Reading the Highland Villager #130


[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: Six-story Shepard road project get height variance; Neighbors say apartment building is too tall for river site

Author: Jane McClure


Short short version: A new building planned for the far southwest edge of town is 18.5’ too tall for its zoning code, but received a variance from the Planning Commission. Neighbors are appealing the variance to the City council on the grounds that it is too close to the river valley to receive a variance for added height [The rationale there being that views of the river valley ought to be preserved, which is an odd concept to me given the huge amounts of development and transformation that have occurred in the river valley generally speaking, for example the airport, the freeway bridges, or the way in which the water level is artificially kept high through the locks and dams in order to maintain barge transportation. What is or is not considered “natural” is entirely artificial.] The proposed building will have 210 apartments and some mixed use components, and is the first part of a larger development on the end of West 7th and Shepard. The site is undergoing some zoning and regulatory changes which would make the proposed height acceptable with a conditional use permit. There are questions about whether the proposed building is mixed-use, if only about 1% of the space is “retail” or “offices.” Strict requirements about what is or is not mixed-use do not currently exist. [That should probably exist. Getting some actual retail in this area would be a nice change, given the existing homogeneity.]


Headline: Commission OKs plan for four-story redevelopment in Highland Village [Q: Is ‘Highland Village’ a well-defined geographic concept? Like where does it start and end? If you try to leave does 'Rover' come chase you down?]

Author: Jane McClure


Short short version: Plans to transform a building that used to be an [Edina] realty office into a 4-story mixed-use apartment building were approved by the Planning Commission. There will be 109 parking spaces. [More than is required by cit y code, a truly Highland thing to do.] Article includes quote from a commissioner that development like this is “legal” and that “the city has taken a position in its comprehensive plan that it supports greater density on transit corridors such as Cleveland.” [That sounds entirely too reasonable.] There are three petitions in opposition to the building. Quotes from neighbors include: “The project really doesn’t fit into the neighborhood; it’s just not common sense” and “This will erode the quality of life.”


Headline: Ford site planning meeting held

Author: Jane McClure


Short short version: There will be [was] a meeting abut bike and transit plans for the Ford plant site.


TCS: Headline: Study of highway.5/Shepard Road now in motion; possible realignment prompted by traffic, area developments

Author: Jane McClure


Short short version: The city had a meeting about a study they are doing that would try to re-direct through traffic along the unpeople’d Shepard Road instead of the [relatively] dense populated West 7th area. CM Tolbert would like to see “a solid public-based study to guide any future decisions.” Nobody knows how much anything would cost, whether it would work, or who would pay for it. [Preliminary results from the study show that West 7th carries a surprisingly small amount of ‘through’ traffic, so that only about 25% or so of the total would be removed if a more direct connection was made to Shepard and 35E. I think most engineers and planners would have estimated a higher amount than that.]


Headline: Task forces rank plethora of proejcts seeking CIB dollars

Author: Jane McClure


Short short version: [All the things in Saint Paul are pitted against each other in a Darwinian struggle to the death: falling down bridge vs. rec center playground vs. bike path vs. fire station improvements…. FIGHT!]



Headline: Starbucks proposed for vacant lot at Marshall and Snelling; Coffee shop; S drive-thru lanes disappoint Merriam Park committee members

Author: Jane McClure


Short short version: There are plans to build a coffee shop in a vacant lot at a key corner [in an currently almost unwalkable but potentially walkable area]. It will be one story and have drive thru lanes. Article includes quote from neighborhood group: “I hate the idea of a drive-thru,” and “it would be a traffic nightmare.” [See also.] Curb cuts are an issue. The Starbucks would move here from the Snelby corner, where it currently exists. [This is kind of like the way in which the Walgreens is moving across the street downtown.] Article includes some descriptions of how people could drive around with their coffee. [Just park your car and get out of your car and walk in and get your coffee and then walk out and get back in your car with your coffee and drive with your coffee. Free idea: they should build a building that looks like the “freight house” Dunn Brothers, with only 4 parking spaces and 19th century bricks.] Any drive-thru would need a variance and a conditional use permit. [Hm.]



