Sidewalk Poetry #51

rain on the spiny architecture
of the bridge I trust
more than the blur-edged sunset
garish as a painted backdrop
today it took four minutes
red minutes left
unspooling over and overspent
to be carried over a bridge at 8:41 PM
into the shiny inviolate rain
is to sail on a manageable ocean
is an effortless walk in a quarry of salt
what happened today?
to ride across a wet black bridge
is to forget each item of news
and replace each one
with the spiny architecture
of the bridge

[The Manhattan Bridge at twilight or dawn.]


Twin City Shop Windows #12

[West 7th Street, Saint Paul. Anoka.]

 [Location forgotten. Anoka?]



[University Avenue, Saint Paul.]

[Linden Hills, Minneapolis.]

[Downtown, Minneapolis.]

[Cedar-Riverside, Minneapolis.]

Twin Cities Neon #16

[University Avenue, Saint Paul.]

[Location forgotten.]

[Downtown, Saint Paul.]

[Larpenteur Avenue, Saint Paul.]

[Selby Avenue, Saint Paul.]

[Washington Avenue, Minneapolis.]

[West Side, Saint Paul.]

[Mendota Heights.]


Classic Sidewalks of the Silver Screen #97: The Los Angeles / Minneapolis Streetscapes of Purple Rain

To be honest, I was never a huge Prince fan. Even back in the 1990s, after brief pop and rock phases, I was getting into jazz. But that's more on me than on Prince, who, just to be clear, also loved Miles Davis.

But I did love the fact that Prince grew up and lived in Minneapolis. I love the story he told about the city, and how it made our city so much richer and more interesting. I love what he reflected.

In a way,  Prince was to Minneapolis as Garrison Keillor is to Saint Paul, and I know which one of the two I'd rather hang out with! (Though if pressed, I'd probably choose to "have a beer" with Garrison, simply because Prince was a weird Jehovah's Witness teetotaler or something and wouldn't drink a beer anyway.)

(Bonus: the top three Prince stories: Charlie Murphy, Kevin Smith, and Questlove.)

For some reason, I didn't watch Purple Rain until about four years ago, but I was captivated by the lost landscape of the film, the downtown Minneapolis full of streetlife, diversity, and edgy art.

But then I looked at the film again, and realized that almost all of the street scenes in Purple Rain are actually downtown Los Angeles, not downtown Minneapolis. I guess I'm pretty naive.

Here are the screen caps from a post I was going to write on this year ago, and never got around to.

And here's the one exception, obviously:

All in all, downtown Los Angeles does a surprisingly decent job at looking like downtown Minneapolis in the 70s/80s. But today, there's almost nothing left of the landscape that Prince was trying to capture in Purple Rain.

Other than First Avenue, that is.

That's what's sad about watching Purple Rain. The very things that the movie celebrate -- the vibrant street life, the mix of black and white, the gritty charm, the sense of open-ness -- are the very things that city policies have spent decades trying to erase. It's less likely that a fateful Prince + First Avenue intersection could take place in today's downtown, where so much of the socially and cultural porous landscape has been solidified in favor of big business and failed attempts to suburbanize the downtown retail landscape.

Block E is the textbook example of this, the block right next to First Avenue. But there are plenty of other spots in the city where the wrecking ball cleared away the downtown's gritty arts scene in favor of "modern" parking, office, and shopping complexes. And there's a good chance that if Prince and others hadn't made it famous, First Avenue might  have been one of the victims of downtown "progress" too.

Just something to think about as Minneapolis celebrates the life of Prince...


Reading the Highland Villager Op-Ed Extra #10

[Cleveland Ave before picture; dangerous street next to a University.]
Pros and cons of two road projects
By Michael Mischke

Two local road projects -- one all but a done deal and the other just a proposal -- share two common features: the laudatory goal of making the streets safer and the potential to cause serious unintended consequences. Let's examine the pros and cons of each.

Dedicated bike lanes on Cleveland Avenue along the 2.75 mile stretch from Eleanor Avenue in Highland Park to University Avenue in Merriam Park were approved by the St. Paul City Council on March 17. The controversial $362,000 project pitted individual bicyclists and bicycle advocacy groups against local residents and businesses who are concerned about the resulting loss of on-street parking on the narrower stretch of Cleveland north of Randolph Avenue.

In just the most recent battle in the ongoing war between bikes and motor vehicles in St. Paul, the bikes won 5-2 before the City Council. Ramsey County is now expected to give its blessing to the bike lanes. (Cleveland is a county road!)

[This is the only part of the column that annoyed me, the idea that there is a "war" between cars and bikes or that "individual bicyclists and bicycle advocacy groups" were "pitted" against local residents and businesses. 

