Reading the Highland Villager #32 (February 23 - March 8 Edition)

[Basically the problem is that the best source of Saint Paul streets & sidewalks news is the Highland Villager, a very fine and historical newspaper. This wouldn't be a problem, except that its not available online. You basically have to live in or frequent Saint Paul to read it. That's why 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: 9
Total # of articles about sidewalks written by Jane McClure: 9

Headline: St. Paul readies for next round of ash removal; Highland to lose 201 more trees, public encouraged to help treat healthy ones
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: The emerald ash borer is still boring into ash trees, and 201 more will meet the axe. [Interesting question: will the city of Saint Paul cut more budgets or more trees this year?]

Headline: Getting out while they still can; Some University Ave. shops are relocating, closing in anticipation of light-rail project
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: Vaguely alarmist bit about shops that are closing down rather than attempt to survive the decreased revenues that will accompany the construction period (and loss of street parking) that comes with the Central Corridor LRT project. Complete list of closed or closing businesses: Martha's Garden floral design, Chocolat Celeste chocolates (last fall), Swank Retro, Cafe Bonxai. Article also includes detail that the University Avenue Business Association (UABA) has now changed its name to the University Avenue Betterment Association (UABA).

Headline: University braces for nine months of light-rail construction
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: Article about the construction work on University, which is set to begin "as early as March 1" [tomorrow!] near Hamline Avenue. Article includes construction schedule, discussion about sidewalk width during construction, concerns over State Fair access, glimpses at logistical complexity.

Headline: West 7th Federation supports new Schmidt Brewing Historic District
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: The West 7th neighborhood group voted to support an attempt to have the area around the brewery declared an historic district. The St. Paul Heritage Preservation and Planning Commissions still have to vote on it. Article includes description of potential development in the brewery, discussion of mixed-use dreams, quotes from developers, some history of brewery's roots back in 1850s. [I wonder if Jane McClure is ever tempted to just cut and paste previous articles while she's writing? -Ed.]

Headline: Bye-bye, love; Milton Mall remodeling bumps out Amoré Coffee
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: Sad story about loss of Amoré coffee and its replacement by a Anthropologie store. [They made a good ristretto and had a nice sidewalk table with a lovely view of the SuperAmerica gas pump. -Ed.]

Headline: HDC committee opposes permit for Max It Pawn shop on West 7th
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Highland District Council does not want a conditional use permit to be given to a pawn shop business that wants to move into the vacated Nedved's Flower shop on western West 7th Street.

Headline: BZA wants rental signs removed
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: An apartment building in Highland Park has too many "for rent" signs in its yard, and the Board of Zoning Appeals is pissed. Current regulations only allow for "no more than six square feet," but the apartment owner has "six vinyl signs" on the apartment's fence for a grand total of 352 square feet. Apparently the building owner argued (unsuccessfuly) that this was discrimination by using the example of Wing Yung Huie's giant photos on the side of the Rondo Library (but which were art, and not advertisements for rental apartments).

Headline: Group brainstorm on ways to make Snelling Ave. a more complete street; Improved safety, accessibility sought as part of summer's resurfacing, bridge projects
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: Report on the recent (jam packed) community meeting about doing a complete streets treatment along Snelling. Article has quotes from many of the different non-profits involved, including Sierra Club, Transit for Liveable Communities, and the St Paul Bicycle Coalition [any of whom you can contact if you'd like to know more -Ed.]. Ideas include, bike lanes, lower speed limits, bump-outs, crosswalks, pedestrian-activated crossing signals, and narrower lanes. Medians were not included in this list.

Headline: City adopts interim zoning on West End
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city has passed in interim zoning code in the West End that restricts conversions of single-family homes into multi-family homes.


*** Sidewalk Weekend! *** #52

Sidewalk Rating: On the Brink

Little by little, he passed through new and different streets.

So many streets! They reached far out into the landscape, building after building, even extending up the hill and along the canals, an endless progression of larger and smaller blocks of stone, with apartments carved into them for both the wealthy and the indigent. Now and again came a church—a rigid, smooth new one, or else a stately, tranquil older one with ivy on its crumbling walls. Joseph went past a police building, from whose premesis he had once heard, years before, the screams of a mistreated person whom they had bound and were trying to subdue by beating him with a stick.

