*** Sidewalk Weekend! ***

Sidewalk Rating: Deep

Madonna suggested a first meeting with Richard Corman at her apartment in Alphabet City on New York’s Lower East Side. As recalls that day, “I had to call her from a phone booth across the street “because the neighborhood was full of drug dealers, and they didn’t let people just walk in and out. There was a group of kids outside the building, on the stoop, in the hallways, and when I said I was there for Madonna the seas parted.

“I looked up the staircase, and I saw this girl leaning over the edge of the banister, and even from three stories below I could see these catlike eyes just looking down. I knew at that moment that she had something special -- I really did. She had her best friend and neighbor, Martin, with her -- he later died of AIDS—and we sat and talked. She served me a cup of coffee on a silver tray with three pieces of Bazooka bubblegum.”

[An inaccurat sign on Saint Paul's East Side.]


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Reading the Highland Villager #87

[The Villager holds up some patio furniture.]
[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.]  

Headline: Demolition begins two-year cleanup of old Ford Plant; Extent of pollution will not be known until buildings are gone
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: Men in large cranes and trucks are tearing down the old truck factory. They had a ceremony and put up a fence. Trucks are beeping when they back up according to CM Tolbert. The soil underneath may or may not be clean, but probably not. They might save some of the bas relief sculpture and some lanterns.

Headline: CIB Committee makes final funding picks; Highland streetscape project moves up list, but not far enough
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Capital Improvement Budget (CIB) committee finally decided where to suggest that city invest its money. There were some last minute changes after a public meeting. Things that now make the cut: $100K for a study to fix West 7th Street intersections for pedestrians. Things that don't: $1M for new sidewalks in Highland Park, renovating Dickerman Park at Fairview and Aldine. Best quote comes from a committee member on the Highland sidewalks: "I'm thinking that (Highland Village) is a pretty wealthy area and that it could happen on its own."

Headline: Snelling may get rapid bus service
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: MN-DOT is having open houses to discuss its plan for a "rapid bus" running from the 46th Street LRT, through Highland Park, and to Rosedale. The bus would not have dedicated lanes, but would have widely spaced stops, high frequency, and special platforms with pre-payment. The plan seems to depend on passing transit funding through the state legislature, something that didn't happen this time. [Just a thought, but shouldn't all buses be "rapid"? What's the alternative, "slow-ass buses"?]

Headline: Old Unisys site near Shepard-Davern eyed for redevelopment
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: Someone's about to maybe buy a vacant office building on the far end of West 7th Street to maybe build apartments on the site. It's the same people who re-developed the old buildings near University and Raymond into condos and lofts. 

Headline: More fully restored; Work will bring Landmark Center even closer to its 1902 appearance
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: The super old post office / city hall on Rice Park [that's now used mostly as a sculpture of a building] will be get some new roofing, gutters, and mortar.  [OK maybe that's not fair. There's also some offices I think, a place to store old pianos, a tiny postal museum, and occasional other events like the 1997 Henry Sibley Senior Prom.] Article includes some of the court and mobster history of the building, including references to Ma Barker and Creepy Karpis.

Headline: Wild Onion maybe finally be allowed patio liquor service [also, pigs seen flying down Grand Avenue, weaving back and forth]
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: [After many years of trying] A [semi-horrible] bar / nightclub on Grand Avenue may finally get a license to serve booze on its patio, thanks to successful negotiations with the local neighborhood groups and CM Thune involving the erection of a "16-foot wall" between the patio and anyone living nearby. [Is that tall enough? "Nature will find a way."] Some people aren't happy because of noise and "rowdiness." Article includes anecdote about "an incident in which a large ceramic pot was through through a store window."

Headline: Public sees latest plans to make Marshall Ave. more user-friendly; Buffered bike lanes, sharrows and limited medians among ideas to complete the street [I believe this is the first time that "complete the street" has appeared in the Highland Villager without air quotes.]
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: [Wait never mind. The first sentence continues the "complete street" air quote style guide precedent.] Article on a meeting about redesigning Marshall between Snelling and the cathedral. Article claims that traffic calming on Selby has pushed bicyclists and other traffic over to Marshall [That doesn't seem true to me? There seem to be lots of cyclists on Selby. Are there actual traffic counts there?] The current tentative plan is to have buffered bike lanes between Snelling and Victoria, a median between Snelling and Hamline, and a bike box at Hamline. [How big a buffer are we talking here? I must look this up.] Sidewalks would be added along that stretch, and the center turn lane would be removed between Griggs and Lexington. East of Victoria would have sharrows and some traffic calming / bicycle boulevard features, plus a contra-flow lane for the one-way portion of the street. [Sounds too good to be true. Stay tuned, Saint Paul.]

