“Minneapolis is the largest CBD in the United States without a subway.” I don’t know if that claim is true, or relevant, but it very well might be, since by some measures it has the fifth densest CBD in the US. More to the point, there is no CBD in the US that has more transit commuters that doesn’t have a subway (except Seattle, which has a bus tunnel with LRT, which sort of counts). (Table 7 here, and list of US subway systems here). This of course does not mean that more transit growth cannot come without a subway. It does mean that I should expect to hear the usual gong-bangers about transit investment pushing for a true Metro for the Minneapolis-St. Paul region, at least in the long term plan. A vision from a transit agency should note the need for more north-south and east-west transit capacity in the center, and the time savings from a grade-separated rapid transit system that did not get trapped at traffic lights. These time savings would both benefit current riders and induce more transit riders, and with the positive feedback mechanism between accessibility and development, lead to more intense land development at stations. Yet this discussion is so far beyond the pale in the MSP region that it is barely even mentioned on the UrbanMSP forums.
(For the record, I don’t actually support or oppose a subway at this time, but I do think it should be seriously considered given changing population totals, demographic mix, technologies, and so on.)
Where this discussion should show up is in regional visions.
The 2040 Transportation Policy Plan: Connecting communities, fostering regional prosperity is the draft version of the official regional vision. It claims to be “advancing a bold regional vision.” There is of course a vision here. It is not my vision. It is not an urbanist vision. It is, unfortunately, not a bold vision.
It is a fiscally constrained vision. It is a vision of an organization whose leadership is entirely appointed by a governor representing seven mostly suburban counties. It is a vision of an organization that thinks the metro area has “nearly 3 million people” rather than the Census recognized 3.8 million people in the Minneapolis–St. Paul–St. Cloud, MN-WI region. These are just spatial definitions, and in some respects a smaller area is better than a larger one, but it illustrates parochialism of the official outlook.
The Policy Plan is critique-able on a variety of grounds. I have not compiled a complete list, but will throw some things out for discussion.
Add more to the comments section below. Of course to be officially heard: Testify. Submit your comments. Attend and discuss at the public hearing. Schedule below:DRAFT 2040 TRANSPORTATION POLICY PLAN WORKSHOPS AUG. 26 – SEPT. 25 Public hearing is September 17 at 5 p.m.
The public hearing on the draft TPP is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 17, in the Metropolitan Council Chambers, 390 Robert St. N., Saint Paul.Comment by October 1
The Council is accepting comments on the plan August 14 through October 1. Once comments are received, the plan is revised to address comments and a final plan is presented to the Council for adoption. The Council is expected to adopt the plan in December 2014.
Comment forms can be filled out at a workshop or the public hearing or mailed in.
- Phone Public Information at 651-602-1500.
Testify at the public hearing at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 17, in the Metropolitan Council Chambers, 390 Robert St. N., Saint Paul.
At each workshop, a very brief presentation will give an overview of the plan. Afterwards, participants can engage with planners on a variety of topics. Note: Staff will be available to discuss the Council’s draft Housing Policy Plan as well.RAMSEY COUNTY
Tuesday, August 26, 5 – 7 pm Roseville Library Community Program Room 2180 North Hamline Ave Roseville, MN 55113CARVER COUNTY
Wednesday, August 27, 5 – 7 pm Chanhassen Library Wilder Room 7711 Kerber Blvd. Chanhassen, MN 55317SCOTT COUNTY
Wednesday, September 3, 4:30 – 6:30 pm Marschall Road Transit Station 1615 Weston Court Shakopee, MN 55379HENNEPIN COUNTY
Thursday, September 4, 12 – 2 pm Minneapolis Central Library 300 Nicollet Mall Minneapolis, 55401ANOKA COUNTY
Tuesday, September 9 , 5 – 7 pm Anoka County Sheriff’s Office Community Room 13301 Hanson Blvd NW Andover, MN 55304HENNEPIN COUNTY
Wednesday, September 10, 5 – 7 pm Brookdale Library 6125 Shingle Creek Pkwy Brooklyn Center, 55430RAMSEY COUNTY
Thursday, September 11, 12 – 2 pm Amherst H. Wilder Foundation Auditorium A 451 Lexington Parkway North Saint Paul, Minnesota 55104DAKOTA COUNTY
Tuesday, September 16, 5 – 7 pm Eagan Community Center 1501 Central Pkwy Eagan, MN 55121WASHINGTON COUNTY
Thursday, September 18, 5 – 7 pm Washington County Government Center Room LL13-14 14949 62nd Street North Stillwater, MN 55082WRIGHT-SHERBURNE COUNTIES
Thursday, September 25, 5-7 Sherburne County Board Room Government Center 13880 Business Center Dr. Elk River, MN 55330
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State Fair: The Great Minnesota Get Together ends tomorrow, so streets.mn readers still have time to see Eco Experience exhibits, argue with Move.mn representatives, talk to political candidates about transportation and land use issues, and experience a Transportation Nerd’s State Fair. Forget about Biking to the State Fair, however, and take transit instead.