Now his path led him across a bridge, gradually the streets were becoming less regular and restricted, and the region he was walking through took on a village-like character. Cats were lying before the doors of the houses, and the houses were encircled by little gardens. The evening sun was laying itself yellowish-red upon the upper walls of the buildings and the trees in the gardens on on the faces and hands of people. He had reached the suburbs.

[Sunset on the Greenway during the coldest bike ride of the year.]

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[Click on images for links.]

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But the big winner was outside on Nicollet Mall. Between 8th and 9th Streets — right outside Target, IDS Center and Macy’s — the sidewalk accommodated 25,000 pedestrians per day last year. That matches the highest volume measured over the last decade.

[via DT Journal.]

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Sidewalk of the Week: Marie Avenue and Southview Boulevard

In a lot of ways, the Twin Cities' working class roots are invisible today. Gone from sight are the mills and factories belching smoke. Gone are the masses of men shuffling back and forth to work. Gone are the worker's houses. They're all expensive now, bought by people with nice gardens who appreciate a brick.

The everyday life pre-1930 is all but vanished from the landscape, replaced by an occasional Paul Bunyan statue or Mill City Museum. While the pickup trucks driven by the under worked contractors will growl past you, and while you'll see barges, steam-wreathed recycling plants, and the dying gasps of the Ford factory, mostly the era of the urban factory is erased and replaced by shiny buildings and cubicles.

What's become of these past lives? Sure people remember the mills, but outside of a little corner of the city, nobody really remembers the city's huge Union Stockyards, the giant acres and areas of Armor and Swift and with fences and railroads and cattle and buildings filled with sharp moving objects.

They've vanished without a trace. The only thing you'll find is a lonely plaque hard to find amidst the rambling office parks filled with dentists, car places, and struggling startups. There's no sign of the old yards, where thousands of cattle were slaughtered … The only slaughtering done now takes place in a small corner of an old brick building run by the Hmong, and the smell when you walk in the door makes you immediately want to walk out again. I guess nobody wants to go to an abattoir museum.

[The old pens and tracks of the stockyards, c. 1895. Img MNHS.]

[The Union Stockyards viewed from atop the bluff in 1910. Img MNHS.]

[A mural depicting the sepia past of South Saint Paul.]

South Saint Paul used to have two of the largest stockyards in the country, Armour and Swift, that together employed thousands of people on the flats along the curve of the Mississippi River where the railroad tracks run. (How many? The internet doesn't seem to know.)

If there is a memorial to the old stockyards, it's probably the lunch counter at the T&T Galley. The galley, home of “the tug,” a heart attack mammoth of eggs, potatoes, and cheese, is where you'll find the stockyard memories. Every day old timers gather around the two counters and settle in with newspapers, and if you ask they'll tell you about the 70 (!) bars that used to be lined up along Concord Avenue across the street from the stockyards, where the thousands of workers would go to drink beer and forget about the crappy job they had or the great Mississippi flood of 196???, where the river rose over the warehouses and they had to go out in duck boats and rescue thousands of submerged cans of Corned Beef Hash. Its kind of like Fort Snelling's living history re-enactors, only here they're all real.

[The sidewalk centric windows of the T&T Galley in South Saint Paul.]

[The view of the lunch counter at the T&T Galley on Southview Boulevard.]

And the streets of South Saint Paul are also alive with a kind of living history. The old downtown area, perched on top of the bluff overlooking the stockyard flats, have old buildings and main streets and sidewalks and a town center with a town hall and a library and a history museum and lots of benches and crosswalks and wide streets and lamps and all the things that make walking around a pleasant thing to do.

Today, too, South Saint Paul doesn't exactly have the kind of fancy street feeling of any of the high-end neighborhood neighborhoods in the Twin Cities, with their Bibelot shops and fancy restaurants. In fact, all the old buildings here are barely occupied today. You'll find a few diner-type restaurants, a kitchy coffee shop, a bunch of antique stores and a chiropractor and things like that. (OTOH, there are great views of the river and the valley below.)

[The well-maintained crosswalks and transparent shop windows of South Saint Paul's streets.]

[The snow-filled bench in front of the South Saint Paul City Hall.]

[The wide windows of South Saint Paul's coffee shop.]

[A well-bundled woman pushing her cart in the street next to the wide sidewalks of South Saint Paul.]