Headline: Midway Center owner considers smaller-scale redevelopment; High cost of new streets, parking ramps and parks waylays ambitious plan to redevelop all 35 acres

Author: Jane McClure


Short short version: The plans to redevelop the [horribly ugly and empty] parking lots and strip malls at Snelling University by set of building a mixed-use buildings and re-integrating the street grid are more epxensive than originally hoped [because of a $40M parking ramp, even though the site right next to two of the region’s largest transit projects] so the property owner is considering only re-developing part of the site. The smaller portion would be where the one-story strip mall with the liquor store is currently. Earlier plans to move a Walgreens [See also the rother moving Walgreens] into an old bank are mysteriously missing. The Met Council is involved because they own a parcel by the freeway.



Headline: Work begins on Minnehaha in Mpls,

Author: Kevin Driscoll


Short short version: [Meanwhile, in some city to the West…] A street [that might have had a protected bike lane but won’t] will be reconstructed in four-block segments. It will have bike lanes. Businesses are worried about construction. [It’s really weird to read a Villager article about bike lanes and street construction and small businesses and parking taking place in a city that actually supports bike lanes, bicycling, and walking. It kind of takes all the sturm und drang out of the experience.]



Headline: St. Paulites weigh in on new residential design standards; Teardown controversy comes to a head with May 8 public hearing

Author: Jane McClure


Short short version: First sentence: “Years of cuts to historic preservation budgest and a lack of attention to the city’s historic resources have set the stage for the current controversy over residential teardowns in St. Paul, according to preservation advocates.” [This is sort of weird to me because I thought teardowns were mostly about economics, and changing tastes in housing styles and sizes. Which preservation budget are they referring to here?] Aritlce is about the proposed design standards that are meant to counteract the “teardown” trend in the southwest part of the city that has seen houses being torn down and replaced with larger houses in nice neighborhoods. The design standards, which would be applied citywide, would control setbacks and height relative to nearby properties, and “reduce the maximum coverage of homes and other structures on a residential lot.” People in neighborhood groups are worried that they don’t understand the implications of the new standards because fo the fast timeline [as am I]. There is a new group that has formed called “Save Our St. Paul Neighborhoods” [or SOSPN]. There is discussion of historic districts and conservation districts. Article includes interesting detail: “Between 1996 and 2005, onlky one St. Paul property – the building that housed the former Coney Island bar and restaurant in downtown – was designated historic.” [Entirely inaccurate to say that the Original Coney island is a “former… bar and restaurant.” They still exist; they are still “open”; I had a hot dog there last year. It’s just that their hours are a bit infrequent…]



Headline: Council finds Grand Ave. house can no longer be used as student rental

Author: Jane McClure


Short short version: A house that was previously rented to students for 10 years will not longer be allowed to be rented to students because the owners did not file paperwork. The house is very close to existing student rental houses. [Students are not a protected class,” so it’s OK to discriminate against them without shame or feeligns of guilt.] Article includes quote: “to me, only the most absentee of absentee landlords can claim ignorance of the law.”  [Oh well, sucks to be those people. Also, it sucks to be a student in Saint Paul paying high rent because of an ordinance that doesn’t really solve the problem of bad behavior. Shouldn’t students be living on Grand Avenue?]



Headline: St. Paul stiffens sanctions against stores that violate business license

Author: Jane McClure


Short short version: Conveince stores who aren’t selling smokes correctly will now be uanlbe to re-open under the license of a family member. [OR something.] The city is struggling to come up with ways to penalize corner stores that break the law and sell smokes to minors. They’re trying to be creative about it.



Headline: A cup of joe and a community’s trust; Corner Drug’s soda fountain is refurbished in wake of an accident bu the coffee is still just a nickel

Author: James McKenzie


Short short version: A [very cool] pharmacy where you can still buy coffee for a nickel that had a car drive into the side of it [off of the very busy and poorly deisgned Mn-DOT road, Snelling Avenue] is up and running again. [See also.] Article includes many charming and nostalgiac details about the history of the business. Article includes the statement: “Computer technology has changed exponentially since the 1980s.”



