28.4.15

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?]

20.4.15

TCSidewalks Tour: Noteworthy Parking Lots of Minneapolis Bike Tour

https://mapsengine.google.com/map/edit?authuser=0&authuser=0&hl=en&hl=en&mid=zKsA5DxUy2zI.kl7uh-ILiTZ0

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.]

17.4.15

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.]

10.4.15

*** Sidewalk Weekend! ***

Sidewalk Rating: Pivotal

Now most guys think they know how to drive. But the fact is vary few people know how to drive, they just steer. Everytime I drive down the street I marvel at the fact that there isn't an accident every few seconds. Every day I see two or three people simply run through red lights as if they didn't exist. I'm no preacher but I can tell you this -- the lives that people lead are driving them crazy and their insanity comes out in the way they drive. I'm not here to tell you how to live. You'll have to see your rabbi or your priest or your local whore. I'm here to teach you how to drive. I'm trying to keep our insurance rates down, and to fix it so you can get back to your room alive at night.

[Factotum, Charles Bukowski.]


[The Dickeyville grotto, Dickeyville WI.]


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http://www.minnpost.com/second-opinion/2015/03/county-health-rankings-reveal-north-south-divide-minnesota


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