Green Line: Most posts about the Green Line have focused on the train, signal timing and the riding experience and Traffic Simulations: Green Lights for the Green line continues this thread. This week, we also get off the train for Touring Green Line Green Infrastructure, a report on a field trip by multidisciplinary artists and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) professionals to look at stormwater management along the Green Line (we saw The Other Green Line a few weeks ago).
Copenhagen and euro-cycling: Copenhagen’s Cycling Craze continues the EU BICI series in one of the world’s cycling capitals. Meanwhile, the focus on Dutch design continues with Cycleway Fundamentals: Safety, Momentum, Comfort.
Diversity, difference, privilege on the streets and streets.mn: “I Am Not Your Brother” – St. Paul Cops Allegedly Taser and Arrest Black Male for Sitting in Public Space (Video) is a disturbing video which stimulated many comments about police actions and the use of public space. While difficult to move from the visual and visceral video about one instance of the systemic discrimination on our streets, two posts this week take different approaches to foster greater inclusiveness and wider audiences. Expanding streets.mn Diversity (Part II) continues the conversation begun in June about reaching different audiences through this blog and Better Block, PARKing Day and Cities for People announces events on September 20 intended to highlight grassroots improvements to make streets and cities more inviting and livable.
Round-up: Northfield Wins the Silver Medal highlights Northfield’s recent Livability.com ranking and why it’s important. A New Meadowbrook Regional Park imagines a new metro-area park in the inner ring suburbs of Hopkins, St. Louis Park and Edina with strong connections to the future light rail transit (LRT) corridor. And, as always, the Charts of the Day this week: Driving Safety in Different States, Police In-City Residency by Race, Minneapolis City Budget and Change in Road Fatalities in Different Countries.
I’m hoping more kids will be biking and walking to school this year while their parents and friends (and the kids themselves) keep advocating for better streets on which to do so. Have a great week!
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Local inventor Nick Muscachio has patented a concept called “Always Green Traffic Control”. I have mentioned it before. The short version is that traffic signals are fixed timed. The cars (and in the case of the Green Line: trains) are made aware of the speed needed to travel at to catch the green (through a variable message sign). Some cars (and the trains) comply with recommendations, as do all the cars following them, and a large platoon of vehicles can make the green. This increases the efficiency of the signal all around.
He argues this can be used for trains. Some interesting simulations of this have been posted to YouTube this week:
More simulations can be seen on his YouTube page.
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Sidewalk Rating: FineThere is the root case of contemplative walking (what you do to clear your head). There is “cynical” walking (the term referring to the Cynics of ancient Greece, homeless hippies who scorned conventions, customs, clothes). And then there is the composite contemplative-cynic, the modern city walker (what is often called the “flâneur”). Gros’s thesis is that the three kinds, developed over time, can now coexist, although, no surprise, the commodifications of capitalism make that coexistence hard.[from here.] [Mailbox with daleks in Saint Paul.]*** CLICK ON IMAGES FOR LINKS****** ****** *** *** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** *** *** ****** ****** ****** *** *** ****** ****** *** *** ****** *** *** ****** ****** ****** ****** *** *** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ***\*** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** ****** *** *** ****** ****** *** *** *** *** ****** ****** ****** ****** ***
This chart comes from a great post about the folly of insurance rankings for US states over at Strong Towns. (See for example, City Pages recently using these kinds of stats on their blog. They write: “Out of the 200 cities included in the study, which is based on crash data, Minneapolis ranks 90th. St. Paul, meanwhile, ranks 103rd.”)
When thinking about this, it’s important to distinguish between deaths and accidents. Small accidents are good, in a sense, which is why speeds should be kept low in urban areas. As Chuck concludes: “If someone tries to tell you it is more dangerous living in a congested city than driving the wide open roads, tell them they are dangerously uninformed.”
