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Streets.mn is the New Black

This is what Streets.mn looks like.

Go check out Streets.mn. Everyone who normally posts here (except Colin) is now posting over there! It's great! No lie!

(Don't say I didn't warn you.) Read more >

The scale of a neighborhood

The idea of a neighborhood is a malleable concept.  Everyone has a different perception of their own neighborhood's extent, and the extent can change depending on context. It can vary from the very small, such as merely counting houses immediately adjacent to your own, to quite large—perhaps miles in size.

Back in my early childhood, my sense of my own neighborhood was toward the extremely small end.  I didn't think of it extending much more than a few houses away, though an exception was the nearby park, which my mother got a decent view of from her kitchen window.  Put another way, the extent of my neighborhood was about the maximum distance at which my brother and I could hear my parents calling us home for supper in the evenings. Read more >

Union Depot Pedestrian Plaza? Or Converted Driveway?

Union Depot Driveway during preliminary construction

The Union Depot which is undergoing a major renovation and transformation back into a transit hub, with the construction of the Central Corridor Light Rail. The way in which people will be arriving to the Depot will soon begin to shift from vehicles to mass transit (predominantly light rail) Read more >

Valuing the Public Realm

West River Commons Plaza

Are we doing enough to create good cities and urbanism? Perhaps we need to be thinking first about the design of public space and then private development. Read more >

Rondo and I-94 vs. Central Corridor LRT

View Urban renewal in the I-94 corridor in a larger map

There are two buildings near the corner of Rice Street and University Avenue in Saint Paul that are the only remnants of a huge neighborhood bulldozed for urban renewal and the construction of Interstate 94.

Anyone who has followed the Central Corridor light-rail project has heard of Saint Paul's old Rondo neighborhood and how that community was displaced in the 1950s. The story goes that businesses and homes were torn down in the corridor between St. Anthony Avenue and Rondo Avenue (now mostly known as Concordia Avenue) in order to make way for the Interstate. The spectre of Rondo has weighed heavily on planners and transit advocates who don't want to see past mistakes repeated along the Central Corridor line. However, it's clear that many people involved have been unaware of the truly massive scale of what happened in the 1950s and 1960s. For example, did you know that all of the land in the map above had been leveled in the 1950s?

Many buildings outside of that zone were also taken down, but typically in a more fine-grained manner, one or two at a time. But Rondo got painted with a broad brush and saw block upon block torn down. Read more >

Taking local action

Minneapolis Skyline CC licensed by flickr user Doug Wallick

Over at Grist, David Roberts lays down the brutal logic of climate change:

With immediate, concerted action at global scale, we have a slim chance to halt climate change at the extremely dangerous level of 2 degrees C. If we delay even a decade -- waiting for better technology or a more amenable political situation or whatever -- we will have no chance.

And what's so special about 2 degrees C?  Well, that may be something like a point of no return.

The thing is, if 2 degrees C is extremely dangerous, 4 degrees C is absolutely catastrophic. In fact, according to the latest science, says Anderson, "a 4 degrees C future is incompatible with an organized global community, is likely to be beyond 'adaptation', is devastating to the majority of ecosystems, and has a high probability of not being stable."

Roberts is citing the work of Kevin Anderson, former head of the UK's leading climate research institution.  Other scientists are making similar predictions.  James Hanson, director of Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, says, "The target of 2C... is a prescription for long-term disaster".  Increasingly, you don't have to look far to find words like "apocalyptic" being used to describe the path we're on.

So we need to reverse course on emissions by 2015, and in dramatic fashion.  But the latest round of international talks seem to be on shaky ground.  All US climate bills have so far failed.  So what's a local planner or public official to do?  Decry the problem as global in scope and thus unsolvable? Shrug shoulders and pour a stiff drink?  While I have a healthy amount of skepticism about the ability of one jurisdiction or even one state to have a measurable impact on the global trendline, I think we absolutely must be making our best efforts now, for a number of reasons:

  Read more >

The Urban Future of Hiawatha Avenue

Surely We Can Do Better Than This

There is an opportunity to create a more humane, livable Hiawatha Avenue, and, to try out a metaphor, now may be the time to step out in to the intersection and begin our journey across. Hiawatha Avenue should become an urban boulevard that unites neighborhoods rather than divides them, particularly near light rail stations where pedestrian counts have steadily increased since light rail service began and development continues to occur. What’s nice is I’m not the only one who believes this. Read more >

In defense of zoning

[Minneapolis has seen zoning constraints with the Pillsbury A Mill project, which has been downscaled both due to local complaints and market conditions].

Zoning has been criticized by many of a libertarian bent as denying individual property owners the right to do what they want with their property. It has also been criticized by densificationists who declaim the damnably high rents induced by real density caps enabled by zoning. I discussed some of these issues relating to height limits yesterday. I am of a libertarian bent and I like density, so why do I, in principle, think zoning is a useful concept? Read more >

Really Narrow Streets: A Missing Element in Twin Cities Urban Design

Even the narrowest of Twin Cities streets are pretty wide. With few exceptions, streets in Minneapolis and St. Paul tend to range in width from 30 to 60 feet, curb to curb. Including sidewalks and boulevards, the width stretches to a ballpark range of 40 to 70 feet. Streets get even wider when you move into the "stroad" territory of suburban and semi-rural commercial strips. An average neighborhood street in Minneapolis may not seem wide in the context of an average American city, but compared to the "really narrow streets" of traditional cities in Europe and Asia they are gigantic: 

Read more >

Bad Urbanist - Episode I

Why am I feeling so guilty?

It’s cold. It’s blusterly. It’s nasty weather. Not quite Minnesota cold; not yet, anyway. No frostbite setting in before I’ve made it down the driveway. My knees still function. Nevertheless, it’s ugly enough out here that my wife has put on her I’m-just-barely-putting-up-with-my-husband face. She is not happy about this... Read more >