While the old timers that hang around in South Saint Paul these days are probably nostalgic for how things used to be, when there were thousands of people working every day down along the rail lines in the river valley, I'm not sure that working in a stockyard is the sort of thing you should really be nostalgic about. I've read The Jungle. I can only imagine what the smell was like as it drifted up the bluff and along the river, the stink of thousands of hogs and cattle shitting and being slaughtered and all that blood having to flow somewhere... I'm sure a hot summer day in South Saint Paul was a foul experience.

But all that is gone. It's worth a visit to South Saint Paul, and while you'll not find any obvious tribute to the area's industrial past, you can find it in the streets that are still designed for you to get around on two legs, each foot in front of the last, walking into the future.

[A sure sign of an old-school neighborhood is a full service gas station.]

[Inside South Saint Paul's Dakota County history museum you'll find an indoor old city street complete with barber shops and general stores.]

[The First United Methodist Church casts soft stained light onto the snowy night streets of South Saint Paul.]


Sidewalk Game #4: Interiors


Someone insists: There are no footprints to be found on a sidewalk's pavement either. To that I reply: There are not many paved sidewalks in these small towns yet. Certainly the street itself, where the vehicles go, is almost everywhere still a river of dust, from which you escape to the firmer roadsides. But my girls stride straight down the middle of the street, wherever they can feel the most sky above them, and the walk through the whole town on little white clouds. With no whence behind them, so without any whither. Just walking. Maybe so that they won't hear the tides of their blood surge so loud. Walking in the tentative rhythm of this secret inner beat of the surf. They are the silent shore of their restless infinity. They never find the same pace. They bump into each other as through blown by a host of inimical winds. Wave in different directions. Turn the corner, hesitating, when the wind tears words from their lips which they didn't yet intend. Come back the same way, and wander back and forth again and again between two streets. Like someone waiting. Always finishing their roaming around within fifteen minutes. Instead of venturing out into time like a white procession with a fiery foreign flag.


Go walk behind them. Your gaze will involuntarily lower; their bright clothes are blinding. Your eye will fall with wings half singed off onto the road, which lies spread out and wide like an open book. In its pages, bygone carriages have laid down their lines. And that is good. For the steps of the girls can't write straight. Many lines of writings run alongside the furrows. Up and down. As if someone had written them at night, or like the letters of the blind. Still, with a little effort and practice, you can tell that these are nothing less than long poems, improvisations, through which, waxing and waning, runs a strange rhythm. The same rhyme-words return again and again. As if pleading. You find the same ones waiting at every door. They are moving, simple words; lutes with only a single string. A silver string, you think – and its note can bring you all the way into a dream.

[Ranier Maria Rilke, from Interiors.]

[The Café Stephanie in Munich, c. 1905.]


Planning Blunder #9

Alex's lovely write-up of Planning Blunder #9 is up over at his blog Getting Around Minneapolis. Check it out!

[The view from below our Twin Cities' #9 dumbest planning move.]


Sidewalk Flotsam #3

[A tiny pink sock on a ledge. Hawthorne Avenue, Portland OR.]

[A lamp and lampshade. Ladd's Addition, Portland OR.]

[A pair of empty shoes under a payphone. Hawthorne Avenue, Portland OR.]

[A empty coffee cup on a hedge. Hawthorne Avenue, Portland OR.]

[An empty coffee mug on a rail. West Bank Campus, Minneapolis.]

[A single boot. Location forgotten.]

[A blue bag by a tree. Location forgotten.]

[A pillow. University campus, Minneapolis.]

[Air hockey table on a melting snowbank. North End, Saint Paul.]

[Chair and brush. State capitol area, Saint Paul.]

Putting Food on the Sidewalk with the Sisters' Camelot

I have a new piece up over at Twin Cities' Runoff, a great new online magazine, about the Sisters' Camelot. They're a wonderful nonprofit that picks up free food and delivers it to street corners in poor neighborhoods throughout the Twin Cities. Its a magic thing to see and be a part of, as the look of joy on people's faces as they come across this colorful mountain of free vegetables put out on the sidewalk is hard to top.

Here's a taste of the sidewalk scene:
Today the bus heads for one of the most reliable drop-off spots: the corner by the bus stop at Nicollet and Lake, across the street from the Kmart. Eric pulls the harlequin bus up to the wide sidewalk and almost instantly people start gathering round. Volunteers unload half the food onto the street, putting out a wooden sandwich board sign that reads “Free Organic Food” in English, Spanish, and Somali. The folks along Nicollet seem to be speaking a dozen languages as they wait patiently for volunteers to stack food along the street.