Headline: City crews offer to remove tree debris left on curb
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: St Paul will come pick up your branches and stuff if you call them.

Headline: City Council approves $60M capital improvement wish list
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city agreed about what to ask the state to pay for, even though the requests didn't receive much public review. Apparently, $6M to renovate the Palace Theater [on 7th Place, i.e. the world's shortest "pedestrian mall"] was added by the mayor at the last minute, much to the annoyance of CM Lantry [and the others too, I'm sure].

Headline: Rehabilitation of Selby-Dale Co-op given city's assistance
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city is loaning $250K to the affordable housing project on Selby and Dale to fix it up, on top of an earlier $600K loan from 20 years ago.

Headline: Mayor Chris Coleman solicits budget ideas from citizens
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: The mayor had meetings with the public. You can tweet him if you want.

Headline: Snelling-Selby firms seek new shared parking
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: Businesses on the corner of Snelling and Selby want to figure out what to do about parking because the current publicly accessible bank lot is being developed.

Headline: City amends opt-out policy for street paving projects
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: Neighbors who don't want their streets paved will have to petition the city on a project-level scale instead of a block-by-block scale. [This seems intended to put a whole stop to the "don't pave my street" thing.]

Headline: Final EIS on business impacts in Central Corridor is released
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: Because the first one didn't account for impacts to small and minority-owned businesses and was thrown out in a lawsuit, a new and improved 239-page report on the impact of the LRT is available to you now. [Just in time for none of it to matter.]

Headline: Building limits poised for adoption on west Grand
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: The City Council is likely to pass the changes to zoning for the part of Grand Avenue near the University of St Thomas [aforementioned here]. The developer who is building the controversial 5-story building [that triggered this whole situation] is suing the city because they passed a development moratorium on the same day that he filed plans for a second 5-story student-oriented building on Grand in the same area. Article suggest that city staff claim they knew nothing about plans for a second building. [Stay tuned to this one, folks. This looks like another Highland Villager urban doozy, replete with shenanigans.] Article includes quote from neighbor expressing "concerns about housing density in the area, especially as it relates to spillover parking."

Headline:  [This one buried deep within the Villager, between the historic photo of 1952 Union Depot redcap porters and the puff piece on Ristorante Luci] New TIF districts will help finance affordable housing on University
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: Working with Project for Pride in Living (PPL), the City Council approved tax-increment financing (TIF) districts and $9M in bonding for about 100 units of affordable housing at University and Hamline and University and Syndicate. CM Tolbert voted against it because he doesn't like using TIF.

Headline: Senior housing planned for Bradshaw spot in Highland
Reporter: Jane McClure

Short short version: A funeral home on the south end of Snelling will become 75 units filled with old and/or forgetful people. It will have underground parking [praise the lord!].

Headline: Under New Owners: Renovation plans unveiled for Highlands on Graham, former St. Mary's Home
Reporter: Carolyn Will

Short short version: Someone bought an old old folks home from someone else and is fixing it up. Eight people moved in.

Name That Sidewalk! #6 - Special Hint Edition

OK, I'll admit this is kind of a trick question candidate. Because nobody was able to Name That Sidewalk, I'm going to give you a hint. I've un-cropped the photo in order to reveal more revealing detail.

Now go ahead and Name That Sidewalk!

Hint: Neither Minneapolis nor Saint Paul.


One Hundred Years of Crossing Snelling Avenue

[One of the lovely Snelling Avenue sidewalks.]
Last fall, the Saint Paul City Council passed the Charles Avenue friendly streets bicycle boulevard. How do I know? I came across this important story in my notes today. (Then I remembered.)

Here's the relevant bit from the Pioneer Press story from the public hearing:
The St Paul City council approved the Charles Avenue bicycle boulevard plan yesterday. The most important part of the project is a series of pedestrian medians and traffic diverters at the four points where Charles crosses the busiest streets: Marion, Dale, Lexington, and (most crucially) Snelling Avenues.

This part of the plan also proved to be the most controversial part of the project, as multiple business owners along Snelling protested bitterly any any design that would made it more difficult to drive around on this very busy street.
This reminds me.

Did you know that I've tried to cross Snelling Avenue every 28 years for the last century? It's true! I just found my trusty journal on the subject.