So far this summer we’ve read about the challenges of biking to the Minnesota State Fair and the popular experience of busing to it. But what does a transportation nerd do first after entering the fairgrounds under the old streetcar arch at the new West End gate? (Yeah yeah, the food…) Head for the tractors on Machine Hill or let the State House of Representatives know how you feel about raising the state gas tax on their annual survey in the Education building?
(The State Senate is also asking what you think about regulations for Uber and Lyft plus Met Council board member selection methods, among other things.)
Here are a few things I enjoyed this year.
Watch teenagers with Urban Boatbuilders build a canoe. (It’s probably built by now, but definitely check it out at the DNR building.)
Amble over to the Agriculture building for a refreshing cider freeze. At $1.25, it’s the best edible deal at the fair. Then check out the prizewinning seed art light rail train.
My favorite stops so far in my second year of visiting the State Fair are the Creative Activities and Fine Arts buildings. In the Fine Arts building, you can gaze at lonely black and white urban streetscapes or sepia-toned bridges and modernist mobile houses. Or glass skateboards and origami motorcycles.
Look for Abdi, a kid in the Somali mall in Minneapolis whose photo portrait by Priscilla Briggs was one of my favorites this year.
But the best in urban nerdery has to be the postcard frames in the Creative Activities building. Until my first state fair visit last year, I had no idea you could compete by framing thematic collections of old postcards. (Would the Minnesota State Fair appreciate my collection of postcards from Kansas City’s Quality Hill neighborhood?! Or perhaps my views of old school women’s hotels?)
This year you can tour Nicollet Avenue/Mall, discover where you can explore both near and far by departing from St. Paul’s Union Depot today, or read about the streetcar boats of Lake Minnetonka. The narrowest themes are sometimes my favorites. I mean, how many views are possible of the old Selby Avenue streetcar tunnel?
At the end of the day, dangle your feet as you slowly cruise over the crowds on the SkyGlider toward your way home. What are your transportation nerd favorites at the fair?
This past Saturday I participated in a tour of Green Line “Green Infrastructure” as part of Public Art Saint Paul’s City Art Collaboratory Program. We are a group of multidisciplinary artists and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) professionals who embark on monthly field trips together, exploring the living systems of the City of Saint Paul. One of our cohort is Matt Kumka, a landscape architect at Barr Engineering. He and his coworker, green engineer Nathan Campeau, guided us on this three-stop tour looking primarily at the stormwater management features.
Though I had read Sam Geer’s excellent introduction to street-side rain gardens, this was my first time looking intently at stormwater infrastructure in person and I want to share a smattering of my favorite FYI’s from our tour.
Our guides worked on two types of plantings that filter street runoff along the Green Line; stormwater planters and rain gardens. The map below shows where these features are distributed along the line.
The stormwater planters have their own storm drains to bring in water from the street. They are planted with “native cultivars” – native species subtly bred to have particular traits. In this case, allowing prairie species to thrive in the hotter, drier urban space of the Green Line.
These planters will collect a top layer of impermeable fine sediment every few years, slowing down the infiltration rate, though it is fairly easy to dig out that top layer and restore the function. Further, the plants and their root systems will break up the impermeable sediment and promote infiltration.
The Rain Gardens are built with small, cascading ramps to bring the street water rather than storm drains. These plantings are trench-shaped with water-loving plants situated at the bottom and dry grasses along the edges. The architects and engineers must design for the practical water-infiltration function of the gardens first and foremost but there is also attention paid to their aesthetic impact and how they will be received and treated by the community they inhabit.
Our guides explained that within the last few years the general public is getting more and more used to seeing plantings of native species. Some of the grasses can be perceived as weeds but if you have multiple similar plantings in a small area, this can help show that they are intentionally planted and cared-for.
A Very Big Tree Trench
A Tree Trench is a stormwater management feature that connects the storm drains on the side of the road with the trees planted within the sidewalks. The Green Line Trench stretches 5-miles, the longest in Minnesota!
I was surprised to learn that most trees planted in the boulevard in urban areas tend to live less than 15 years. Tree roots tend to stay close to the surface making them vulnerable when nearby sidewalks slabs are replaced and roots get cut. If more than 50% of a tree’s root system is disturbed it will likely fall over and die. The trees planted along the Green Line will have been given extra room for the roots and water storage with all the porous rock and soil in the trench, which should promote healthy trees.
The most eye-opening discussion was around the complexity of using “permeable pavers.” I’d heard the phrase in passing many times and had assumed they developed some magic brick that could allow water through while remaining structurally sound with no drawbacks whatsoever!
