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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 >

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 >

The New Minneapolis Plan

The Minneapolis Downtown Council recently released "Intersections" a plan for Downtown Minneapolis. I had nothing to do with this plan, and so am free to comment. The plan is organized according to 10 major initiatives for 2025 Read more >

Using bikes for serious emissions reduction

Bicycles in a square - CC licensed by flickr user R Stanek

 

According to the European Cycling Federation, if the whole of the EU cycled like the Danes, they could achieve significant emissions cuts.

If the EU cycling rate was the same as it is in Denmark, where the average person cycles almost 600 miles (965km) each year, then the bloc would attain anything from 12% to 26% of its targeted transport emissions reduction, depending on what forms of transport the cycling replaced, according to the report by the Brussels-based European Cycling Federation (ECF).

This figure is likely to be a significant underestimate as it deliberately excludes the environmental impact of building road infrastructure and parking, or maintaining and disposing of cars.

These figures are for the EU’s 2050 emissions reduction target.  The figures are even greater for 2020 targets.

Bikes are not a new technology that would require long adoption periods and high initial capital costs.  Almost everyone knows how to use them, and they are cheap.  They also have myriad co-benefits, not least of which is increased physical activity.  To get serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we should take a close look at the bike as a potential solution.

Using ECF’s study as a model and making some estimates, the Twin Cities metro could see some significant emissions reductions if we biked like the Danes, but getting there would be tough.  I’ll get to that, but first some initial thoughts on the Europeans.

  Read more >

What is the Constituency of a Local Land-Use Decision?

In the Linden Hills neighborhood of Minneapolis, a local entrepreneur put together a proposal to develop a surface parking lot into a 5-story condo building with retail space on the ground floor. The location is a commercial node in an affluent Minneapolis neighborhood that was first developed along a streetcar line in the early 20th century.

But some residents of the neighborhood aren't taking too kindly to the prospect of change to their beloved neighborhood retail corner... Read more >

Streets.mn Podcast #4: Talking about The Starling Project with Ben Shardlow

The entrance to the Ashton Building near University and Snelling.

Streets.mn Podcast #4 is up and running over at Archive.org. Check it out.

It's a conversation with Ben Shardlow, who is involved with the recently launched Starling Project, an effort to incubate "pop up urbanism" along vacant spaces on University Avenue. We talked about the origins of the project, some of the challenges and opportunities presented by working as a catalyst with artists and landlords, and the future of the University Avenue LRT corridor. 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 >

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 >