*** Sidewalk Weekend! *** #43

Sidewalk Rating: Climate-controlled

Restless, they finally pull out to honeycomb the narrow streets for an hour of endless tight right turns: falafel joint, jazz joint, gyro joint, corner. Schoolyard, creperie, realtor, corner. Tenement, tenement, tenement museum, corner. Pink Pony, Blind Tiger, muffin boutique, corner. Sex shop, tea shop, synagogue, corner. Boulangerie, bar, hat boutique, corner. Iglesia, gelateria, matzo shop, corner. Bollywood, Buddha, botanica, corner. Leather outlet, leather outlet, leather outlet, corner. Bar, school, bar, school, People's Park, corner. Bling shop, barbershop, car service, corner.

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[Interactive & immersive daguerrotype panorama of Cincinnati's Ohio Riverfront c. 1848.]

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[Good bike lane signage...]

*** ***

[... bad bike lane signage.]

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[Surprisingly pretty.]

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[This makes LA's rush hour look more like Peoria's.]

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[Zonday speaks about streetcars, his addiction to cars.]

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[The generic skylines of Nolan's films point to the anxiety of nondescript blandness.]

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[The best community garden sign in the TC?]

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[Almost as good as Walter Ruttman's original.]

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["Parking lots are also surprisingly civic. People politely observe rules of behavior for the sake of the common good, parking between the lines, staying out of the handicapped spaces, driving slowly. It is one place where cars and pedestrians happily coexist."..... I don't think so, Witold.]

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[This has a certain early CGI appeal, complete w/ casio-generated simcity jazz soundtrack.]

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[Maybe this guy lives on CGI University Avenue?]

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[Posted without comment.]

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View 2010 Mpls. Homicides in a larger map

[MPR demonstrates a wonderful & sad use of Google Maps. (Since corrected using Ed Kohler's excellent guidelines.)]

*** ***

[Ebenezer Howard comes back to life in Dubai.]


Name That Sidewalk! #4

It's time once again for another Name That Sidewalk! (To the winner of the previous Name That Sidewalk!, your prize is finally in the mail. I promise.)

[Click to enlarge.]

The winner will receive a prized copy of James Howard Kunstler's post-oil novel, The World Made By Hand, in the mail at some point in the future.

Minneapolis Ranked #1 in "On a stick"-based Journalism Clichés

Minneapolis boasts a healthy lead* over the nation, and the world, when it comes to placing the words "on a stick" into news articles, television reports, and jokes, according to Google Trends-based research.

For years, the upper Midwestern city has boasted 20% higher rates of "on a stick" searches and content generation than its closest competitors, the California cities of Irvine, San Diego, and Los Angeles.

According to a recently released careful study, "on a stick" journalism and interest typically follows an annual cycle, peaking each year in late August and early September.

"I was so excited by this news, I grabbed the nearest stick I could find and held it up in the air," Mayor R.T. Rybak said. "We've come a long way from when local journalists first discovered the existence of sticks back in the 1970s. Writing about things placed on a stick is now a more attractive and effective way of covering local issues, thanks to an ongoing partnership between the City and County governments, the country's best coalition of nonprofits and tens of thousands of stick users."

By choosing to continue to be fascinated by things placed on a stick, local Minneapolis residents help fuel the city's #1 ranking, while increasing our dependence on domestic cooking oil. Minneapolis has the second highest percentage of sticks per capita in the nation, according to a U.S. Census comparison of the nation's 50 biggest cities.

[The annual "on a stick" cycle continues.]

* After pausing to consider what's typically placed "on a stick", one realizes that the lead might not actually be healthy.


Signs of the Times #22

Origami bird
You have great long wings to fly
Why do you sit still?

[Sidewalk. Cathedral Hill, Saint Paul.]

Bikes For Sale

[Stop sign. Kingfield, Minneapolis.]


[Fence. Brackett Park, Minneapolis.]

2 Hr Parking
On Snelling -->

[Sandwich board. Snelby, Saint Paul.]

Clean Dirt

[Yard. Como Park, Saint Paul.]

Free - to haul away
Landscape Rock
Use east driveway - rear

[Chair in yard. Cathedral Hill, Saint Paul.]

Piant (w/ arrows)


[Rubbish bin. Peavy Plaza, Minneapolis.]

Per City of Minneapolis
Ordinance Number 64.50.B

All animals must be restrained
and all animal waste must
be disposed of.

Violation of this ordinance could
result in up to $100.00 fine.

[Plaza. Downtown Minneapolis.]

Please Do Not
Feed the Pigeons
Birds, Etc.
Thank You

[Plaza. Downtown Minneapolis.]