Well, it turns out “permeable pavers” are regular bricks that are spaced out further from each other than conventional brick paths and the space in between is filled with a permeable gravel. That is, until fine sediment from the environment fills the crevices, blocking water flow and holding pockets of soil for weeds to take root.
In the case of the Green Line, the tree trench was topped with permeable pavers, though the majority of the water comes into the trenches through the storm drains and when the permeable pavers become plugged, water will enter the tree trench through the storm drains in the street exclusively.
All and all it was a tremendously uplifting tour of some really interesting, complex , and mostly successful projects. If you are more of a facts and figures type, check out this page by the Capitol Region Watershed District for more details.
Upon arriving in Copenhagen, I was immediately struck by three observations:
- An intersection on the east edge of town carrying 36,000 cyclists per day.
- A feature spread in the daily newspaper highlighting cycle track rage—not between car drivers and cyclists—but between cyclists.
- Public officials informing me of their desire to widen the cycle track standard from 2.5 meters to 3 meters (formerly it was 2.2).
Cycling has an extraordinary presence in this city—almost an “in your face” kind of character. Around 40% of commuters come to the central city by bike; hence, many bike facilities here are wider than the auto lanes I have been living among for the past year in Italy. The ‘maturity level’ of transport-related discussions here is exceptional: discussions aren’t about whether to build a bike path. Rather, they revolve around which of a dizzying array of treatments is most appropriate given the context.
Most people know that cycling facilities are exemplary here and cycling is a ‘way of life.’ But such a way of life in Copenhagen is promulgated by two seldom-acknowledged and important factors:
- Car use is astronomically expensive. Car tax is pegged at 180% and owing to space and other issues, the cost of parking in Copenhagen is relatively high for commuters.
- Transit’s attractiveness is less than it could be. The oft-lamented poor transit service makes cycling that much more attractive.
Those from other ‘elite’ cycling towns (cities across the globe claiming cycling superiority) claim these two factors combine to “coerce” cycling (you are ‘semi-forced’) rather than “providing choice” (because you prefer to cycle). The threshold is personal and depends on your perspective.
The bread and butter of the cycling system here is what the Danes affectionately refer to as ‘cycle tracks.’ To the outsider, cycle tracks have at least three distinguishing characteristics; they are: (1) along the right side of an auto travel lane and in one direction (parked cars are usually on the outside), (2) between 2 and 3 meters wide, and most importantly, (3) raised by a few inches from the auto lane and always separated by stone curb (and not much more).
The first cycle track in Copenhagen came in 1905, ever since cyclists claimed the need for a path absent from abandoned horseshoe nails and/or a smoother ride than what the cobblestones provided. According to the Danish Cycling Federation, a decade later they served as protection from “our new enemy, the car.” Almost half of the present-day cycle tracks existed in 1950. But despite being at it for almost a half century, cycling here entered some extreme dark years thereafter. Cycling rates plummeted here (similar to other ‘developed’ countries) post WWII with the car boom of the 1950s and 1960s. The hit came hard here and a bit later than other places. The city trams were dismantled in 1972 and it was not until the 70′s oil/energy crisis that change started to kick in. Via various demonstrations, people started thinking differently about traffic; these changes seeped into political mindsets. It was not until the early 1980s that cycling in Copenhagen really took off again—a momentum that has been building steadily and formidably.
Counting the cycle tracks on both sides of the street, the city is now up to an impressive 350 km of them. Local planners will tell you they are 40 to 50 kilometers shy of their wish list, which would then bring the system to completion. The most heavily used ones are clearly the four or so radial routes heading out of the city. The standard is currently 2.5 meters (up from 2.2 meters a few years ago). The desire is to widen the standard to 3 meters to better accommodate ‘social cycling’ as well as space for a third cyclist to pass—clearly a luxury that is foreign to most other places for urban cycling.http://streets.mn/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Copenhagen.m4v
Funding decisions are made annually and the cycle track ‘wish list’ is now competing with other projects such as green cycle routes (a separate initiative to provide a recreational cycling network through parks and open spaces), problematic intersections, and maintenance. Interestingly, while there appear to be more than a dozen different types of cycling treatments ‘on the books’ and referenced in conversations, the traditional (and usually raised) cycle track is what dominates everywhere. A mere 18 km of cycle lanes–separation only via paint—exist in the entire city. Surprisingly absent are woonerf type treatments. The Danish way prizes separated thoroughfares for different vehicles. An emerging (and unresolved?) emphasis has focused on intersections; where to end the cycle tracks. The raised cycle track usually ends a few meters prior to an intersection where the route (formerly referred to as a cycling lane) is often demarcated with blue paint. Treatments employing bike boxes and advanced green lights are seen as well.
