. Twin Cities. That’s the IDS Building, the big glass one. Tallest skyscraper in the Midwest - after the uh, Sears, in, uh, Chicago, or John Hancock Building, whatever. You ever been to Minneapolis?
Steve Buscemi - Fargo (1996)


Signs of the Times #17



The plants are not an ashtray.
Please dispose of cigs and gum in garbage can provided.

[Tree and labeled can provided. Dinkytown, Minneapolis.]

Mary 2009

[Doorway. Northeast, Minneapolis.]

Got Joy?

[Woman. The Strip, Las Vegas.]

May 28, '69

[Yard. St. Anthony Park, Saint Paul.]


[Yard. Northeast, Minneapolis.]

Do not push on doors
Until GREEN LIGHT above doors
is lit.

No need to shove hard -
Push Firm & Steady

Thank You

[Bus door. Minneapolis.]

Tax Cuts

[Woman. Loring Park, Minneapolis.]

Yes We Can

[Yard. Twin Cities.]

John OFF
the Week of
the 31st


Tom off 4 to 6
WEEKS Having

[Barber Shop Door. North End, Saint Paul.]

[Rickshaw. West Bank, Minneapolis.]


Twin City Street Musicians #4

[Harmonica player on Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis.]

[Guitar player in the University tunnels. West Bank, Minneapolis.]

[Trumpeter. Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis.]

[Singer. Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis.]

[Guitar and violin duo. Washington, DC.]

[Saxophone player. Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis.]

[Guitar player. Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis.]

[Guitar player on the University campus. West Bank, Minneapolis.]

[Trumpeter. Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis.]

[Guitar player. Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis.]


*** Sidewalk Weekend *** #37

Sidewalk Rating: Melting

This the kind of weather that makes people from warm climates scratch their heads as they see Minnesotans walk around in flip-flops and T-shirts in 40 degree weather.

Well, get out there and talk a hike around your neigborhood. Extra points if you spot 'grass' for the first time in five months. (That is the green stuff scattered about on the ground.)

*** If every food review could be as good as this ... ***

*** Mini-Mineapolis ***

*** The Underground Music Scene ***

*** Maybe we should all wear helmets? ***

*** Spring Cleaning ***

*** No Sitting ***

*** On Top of the World ***

*** Whistles Far and Wee ***

*** Winter Could Always Be Worse File ***

Special PSA: Joel Kotkin's Future is Stuck in the Past

[Joel Kotkin & robot in his flying car suburbia.]

Some of you may have heard, as I did, "urban futurist" Joel Kotkin interviewed on Kerri Miller this morning.

Kotkin is a slippery bastard. He's probably the most visible of the anti-urbanist rear guard that is fighting to hold on to suburban sprawl for as long as they can. Along with folks like Randall O'Toole, Wendell Cox, and Robert Breuggman, Kotkin basically devotes his life to murking the waters about the environmental, economic, and social benefits of cities (transit, density, mixed-use &c). He mixes neoclassical economic liberalism with anti-urbanist ideology in such a willy-nilly way that its difficult to separate out which of the things he says are fabrications, imaginations, 'mainstream American economics', or actual common sense. (For example, when he talks about the myth of the information economy, or the need for a WPA-style jobs program, I agree with him.)

But the one thing that is certain is that Kotkin doesn't buy the idea that our environmental footprint is too large. The first half hour of the interview was basically a defense of unregulated suburban sprawl, and all the car trips, infrastructure costs, large home and retail construction, and metropolitan segregation that suburbia entails. The end result of Kotkin's "vision" is further marginalization of poor communities in segregated urban neighborhoods, and a continuation of energy intensive growth for growth's sake.

If he was speaking in 1950, his message that cities will be multi-polar, downtowns will lose their dominance, suburbs will grow, and the consumer economy will continue unabated might actually be interesting news. As it is, a visit to Kotkin's "New Geography" magazine is on par with the Paleo-Future website. He seems to be oblivious to the many growing and real problems that our communities are facing: scarce energy resources, climate change, severe imbalance between the global south and the global north.

If you listen carefully to the interview, you will hear Kotkin admit that he's being wildly optimistic. He pitches that 'power of positive thinking' argument, that we need to believe in "success" in order to achieve success. (If by success, you mean SUVs and gated McMansions.) Well, that's also a great way to delude yourself. In the end, Kotkin does nothing but pull the wool over our eyes, while maintaining the belief that we can use suburbia to build a house of cards.

Let it be known: Joel Kotkin sucks.

And the opportunity came along this week when Joel Kotkin, the New America Foundation fellow with a fondness for sprawl and a fear of "climate-change zealots [being] in our faces and wallets," took to the pages of Politico.

Kotkin's full piece, entitled "Smart growth must not ignore drivers," can be found here. Streetsblog's re-mix, entitled "Smart growth must not ignore is not the enemy of drivers," is below.