Headline: Off the beaten path; West End woman assembles pieces needed to turn an unslightly stretch along I-24E into a thing of beauty

Author: Larry Englund


Short short version: A gardener is trying to landscape and improve the [weird and unsightly] 35E bike path along the freeway sound wall by planting trees, perennails, vines, and grasses. Article includes detail: “there were lots of (homeless) encampments.”




Twin City Message Boards #10

 [Växjö, Sweden.]

 [Somewhere in Sweden.]

 [Växjö, Sweden.]

[Stockholm, Sweden.]

 [Stockholm, Sweden.]

 [Stockholm, Sweden.]

[Turku, Finland.]

[West Bank Campus, Minneapolis.]


Reading the Highland Villager #129

[Villagers in spring.]
[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: HDC, residents find Johnson Bros. project too tall for old U. S. Bank site
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: An empty lot by the river in the far southwest corner of the city might become a six-story building, but neighbors and environmentalists are upset about the height.  The building requires a variance. [Note: this was approved in the Planning Commission meeting, that I missed.] "Underlying bedrock makes underground parking impossible." There will be a 290-space parking ramp, a dog run, and "other amenities." Residents of a nearby apartment building are concerned the new apartment building will block their view of the river valley. There might be a "neighborhood cafe." One neighbor says the developers are "greedy" while another says the height creates "sort of an entitlement." [The city council will likely get involved in this.]

Headline: Historic status envisioned for five stone houses on West End
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Some old houses made of limestone and other old things like that that date back to the 1860s and 70s might get historic status in the form of "a historic district." Nobody seems upset by the idea. Article includes quote from city historic preservation person: "This is the first time we'd be doing a designation of this kind," meaning a district and not simply "register"-level designation. Back then, "limestone was plentiful and strong." [In two years one of these buildings will be a brewery.]

Headline: Neighbors air concerns over RockTenn
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The big recycling plant in the Midway smells worse and is louder than it used to be, according to people nearby. Nobody is quite sure why. One quote describes it as "a constant hum or helicopter-like sound." Another says "wet paper," "like a floor finish," "like rotten eggs." [Wow. This is quite the sensory assortment. I heard that a huge amount of the upper Midwest's recycling goes through that plant. It certainly is large, but I've never smelled or heard anything too bad when I've gone past.] Best quote comes from CM Stark: "Conspiracy theories are interesting, but we're not that well-organized." [I think he's referring to the city launching some sort of massive industrial noise pollution/recycling mafia conspiracy, which given the helicopter sounds, might be incredibly devious, in a Mel Gibson kind of way. But he's certainly correct in thinking that Saint Paul is not that organized. I can vouch for that.]

Headline: Court ruling spurs call for protections against home teardowns
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A court ruling that permitted an old house to be torn down in crocus hill has made people even more concerned about other teardowns mostly in Ward 3 [aka Highland aka where most of the nicer homes are located in the city aka one of the parts that was built after WWII]. There's a new public group. One concern is lot splits and demolitions. Article includes some of the details about the crocus hill house, which dates back to the 20s. Crocus Hill is not a historic district. The owners want to tear the house down to build a handicapped-accessible house. [A lot of very wealthy people seem to be involved in this one, and one can imagine many legal fees as well.] Quote from home owner: "We're private people and this has been an unpleasant experience." There will be a public hearing on the issue this Friday. [I'll be there with my ears open.]

Headline: Stormy weather: road construction season returns with a vengeance [Stormy weather?]
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Roads are under construction during the warm time just like happens every year. Quote from director of Public Works: "Everyone wants the streets fixed, but no one wants us to close them so that we can get work done." [Won't somebody think of the children?]

Headline: More wishing on this year's STAR funding
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Overview of projects for city grants and loans that compete with each other every year for a pot of money generated by a sales tax. Proposals include a circus school, mini-golf art project, an old brewery remodeling, and a senior housing project. [That about covers the whole spectrum of white people's desires, from birth to death.] There are other things too; it's a very long list. Developments, affordable housing projects, schools, homeless shelters...