Cycling’s success here presents challenges; good challenges—especially considering cycling’s virtuous characteristics—but challenges nonetheless.
- Carrying bikes on the trains appears to be a relatively recent phenomenon here; designated bike cars on the trains are heavily used, leading to access and egress issues. It is crowded, chaotic, cluttered, and confusing. I hear of times when all the cyclists cannot exit prior to the doors closing, thereby having to stay on until the next stop. Given the externalities created by such cycling-transit users, one has to wonder: maybe a charge for allowing such is not such a bad idea?
- Rumor has it that every 5th bike in Copenhagen appears to be some sort of cargo device. The size of this fleet is growing and so therefore are the demands for bicycle facilities to accommodate these larger vehicles in the right-of-ways and for parking.
- The aggressive onset of cycle tracks also seems to pair with two phenomena. First, the physical separation between cars and bikes provides a refuge for cars to travel at faster than harmonious speeds. Most speeds in the city used to be 60 km/hr—now down to 50 km/hr. But still, the cycle tracks possibly provide an excuse (and refuge) for 50 km/hr traffic to exist. Second, wider cycle tracks come at the expense of increased and unwelcome crossing environments for pedestrians.
- Not surprisingly, bike-sharing is not really taking off here. The old system (aka white bikes) went kaput in 2012 and is being replaced with a third generation. There are only a 100 or so bikes and most of the use is generated from tourists; each bike is reportedly used a dismal 0.86 times per day.
Twenty years ago I visited Copenhagen and learned of the city’s legendary strategy to reduce parking in town: chip away by removing 2-3% each year, primarily from the public squares. “Taking just a little bit each year,” I distinctly remember Jan Gehl telling me, “people notice the loss less and the city once again becomes a livable center.” As best I could discern, the legend might still be alive but it seems to be a bit cloudy. Public squares (where they exist; they are seemingly less seldom in Denmark relative to Italy) have little if any parking. And, installing cycle tracks helps a certain amount because a lane of parking is usually sacrificed. But in other highly visible projects, parking is not going away; rather some of it is going underground via new and costly garages. The discussion of available auto parking, I am told, is alive and well and endless, even here. Inner city residents feel a right to own and park a car at a reasonable cost. The provision of underground garages and angled parking on streets appear to be primary bones of contention.
Where the system in Copenhagen suffers
Copenhagen prizes itself in thinking it is the big city cycling capital of Europe (and arguably of the world). However, matters are still far from ideal. Here are at least 3 areas to refine further action:
- Cars dominate too many streets. Within a kilometer of the city center, there are countless examples of major car thoroughfares. There is mounting pressure to decrease the number of lanes but even here in the land of cycling nirvana, political decisions are all about compromise.
- The Danes appear to prefer not to mix their modes. The harmonious co-mingling of modes you find in neighboring Holland is largely absent here. As a result, in my opinion, the walking environment suffers and cars are relegated to a happy existance in their own demarcated corridor.
- Cycle parking around rail stations and the process of carrying bikes on trains is a complete mess. Local planners appear to know this and are directing attention to devising new solutions.
Whatever difficulties the city is continuing to struggle with, the overall fabric is serving the city well. Along with Amsterdam, Copenhagen’s place as the best big city for cycling in the world is well enough deserved. This visibility, however, has helped press the need of some people to place “Copenhagen” as an adjective preceding many cycling associated nouns (e.g., the Copenhagen “left,” “bike lane,” “Greenwave,” and even the Copenhagen “wheel”). It’s unclear to me if things have gone that far. Next month’s post on Odense (Denmark) might suggest why.
Thanks much to Niels Jensen, Anne Eriksson, and Claus Nybro for their help in better understanding the cycling scene in Copenhagen.
 For commuters/visitors, parking seems to be around $5 / hour. Interestingly, for residents who own a car and park in their neighborhood, parking is relatively inexpensive (~$120 per year).
 The relatively new metro lines are changing that. There is enormous construction, especially in the center, to enhance metro service all throughout the area.
 Jensen, Niels (2013). Planning a Cycling Infrastructure – Copenhagen – city of Cyclists (pages 127-138). In: Cyclist and Cycling Around the World: Creating Liveable and Bikeable Cities. Editors: Juan Carlos Dextre, Mike Hughes, and Lotte Bech. Fondo Editorial (Universidad Catolica).