According to neo-pseudo-centrist (best political label I can hang on him, implying he’s a kinder, gentler paleo-neo-con hybrid) Kotkin, environmentalists are why California is in the crapper. Or, to be more specific, they’re the prime cause of California’s narcissism:
The modern environmental movement often adopts a largely misanthropic view of humans as a “cancer” unalloyed evil, gobbling up resources and spewing planet-heating greenhouse gases.

This is wrong historically, sociologically, environmentally and more.



Pothole Pawlenty's Precarious Patchwork

You may have noticed that this winter spring, we've had the largest outburst of pothole related news stories in living memory. Seemingly every news organization has devoted teams of reporters to covering the start of the 'pothole filling season' (something that happens every year).

It's gotten to the absurd point where you'd think that the opening of the Saint Paul Asphalt Plant was akin to the naming of the next Pope.

[Crowds of onlookers watch as a puff of white smoke comes out of the Saint Paul Asphalt Plant chimney.]

Of course, its hard to blame increasingly desperate news editors. The potholes this winter are cavernous, the worst that anyone can remember.

My mother got a flat tire when she hit one the other day on a Freeway on-ramp. And a good friend of mine got a flat tire when she hit a pothole on Saint Paul's Raymond Avenue a few weeks ago. She pulled into the nearest parking lot to fix her flat, and during the 10 minutes that she was there, two other cars pulled into the lot with flat tires from the same pothole. It's a good time to get into the suspension repair business.

We must ask ourselves, what's behind this rash of potholes and pothole-centered news coverage? It is a coincidence? Happenstance?

Potholes form because of the happy fact that water expands when it freezes. Each winter, when the freeze/thaw cycle begins, water works its way down into the layers of asphalt and gravel, breaking apart the materials underneath the roadway. It's an inevitable process that gets worse over time, as cracks grow and the foundation underneath the roadbed becomes increasingly unstable over time. It leads to all sorts of different forms of driving disintegration. The only solution, apart from the temporary patches of hot pothole infill, are to re-make, re-surface, or re-pave every road every 10 - 20 years.

[A scientist explains the nature of potholes.]

Needless to say, that kind of road maintenance is very expensive. And transportation budgets are running in the red at every level of government, from the Feds on down to the townships. Barring the impossible hike in the gas tax, there's little chance that roads will be improving anytime soon.

Pothole'd pavement is just the most visible example of what a 'don't tax the rich' policy does to basic government services. For every pothole you hit with your front wheel, someone in the state goes without necessary health care.

[This pothole is dedicated in honor of cuts to state health care for the poor.]

So, drivers of the Twin Cities, imagine a future filled with potholes. What might this look like?

At one level, I'm kind of pleased. Potholes are like inverse speed bumps, and will probably force cars to slow down or risk destroying their undercarriage. On the other hand, a friend of mine hit a pothole on his bike that practically destroyed his rear wheel.

[Spelunking is an excellent hobby and fun for the whole family.]


[Public Radio's latest riveting piece of investigative journalism.]

The Incredible Disappearing Riverside Avenue Bike Lane!

My favorite recent bike-friendly move by Minneapolis was the decision last November to re-stripe Riverside Avenue. The calmed road down from 2 lanes + parking each way to 1 lane + a bike lane + parking each way.

[Wow! Riverside Avenue lost 100 lbs. with this Amazing Weight-Loss Formula!]

This was, I hoped, the first in a series of road diets that Minneapolis might initiate. Riverside Avenue on the West Bank is a great candidate for a road diet because of the large number of pedestrians, and the dense mix of residential and commercial buildings.

But, I'm not sure what kind of paint the city used for their re-striping, because there's no sign of it today. I know that winter can be hard on pavement, but how does brand new paint disappear from the roadway?

[Oh No! Riverside Avenue gained back all its weight in only 6 months!]

Now, just like before, cyclists have to contend with four lanes of weaving drivers speeding down the pothole-ridden stretch of Riverside Avenue.

Its dangerous, unpleasant, and this road really isn't big enough for 4 lanes of traffic anyway.

Yet another piece of half-assed bicycle infrastructure brought to you by Minneapolis Public Works?


Sidewalk Game #1: Lakewalk

When: Early in the morning during the springime

Object: When you see an icy patch on the sidewalk, pretend its a giant, deep lake. Try to walk across the ice without it cracking. If you break the ice, you fall to your watery grave.

[Caution! Thin Ice!]


Weather Weathering

[This content recycled from my now-mothballed website, www.excitablemedia.com.]

Surprised as I was when my back bedroom window wouldn't open, when it stuck and I strained and struggled and my reddening cheeks betrayed clenched teeth, I was more surprised when it opened suddenly and I sprang back and it sprung up a full foot just as a great gust blew in from the West blowing a massive cloud of dust smack into my face, an angry beeswarm of dirt and motes from months of accumulation, having lain there taking on a life of their own, veritably crawling, until gale-force fate took hold and blew it up into my suddenly hack-hewn mug. Achoo!