Block E Revivals: A Star Tribune Timeline

In Loving MemoryBlock E Hooters
2006 -- 2010

10/31/1993 -- "Purchase of Block E a strategic success story"
But although the only thing standing on the block today is the vacant old Shubert Theater, the city's strategy for Block E already is succeeding. Crime in the area has plummeted, and the demolition of Block E has removed a physical and psychological barrier between the downtown core and the warehouse district, Target Center and public parking garages to the west of Hennepin Av.
Finally, the demolition has furthered other development strategies. It has made Hennepin Av. a less frightening place. It also has removed a gauntlet that commuters would have had to run between the Third Av. parking garages and their offices.

8/28/1995 -- Merge Block E proposals or get new developers, study says

Council leaders, who initially were unenthusiastic about either of the two plans, reacted more positively to the idea of a joint proposal.
The most ambitious of the plans is a $ 184 million retail and entertainment complex proposed by Loon State Ventures of Minneapolis. Headed by David Sherman, cofounder of the Valleyfair amusement park, the Hennepin Crescent project would actually span 3 1/2 blocks and incorporate the historic Shubert Theatre, which has stood near the corner of 7th St. and 1st Av. N. since 1910.The more conservative plan is a $ 90 million retail, entertainment and office complex put forward by TOLD Development Co. of Maple Grove. That project would demolish the Shubert.

10/11/1996 --City advances new Block E plan
Brookfield wants to transform Block E, the mostly city-owned block between 6th and 7th Sts., into a three-level complex that would include a floor of restaurants, a 14-screen movie theater, a large entertainment tenant that has not been identified and a huge office tower, possibly to accommodate Target, which needs about 400,000 square feet of office space.

6/1/1999 -- Plans for Block E reach pivotal point; Another deadline passes, but Minneapolis officials are expressing hope for the latest proposal for a retail and entertainment complex.
After two decades of failed proposals, May 31 was the official "sunset date" for the latest development entity to show the money. Sort of.
Brandt, president of the Midwest Group of Brookfield Properties, which has the exclusive development rights to Block E, said last week that his partnership is ready to deliver. "Everybody's going to be satisfied with where things are," he said.

3/4/2000 -- Finally, Block E's a go; After 12 years, Minneapolis OKs entertainment complex
E is for endurance. After a flurry of amendments and two hours of passionate debate, the Minneapolis City Council voted 8-5 Friday to approve a $134 million Block E redevelopment plan that only days ago was on the brink. The hotly contested decision caps a 12-year city effort to bring a retail and entertainment complex to the void along downtown's Hennepin Avenue. Developer Dan McCaffery, of Chicago-based McCaffery Interests, wants to begin construction this summer. A 17-screen movie theater and two floors of restaurants and retail venues could open in 2002, and the 256-room luxury hotel in 2003. The development plan overcame the withdrawal of a key investor two weeks ago and City Council wariness of the financing plan.

Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, who lobbied her council colleagues to vote for the project, said she was "obviously delighted. The arguments we worked paid off."

10/7/2000 -- Ground broken for new Block E; A crowd of about 200 turned out to watch Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, the developer and other officials turn the first dirt.
After 15 years, 12 failed plans and at least eight developers, Minneapolis leaders put shovels in the ground Friday and turned dirt on the Hennepin Avenue parking lot known as Block E. "There must be a line, 'It'll be a cold day in you-know-where when they break ground on Block E.' I think we have it," developer Dan McCaffery told the crowd of about 200 that turned out downtown in windy, near-freezing weather.
The $134 million project includes $39 million in public financing, and supporters say it will bring 1,200 jobs downtown to the hotel, stores and restaurants. McCaffery said he plans to announce more tenants soon. Supporters say they hope the complex will become a critical link between the city's Hennepin Avenue theater district and the Warehouse District.

-- Borders signs on to Block E development
The latest retailer added to Block E's tenant mix is Borders Books and Music, according to Dan McCaffery, the project's developer. "This is huge for the downtown," McCaffery said."A lot of people have been skeptical about Block E, but this will be a big asset." Several businesses have signed on to the Block E development, including GameWorks, a restaurant featuring interactive games; a 250-room Renaissance Hotel by Marriott; a 17-screen multiplex by Crown Theatres, plus a 500-stall parking ramp

3/4/2004 -- NOW OPEN; Bellanotte has eye-catching choices
Bellanotte is Italian for "beautiful night," but perhaps owners David Koch, Keyvan Talebi and Kam Talebi (the trio behind Escape Ultra Lounge) should have christened their new Block E restaurant Bellaposto ("beautiful room"). Florida-based interior designer Mario Echeverria washed the sprawling 250-seat space with a sunset color palette; even the onyx-topped bar has a honeyed glow. There's a lot of eye-catching glasswork, too, and enough walnut millwork to outfit several courtrooms. A spacious patio will materialize once the weather cooperates.