 For a much richer description of Copenhagen’s cycle planning history, read: Jensen, Niels (2013). Planning a Cycling Infrastructure – Copenhagen – city of Cyclists (pages 127-138). In: Cyclist and Cycling Around the World: Creating Liveable and Bikeable Cities. Editors: Juan Carlos Dextre, Mike Hughes, and Lotte Bech. Fondo Editorial (Universidad Catolica).
 Those riding two abreast and conversing.
 In some locations along Norrebrogade, the cycle track is already 4 meters wide.
 for example, see: Focus on Cycling. Copenhagen Guidelines for the Design of Road Projects (December, 2013).
 These are, for example, green routes, cycle lanes, reinforced cycle lanes, cycle super highways, cycle streets, pedestrian streets, and the sort.
 Reportedly, there are less than 1 km of woonerfs, where auto traffic is limited to 15 km per hour.
 Certainly, a typical planner would rather have problems dealing with the size and number of bicycles rather than the size and number of cars, but such issues nevertheless need to be addressed.
 The city itself is over ½ million people (and if you include the 20 or so suburbs, the metro area expands to roughly 1.5 million).
 See, for example, “The Bicycle Capitals of the World: Amsterdam and Copenhagen. Fietsberaad Publication number 7A. Special Velo-city 2010 congress edition.
This, my friends, is the last Friday of summer. At least it is for our family. We had school orientation this past week so we’ve met the new teachers, seen the new classrooms and given some hugs to friends we haven’t seen since early June. The school supplies are all purchased along with the requisite set of new clothes for the first day. I plan to spend today doing as many fun and memorable things with my two daughters as I can because next Friday they’ll be in class and I’ll be back in the office. Where does the time go? I hope your day and weekend can be as equally enjoyable.
Enjoy the week’s news.
- We are in the final days of preparing for the National Gathering. I’m amazed by all the signups that continue to pour in here at the last minute. If you are interested in coming, we can still fit you in. Get signed up and don’t miss what is going to be an amazing event, one that will mark a critical jumping off point in this movement.
- Many of you know that I enjoy my books. By request, the past couple of years I have released a list of books I read during the year. I’ll do the same this December, although I’ve been so enthralled with one particular book that I don’t want to wait to share it. The Cave and the Light: Plato versus Aristotle and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization by Author Herman is the BEST book I’ve read this year. I just can’t quit it. It is the most fascinating mashup of philosophy and history I’ve ever read. It is brilliantly written, very engaging and I’ve found myself astounded page after page. If you’re searching for a good book, you can’t go wrong here.
- And just because we’re in that vein, this NPR article titled Lessons from the Last Time Civilization Collapsed caught my eye and then I realized I had also read the book referenced in the article. The book, 1177 B.C.:The Year Civilization Collapsed, is less of a commitment that The Cave and the Light but also worthy of your time. We think we are so different, we have things so figured out, yet anyone who reads history will tell you that they all did too. Humility.
Thus complexity itself may have been the greatest threat to late Bronze Age civilization once the pressures began. And it is that fact, more than anything else, that speaks to the dangers we face today. As Cline wrote in the Huffington Post:
"We live in a world that has more similarities to that of the Late Bronze Age than one might suspect, including, as the British archaeologist Susan Sherratt has put it, an 'increasingly homogeneous yet uncontrollable global economy and culture' in which 'political uncertainties on one side of the world can drastically affect the economies of regions thousands of miles away.' "
So, what exactly is the lesson Cline thinks we should take away from 1177 B.C.? In an email to me, Cline wrote:
"We should be aware that no society is invulnerable and that every society in the history of the world has ultimately collapsed. We should also be thankful that we are advanced enough to understand what is happening."
- I should also thank Gracen Johnson for prompting me to pick up the Grapes of Wrath while on vacation last week. Not the most uplifting of books, that one, but John Steinbeck may possibly be my favorite author, at least for the beauty he gives the English language.
- The Official Super Hero of Strong Towns, Cap’n Transit, suggests that Ferguson is not a strong town. I agree.
I couldn’t help thinking, as I had several times in the past week, "Ferguson isn’t a Strong Town." No, it is not. Chuck Marohn has the numbers, and you have to wonder: if the town had retained its walkable and transit infrastructure and built on it over the past sixty years instead of sprawling, how much less desperate would it be? What if the entire Saint Louis region had bucked the trend and stayed dense, walkable and transit-oriented? What would it take to make it strong again?