Crossing Snelling Avenue in 1916

"Oh my god I’m late!" You awake with a start from a short nap. "I’ll never make it to the store before they close."

You absolutely need some genuine swine lard for your stewpot, so you rush out the door and thank heavens that you live so conveniently close to W. T. McGillicudy and Son’s General Dry Goods, your local merchant. The shop, which sells everything under the sun, is just a two blocks away across Snelling Avenue.

You wedge yourself into your only pair of shoes, a hand-cobbled pair of lace up boots, and join the mass of people hustling down Charles Avenue on the last nice day of the year. The wind must be blowing the right direction, which means that soot from the factories is blowing the right direction. What a glorious morning!

"AOOOOOGA." The horn blares and you turn your head to see the grill of a pale yellow 1914 Mitchell Speedster growing larger, heading straight down the edge of Snelling, straight for you.

"You there! Ragamuffin! Mind my motorcar!" A dapper gentleman wearing a flatbrimmed boater shakes his begloved fist at you.

Lucky for you, the horseless carriage is only traveling at 16 miles per hour. You easily step out of the way, elsewhere onto the wide dirty street. You spit into the dirt and easily weave past a horse-drawn wagon, just like a dozen other people wandering across the road.

Crossing Snelling Avenue in 1933

"Hey, wake up." Jimmy tugs at your elbow. "Wake up."

"What?" you moan. Jimmy is your best friend, but he's annoying.

"Let's go down to Snelling and mess with the streetcar," he says.

"OK OK one second." You hike up your knickers and grab your cap. "OK already. Geewillikers."

You and Jimmy head out the back door so that his father doesn't notice, and walk down the alley to Snelling.

The street is full of people, a slow march of cars and trucks running alongside and two big green and yellow streetcars running down the middle. You sneak through the traffic as one of the big cars stops in the middle of the street and a dozen people climb down the streetcar steps onto the bricks below.

"Now." Jimmy's voice is like a dart in your ear. You're standing just by the bumper of the large machine.

You grab the cord holding the pole up to the back, both at once, and yank it to the side. It pulls off the wire with a clunk, and you hear the high whirr of the streetcar's fans start to slow.

"Hey! Somebody grab those kids!" The conductor shouts.

"Let's go!" Jimmy yells and runs off to the other side of Snelling. You chase after him. Somewhere in the distance a horn honks, a whistle blows, and you hear voices but you don't care.

Crossing Snelling Avenue in 1956

"Well, at least I'm not late," you think waking from your daydream. Work starts in a half hour. Plenty of time to walk there if you get going.

It's a warm day, a bit overcast, and you're thirsty. "Why not stop at the store?" you think. A glass of soda pop would be crackerjack.

It's on the other side of Snelling, and you walk up to the curb. The pale blue car approaches you and slows down. It's old man Grundy's car, his arm out the window. He stops to let you cross the street. "Move it along, skip," he yells out. "I'm not a spring chicken." Grundy drives away.

"I wasn't born yesterday," you mutter under your breath.

Two blocks away, behind you, the last streetcar in Saint Paul  pulls into the old garage on the corner for the last time. Later that day, a mobster from Minneapolis sets it on fire.

Crossing Snelling Avenue in 1973

"Oh crap." You wake with a start. "I'm late."

You had promised to pick up a can of Spam for on your way to Franky's house for dinner. Luckily there's a corner store on the corner. The only problem is that its on the other side of Snelling.

"Good thing I'm a locally respectable sprinter," you think, lacing up your new blue Adidas sneakers recently purchased at a locally-owned shoe store.

You crouch on the side of the concrete curb. Your legs tense with anticipation. A stream of large American sedans flows by, huge fenders glinting in the late-afternoon smog.

All your hours playing Frogger at the arcade drift through the back of your head as you crouch. Wait... There, off in the distance, a break in the three lanes of southbound cars.

You dash into the street, hurdling an AMC Gremlin and landing clean on the other side in the middle of the street.

All at once a huge grill appears before you, the letters F O R D growing larger as the SUV appears seemingly out of nowhere.

"What's an SUV?" you ask yourself, before rolling out of the way, and reaching out for the narrow strip of concrete between the two sides of traffic.

Not wanting to lose your momentum, you launch yourself back into traffic.

"Good god, I’m gonna die," you think, not for the first time.