For the next two hours, the stream of people wandering past the corner are treated to armloads of free food, as much as each individual can carry. The tomatoes and grapes are the most popular. Smiles appear on faces almost without fail, and the whole scene feels like Christmas or a birthday party.

Check it out! I'm putting up a few more photos from my trip with them. (And thanks to Emily, Deborah, Valentine, Adria, Jerry, Heidi, Vinay, and Rob for all their help with the piece.)


Planning Blunder #10: Saint Paul’s (and Minneapolis’s) low-density Port Authority developments on high-density urban land

Why it's dumb: Suburban-style buildings with parking lots and single-story, single-use auto-centric buildings right in the heart of the city.

What they were thinking: I chatted with a knowledgeable planning professor at the University about each of these decisions to get a perspective about why planners and developers might have made the decisions they did. I learned that the St. Paul Planning Authority development was all done on old railroad land. S/he said that back in the 60s and 70s the kinds of developments they built were very ordinary. However, s/he said the SPPA stuff along Phalen Corridor stuff is far better, while the development along Plato Boulevard is also rather boring and pedestrian (i.e. anti-pedestrian). Finally, during the 60s through the 90s, the only kind of development you could get financed by the banks was this sort of basic suburban style stuff, even if it was located in the middle of the city.

My take: This was a surprise candidate. And in retrospect, this might not seem so bad. But I think you’ll find that, as time goes on, and as University Avenue becomes a dense transit corridor, the St Paul Port Authority’s low-density development and office park style parking lot-centric one-story fabric won’t be doing much to help revitalize anything, and will prove to be a difficult area to connect to the rest of the city.

The Saint Paul Port Authority is a mysterious entity, and to be honest, I don’t know that much about it. What I know about port authorities comes from Robert Caro’s famous book, The Power Broker, where you learn that the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority was the bureaucratic loophole through which Robert Moses’ drove his fleet of bulldozers. Authorities, in that light, seem to be public/private institutions that can take out loans and raise money for a specific purpose, which is usually associated with economic development and revitalization.

Compared to Moses’ notorious megalomania, the one in Saint Paul is sweetness and sunshine. They have the unenviable job of figuring out how to re-use vacant industrial land in Saint Paul, to retain and grow industrial jobs in the city, and to get economic development flowing the most difficult problem areas such as the old 3M Campus on the East Side. Any one of those things is a problem of windmill tilters, and so far it seems the SPPA has done a good job with them. (For example, the Phalen Corridor project is really nice, in my opinion, and has some density and mixed-use characteristics that would make any planner jealous.)

[Leafy green office parks in Energy Park.]

[The car-centric townhomes along Energy Park Drive.]

But, that said, some of their older development is woefully lacking in good urbanism. For example, take the Energy Park corridor, which is a large stretch of the city that used to be rail yards and that includes the large Bandana Square complex. There are a lot of great things about the industrial / residential development that went in along there, including the environmentally efficient shared steam generation and the general idea of keeping jobs close to large population centers.

But the residential development along Energy Park wouldn’t be out of place in suburban Shakopee. Its separated from the street by a moat of parking lots and berms, and has that culs-de-sac maze dynamic whereby only those who know where they’re going can find where they’re going. Plus, the Bandana Square “festival marketplace” shopping mall, after a brief run of occupation in the 90s, turned out to be a bust (“office center”) and is now only home to a clinic and the Twin Cities Model Railroad Museum. To my mind, the Energy Park area represents a missed chance to create a real urban space.

[The Westgate Business Center on the Minneapolis border.]

But that’s not even the SPPA development that really irks me. That honor goes to the Westgate Business Center developments along University Avenue up by the border with Minneapolis. I’m not sure when these were built, but they look like a similar mid-90s development. They have the same one-story parking-lot-moat qualities that you’ll find in any suburban industrial office park. The problem here is that they’re located along University Avenue, right at the apex of one of the city’s premiere transit corridors.

Maybe this kind of development looked good when it was built, but in ten years when University Avenue is crawling with people and there’s a nice train running down the middle of it, all this sprawled out parking lot land is going to be a what Jane Jacobs might call a “great blight of dullness.” So, despite all of their good work, despite their industrial accolades, the Saint Paul’s suburban style developments get the #10 Planning Blunder award.

[The Westgate development would fit right on on Woodbury's Radio Drive.]