- I did a couple of interviews this week with reporters who were looking into the role that land use policies have in creating desperation in places like Ferguson. My statement Monday that, “I think we are going to see rioting in a lot of places as this stuff unwinds,” caught the attention of quite a few people. I’m not making some kind of unique prediction but simply explaining what I see. And as another example, here’s another incident in Stroad Nation, this one from Greensboro, a place where revolutions have begun before.
On Tuesday, Devin Scales said that he and his brother were walking to a nearby store, when the officer drove by and allegedly yelled, “Hey, you morons get off the road.”
“We didn’t say anything, we just moved closer to the curb,” Devin Scales said. “We weren’t really in the road, and we weren’t bothering traffic, because there was no traffic flow. ... And there are no sidewalks there. None.”
Devin Scales said Cole then “slammed on the brakes,” and asked the brothers to show him their IDs.
“We asked ‘What is this for?’ ” Devin Scales said.
Devin Scales said he tried recording at that point, but that Cole tried grabbing his camera.
- As a preview of what is to come in this news digest, let’s pause and consider the wisdom one can find in a stairwell.
The most dangerous phrase in business? pic.twitter.com/304mdCN0Fd— martin brown (@fairsnape) August 28, 2014
- In Honolulu, a place every Minnesotan reflexively associates with paradise, they are discussing a $5.2 billion investment in transit. To sweeten the conversation – because that is some serious cash – an economist was retained to perform some voodoo math and give leaders confidence/cover that this investment “could” generate $20 billion in private sector projects over the next three decades. Spending $5.2 billion to get $20 billion sounds like a winner unless you understand return on investment and how local taxation works. We love transit but always advocate for investments that are more incremental, properly scaled to the community and less speculative. There is a good reason for that (#Ferguson).
"Absolutely, there's too much development and they haven't proven to me what the benefits are," said Kakaako resident Marilyn Yeager. "We build expensive housing for people to come here and live. What are we doing for old people like me who are almost indigent."
- I’m amazed at the hubris of public officials in Pine Island, Minnesota, who continue to make plans to spend more state/federal dollars and borrow even more, despite their track record of bad assumptions, unrealized gains and simple failure. I’m all for local control, but we need to stop subsidizing this insanity from the state and federal level. Sim City is a game, people. A game.
"We had a retreat in July, and we outlined upcoming projects for the next five years," said Rod Steele, mayor of Pine Island.
Currently, the city is in the midst of its biggest, most expensive project, the roundabout on the east side exit of U.S. 52 and Goodhue County Road 11 as well as the city's portion of the east frontage road for U.S. 52 from the Elk Run interchange to County Road 11. That project, said city clerk Jon Eickhoff, will cost Pine Island taxpayers $3.37 million.
The city has also bonded for $1.15 million in 2012 and $1.13 million in 2010 for its ongoing Northwest Street Project, Eickhoff said. That project includes curb and gutter, sewer and water for streets in the northwest portion of Pine Island.
- We need more money to fix the roads. We need more money to fix the sidewalks. We need more money to pay the pensions we promised to pay. We need more money to bus kids out to the school we built. And in St. Louis, they need millions more to keep the water system going. Oh, your house needs a new roof, new siding, a driveway rehab and all new appliances? That was predictable – it is thirty years old after all – so don’t tell me you failed to plan for that. Not our problem. (Our suburban experiment is not going to die from one wound but from a thousand cuts like this.)
A report released Tuesday by the Metro Water Infrastructure Partnership says the region needs to roughly double the pace at which it replaces water pipelines to reach the industry standard of a 1 percent replacement rate — fast enough to swap out each pipe by the time it hits 100 years old.
That would cost roughly $34 million more a year. Add in the cost of maintenance and other operations, and the group expects average water bills over the next 20 years to rise to around $80 per month from roughly $30 per month.
- And closer to home, my city of Brainerd has a $1.3 million shortfall in their preliminary 2015 budget. Last year I wrote locally about how our debt is making us fragile and was scoffed at by the staff and some of the elected officials. With a levy of $4.5 million, a full $2 million is for debt service. But we’ve always done it this way, Chuck. I know, and spending $7+ million more to extend sewer/water a mile outside of town while not bothering to make small, meaningful investments in our neighborhoods is more of the same. Gotta love the leadership and expertise being provided by the staff here as well. So frustrating.
If city wants to keep levy the same as 2014, they need to cut $1.3 million from the budget, said Finance Director Connie Hillman.
"Or, if you want to fund everything in budget, that’s how much it needs to be raised," she said.
Noting that the latter was likely not the desired action, Hillman posed the question: "How do you want us to balance the budget?"
