Twin City Neon #22

 [Downtown, Saint Paul.]

 [Downtown, Saint Paul.]

 [Longfellow, Minneapolis.]

 [Selby Avenue, Saint Paul.]

 [Cedar Avenue, Minneapolis.]

 [Rice Street, Saint Paul.]




100 Years Ago Minneapolis Walking Tour next Sunday April 8th

[Mmmmm... looks healthy!]

A friend of mine organizes an annual month-long health effort called "Buds of Spring" aimed at getting the summertime off on the right foot by having social events not organized around drinking. Way back in 2013, I had agreed to lead a walking tour as part of the event series, but on that day the rain rained and the wind blew and we ended up cancelling the tour.

Well, it's back! Presenting the "100 Years Ago Minneapolis" walking tour. We'll be walking around downtown, about 2.5 miles total, and looking around and thinking about what it might have looked like back in 1918.

It should be fun. Prepare to be amazed by the imaginary industrial landscape that surrounds you! Let's hope for better weather this time, or else it might be another five years before I try it again.

[Alley shacks!]
[Facebook event is here.]

What: 100 Years Ago Minneapolis Walking Tour
When: 4/8 at 4:00 pm
Where: Leave from the Dunn Brothers on 2nd and 3rd.
Why: Because it's not there
Who: Anyone who's into springtime! Event is free!

[See also, Details Uncovered from 1908 Minneapolis. Some additional 1918 photos follow.]

[Big ass sawmill!]

[Contiguous density!]

[Super old wooden buidlings!]

[It's already "hard to park"!]


Guns vs. Cars, Continued

The March for Our Lives went within shouting distance of my apartment last weekend, and as the topic has filled the news cycles I keep noticing how the technological parallels between guns and cars pop up in conversation.

For one thing, there are the slippery slopes:

"If you ban guns, why not ban cars too?"

"OK with me!"

More seriously, in a recent episode of the Reveal radio show about gun reform, a reporter make a comparison more explicitly. They asked whether gun reform could follow a similarly "successful" path as auto safety efforts.

Here's the description:
Reveal’s Stan Alcorn looks at another public safety threat that used to be responsible for more deaths each year than guns: automobiles. While gun deaths have remained about the same for decades, car deaths have declined dramatically. That decrease began when the government started collecting data on car accidents and passing it on to carmakers, which used it to design safer cars. Public safety advocates say what happened with cars could serve as a model for reducing gun deaths.

I had a few thoughts pop into my head while listening to this, and wanted to quickly share them.

The Car Safety Track Record

First, auto safety is not really a success story. Lots of charts and data point to guns and cars as the two biggest non-medical causes of death in the US. Both guns and cars kill about the same number of Americans, and if you add in public health problems linked to driving (i.e. not walking), cars are still the worse technology!

(At least owning a gun doesn't make you horribly unhealthy. Not physically, anyway... )

Even with the safety improvements of the mid-century, American car culture remains a fast track to the early grave. We shouldn't be touting our car-dependent society as any kind of success story, and there's a long way to go if we want to solve the public health crisis caused by driving and traffic crashes. In fact, with the addition of cell phones into the car-driver mix, those problems are quickly getting worse.

The Agency Problem

One of the tropes of the gun debate is the well-known phrase "guns don't kill people, people kill people."

That line of logic is interesting in compared to how we treat the car. In both cases, the technology forms a complex relationship that challenges the notion of fundamental human agency. Both examples bring into focus the distributed agency of the technological social structures that surround our human selves.

In other words, with guns, some people collectively adopt an an anthropocentric worldview that places humans as the fundamental (and often, the only) actor in the technological relationship. We pretend that guns are a passive technology, and the problem lies with individual human brains, connected to individual itchy trigger fingers. Therefore, solving "gun violence" should focus on things like mental health or policing.

(Never mind the thousands of cases of guns "accidentally" going off and killing people, or many situations where the gun-using human is not mentally fit to make decisions, as is the case with children.)

Meanwhile, in the world of cars, human agency is almost always stripped away. When faced with car violence, "I didn't see you there," or "it was an accident" are everyday utterances and entirely defensible within our deadly social and legal system. Except in extreme cases of intentional impairment -- the most common by far being drunk driving -- humans are never held responsible for the violence and death that they cause. The difference in these two cases between our social norms is striking to me, and the wonderful Andy Singer cartoon illustrates it neatly.

However, I believe both cars and guns offer the exact same type of human-machine relationship, and should be treated in similar manners. Each time you drive a car, it is as if you are waving around a loaded gun on a crowded city street.  In both cases, the machines wield a real agency over our lives.

Distribution of Cars vs. Guns

[% of US household ownership: guns on top, cars on bottom.]
That said, the big difference between guns and cars is their distribution rates.

While on the one hand, and bizarrely to me, there are a similar number of cars and guns in the United States. We have something like 265 million cars in this country and something like 300 million guns. In both cases, it's a bit less than one per person.

There are even relatively comparable percentage rates: for guns, it's around 40% of US households, and for cars it's 90%.

On the other hand, a big difference emerges around everyday social usage. The stat I've been seeing recently is that "three percent of the population own half of the American guns," for example. With cars, that would be far more evenly distributed.