11/1/2005 -- Hooters could open on Block E after all; The Minneapolis mayor and City Council members are less than thrilled. The restaurant may begin operations in February.
Hooters appears to be ready to open a third Twin Cities-area restaurant in Block E early next year despite indignation at Minneapolis City Hall.Dan McCaffery, the Chicago-based developer of Block E, didn't return calls Monday, and local property manager Sue Bonin said, "I can't comment at this time - maybe in a week or two."But Matt Enkkeli, manager of Hooters in Burnsville, said the new restaurant would open in February, later adding, "That's tentative right now." He said the Hooters would be owned by John and Steve Marso, who also own the Burnsville location.

1/25/2007 -- Now isn't the time to give up on Block E; Redeveloping a notorious street requires more than a facelift.
The closing of a chain bookstore wouldn't ordinarily draw comment from this page, but Borders' decision to escape Block E carries wider implications. The store's strong presence at 6th and Hennepin signified that Minneapolis' once-sleazy entertainment district was changing for the better, that culture of a sort was overtaking the district's more sordid and time-worn attractions, that Hennepin was evolving into an avenue for everyone.That was, after all, the intent of Block E, which opened in 2003 with $42 million of city subsidy and ample hopes of transforming the district into a regional entertainment draw. But the start has been rocky. Borders cited safety concerns among its reasons for departing. Actually and statistically, downtown is the city's safest area. While crime rose 16 percent citywide last year, it fell 19 percent in the downtown core, a remarkable achievement.

8/2/2009 -- 10 ways to salvage Block E; Who needs Bellanotte, anyway? Let's make the mall an all-Hooters mecca.
First it was Snyders. Then Borders. Then Escape Ultra Lounge. GameWorks has tried to sublease some of its space but came up short. Then July 18, the latest and most high-profile tenant took flight, Bellanotte restaurant.Yes, businesses are running from Block E faster than LaToya Jackson is running to book publishers with the title "My Brother Michael."The floundering state of downtown Minneapolis' seven-year-old shopping mall is no surprise, at least not to those of us who doubted the idea of trying to woo suburbanites into the city by building a mall with everything they can get closer to home.

1/26/2010 -- COMEBACK FOR BLOCK E?; Block E's owners are offering few clues on how they might use the new Twins ballpark as a springboard to help the struggling downtown retail center.
In less than three months, the Minnesota Twins begin their first season at Target Field, just a couple of blocks away from the struggling Block E retail and entertainment complex at 7th Street and Hennepin Avenue. It's a huge opportunity for Block E to attract thousands of customers who will be looking for places to eat, drink and shop before and after games and could even return on non-game days.

3/11/2010 -- 'E' IS FOR IRISH; Kieran's Irish Pub could be the best thing that's ever happened to Block E - and vice versa.
By most accounts, the opening of the Block E entertainment complex in 2001 has been a mixed bag. Old-timers remember the "old" Block E as either a blighted hellhole in downtown Minneapolis, or a character-packed haven of edgy shops and bars.In truth, it was a mixture of both. But the infamous bar Moby Dick's -- where one could allegedly trade an Alcoholics Anonymous token for a drink -- was torn down for a Hooters. The performance and arts space Rifle Sport (an '80s-punk staple) was eventually replaced by a Hard Rock Cafe. Make what you will of the tradeoffs, but a basic element is now missing: personality. The hope is that the relocation of Kieran's Irish Pub to Block E this month will finally provide just that.

6/11/2010 -- Minneapolis' Block E has a new owner
The long-troubled Block E development in downtown Minneapolis officially has a new owner, but the man who hopes to turn its fortunes around says it's too soon to reveal any details about where he hopes to take it.
"Times have changed for Block E," Lux said Saturday. "The area's ripe right now, and we're really excited about doing it right this time."The first order of business will be to add better lighting and signs in the 550-space parking ramp. Lux also intends to renovate the lobby of the 213,000-square-foot complex to make it more "customer friendly."

[Block E circa 1960s. Img via Nohohaha.]


Target Plaza's Surprising Sidewalk (The Sidewalks of Target Field Part 4)

[Target Plaza. Click to enlarge.]

If you’ve been to one architectural presentation, you’ve been to them all. They typically have flashy graphic design and lots of catch phrases. They for sure have those ‘architectural renderings’ that have those fully-grown green trees and happy looking racially-diverse middle-class fakepeople walking around in family groups. They’re typically filled with carefully thought out pleasant-sounding phrases like “promenade” and “tectonics” and “esplinade” and “façade” and “[insert latest trendy jargon here]”. If architects are good at anything (besides building buildings), its giving a good powerpoint presentation.

Well, I happened to be at a number of these presentations when the stadium was first being pitched to the state and county governments, and I distinctly remember rolling my eyes and tuning out when the stadium architectural firm started talking about the stadium plaza. It would connect the entrance to the street and create community space and blah blah blah snooze. Really, they always say something like that. And, as any fan of William Whyte’s wonderful work will know, most large building’s plazas end up being completely vacant, soul-sucking spaces devoid of life that only look good from a large distance or in an pretty architectural sketch.