The reality is the bike plan is part of a much larger movement. For years in Saint Paul there have been people from all over the city working on improving street design, walkability, and bike access for a whole bunch of different reasons including safety, sustainability, livability, personal and public health, and even local business reasons. Highland and Mac-Grove are full of people that want safer streets for bicycling, and there's a lot of local support for better streets and bike lanes that go far beyond the usual bike advocacy suspects. That's one reason that the Council vote was 5-2 in favor of bike lanes, and the Highland District Council vote was 14-0 in favor of the ped medians. 

In my experience, safer streets don't come at the expense of cars. On the contrary, making Snelling safer, and adding bike connections from Highland Village through both Colleges all the way to University Avenue, will improve the  neighborhood in many ways, including making it safer for drivers. Once you stop thinking that convenient parking is the only thing that matters, street design is no longer a zero-sum game.]

There's little doubt that bicycling on Cleveland will be safer and more popular after parking is banned, the bike lanes are striped and the speed limit is reduced from 30 to 25 mph.

There's also little doubt that another north-south designated bike route on the western end of St. Paul is desirable for the growing number of people who are biking for recreational and commuting purposes.

However, the loss of nearly all of the on-street parking for Cleveland Avenue residents and businesses will mean more traffic, and parking congestion on nearby side streets and the real possibility that customers of Cleveland businesses will opt to make their purchases where parking is more convenient and plentiful. There are already 10 resident-only permit parking districts near Cleveland Avenue owing to the presence of St. Thomas and St. Catherine universities. The added parking pressure on streets outside of those districts can be expected to create a push for expanded permit parking districts, thereby compounding the problem.

The Highland District Council has not come up with a plan to construct a series of center medians on Snelling Avenue between Randolph Avenue and Ford Parkway. There too the goal is to create a safer street by slowing down traffic, creating a safe haven for pedestrians crossing the street, and eliminating half of the left turns on to and off of Snelling from and to local side streets.

However, there too the benefits come at a cost beyond the estimated $2.25 million tab for construction. the eight-to-10-food-wide center medians would mean the elimination of nearly of the on-street parking on the east side of Snelling, pushing those vehicles onto local side streets. The elimination of half of the left turns to and from Snellign would force more motorists to use side streets to get where they're going. And access to the parking lots of local businesses would be restricted, further exacerbating parking and traffic congestion in abutting residential areas.

But Snelling serves the parking needs of more than just residents and businesses. The worshipers at three churches along that length of Snelling also use the street for parking, as do the people who attend services at three funeral homes, watch hockey games at the Charles Schulz Highland Arena, and hop buses to the Minnesota state Fair with the satellite shuttle service that operates annually from Gloria Dei Church. Those people too would be forced to find alternative parking elsewhere.

The board of the HDC voted 14-0 on April 7 to recommend going forward with the Snelling medians. The City Council must sign off on the project, as must the Minnesota Department of Transportation because Snelling is a state highway. Construction could begin next year.

Both of these road projects have the potential to improve the quality of life for people living in and traveling through local neighborhoods on these two arterial streets. But they also have the potential to increase parking and traffic in nearby residential areas and adversely affect the business that operate along those streets. A good case can be made that the cons outweigh the pros.

Michael Mischke is the publisher of the Villager.

[Well, I like this editorial because it least Michske lays out the facts in a pretty straightforward way, although his description of the Cleveland Avenue situation differs markedly from my own. The only strange part is the very end of the column, where Michske comes to the conclusion that convenient parking trumps walkability and safety. That's exactly the opposite conclusion that I make.

I think it boils down to a difference in vision for Saint Paul. Michske sees the goal of competing with the suburbs, places (as he says) "where parking is more convenient and plentiful." Presumably Michske's ideal kind of commercial land-use for Saint Paul would be one of the few places where the retail has a distinctly suburban character, like the Midway Shopping Center, the Highland Lunds' strip mall retail area, or maybe the Kowalski's or Trader Joe's stores. All of these buildings place parking front and center, and use a suburban design that values easy parking over walkability, a quality streetscape, or connection to the neighborhood.

Personally, I think the strength of Saint Paul's small businesses comes from creating walkable places without large parking lots in between all the buildings. People don't shop or dine in Saint Paul because its easy to park. They come for the unique neighborhood businesses, the quality public space, and because our streets are beautiful and historic. The more we can entice people out of their cars and onto the sidewalks of Selby, Marshall, Grand, St. Clair, or Cleveland, the more our businesses and communities will thrive. Safer, more walkable, more bikeable streets are a big step in the right direction.

If they are thriving, and as long as parking meters are voted off the island, high-demand areas like Grand or Selby Avenues will always be places where it's rare if you find a parking spot in front of the business. That means that  people will always complain about parking, either because its too expensive or too difficult. The solution isn't to pave more of our city for parking lots, but to create safe and inviting streets that people enjoy. Improving Saint Paul's streets and sidewalks will mean that customers will more gladly walk a few blocks or pay a few bucks. Great streets will make our unique local businesses all the more inviting. That's why, for both these projects, the pros greatly outweigh the cons. In fact, it's no contest.]