Luckily your brand new pair of Adidas keep their precious grip on the light black asphalt, warm in the summer sun. Reaching out, the world seems to slow down and your fingers wrap around the mailbox. You are safe on the narrow beige sidewalk. You look back at the uninterrupted stream of cars, and somewhere, someone is singing a song. But you can't hear it. All you hear is the sound of unmuffled motors grumbling away. All you smell are the fumes of fully-leaded gas. 

Crossing Snelling Avenue in 1998

"Hey can I get a ride to the store?" asks your long-time live-in companion Margot, jostling your shoulder.

"Hey, I was sleeping," you mutter. "Which store?"

"You know, the only store. Target." says Margot, her blue beret jaunty and askew.

"Oh yeah. My car is making this weird noise lately. Can't you use your car?" you ask.

Margot wrinkles her nose. "Flat tire," she says. "That's why I need to go to the store."

"Why don't we use our third car?" I ask.

"Yeah but it's parked over there," Margot gestures westward, to the other side of Snelling Avenue.

"Oh yeah," you groan. "OK, I'll get it."

You step out onto the Snelling Avenue sidewalk, and walk seven blocks out of your way the the nearest stoplight, to press the beg button. After only seven minutes, the traffic light changes, showing the white WALK sign for a split second before starting to blink an orange warning. You hurry across the seven lanes of traffic and reach the other side just in time. Now its only seven more blocks to the car and home.

Crossing Snelling Avenue 2014

"Oh, I'm late." you mutter to yourself. "Look, its a CVS with a fake second story and frosted over windows. I bet they have the toothbrush I need so desperately." You're old by this time, and you say everything out loud now in a gravelly voice.

"Hey look," you mutter astonished, "a median and a crosswalk." You're old and slow but you can make it across the street now, and thanks to the city's innovative and successful pedestrian safety campaign, all the people driving cars stop for you and wait patiently while you hobble across the street in your velcro shoes.

Problem solved!

As you totter across the street, a passing chickadee craps on your toupée.

Update (from a friend):
Crossing South Snelling 2094:
You need to get a 200 gigabyte chip for your food activation ray at the Astromart on the east side of Snelling, but finding a break in the hovercraft traffic at 5pm is next to impossible. You wish they'd improved pedestrian crossings the way they did North Snelling at the beginning of the century. You make it across the first two lanes, narrowly avoiding a 240mph Sport Utility star cruiser who is video conferencing with his relatives on Mars and doesn't notice you as he whizzes by on the way to his suburban home in Waterloo, Iowa. Then, as you're crossing the third lane...


Three Reasons For More Northern Spark

[Faces pressed against the Bedlam window to gaze at mystery drawings.]
You live long enough in this town, you start to repeat yourself. There are certain conversations that come up again and again, like verbal whack-a-mole games. There's the one about running into the same people over and over again, the one about how interesting people keep moving to the coasts and what's to be done about it, the one about how the vast majority of [arts/ theater/ journalism/music] funding always goes to the one really large non-profit, and then there's the argument about where the best juicy lucy can be found... You live long enough in this town, you start to repeat yourself.

One of the conversations I've been having and having lately is about changing the provincial imaginary of the Twin Cities. "We're too complacent, too set in our ways," so it goes. "Other cities around the country and around the world have such inspiring in their [street design/ nightlife/ artistic culture]. We're tired of waiting for change. We need to stop talking and start acting, just do something, stop whining and bring new ideas to life!" Something like that, anyway. It's a fun conversation to have, kind of therapeutic, but most of the time the call to arms rarely seems to lead anywhere.

That's why the Northern Spark seems so refreshing to me. It's a great example of people actually following through with a new big idea. For the past three years, instead of just wishing over and over that Minneapolis and Saint Paul were more like [Paris/ Montreal/ New York/ Berlin], people have been actually putting together an a big all-night festival and making it happen. For the last three years we've staged "nuits blanches" in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, with no little success. I know a few of the organizers, and each year seems like a real struggle. But I think this is one of the more important recent Twin Cities trends, precisely because its so difficult. All-night creations like the Northern Spark fest (and to a lesser extent, things like last weekend's Greenway Glow) rattle the Twin Cities' complacency like a big etch-a-sketch. These events open up spaces and times for new ideas and new social groups to form and grow. 

Here are three reasons to keep it going for years to come...