Well, I’m happy to eat crow on this one. Because Target Field Plaza is one of the best (newly) designed spaces I’ve ever experienced. Let me tell you why.

The Tale of the Entrancing Entrance

The first time you go to Target Field, I really, really hope you get to enter through Gate 34. It’s the gate that’s oriented towards 1st Avenue North. If you got to the statdium on foot, from the general vicinity of Downtown Minneapolis, this is probably how you got there.

You see, because of the small footprint and inconspicuous siting of Target Field, the stadium is quite hidden. It doesn’t ‘loom’ above anything, really. Instead, it sits low down behind the Target Center on the very periphery of the city, wedged between huge rows of parking lots and a bunch of industrial and freeway-oriented spaces. As a result, you can’t even glimpse it from anywhere downtown. The first time you go there, you won’t even know where it is.

In fact, the first sign that you’re entering the vicinity of the stadium will be, not a giant looming white marshmallow bubble poking up over the nearby parking lots, but a gradual increase in Twins shirts density, first one then two then three scalpers asking for tickets, someone slowly turning up the volume of street life, families getting out of trains, folks crowding bars. But you won’t see the stadium.

[This is the view of Target Field from 4 blocks away.]

[This vague corner is the main entrance to Target Field.]

Walking down 1st Avenue from the warehouse district area, you’ll eventually a little tiny marker with an arrow on it pointing towards “target field”. And, rather than a huge stadium concourse, you’ll find yourself walking down the sidewalk in between the (looming) Target Center and the historic Butler Square building.

It’s an odd sidewalk that gradually slopes upward toward a skyway that runs between the two giant parking lots. It funnels people a bit narrowly into this strange space, past a hideously ugly Joe Mauer statue, around the corner of the newly-relocated Hubert’s Bar, and over the 2nd Avenue North streetcorner.

All this while, the excitement level builds. Your sense of anticipation starts to jump all over the place as the crowd becomes ever-so-slightly denser and more excited. You can feel that the stadium is nearby, you can hear the sounds of many voices, but, still you can’t see it.

[You ask, into what sort of post-industrial wasteland have I wandered?]

[At this point, you're know you're getting warm. The ballpark is somewhere very close by.]

Finally, you end up going past a bronze statue of Harmon Killebrew hitting a home run and pointing his bat at a skyscraper, and proceed underneath a low skyway bridge between the two massive parking lots and then - WHAM!- the full impact of Target Field hits you.

All at once, you’re in the middle of a large open space filled with baseball. In front of you are the stadium lights and the sight of thousands of fans in the seats that arc behind home plate. All around you are stadium barkers calling out, selling peanuts and cracker jacks and everything else. You’re in Target Plaza, and the place is filled with excitement. Its almost as if the main gate (where they take all your money) doesn’t exist. It’s almost (almost, but definitely not) as if the sidewalk leads right into the seats, as if the stadium is a seamless part of the city, as if the field’s green grass is just another city park and the concourse is another block of Minneapolis sidewalk.

[The pre-game hurly-burly hurdy-gurdy hustle-bustle hullaballo.]

[The field beckons like a sidewalk siren.]

What I’m trying to describe is the elegant way that the space in Target Plaza connects the stadium to the streets of Minneapolis. The low bleachers in Right Field open up right into the street, bringing a little bit of the city right into the stadium. During games, I’ve seen folks without tickets hang out near the metal fence for innings, just to be part of the action. You can’t see any of the field of play from there, but you do get a sense of the camaraderie that makes baseball so good at building community.

And after the game, the process seems to work pretty smoothly in reverse. People flow out of the stadium. Even if there are concerns about whether or not the space is truly ‘public’*, Target Plaza is a wonderful addition to the interface between the new Target Field. The way the plaza connects the 1st Avenue sidewalk and the stadium is an architectural masterpiece. Let’s just say I was pleasantly surprised.

[A pleasant green buffer between the parking lots points toward the city, and provides a nice place for sittin'.]

[The Plaza opens up space in what was previously the creepy crappy land behind the Target Center.]

[There are benches and waste bins.]

[This long, low skyway connecting the two parking lots predates the stadium, but provides an excellent 'contrast point' demarcating where baseball excitement truly begins and ends.]

[Even when the Twins are out of town, people can hang out on the Target Plaza.]

PS. This is it, by the way. The end of the road. I'm not writing anything more about this stupid stadium.

PPS. It's not stupid. I like it.

*This is surely something that we need to keep our eyes on. It should be a public space, with all the freedom of speech that entails.


Transit for Liveable Communities gears up to save state transit funding

[TLC members gathered together.]