And that collective acceptance holds for how guns and cars appear in our everyday lives. For example, unless you are in rural Wyoming, the social normalization of guns is extremely small in most US cities. I can't remember the last time I saw someone with a gun in public who wasn't a police officer, thank goodness, whereas I can't go for more than a minute without seeing or hearing a car driving the streets of Saint Paul.

Conclusion: More Similar than Different IMO

When it comes to guns and cars, I see both of problems having more similarities than differences. Both are technological challenges with huge public health risks. Both challenge our traditional "personal responsibility" assumptions about human agency. Both are structural issues that the US desperately needs to tackle if we want to improve our quality of life.

Maybe someday we will have marches to end car violence, where millions of people take to the streets to end the everyday normalization of car violence in our lives. Because car violence happens in a less focused way, with many many small deaths and violent incidents instead dramatic attention-grabbing moments, a movement like that is a difficult thing to imagine. And yet, a movement like that happened in Amsterdam in the early 1970s, and it really changed things in that city. At least at the local level, I do think there's hope for car reform.

[A "march for our children's lives", only aimed against cars, in Amsterdam, 1973.]


Signs of the Times #137

 We closed for
Super bowl!!
Be back
Monday bright
and early

[Door. Downtown, Saint Paul.]


[Wood block. Downtown, Saint Paul.]
Not a door

[Window. West Saint Paul.] 


[Doorway. Downtown, Saint Paul.]

 A friendly
Heads Up
to our Guests
if you park within
20 feet of a corner
or crosswalk
the City of Saint Paul will eagerly
ticket your car.

Please check to make sure you are
legally parked.
As us if you are unsure.

Tickets are no fun.

[Door. Payne Avenue, Saint Paul.]


[Pole. Duluth.]

During Construction

[Wall. Northeast, Minneapolis.]

 Mon. open
Tue. open
Wed open
Thurs open
Fri. open
Sat. closed
Sun. closed

[Window. Skyway, Saint Paul.]


[Sidewalk. West 7th, Saint Paul.]


Sidewalk Flotsam #8

 [Tiny sandal. West Side, Saint Paul.]

 [Plastic bottle. Location forgotten.]

 [Key. West Side, Saint Paul.]

 [Bag of popcorn. Downtown Saint Paul.]

 [Tommie card. Cleveland Avenue, Saint Paul.]

 [Cat furniture. New Orleans LA.]

 [Irish hat. New Oreleans, LA.]

[Coat rack. New Orleans, LA.]


Buildings that Wildly Intrigue Me #1

Check out these intriguing buildings.

1.    The Colonnade (1888)

This building is perched on the edge of the freeway and is festooned with weird hemispheric red-and-white striped awnings and arched windows. There are crazy balconies and pillars everywhere, including tiny ten-foot elaborate Rapunzel perches with those Roman-looking garland bas relief thingies underneath them. There are pillars galore. There are even balconies surrounded by pillars, because why not?

Also, there are actual Greek-style statues on each side of the weird entrance. Look at these stone people people groping themselves!

Are they having a staring contest? Yes, they are.

Someone once told me there was a fire here years ago but somehow the fire fighters saved the building and kept all the bricks and walls in place. Thanks SPFD!

The inside of the building used to have the only Kurdish restaurant in the country inside it, and still has some downtrodden corner stores that serve people of modest means.

The Colonnade is crazy. Even looking at it loosens your screws. I can only imagine that in the late 19th century there were tons of architecturally deranged buildings like this in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, designed by nouveau riche people with Trumpian levels of bad taste, only from the Victorian era.


2. The Music and Book Landfill (1922)

What is in here? A "music and book landfill"? What does that even mean? Is this where bad music goes when it’s “thrown away”? Is that where they found Rick Rolls for the first time?

What is inside that huge cupola?

Underneath its drab grey surface lie wild patches of colored paint. I am serious!

If the plot of "Ghostbusters" ever happens in Saint Paul, look here first for Gozer the Gozerian.

[Wait, what is that?]

3.     The Commutator Building (1884)
What does “commutator” even mean? I have literally never heard this word before, and nobody ever will again.

OK I looked it up. Check it out. It's something about electricity and math!

Intriguing? I think so.

The old smokestack in the back of this building leans further to the right than Hillary Clinton running for senate the first time. It is litereally held in place by ancient cables, defying gravity in a steampunk way like a Miyazaki aircraft.

There used to be a basketball hoop inside the ruined walls of the back half of this building that was overgrown with weeds. It was glimpseable through a tiny hole in the wooden door in the alcove. I am not even kidding. If I had ever had the chance to sneak in and shoot three pointers in a lost Minneapolis ruins I would have moved away immediately, just to keep my memory unspoiled.

[Go in this scary alcove, you won't regret it.]


Twin City Doorways #36


 [Payne Avenue, Saint Paul.]

 [Payne Avenue, Saint Paul.]

 [Downtown, Saint Paul.]

 [Downtown, Saint Paul.]

 [Phillips, Minneapolis.]

[University Avenue, Saint Paul.]

[Downtown, Minneapolis.]