29.7.15

TC Sidewalks Live!: Old Streetcar to Wildwood Tour this Sunday

Seeing a map of Twin Cities' historic streetcar network goes a long way toward explaining the urban geography of the city. Most of the existing commercial corrdors, those places with the historic density, mixed-use nodes, and interesting old buildings are along the old streetcar lines. Even though the streetcars were all ripped up, burned down, and defunded over 50 years ago, there's a way in which they're still alive today.

[The streetcar map on the wall of Minneapolis Central Library.]


Some of the streetcar routes are pretty straightfoward. Others (like the old route through Minneapolis's) are crooked and confusing. Most have become bus routes, but a few of them have completely disappeared.

[The route in question.]
The old route to Willernie, White Bear Lake, and Stillwater is one of the latter. Together with Mark Brauer, a long-time East Side Saint Paul bicyclist, retired Mn-DOT planner, and amateur urban geographer*, we'll be tracing the old route of the Wildwood streetcar as best we can.

It'll be an adventure. Some parts of the route are completely gone. In other places, you'll be able to find it. And waiting at the end will be Willernie, a crazy East Metro town that used to be an amusement park and still feels like its at the the end of a long drive up to the cabin.
  • What: Bike ride to Willernie, along the old Stillwater streetcar line
  • When: Sunday August 2nd at 11:00AM. Shoudld take 2-3 hours, probably more depending on stops
  • Where: Meet at the corner of Payne and Edgerton, across from Yarusso's
  • How long: 25 miles round trip
  • How much: Free! (Or buy Mark or me a beer.)

Willernie is fascinating all by itself. Last summer, Andy Sturdevant, Steven Lang, and myself toured through it. Here's a bit from Andy's column:

Like so many Twin Cities neighborhoods — St. Paul’s Union Park, Lake Minnetonka’s Excelsior, the stretch of Longfellow once known as Wonderland — Willernie owes its odd footprint to an amusement park. Wildwood Amusement Park, another of the cities’ many trolley parks built to lure city dwellers out to the end of the lines for recreation, sat on the site from 1889 through the 1930s.


I've been looking forward to this ride for a while. If you're free Sunday, join in and explore the streetcar of your imagination.


PLEASE NOTE: The ride's pacing will be leisurely. I am not a speed demon and neither is Mark, who has an upright handlebar type bicycle. It'll be a relaxing ride befitting the pace of a streetcar and the idea of Wildwood bourgeois leisure.


[Wildwood spirits.]

[Willernie stop sign.]

[Willernie back roads.]

[Do you even know what this means?]

[Willernie main street.]


* As if there was any other kind.

27.7.15

Reading the Highland Villager #135

[Villagers perch a few miles past the top of the High Bridge.]
[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. Until this newspaper goes online, sidewalk information must be set free.]  

 

Headline: Coleman puts Midway site in play for major league soccer; Mayor invites MLS to tour 34.5 acres at University-Snelling
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A bunch of really rich people from West of Minneapolis want to build soccer stadium in Minneapolis but are looking at Saint Paul anyway, and the mayor and others are enthusiastic.  The most talked-about spot is owned by Metro Transit, is right next to the freeway and Snelling Avenue [which is pretty much a freeway] and has been a parking lot for decades. There are thoughts that the stadium will "jump-start" development of the old [almost unwalkable] strip mall on the rest of the site. Article references the $31M gap in parking structures that were preventing development on the site in a study released last year. The Chamber of Commerce is also excited. Mayor says "It's too early to talk about financing." There is talk of TIF money being used, but there is a limit on the city's TIF capacity and others would like to use it for the Ford redevelopment. Article includes quote from neighborhood group about the "proposal moving too quickly [to allow] meaningful discussion." Neighbors want limits on parking. [Good! That's a big key to whether this plan will work for the city or not.]


Headline: New home design standards posed for approval; reduced height and lot coverage limits in store for new Highland, Mac-Grove homes
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city council is set to approve new limits on the size of "teardowns" in the most affluent part of the city. Some neighbors want a moratorium on teardowns. [I'm of the opinion that these standards won't really solve the problem that some people would like it to solve; developers will keep doing that they've been doing, which has everything to do with real estate markets, capitalism, and private property and historical trends around home size.] Article includes details about lot size coverage and height restrictions. [Also concerning is having separate zoning codes for wealthier vs. less affluent parts of the city.]


Headline: Coming home to Fort Snelling; veterans are moving into 58 new housing units on Upper Post
Author: Kevin Driscoll

Short short version: Cool historic buildings by Fort Snelling owned by the Veterans Administration are going to have people (veterans) living in them. [Seems great.]