Transit for Liveable Communities (TLC) is a great organization, doing yeoman’s work here in Minnesota to change the regulatory and funding landscape for transit, cycling, and walkable cities. They've had a lot of success, especially recently: getting rail lines built, helping to get lots of federal money for cycling infrastructure, and passing the very important (and obscure) Complete Streets bill. I don't want to imagine what the Twin Cities would look like without them.

But at the same time, one has to admit that TLC has a rather unsexy job. They’re focused like a laser on lobbying at the capital. And that's the kind of issue about which it can be difficult to get people to man the barricades.

So, it was with some curiosity that, after a number of volunteer phone calls, I attended a TLC 'member event' yesterday at the Minnehaha Park pavilion. I didn’t really know what to expect. And as it turned out, it was a vague and pleasant sort of thing that attempted to get people excited about pitching in with the unsexy task of lobbying the state government.

[A TLC member gives her personal testimonial.]

After plying us with Chipotle burritos, TLC had a few speakers talk to the predominantly middle-aged, middle-class, white audience about the importance of lobbying the legislature. The list of speakers included a few of the TLC staff, Golden Valley mayor Linda Loomis (who is going to have GV’s first “complete street” totally re-done by 2016), and State Senator Patricia Torres Rey (as well as a few TLC members). You might call it a transportation wonk-fest-pep-rally, only with shout outs to Representative Melissa Hortman or Keith Ellison’s congressional aide instead of the football team.

Sample exchange:

"Can we get a big cheer for the federal lobbying organization representative in the back of the room!"

[Some scattered applause.]

The event illustrated the challenge of wonky advocacy organizing. It was not the kind of experience that was going to get anybody excited about biking and walking. It lacked the ineffable qualities of a R.T. (Rootin' Tootin') Rybak-ian inspirational streetcar speech. Instead, TLC was trying to figure out how to get people motivated to lobby for the extra twelve second-ring suburban votes needed to pass SB 2052/HB 3025, a resolution for the protection of transit funding according to State Statute 1045.5(b) subsection (c), of or pertaining to The Metropolitan Council. It was the kind of thing that only someone who has spent time at the state capital can really appreciate.

As it turns out, TLC’s #1 priority in the coming year is to stop the state from making transit cuts. And, as Torres-Rey passionately stated, because transit primarily supports those least empowered, this is not going to be easy at all. Transit, particularly in the 'inner city’, is something that most 'greater Minnesota' and suburban legislators have few problems voting against.

And Minnesota is not alone. As this rather dire Guardian article explains, despite the huge need for investing and growing transit ridership across the US (for economic and environmental reasons), despite the constant push for sexy new rail lines, in states all across the country bus budgets (the backbone of public transportation in any city) are being slashed.

Hopefully, TLC can find enough civic activist-type people who can convince swing votes that funding Metro Transit is important. Hopefully the new governor will not be Tom Emmer, who will surely do to MetroTransit’s budget what Mother Hubbard did to her cupboard. With a $6 billion budget deficit, I fear that TLC is going to have its work cut out for it next year. I’m not sure if yesterday’s event is going to help much. I hope I’m wrong!

[Members of the Minnesota House Transportation Committee debate whether to cut transit, or fund road construction in exurban districts.]

Giacomo of the Week: Giacomo Cassanova

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

This Giacomo's adolescence was interrupted by frequent nosebleeds, and his parents feared for his very life until his mother, Zanetta, both beautiful and headstrong, entrusted him to the care of an aged crone, a witch doctor famed for healing the many ailments of youth. The plan worked perfectly and young Giacomo would go on to lead a fruit filled life, though some speculate that it was our Giacomo's early memories of bloodied hankies that inspired the grand theatrics of the Industrial espionage scheme of 1749, where he attempted unsuccessfully to sell "the secrets of British red dye" to a group Viennese merchants…
[A canal.]

Yes, we're talking about Giacomo Casanova, born in Venice, though nobody knows quite when. His father a theater impresario, his mother a breathtaking actress, his childhood was marked by the presence of strong women, whose clothes he occasionally donned. So, too, Casanova was blessed with a quick wit, much sharper than yours or mine, and he put it to good use during his education at the hands of Doctor Gozzi, Padua's most prominent leech practitioner and a man whose good word had long reach, so long in fact that Casanova was first accepted at the University of Padua and subsequently the Seminary of Saint Cyprian, from which he was expelled after the scandal.

What scandal? I don't know… for Casanova was only five foot nine, and olive-skinned.