Headline: Where Neighborhood STAR dollars really go
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: More on the above, detailing how much of the total STAR money is actually used for debt service. [Sounds shady!] Article includes quote from one of the STAR board members: "We do what we can with the resources we have." [Note: this is actually a great story about public policy and its challenges in St Paul!] Quote: "Although the use of sales tax funds to pay for debt service and other needs has been deemed legal by the city Attorney's office and helps balance the city budget, critics have said it flies in the face of the program's original intent to support neighborhood projects. [That's it in a nutshell, the fight for money between top-down City Hall decision makers and a community committee and more "democratic" processes, in the sense that the city's neighborhood groups and processes are actually democratic, which is a legitimate debate for sure. This is the best Villager story I've read in at least a year.]

Headline: Ramsey Hill residents question restoring two-sided parking
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Business owners would like to have people be able to park on both sides of streets in the Cathedral Hill area. [Fancy restaurants, mostly.] Neighbors are worried about overly-narrow streets, the hindrance of fire trucks, and "creating hazards for pedestrians and motorists." [Honest question: Why bring pedestrians into this?] Quote from neighbor on the fear of two-sided parking: "Listening to all of you, i should be in fear for my life." [Another obvious solution is parking meters on Selby.]

Headline: A lofty idea: creative types residing at brewery open doors for home tour, art crawl
Author: Kevin Driscoll

Short short version: People live in the old brewery now. Pictures included. Quote: "I have a spiral staircase leading to an airy loft space." [Well isn't that nice?]


TCSidewalks Tour: Noteworthy Parking Lots of Minneapolis Bike Tour


It's time once again for a psychogeographic tour of noteworthy places led by yours truly. This time we're going to "look at the parking lot, really see the parking lot for what it is, and try to find god in the parking lot." We will examine the past, present, and future of parking lots, the faded utopian dreams of parking visionaries. So much happens in a parking lot, glazed with oily water, beside the white Hondas.

Questions asked will include:

Q: What is a parking lot?

Q: Is it it nothing?

Q: Is it everything?

[Crown jewel of the parking lot park system.]
In a sense, parking lots are the urban water through which we swim. They sit invisibly, the emptiness around us, that which keeps us apart. 

We will visit and explore five noteworthy parking lots centered around downtown Minneapolis, beginning with the parking lot in front of the Lake Street K-Mart at the corner where Lake and Nicollet ought to be.

We will travel north from there to visit two parking lots in downtown Minneapolis, and two parking lots in Northeast Minneapolis.
  • What: Bicycle tour of five parking lots in Minneapolis
  • Where: Meet at the K-Mart parking lot (Lake and Nicollet) 
  • When: Wednesday 4/29; departing at 6:30 pm
  • How long: About 5 miles on bicycle, probably 90 - 120 minutes
  • Why: To explore the urban landscape of the Twin Cities
[RSVP at the Facebook invite here. Or don't. Bring a friend.]
[The parking lot from Fargo.]
The tour will include the K-Mart parking lot, the downtown parking lot where the film Fargo was shot, the parking lot at the former Nicollet Hotel site, the parking lot outside Nye's Polonaise room, and the Northeast Bank parking lot park, probably the most unique parking lot in the Twin Cities!

[See previous tours here: Dive Bars of Old Fort Road, Dive Bars of South Minneapolis, The Last Holidazzle, Overlooked Parks of Saint Paul, Dive Bars of the Green Line, Skyways of Minneapolis, and Chinese Restaurants of East Lake Street.]

[Parking space: the final frontier.]


GOP War on Cities Begins and Ends with Hypocrisy

[Joyce Peppin (R-Rogers), second from left, cutting a massive road project ribbon.]
The low rumbling sound you hear in Saint Paul these days isn't the re-construction of Wabasha Street. It's the continuing attempts to erode the financial solvency of urban Minnesota. This has been going on all session with the strange obsession with anti-urban (and pro-rural?) politics coming out of the Republican-controlled house, but yesterday's article in the Star Tribune about draconian cuts to the state's three largest (and poorest) cities sets a new low bar.

