Sidewalk of the Week: 44th Avenue North

[Emily's half substantial sign.]
Comparing sidewalks to ecosystems is as tempting as it is problematic. Such moves beckon with a rich array of metaphor: sidewalks as veins, streets as rivers, alleys trickle, caf├ęs spring, people flock. Buildings and street life and daybeams poking down into nooks as niches, adapting to each other, co-evolutionary, growing towards sun.

The comparison is problematic because the relationship is so well-trod. Generations of writers and razers of ground have cloaked their intrigues with nature. Creative destruction. Survival of the fittest. All-encompassing progress naturalizing the obsolete, this place backward and this place, the future. I remain wary of such ends. To speak of the city as a wilderness is to imply its destruction, its future to be cleared by some ignoble pioneer.

So when I speak of the sidewalk desert at the end of the city, it is not to imply an unpeople'd place, but a built environment full of life defined by lack. The sidewalks of 44th Avenue North, perched atop the far corner of Minneapolis, seem to be surviving drought. In some places they have dried up completely, blown away by a dervish of cars. In others, you discover whole ecosystems clinging to Shel Silverstein's edge, flourishing above the coyote's grave.

[The chasm intersection of Osseo Road, 44th and Penn Avenues North.]

[Victory 44 before a "No People" sign.]

[The tailor and the barber.]

[A nascent sidewalk garden edges beige buildings.]

[A sidewalk platypus.]
The corner of 44th and Osseo Road is such a place, the last bastion of sidewalks running around a vacuum of exhaust fumes. This must be the worst designed intersection in the city, five streets meeting, sharing but three crosswalks. "Don't cross here, No people!" the poles insist. Yet here you'll find one of the best restaurants in the city sandwiched by patios, an art space with theatrical mural'd garages, a thrift shop, the neighborhood group HQ, a big window'd barber, an old school breakfast diner, and a few other highly affordably space'd businesses. They abut wide gritty treeless sidewalks that carry on despite their lack of nourishment, unfertilized by flowerpots, bike racks, ornate lamps.

To the North, the odd border of the city contains the neighborhood like a fairway. Victory Memorial Drive, for which the neighborhood gets its name, is a grassy wide moat, a park meant for driving through in cars. The incongruity of the idea seems to me an odd Australian animal, like discovering antlers on fish.  All I can do is wonder at the oddity, and attempt to describe the vastness, the probably mowing, the slow motion  movement of cars through wide lawns at right angles. A massive flagpole plants itself at the corner.

[The wide reaching elms.]

[Victory neighborhood retaining wall lining the sidewalk like a pier.]

[A sidewalkless entrance.]

[A desire path bus stop off 44th Avenue.]

[Alleyway and footpath.]

[A well buttressed concrete alley.]

[Alleyway sidewalk.]
The surrounding neighborhood is rich with small homes on grand grassy hills sitting on streets just wider than comfortable, some still lined with probably doomed oaks spreading wooden fingers to the sky. A tranquil place of thin wood fences and elaborate retaining walls, white homes with white rocks in small piles.

The large roads that perforate this edge seem to drain the sidewalks away. Concrete ends abruptly. Bus stops sit in ditches of brown grass. Desire paths continue on along narrow edges whispering danger. Everywhere, sidewalks seem to throw up their hands in desperation, and to walk anywhere unabated, you often turn to the alleys run behind the quiet facades. These seem to be the real sidewalks, lined with garages shut tight to the unusual.

Venture far enough, and sidewalks on the far side of the city will surprise you. Sit outside in the slight shade eating the state's best sandwich, and notice where the sidewalk ends. Just glimpse the edge, a vast green park for cars, a borderland.

[The city sends experts to study atypical behavior.]

[A sidewalk disappears.]

[The alleyway opens to the border.]

1 comment:

Alex said...

State's best sandwich? Them's fightin words! Victory 44 is one of the best places in town, though.

Victory neighborhood is one of the places were you can really feel the ring theory come alive, though. How is it so much more like Armatage than Homewood? I guess that one of the many ways we've benefited from the sacrifice of the doughboys is that our northwestern border is more a park than a freeway.