But in 1749 he met Henriette, a Frenchwoman, his one true love, next to whom all others paled, though she soon left him. He was then accepted into the Lyons chapter of the Freemasons, became a theater violinist, practiced law with The Great Manzoni, lost his teeth, contracted gonorrhea, soldiered in more than one armed conflict, taught himself rudimentary medical practices such as the "nitrate water diet," became the personal secretary of Cardinal Acquaviva of Rome, served in the clergy, contracted "Celtic Humors," translated the opera Zoroastre from German to Italian, conned the Marquise D'Urfé out of a small fortune, fled from the inquisition, was imprisoned by the Doge, became a silk magnate, met Mozart in Prague, co-authored a play with François Prévost, conducted state-sanctioned espionage for the Venetian Inquisitors, worked as a librarian for Count Waldstein of Bohemia, escaped from prison, invented a lucrative lottery system, wrote an academic work titled The History of Unrest in Poland, and contracted "pox," though not necessarily in that order.

[Casanova sneaking into or out of...]

But none of that was what made Giacomo famous. Rather, his reputation grew from a book he wrote in 1745 called The History of My Life, an autobiography in which he described, in detail, the fantastic seduction of 122 different noblewomen. He died in 1798, and is wholly responsible for the behavior of Italian men since.


Victor Gruen describes Southdale Mall, circa 1964

[Image from MNHS.]

Southdale center, near Minneapolis, confronted the planner with a new challenge. The climate in this Middle Western area is especially rigorous, with extremely cold winters and very hot summers. Climatic conditions made it appear that outdoor public pedestrian spaces would be attractive to shoppers during only a few days of the year. The answer to that challenge was inspired by the covered pedestrian areas of the gallerias in Milan and Naples. In Southdale, for the first time in the United States, pedestrian areas were not only covered but also air-conditioned, heated in winter and cooled in summer, thus achieving springlike temperatures all year round. Because the roofing-over and air-conditioning of pedestrian areas created additional expense, an attempt was made to reduce the size of these pedestrian spaces, without, however, losing spaciousness and airiness. Buildings were moved closer together and were developed vertically, with two main shopping levels and a partial shopping level in the basement. In order to achieve equally strong foot traffic on the two main levels, the surrounding car storage area was graded in such fashion that some of the parking lots, by sloping upward, could give direct access to the upper level while others, by sloping downward, could lead direction into the lower level. Within the main pedestrian court, a centrally located public escalator facilitates exchange between the two levels. The Architectural Forum in March, 1953, referred to Southdale as a market square "reflecting a teamwork of a store-owning family whose third generation is already planning for the fifth; an economic consultant equally determined to put the center beyond the reach of competition; and an architect eager to go far beyond what any previous center has attempted and really tackle the problem of preventing community blight. … [It] is a beautiful example of how to plan a lot of fun into a serious, functional circulation scheme.... For tangible climate and intangible atmosphere, the like … has never before been seen in a northern city."

TCS interviews Christine Podas-Larson, director of Public Art Saint Paul

[An example of Marcus Young's work for Public Art Saint Paul's artist-in-residence program.]


[PUBLIC ART SAINT PAUL (PASP) headquarters, in a forgotten 19th century two story rowhouse sitting in the shadow of a looming freeway bridge at the very edge of Lowertown Saint Paul. Midafternoon. Early summer. A partly sunny day, not too humid.

TWIN CITY SIDEWALKS (TCS) appears and knocks on the unlabeled door. PASP's office seems empty. Moving boxes are still scattered about.

CHRISTINE PODAS-LARSON (CP-L) appears, a smart yet casually dressed older woman with medium-length grey hair. CP-L takes TCS into an empty conference room filled with posterboards and easels, remnants of community meetings past. They sit down awkwardly at a conference table as TCS fumbles with his recording equipment.]

Twin City Sidewalks: [Finally getting his recorder situated, sticking inelegantly out of his shirt pocket.] How did PASP get started?

Christine Podas-Larson: One of the first things that we did was to take a look at the riverfront which in 1985 was just a sewer. George Latimer was the mayor at the time, and there was a lot of conversation about what are we going to do to revive our riverfront but no big thing had formed. We concluded we would use a gallery to at the St Paul Companies to have a show of art related to the river. We had things borrowed from the Historical Society as well as new art about the Mississippi River.

The other half of the show we worked with Latimer’s office to approach the waterfront center in Washington DC to find out what they were doing about riverfronts. We brought in all this material, drawings models of what other cities were doing with their riverfronts, particularly along the Mississippi. Everybody liked it so much that they said keep it up for a little longer. We'd like to take some action based on this great context.

They pulled together all the movers and shakers and said, let's have a big weeklong symposium on our riverfront. The direct outcome of that was the formation of the St Paul riverfront commission. Art show leads to symposium leads to civic commission.

At one point in 1985, I said we should do something about public art in America because there is so much going on now. Not only at the federal level with all of their buildings, but cities like Seattle and others have begun to dedicated municipal dollars to public art. Saint Paul should be doing that. They all agreed and by this time, Mayor Latimer's office was into this paradigm. So they said, ok let's do what we did with the riverfront development. Let's put together a show, have a symposium, and then have an arts commission. They thought that would be how it worked.