It shouldn't be necessary to point out that Minneapolis, Saint Paul, and Duluth are the three cities in the state that are coping with the largest amount of (racially concentrated) poverty, but that's the simple truth. Glancing at map of the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and Saint Paul (and a tiny handful of suburbs) are where all the poor people of color live.

[Poor brown people shaded in purple.]
Note that this comes on top of the 5-county metro area's attempts to ignore racial inequality by attacking the Met Council's new (and still largely symbolic) recognition of poverty as a factor in transportation spending.  The fact that this small step toward redressing long-standing racially problematic policies is being fought so vociferously makes the race and class dynamics of Minnesota politics surprisingly clear... That is, if you're paying attention.

Simply put, by going directly at the three core cities, the GOP is attacking poor people and people of color. Whatever urban vitality we might have is caught in the crossfire.

Regional and State Policy: Not Dead Yet!

The bigger picture is a policy battle over whether we think about policies at a regional or state-wide level. The LGA program is a recurring political football whereby wealthy cities pool money to give to poorer cities. Along with the Met Council's planning and transportation programs, the metro-area tax-base sharing fund, and the vague Minnesotan predilection for income over property taxes, it's one of the few so-called "Minnesota miracle" programs lingering around since the 1970s.

In the case of a city like Duluth, which is struggling with large areas of poverty and aging infrastructure, and is so cash-strapped that it routinely considers selling off its museum holdings, cutting the city budget is literally undermining the marginal lives of tens of thousands of poor people in Minnesota.

Here's the most eye-opening part of the Star Tribune story:

David Montgomery, Duluth’s chief administrative officer, told lawmakers, “Our entire fire department budget is $14.8 million. We could eliminate our fire department completely and we would still have to find $5 million to cut.”
Montgomery said such a massive cut in aid would likely force Duluth to lay off 300 of its 830 employees.
Anyone who's been paying attention to Duluth city budgets lately knows that a cut like this would be a death sentence. The same kind of effect would happen in Minneapolis or Saint Paul.

[A sign of things to come if the GOP gets its way.]

The Hypocritical Case of Rogers, MN

[Counties subsidized by the state are colored in red.]
The particularly ironic part of the picture is that out-state Minnesota already receives massive amounts of redistributive income from the wealthier urban areas.

If you read the next two paragraphs of the article, you get this precious quote from Joyce Peppin (R-Rogers), the Minnesota House Majority leader:
But House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, maintained that the three cities are getting more than their share of local government aid, known as LGA.
“Minneapolis and St. Paul do get a large portion of LGA. I think it’s something that needs to be looked at, frankly,” Peppin said. The city of Rogers does not get local state aid.

It's ironic because Rogers, a tiny exurban town of about 9,000 people, has been by far the #1 recipient of Governor Dayton's transportation spending slush fund, the "Corridors of Commerce" program. As I wrote back in 2014, when Dayton's Mn-DOT back-room list was first revealed, the program is a way to funnel money directly to "key transportation investments", which often means rural roads. For some reason, Rogers, in Peppin's home district, received the lions share:

[$130M in state general fund dollars doing directly into Peppin's district last year.]

I wrote back in 2014 that it seemed stupid to spend so much of the Governor's discretionary transportation budget in and around Rogers, a place that has about as much chance of supporting DFL policies as Charlie Brown has of kicking the football. Since those massively expensive freeway investments, there's been a huge industrial warehousing boom all throughout Rogers and Peppin's district. If you listen to people like Peppin, all that new economic activity is simple reflecting the free market. In reality, it represnts a return on the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dolalrs that have poured into Rogers over the last few years.

The GOP's anti-urban, anti-poor rhetoric should be called out for the race and class war that it is. It's the Minnesota wing of the Scott Walker revolution going on next door. Lets hope this is the last we hear about it.

[Rogers: a great place to play lacrosse and pretend poor people don't exist.]