Headline: High Bridge scheduled to close for redecking in 2017
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A bridge [by my house] will get a new driving surface and be closed while its under construction. [I can only hope that Mn-DOT will do something to make Smith Avenue more pedestrian friendly while this is going on! It's almost impossible to cross the street and bumpouts would go a long way to fixing that problem.] Article includes quote from neighbor who wants stairs "added back" to the bridge to connect the West 7th area to the dog park and riverfront. [That would be crazy expensive, but interesting that they'd existed in the past. Also, it would be really cool if they could maintain bike/ped access during construction.]


Headline: Jobs, housing at redeveloped Fort site discussed on July 22
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There will be jobs and housing at the old truck factory.


Headline: St. Paul accepts $6M grant for new facility for homeless
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The new Dorothy Day homeless shelter sill get a grant.


Headline: Financing for new Davern Hill sidewalk approved by council
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A really hilly street in Highland that has never had a sidewalk even though tons of people walk on it is finally getting a sidewalk even though it's not "historic" for people not to walk in places where they might be hit by cars. Also some other streets. The HPC voted against the sidewalk. [I agree with HPC about lots of things but when it means putting people in danger, I just don't get it at all.]


Headline: City Council awards STAR funds to four area projects
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Two projects on long-vacant lots in Selby Avenue, a noodle restaurant in Lowertown, and a café on Grand Avenue will get city grants to improve their buildings.


Headline: Bonds approved for addition to Recording Arts High School
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A high school on University Avenue will get some city money.


Headline: Target Express rolls out; downsized store opens July 22 in Highland Village
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A small Target is where a Barnes and Noble used to be. Both had parking lots for people to store their cars while they shop.


Headline: Johnson Bros. withdraws Shepard Road apartments plan; new ideas, new partners sought for 19-acre project
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A developer who had wanted to build a building with apartments by West 7th, Shepard Road, and the river is not interested anymore after the city, led by neighbohroods, told them they couldn't build it six-stories tall. They're looking for new ideas, but nobody knows how long it will take.


Headline: STAR funds fill $57,500 gap in Marshall median financing
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: [In a long-running saga] the city has found some sales tax money to fund a median in the middle of a street with businesses along it where lots of people try to cross the street. The city had had a grant from Macalester but the money was taken away when the project added a turn lane for a liquor store.


Headline: Support grows for return of West End's Stone Saloon
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A really old building is being rehabbed and will eventually become a brewery.


Headline: Zoning Committee splits over plan for new Grand condo;Commissioners are OK with rezoning single-family lot but not needed variances
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Planning Commission's Zoning Committee voted to not approve tearing down a single family house to replace it with an apartment building. [In the full Commission, the plan was rejected on an 8-6 vote. The building was a pretty close to the same size as the 1920s apartment buidlings on either side of it, only with underground parking.] Article includes details about exact lot coverage percentages. The neighborhood group did not like the proposal, saying it was "out of scale" and because of "parking issues." [Is it hard to park near Grand Avenue?]


Headline: Controversial lot split clears way for new Fairmount Ave. home
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A woman wants to remove her swimming pool and build a handicapped-accessible house there instead of selling it to someone and having them tear down everything and build two houses. The Board of Zoning Appeals approved the lot split on a 4-3 vote. Article includes quote from neighbor: "Like everyone else, I have been dismayed at the overbuilding in our neighborhood." [Like everyone else, I don't own a car.]


Headline: Low turnout offers little direction for Riverview transit line
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The county wants to build some sort of transit line down the West 7th Street corridor only nobody knows where and nobody seems to care enough at this point to even come to public meetings about it. Article includes map with many many lines on it. [Sometimes you gotta just jump into the pool.] Article includes quote from neighbor: "People may be jaded because this has been discussed for so long."

23.7.15

Public Character #3: Wally Wonka, who sells ice cream in Victorian garb from his multi-colored ice cream trike

The social structure of sidewalk life hangs partly on what can be called self-appointed public characters. A public character is anyone who is in frequent contact with a wide circle of people and who is sufficiently interested to make himself a public character. A public character need have no special talents or wisdom to full his function --although he often does. He just needs to be present, and there need to be enough of his counterparts. his main qualification is that he is public, that he talks to lots of different people.

-Jane Jacobs, "The Uses of Sidewalks: Contact."
[Wally Wonka selling an ice cream sandwich.]
On Tuesday afternoons in the summertime you can usually find Wally Wonka at the top of Ramsey Hill, parked underneath his umbrella attached to his multi-colored ice cream bike. He'll gladly sell you an ice cream bar, give your dog a treat, make a balloon animal, or simply chat about the weather, sartorial arts, or Saint Paul goings on.