Well we did the show, but it was much more complex. With public art, St. Paul is not just a municipality but it is a state capital and a federal river port, and so you want all over the city, you have to figure out a way to work with all of those jurisdictions. The St. Paul Companies commissioned me and Latimer's deputy mayor to spend a year looking at this and look back. And we did.

There were a lot of people working on this study. The conclusion at the end of all this was that to have the kind of vision and flexibility that would be needed, and the trans-jurisdictional view of the city, there needed to be a non-profit into which all these interests could come. So in 1987 that was formed, and I was hired to be the head of it. The Saint Paul Companies had a commitment that for 5 years they would completely fund this new nonprofit.

TCS: [With raised eyebrows.] Wow.

CP-L: We didn't even ask them for a grant. We just sent them our bills. They gave me a little bit of a salary. It worked out. They also made a commitment that certain people would be on our board. There ahs been people on our board from all these levels of government, plus…

TCS: [Helpfully] … the business community?

CP-L: … the business community, plus the arts community and the design community and what I call civic activists. So our current board chair is an attorney, but we have on our board people from the director of Parks and Rec, public works, architects and designers...

TCS: [Quickly, pompously.] OK, well how do you define public art? What is it? How do you know the difference between public art and a museum?

CP-L: Museum art is in the museum. There's a simple definition right there. I think public art has to be informed by a public sensibility. It can be in any medium. Looking at the evolution of it every since we started, and since these conversations really began after the civil war and there was a proliferation of public art of a monumental heroic commemorative militaristic nature…

TCS: [Curiously.] What’s an example of what you’re talking about?

CP-L: All you have to do is look at the upper summit avenue where you have 1907 Nathan Hale, the first statue of a revolutionary war figure west of Ohio, you have the Josiah King memorial near the big on the plinth near the cathedral, which is the first union volunteer for the civil war… its called the soldiers and sailors monument.

On the one hand you have those kinds of national heroic figures. At the same time the war was over, and there was a kind of renaissance of American art and you had pretty significant figures: Daniel Chester French, who did the quadiriga on the capital dome and also the Lincoln memorial in Washington DC.

[The New York Life eagle perches on top of Ramsey Hill, Saint Paul.]

You had Augustus Saint-Gaudens who did the big memorial in Boston to the civil war, and who did the New York Life eagle here, among other things. There were very significant national figures who were working here at the end of the 19th century, early 20th, but there were also some home grown immigrant sculptors who were here.

But you had different kinds of things happening. It was all about sculpture. It was all sculpture. You had no paintings, and certainly no murals. It was pretty much defined as sculpture usually in a public place like a park. And as new buildings called for that, there was a lot of great stuff done on the libraries and the state capital and even our courthouse.

But you had all of the soldiers and war people, and the interesting phenomenon was that new immigrant populations finally got settled enough that it was time to say something about where they came from. They weren’t only being absorbed into America, but wanted to say something about how where they came from mattered.

[A statue of Gunnar Wennerberg stands in Minnehaha Park, Minneapolis.]

And was important. So they started commissioning work for public places themselves. And invariably it was a statue of an artist. Ole Bull in Minneapolis. Ibsen in Como Park. Schiller in Como Park. Gunner Wennerberg who was a Swedish poet and singer, in Minnehaha Park. That’s who they thought would best convey the importance of the place that they came form. They almost never brought in the guy who won the war over there.

TCS: [Adventurously.] Except for Leif Ericson?

CP-L: Leif Ericson as an explorer, not as a warrior. You know. Same with the Italian-Americans, it was such a big deal when they did Christopher Columbus. They called off school that day. It was such a big deal to see what the Italians did, and they did not choose a war figure. They chose both Leif Ericson and Christopher Columbus as explorers.

There was a lot of that going on, and there was a great deal of allegorical work. Certainly the horses at the capital and others are meant to convey principles and ideals in some way. So for a long, long time public art was really sculpture, where in a few cases in the interiors of some buildings there were opportunities for painting to be going on, but by and large it was sculpture in a public place.

TCS: [Imposingly.] It was meant to look imposing? Or to impress people, or to be …

CP-L: … to send a message. It sent a message about what do we have in common. Whether the progress of the state is all about agriculture and industry. Those two ladies holding those horses, this is us. This represents all of us. And these are the things we have to contend with. We have to contend with the weather.

TCS: [Obviously.] You’re talking about the horses on top of the capital.

[The head of Henrik Ibsen looks through a spruce grove in Saint Paul's Como Park.]

CP-L: Yes. The message that they’re sending allegorically is a message about good government, they wanted to send that message or, these are our heroes, or in the case of these artists, and people like Ibsen and Schiller these are great world figures and we’re proud of them and their writing, their music, touched the human soul. It had the idea of public spiritedness, whatever form it was taking. And it was reflective of our common ideas and experiences and goals.

