The 19 Best Twin City Sidewalks Posts of 2012

Well the time has come once to dawdle on the sidewalk of life, to loiter in the nook under the awning of the holidays, and glance quickly behind us to look the footprints trailing behind in the newfallen snow. It's time to think about where we've been, where we're going, and why in hell we found ourselves in a North Loop alley at one in the morning carrying a half-eaten bag full of pretzels. What have I been doing with my time? Why I am I still writing this blog about sidewalks? Why don't I start writing a blog about something people actually care about, like European dog leashes or Ricky Rubio's neck hair? How long can I continue this meaningless charade?

Well, it turns out that there's still plenty to say about the state of sidewalks in the Twin Cities. In many respects, 2012 was a banner year. Traffic is growing at a glacial pace, and I put up more posts than ever before this year: 227 (including this one). What's not to celebrate?

Looking back, there was a lot of great stuff on the Twin City Sidewalks radar during the 2012 calendar. Here are my favorites, in roughly chronological order...

#1 The Top 19 Vikings Stadium Renderings of All Time

About a year ago, when the Vikings stadium still seemed like a really stupid idea that would never actually happen, I stayed up late into the night compiling the definitive partial history of factually incorrect and aesthetically misleading stadium renderings. I'm still quite proud of the fact that when you search for "vikings stadium rendering", this blog is #5 search result. I did it for science.

#2 Climate as Proxy for Capital in the Minneapolis Skyway System & Happy 50th Birthday to the Minneapolis Skyways

I suppose that, for this blog, 2012 was the year of the skyways. My January post of an old research paper I wrote for a graduate class in landscape architecture was re-blogged by Kottke, and became the most read post in the history of this blog. (I suppose that means that careful research and analysis is a good idea. Note to self.) Later that year, I noticed that the Minneapolis Skyways were about to celebrate their 50th anniversary, and wrote up a semi-snarky birthday message. Both of these proved to be very well-read posts, and show that skyways are still one of the most unique (and terrible) parts of the Twin Cities' urban fabric.

#3 "The Village" in Highland Park receives coveted Sidewalk of the Week honors

My favorite part of this blog is the Sidewalk of the Week feature, a concept with which (alas) I rarely follow through. The SOTW feature is supposed to be a celebration of the city's great sidewalk spaces, but occasionally (as with Edina) I will become a bit too snarky. That happened in Highland Park back in February, sort of. I feel like I was pretty even-keeled and generous with a part of my city that often annoys me, but which still boasts some of the more walkable and well people'd sidewalks you'll find in St Paul. Highland Park is one of the better attempts at suburban urbanism. There's a lot to like, and a lot that can still be improved. Plus, in this writeup, I got to come up with the best metaphors (I'm particularly fond of "Highland Park: paddleball of my soul").

#4 Como Avenue "anarchist burma-shave" street art

Often this blog will trace my actual footsteps through the city, and in this case, my daily commute to the U of MN campus from St Paul's North End took me along an interesting path. Gradually, I began to notice an odd pattern of signage along telephone poles on Como Avenue. It turned out to be one of the better attempts at street art that I've seen in the Twin Cities, and I was lucky to have captured it...

#5 The World Weary Tour of St Paul's Union Depot

As part of my role as a new planning commissioner, I was taken on a "behind the scenes" tour of the Union Depot (then still under construction). It not only provided me with a chance to explore my existential side, but my writeup got subsequently picked up by the Pioneer Press and got my name in the paper. Now, the Union Depot is open and its gorgeous. The only thing this wonderful train station needs now is actual trains.

#6 The dreaded Jefferson Avenue City Council liveblog

There's no issue that has been more of a festering sore in my sidewalk skin than the Jefferson Avenue bike boulevard, which pretty much summarized everything frustrating about St Paul parochial politics. The issue, which I won't go into here but which (needless to say) has a long and tortured history, was finally resolved at a City Council meeting in April. After years of fruitless debate, the (shoulda been noncontroversial) project was passed in a watered-down form. During the meeting, I took copious (and I'd say not overly snarky) notes. (They got me into a bit of hot water with a nameless local news reporter.) I'll probably not be liveblogging any more city council meetings. I can think about 10005+ better things to do.

#7 An ode to my barber, Pete

I love my barber Pete, and he was really struggling during the Central Corridor construction period. He was unlucky enough to be right on a 'seam' between two construction 'phases', which meant that the street in front of his shop was torn up for twice as long as for most people. Thankfully, he seems to have made it through the hassle, and is still going strong. I wrote some thoughts about him, and the trade-offs that come with any large capital project for small businesses. This one was close to my heart.