[This guy definitely goes to bed early.]
#1: Disrupting Expectations - Stories about Minnesota culture tend to go heavy on the protestant ethic narrative. Something about Northern European hard work, a state filled with humorless farmer labor conservatives where time is money. The Minnesota state photograph perfectly illustrates this ideal, the old bachelor farmer praying over his spartan early-morning breakfast before heading out to milk the cows. This whole ideal is predicated on sensible hours and tempered prudence, e.g. no liquor on Sundays, our (until quite recently) 1 AM bar close.  Saint Paul: the city that sleeps; Minneapolis: anti-New Orleans.

Northern Spark is the opposite of this story. Here Minneapolis and Saint Paul are the cities that stay up all night on a whim, that throw reason and circadian rhythms to the wind. Here we have an all night party. For a night, museums veto their calculating and stay open until 1AM for a dance party, setting things on fire. Here for a night, people are actually encouraged to walk alone down dark alleys in the middle of the night. The night-time city, its silhouette normally dominated by the looming latent towers of insurance and banking, transforms to a dream city of the young and unreasonable.

[Haller's river listening project.]
#2: Interacting with the City Itself - Typically, you'll find art shut up inside a museum, guarded by pillars and lions, surrounded by antiseptic white walls. Even more public forms of art, sculptures or performances, tends to come with some frame separating it from urban humdrum, something saying "here, this is different, this is special, this lies outside your everyday city." One of the best things about the Northern Spark is that the city itself becomes part of the experience, the buildings, the landscape, the city viewed from a radically different temporal position.

Sometimes the art focuses on this city. Some examples from this year: Monica Haller's Can You Listen to the Same River Twice? which brought people down to the river itself (not easy to do in downtown Saint Paul) to listen to underwater sounds travel up from the sea; or my favorite project, Daniel Dean and Ben Moren's Secret City, where you listened to a long wandering narrative on your cell phone, while exploring the alleys and roofs of Lowertown, a story that allowed me to touch the city itself, lifting me above the crowd for a loving lonely minute.

Other times the city itself is the art, viewed through a new lens with a new frame. Traveling from place to place through Minneapolis at night, riding along the greenway through the dark and quiet hours knowing that waiting for you at the end is a museum still open. Passing another group, the streets normally dark and dead filled with people. Tonight, the dumpster underneath the overpass is a hot-tub with a person inside.

#3: A Different Audience - Last year, Northern Spark ended for me with a sunrise at the top of the Foshay Tower. It was 4:45 in the morning, the sun would rise in half an hour, and a long line snaked through the money-drenched lobby of the W Hotel waiting for the elevator doors to open. The line was a social jumble, a mix of backgrounds and sobriety levels. For every urban hipster there was someone who'd spent the night at a biker bar. Granted, the W Hotel bars are a horrorshow on many evenings, but a feeling of amazement dawned on me that the owners and managers of so many wealthy buildings and museums had been persuaded to open their doors to the public in the middle of the night, to let anyone in off the street to wander galleries and rooftops, spaces normally closed to the drunk and disorderly.

In the day city and in the night city live different people. During the first hours of the Northern Spark, the crowd is full of families, folks from the suburbs looking for light spectacles, willing to push a boundary or two just enough for tomorrow's story. As the night elaborates and grows longer, those with bedtimes and alarm clocks weed themselves away, and a whole new group of people thrive. Here you'll find the anti-bankers, the night people: artists, musicians, drunks, and third-shifters. There's a democracy to the middle of the night. For once the pleasures of the city, of crowds and strangers, become nocturnal. Minneapolis New York. Saint Paul à Paris.

[The Foshay Tower observation deck from Northern Spark 2012.]


Sidewalk Poetry #38

Where the Sidewalk Ends

There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we'll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we'll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.

[Shel Silverstein.]
[Key West, Florida.]

Signs of the Times #74

Pull Forward
to clear
Roof Line!

[Pole. Lowertown, Saint Paul.]


[Pole. South of Stillwater.]


[Pneumatic tube. West Side, Saint Paul.]


[Door. Victory, Minneapolis.] 

Yesterday - 
Tomorrow -
Today -

[Window. Victory, Minneapolis.]

We Watch
We Call

[Yard. Victory, Minneapolis.]

Lost iPad
I lost my iPad on Friday
It is in a black otter box case and
on it are some of the last pictures
of my dad right before he died.
$100 reward, no questions asked

call: ###-####

[Pole. Victory, Minneapolis.]


[Wall. Dinkytown, Minneapolis.]

We will no longer be able to 
provide BYOB service at Mango

Thank you for your ....

[Door. Selby Avenue, Saint Paul.]