Twin City Sidewalks (TCS): Tell me about that bike? What’s your name?

Wally Wonka (WW): I go by "Wally Wonka." There are two of these trikes, they’re called Dreamcycles. [Rings bell.] It’s an old fashioned Good Humor trike made in New Jersey. I just fancied it up with duct tape and paint and whatnot.

TCS: So, they’re designed for this?

WW: Yeah they’ve kind of gone out of fashion. Especially around here. Just me and my son do it here. There’s someone in Minneapolis that does an Italian ice cart, but that’s a little bit different. This is my job, I’ve been doing it one-and-a-half years.

TCS: Yeah I’ve seen you around. You usually dress in this Victorian manner.

WW: Yep. Hymie’s Haberdashery makes all our clothes for us.

TCS: I like that place. That’s where I get my haircut.

WW: It's an incredible place. Actually for my son’s 13th birthday I took him there for his first hot shave. It’s the coolest thing I’ve ever done. I had guys show up and share anecdotes about manhood on his 13th birthday. 

TCS: That’s cool. 

WW: Honestly the idea came from something on Leave It To Beaver. Wally was feeling like he wasn’t being treated like a man, and Ward took him and gave him a shave in front of all of his buddies, so he could look like a man in front of his buddies. So I did it. Hymie’s is great.But I left my full time job a year and a half ago, this is all I do now.

TCS: What other corners do you like going to?

WW: I’m in Maddux Park on Mondays. 

TCS: Where’s that? 

[Turks rejecting dog bacon.]
WW: It's over by Macalester, on Macalester and Palace. And I usually do special events. That’s what pays the most.

[Two women walk up Summit Avenue, one with a dog.]

Dog bacon?

[Dog rejects the dog bacon.] 

TCS: Nice dog. What’s her name again?

Woman with dog: Turks. She used to have a partner in crime called Caicos. Turks and Caicos.

WW: She’s a doll.

Woman with dog: Yeah. She really is. Thank you.

TCS: See you. Thanks for the ice cream.

WW: Appreciate you stopping. [To a guy getting out of a truck.] Need a little ice cream?
[Wally Wonka and his ice cream trike.]

16.7.15

TCSidewalks Live! Onstage with Minnpost Social August 4th

[Downtown Saint Paul.]
As you probably know, Minnpost called my bluff, and I now write the Cityscape column. That means I'm part of the "big three" at the season's first Minnpost Social, all about "changing downtowns." I'll do my best to be just irreverent and irrelevant enough.

Here's the writeup:
The 2015-16 season of MinnPost Social, sponsored by RBC Wealth Management, will start with a bang on Tuesday, Aug. 4, when MinnPost journalists Peter Callaghan, Marlys Harris and Bill Lindeke lead a public discussion on the sustainability of the downtown development booms underway in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
The event will take place 5:30-7 p.m. at the Day Block Brewing Co. tap room, 1105 Washington Ave., in Minneapolis.
Tickets are free for MinnPost Silver, Gold, and Platinum members (and their guest), and $10 for non-members.

I've never been to one of these before, so I don't know how it will go. But what can go wrong with meeting Marlys for the first time?

See you then!

15.7.15

Reading the Highland Villager #134

[A Villager delivered to a Highland rooftop. H/t to Jeff.]
[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. Until this newspaper goes online, sidewalk information must be set free.] 



Headline: Study recommends transit-oriented re-zoning of property all along Snelling
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Planning Commission is releasing the results of a study that suggest rezoning for denser mixed-use development along Snelling Avenue, which is getting a new [quasi] bus rapid transit. The study was part of a collaborative effort with the U of MN's Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA). Article includes "one red flag is the considerable amount of single-family residential property along Snelling." [Note: article has very little strum und drang.]


Headline: Selby-Snelling: a place you don't just drive by [Of course it is though.]
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: [Also, whither the "snelby" moniker?] Piece on the [planned, already occurred] "Bastille Day" celebration and street fair at Selby and Snelling. [18th c. Parisian barricades = 21st century MN-DOT urban highway.] The neighborhood groups is throwing the street party in part because of construction on the 94 bridge, and because of the new mixed-use apartment building going up on the site. Article includes long description of how crappy Snelling is to walk near, on, or across. Article includes quote from owner of coffee shop.  The new large building on the corner is seeking ideas for how to include art and use its "landmark" presence to change the feel of the street. [Bon chance!]