#8 The Forgotten Beauty of Forlorn Windows

Also in May, I was lucky enough to participate my friend Joan's wonderful "Artists in Storefronts" project along Nicollet Avenue in Whittier (one of my favorite places in either city). Doing the prep work for this project made me start thinking about the role of empty shop windows, and whether or not these empty windows are longing for the eyes that used to look through them. If the eyes are the windows of the soul, perhaps eyes are also the souls of windows.

#9 A snarky narrative of what its like to walk around the greater West Palm Beach area

This year, I was lucky to get some money to go to the CNU conference in West Palm Beach, Florida. As with most trips I take, I did my best to walk around the city situationist / flaneur style and I found out the reason why Florida was named the least pedestrian friendly state in the USA. Also, I eventually found the ocean after walking past the large gates and parked yachts of many wealthy people.

#10 Electronic Pulltabs!

With few exceptions, whether or not a bar has pulltabs is a litmus test for whether or not I'm going to like it. Believe me, electronic pulltabs will ruin everything. This post generated perhaps the comment about which I am proudest this year:

Prescott said...

In the most positive sense of the word, this is maybe the most inane piece I've read regarding urban planning possibly ever, but I totally enjoyed it.

I think history will prove me very very right on this one.

#11 Defenses for Challenging a Red Light Ticket

This year also marked my first encounter with "the man" in quite sometime (ever since I stopped driving a car). I was dumb enough to (carefully) run a red light right in front of a Minneapolis police officer on SE Como Avenue. He gave me an expensive ticket, and I spent much of the next month or so brainstorming possible defenses for my behavior. I shared them in this post, and later ended up winning in court (using the "red light law" defense). Still, I like to imagine what it might have been like had I opted for one of my other legal strategies.

#12 Help! It's the War on Cars!!!!!!

Sometimes, I'll just read something in the media that's so stupid that I need to write something right away. (Right something write away?) That happened in July with an NPR story dealing with bicycles and the so-called "war on cars." These kinds of posts are very thereapeutic, and I often remember them very fondly. That said, I'm not sure how useful they are for anyone besides myself...

#13 Another bike tragedy in Dinkytown by the U of MN

School started in September, and like clockwork, a student on a bicycle was hit by a bus (professionally trained driver!) in the substandard bike lanes around the U of MN. This has long been one of my #1 issues, and this kind of thing won't stop until the city and the University develop different priorities that make life safer for vulnerable students.

#14 The most snarky post of 2012: naming Edina's neighborhoods

Sometimes things just fall into your laps. That's what happened when I picked up the Star Tribune back in September and found a story there about the struggle to come up with official names for Edina's "neighborhoods." Sometimes it's just too easy, and nothing was more fun than writing this post. (Later, someone made a similar attempt and crafted an actual map, something which I shoulda done if I wanted this to go viral.)

#15 Meta-post making fun of City Rankings

After architecture slideshows, probably the laziest bit of urban linkbait are City Ranking lists. I decided to try my hand at one of my own, and it worked.

#16 Linking up urban politics with the Voter ID amendment

Since I was a page in the State Legislature (for the Republican party, no less), I've been very passionate about voting equality. (Those committee hearings about disenfranchising people really stuck with me, especially with Tom Emmer leading the charge.) Our core cities are home to a disproportionate number of people of color and poor people, and lots of state politics can be explained by this simple urban / suburban / rural dynamic. Well, probably the most heartwarming story of 2012 was the election, and particularly the defeat of this harmful amendment that would have thrown up roadblocks for democracy for poor people, people of color, and students. Thank god this didn't pass! It really makes me feel good about living in Minnesota.

#17 Halloween post

I love Halloween, and so can you. This was my attempt to explain why. Among other things, it's the only time EVER when parents actually encourage their children to take candy from strangers...

#18 Interview with the Hiking Club

This was a long time coming, but if I ever have more time to devote to this fruitless and unpaid blogging thing, I'm going to do more interviews like this one. I really enjoy this kind of writing, and am glad to share the stories of people like George and Maryann with the two or three people that read this site.

#19 This post... this post is awesome!

That's it! Thanks for the great year, everybody. I'm looking forward to 2013...


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Unknown said...

Belatedly, Bill: this is a funny post and you are a good writer. Thanks.