Opening up is hard to do, apparently. I've been trying my whole life, and I'm still a shrink-wrapped clamshell, an unemancipated Houdini, an outgoing misanthropic cocoon if one there ever was. But it sure helps to know I'm not alone. According to a 50-cent beige paperback I found in Salvation Army, Pandora opened up her box in a failed attempt at revenge against Prometheus for stealing fire from Olympus. Her name translates as "all gifts" and, if scholars are believed, her release of formerly-boxed abstractions like the blasé "all-the-evil-in-the-world" into the open air is a requisite corrolary to Promethean (trans. "one who can see quite far") technological hubris. From where I'm standing, that's right on. I'd spent half the year in an energy-efficient hole, a little hive devoted to preserving and prolonging the scant gas-fed flame in my basement. Millenia of technological Wintry adaptations have resulted in thick layers of granite-fill insulation blown between various plasters, sheetrocks, aluminum sidings, and the sub-zero outside world, and all its necessary consequences: dust, dirt, dead skin cells, now forgotten as all here-to-fore impervious surfaces are refenestrated.


This great outcoming isn't all in my head. You see it everywhere as people emerge blinking onto their porches to spin their bare arms about their heads like teeter-totting toddlers or tops. I've seen stoop-sitting sights, believe you me. A tweed-sporting man sitting on the frightfully-close-to-the-sidewalk white clapboard steps, looking wordlessly right at me with a great Cheshire smile and holding a cigar horizontally in front of his face mustache . . . did he disappear when I turned round for another glimpse? There was a lady tucked on the corner of her three-season with half-rimmed glasses on the end of her nose, reading something alongside a glass of red, two identical cats draped onto the porch steps ten feet away, who looked up with a smile so faint that it wasn't. There are the inevitable bar-b-ques, one of which I walked past while peramblating 'round rapidly gentrifying Nord-East, and the man beckoned us over with his olfactory Hello, declaring himself the best cooker of venison this side of South Carolina, while his silent friend remained stoically opposite. No doubt that people are opening up.

Me, in particular. Every time I see an "open" sign in a shop window my heart skips a beat. I go to art openings just to bask in the warm scent of ten dozen minglers. I've installed Dutch doors in my foyer--those that are bifuracted horizontally--to the end of doubling my open-and-shut possibilities. It's all going well so far, what with my open-toed sandals, my open-minded philosophy, my open-face sandwiches leading to open-heart surgery, opening up the V8 on the open road in my open-air automobile injects gaiety into what little time I have left before my open-marriages catch up with me.

But don't let thoughts of speed and purpose mislead. Like parachutes, openness really does slow you down. Not only can you waste a whole afternoon inspecting the minute openings of a springtime flower, but each old-fashioned rolltop desk inadvertently left open, every open door of every bank vault, each paneless window beckons with possibility such that I find myself daily lost in myriad social crevasses, the gaps and whimsy within the social façade. I can't walk past any perforation into the membrane of what's seen without wondering whys and whats.

And when the external lets me down, I can retreat back to my own orfices: ears and noses and bungholes, for example spending an hour pulling off a forearm scab left from when I tripped last week and gouged myself on a rusted pitchfork, leaving quite some flesh wound, to which, like a wounded animal, I have returned time and again, picking and prodding at this gap in my epidermal outside. To stick your finger in there and poke--despite the pain, isn't it the most interesting opening?

[Existentialist trappings.]


Reading the Highland Villager #12 (February 24 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: 6
Total # of articles about sidewalks written by Jane McClure: 6

Title: Walgreens drafts third site plan for Highland Village. Development would encompass vacated Snyders property
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The latest [nearly identical] story about a long saga over big box pharamacy store construction on Ford Parkway. [In the last round, the new Planning Commission rejected the proposal because it was not pedestrian-friendly. -Ed.] The new plan will not include a drive through lane. The article references how failure to design a building around the corner of the intersection can be overcome by the inclusion of an architectural "vertical element" at the corner [a la the atrocious CVS at Snelling and University -Ed].

Title: Commission denies request for auto sales on West 7th
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A guy who owns a car repair shop cannot sell cars on his lot, according to the St Paul Planning Commission.

Title: Coleman replaces longtime planning commissioners with his appointees
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Very interesting article on the details of Planning Commission appointments. Apparently the mayor has just installed a large new contingent of Commissioners, something that is not done all that frequently in the Capitol City. [Worth a read if you're a process junkie. Hizzoner the Mayor is apparently trying to change things. One example might be the above Walgreens situation, where the new Commissioners seemed to really have made a difference in development and planning policy. -Ed.]

Title: On-street festival garden idea nixed for this Grand Old Day
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Follow-up to recent article on allowing a "festival garden" [i.e. "frat boy pen" -Ed.] at the East End of Grand Avenue for the GOD.

Title: Lawsuits, complaints continue to mount over Central Corridor line
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Boilerplate LRT history piece, with updates about a meeting held by a business association. Features business owners [Ax-Man! -Ed.] complaining about the loss of parking.

Title: West 7th Federation asked to revise district plan
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: After years of waiting for a response from the city, the proposed neighborhood district plan for the W 7th area is now out of date, as the economy has crashed and there is almost no hope of rehabbing the old Schmidts Brewery.