Headline: County backs St. Paul rollout of recycling carts
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: In two years will be able to put your empty cans and bottles into a large plastic bin with wheels instead of a small plastic bin without. This was surprisingly controversial, and cost $3.5M. There was some back and forth about whether the city or county would pay the costs.


Headline: Public sounds off on Randolph's continued reconstruction in '16
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A street is getting repaired so you can't drive on it for a while. It will cost money. Some people would like to see bumpouts added for the safety of people walking. But there is snow sometimes. These bumpouts will happen anyway probably. The intersection with Lexington will not be widened, as was planned, but there will be "changes to lane configurations." Article includes LOS grades. A right-turn lane will become a through lane and another lane will be striped.  Then there will be two lanes, plus another lane on the other corner. Plus another lane  and a lane for turns one way and the other way too. The bus stop might move 200 feet away from the corner so that people have to walk farther to catch the bus and go to the store. There is a Trader Joe's and it is [E-VIL] causing traffic problems as people [buy mind-control cheese from animatronic zombie cashiers] pull into and out of the parking lot. Best quote: "several people said they like to walk to Trader Joe's." [Zombies, probably.] Boulevard space will disappear. [Who need boulevards?]


Headline: New developments improve prospects for brewery renovation
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Another building at the Schmidt site will be renovated. It will be turned into a "festival marketplace." [Boy there's an urban development cliché I haven't heard in a while. Maybe the 80s are coming back?] The [allegedly awesome] "rathskeller building" [that I hope will become a beer-serving place] still needs tenants. "The conversion of the building is progressing more slowly than expected" because of the roof. 


Headline: City discusses future of stormwater management on Ford site
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: When it rains maybe water will not go into storm sewers. [See this for what that means.] They might "daylight" Hidden Falls Creek. [That would be rad!] Some want to memorialize Native Americans. Others want to memorialize truck factory workers.


Headline: Expect more noise as Xcel begins third year of gas pipeline work
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A 12-mile-long pipe that carries gas from the power plant to Roseville is being replaced and big machines will be making noise. [Why do we have a pipe for gas? Is this like for your stove? Heater?]


Headline: Effort begins to calm traffic on Snelling [Kind of like if you read a headline that said "World leaders start thinking about fixing climate change."]
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Snelling is being reconstructed. It might become "more welcoming" and cars might drive more slowly. The medians will have grassy bits. There will be a much faster bus. MnDOT guy describes Snelling as "the great concrete divide." [Good thing they're fixing it completely.] Sidewalks on the bridge over the freeway will be 11'. Best quote from a neighborhood resident: "The wider sidewalks and boulevards should cause Snelling Avenue pedestrians to feel safer if not actually be safer." [Power of positive thinking.] The porkchop islands will change and grow. Some want small pocket parks, but others worry the parks "will attract vagrants and panhandlers." [Yeah there aren't any panhandlers there now.] Some want better landscaping but others in the city and state worry plants would decrease sight lines for people driving their cars quickly.


Headline: STAR board favors funding for only handful of local projects [All these years and I've never once seen a "STAR Wars" headline.]
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A pot of money used for neighborhood improvements will go to a 17 different Saint Paul businesses, but not to others. Money for these kinds of projects has been diminishing because the city is short on funds for other things. Arnellia's is getting a patio.


Headline: St. Paul rec center staff reorganization appears to have gone without a hitch
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Instead of two "service areas" for Saint Paul's rec centers, there are three now, grouped into nine "campuses."


Headline: HPC denies plan to add five stories to University building; Exeter wants to put 119 apartments above shops
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Developers want to build apartments on top of an old one-story building by Raymond and University that used to be a truck company. But the heritage preservation commission (HPC) doesn't want that to happen. The HPC is worried the development is too big, and that "the entire district [would] lose its historic status."  Quote from developer: we love doing these projects in infill historic districts; I think we've come up with a great plan." [Seems that way to me too. The buildings on either side are pretty tall.] The addition would be stepped back and keep the historic building in place. The building recently housed an "armored car firm." [It doesn't get more Saint Paul than that.]


Headline: HRA reassigns loan to pave away for rehabbing of Cathedral Hill Homes
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Affordable housing apartments will be fixed up thanks to a $440K city loan.


Headline: [Ironically buried in sports section] Women on Bikes promotes interest in two-wheel travel
Author: Brian Johnson

Short short version: A group of women are trying to ride bicycles in Saint Paul and talking about it. Quote from organizer: "bicycling is not just something that 40-something men in spandex do, but women, families, moms and dads do for all kinds of reason." They have a Facebook page. They go on organized rides, like to breweries and cafés. Apparently women want to feel safe while biking in Saint Paul. [I don't see that working out.]