Then you get into the period where architectural styles change. Things are actually not heroic any more. If anything, they’re anti-heroic. You get into the difference between …

TCS: [Sans serif.] Now you’re talking about modernism?

CP-L: Yeah. You get into the difference between the federal building in Saint Paul on Robert Street.

TCS: [With an empty stare.] Is there a sculpture there? I guess I never noticed.

CP-L: Yeah. Its in my view it’s a very nice modern sculpture. But at the time that governments actually started commissioning these things, the GSA (General Services Administration) beginning in the 60s, started saying as long as we’re building we’re going to make it the way we do business.

Unfortunately they were doing it at the time that sculpture started saying we could no longer be integrated into the building like it was into the courthouse. They didn’t need to mandate that for the art deco courthouse b/c the architect would never have dreamed of doing it without the sculpture in it.

TCS: [Simply.] But modernism is all about getting rid of ornamentation.

CP-L: Yes absolutely. So then what do you do? You’ve got the little apron of the building, you’ve got the little piece in the plaza there, and so a lot of modernist buildings have some modernist sculpture in the front, usually selected in the early days by an elite museum based panel of people who know art and who basically take things that were meant to be museum art blown up to public scale.

TCS: [Thinking of the movie, Blues Brothers.] The classic example that comes to my mind is in Chicago? The Picasso sculpture in front of their city building.

CP-L: They’ve got that, and they’ve got Calder. Calder in Michigan. And here we have Charles Ginnever who was… At the time it was put it, the judge in the building went up and wrote on the sculpture how much he thought it cost. Modernist works no longer had this relationship to the people. It was about something else.

[Back in 1981, Tilted Arc cut through the Javits plaza with all the subtlety of a hippo at a daycare center.]

And how you chose to respond to it was based really on the level of your sophistication as somebody who knew something about art. And that message was not lost on the public, so you get get all of these clashes. Certainly the biggest example of this was in New York, with the Richard Serra piece. And the Jacob Javits building, where it went on trial, and they actually had a trial of Tilted Arc.

And there are no winners or losers for a thing like that. The way it was set up, was as almost deliberately anti-public. So what is public any more? And in fact the Richard Serra thing forced a lot of rethinking about the level to which you somehow reengage the public.

And everybody’s been struggling with that ever since. Because as Public Art Saint Paul, I think we have as a nonprofit a lot more freedom than these formal public art programs of municipalities where its Minneapolis or anyplace else, because those are legislated programs, and the only money you have is based on capital projects. Therefore, the public art must be defined under those programs as an object.

TCS: [Solidly.] So it has to be something tangible that will last.

CP-L: Absolutely. It has to have… even they’ll say … they’ll give it a number years, they’ll say it has to last seven years or more, because the funding source is a capital budget. On the other hand, some of the most interesting work happening in public places is not visual art, its not permanent object. Some of it is performance art. Some of it is temporary installation.

For example transit systems. The sound of the train when you’re coming in. in my view, and certainly it’s the kind of official position of this organization, public art is multiple media. Not multi-media, but multiple media.

TCS: [Chooing on his pencap.] Tell me more about what you mean about the sound of a train?

CP-L: ... get a composer.

TCS: [With a ringing voice.] Instead of that bell?

CP-L: M-hm.

TCS: [Haltingly.] That bell seems like, people who talk to me, it really touches a trigger for people who are worried about how the train is going to affect their daily life. The sound of that bell, it seems to upset them the most sometimes.

[Like Jacob Riis, 100 years before him, Wing Young Huie's University Avenue project projects photos in public.]

CP-L: And maybe you just don’t like the sound of the bell, and it isn’t distinctive to the place at all. And it certainly isn’t a creative thing. Well here we are in Saint Paul at least the home of the American composers fund. Why don’t we get some composers working on this? I think that when you talk about public art, one part of the definition is about medium. In the lines officially written into the program, there’s a definition that says it is permanent visual art. That is not the position I would take, but regardless of how you talk about ht medium, it can be any form of art and it can be there for any period of time.

And the other part is, what you said, what is the difference between what you find in te museum and what you would find on the street. And I think Wing’s work begins to deal with that. Wing made a deliberate choice long ago...

TCS: [Putting on airs.] Well, some of his early work…

CP-L: Yeah.

[Finally, at 27:28, TCS is overwhelmed by a the task of transcribing. He looks at the dirty dishes in his kitchen sink, thinks of his dwindling bank account, and remembers the coming semester.]

TCS: [Closes laptop with a flourish.] Screw it!

[Too bad, he thinks. There is a lot of good stuff in the last half of the interview. CPL talks about WING YOUNG HIUE's University Avenue project, and MARCUS YOUNG, the current holder of PASP's wonderful artist-in-resident position, whose work is really truly not to be missed and who will be, perhaps-nay-certainly, the future subject for another exciting edition of 'TCS interviews'.]


[For the brave, the full enchilada.]