- I love you guys, but some of you have some serious domain dependency problems. While it is great when I talk about cities as complex, adaptive systems and point out the folly of traffic projections in such complexity, the notion that an economy might be a complex, adaptive system that also cannot be controlled, directed or fully understood is somehow pushing things too far. A few years ago I wrote about When Money Dies, the great book by Adam Fergusson on the Weimar inflation episode, and was inundated with people telling me to stick to engineering and planning and leave the macro economy issues to those less naïve. This week Adam Fergusson appeared on the McAlvany Commentary and, far from being a flaming right wing radical, was as brilliant and reasoned as I expected.
- As a follow up to that last paragraph, I want to reiterate that, as Strong Towns advocates, we need to be hard on ourselves. When I talk about domain dependency, I’m calling on you all to be as critical in evaluating all complex, adaptive systems the same way we are in regards to cities and the practice of engineer, planning and economic development professions. If you want to be a Keynesian – and why not, everyone in Congress is – then at least have some humility when Fergusson points out that the ability of individuals to create trillions of dollars through credit cards – among the many other modern innovations used to create liquidity outside of the central banker’s control – is not something that existed when the tidy circular flow formula was derived seventy years ago. Go ahead and tell me I’m naïve. I can handle it. Just show a little humility.
- Not much to quote from this article, but I loved the headline. So obvious, yet so difficult for many to grasp.
- My wife and I have found ourselves frequently of late discussing how different things were when we were young, how much more freedom and independence we had when compared to our kids. I’m sympathetic to the parents who are overprotective of their kids because, even though I’m aware of it, I’m all too often the same way. We’re taking some serious steps to change that (hope to have an announcement at some point in the near future). In the meantime, this Washington Post article was a perfect primer for why we need to step back in order to raise strong kids.
Yes. There are scary people out there. It is always a risk to let your children out of your sight. But truthfully, the most dangerous thing you do every day is drive anywhere with a child. About 300 kids are hurt daily in car accidents; an average of three are killed that way every day.
Yet I don’t see police pulling parents over and locking them up whenever they see someone in a car seat. But playing on the monkey bars without Mommy nearby? Book ’em!
- This was a beautiful story about a coffee shop in North Dakota that had an honor system for payment. Contrary to what your initial reaction might be, it works really well. Why? Because most people are good, decent and honest. This had the feeling of a barn raising to me with people in the community pitching in to make the business work. This is the kind of enthusiasm a localized economy can create for us, an energy that will bring this country back with a roar. This is the America I love, the one I want to live in.
Yes, there are security cameras, but so far there hasn't been much to view, Brekke said.
Brekke has turned the space with high ceilings, mammoth windows and unique architecture into a gallery of sorts. It features artwork by local artists, used books for sale, two pianos, Wi-Fi and a cupboard with games. Much of the furniture was donated by residents.
"When people heard about it, they just started dropping things off, to make it work," Brekke said.
- And if this isn’t the best endorsement for the ride sharing company Uber, I don’t know what would be.
- Finally, as a father of two really wonderful girls, I’ve watched Mary Poppins more times than I can remember and danced as a pseudo-chimney sweep many time more. I loved what FiveThirtyEight did with the 50th anniversary of this classic, pointing out that, had Michael actually invested those tuppins like he was encouraged to do, his investment would not have amounted to much, despite the vaunted “wisdom” on compounding interest.
A reader asked us, in lieu of investing that 0.02 pounds in bird food, what if Michael had invested it in a savings account? What would the exponential wizardry of compound interest do for him if he went back to his account today?
Answer? Not much! I plugged the details of the question into Wolfram Alpha‘s compound interest calculator, and unsurprisingly Michael’s payoff heavily depends on the interest rate. Had he put 0.02 pounds in an account with 6 percent interest compounded quarterly for 104 years, his account balance would read only 9.79 pounds now, which is about $16.23. Not exactly making a mint here.
I hope you get a chance to feed the birds this weekend or, at the very least, enjoy some time doing something meaningful with a good friend or family member. Be safe so we’ll see you back here next week.
[West 7th, Saint Paul.][New Yorker.] [Grand Avenue, Saint Paul.] [South Minneapolis?] [Grand Avenue, Saint Paul.] [Franklin Avenue, Minneapolis.] [Växjö, Sweden.] [Stockholm, Sweden.]
[Water. Greenway, South Minneapolis.][Lemonade. Summit Avenue, Saint Paul.] [Snacks. Downtown, Saint Paul.] [Cotton candy. Warehouse District, Minneapolis.] [Hats. West 7th, Saint Paul.] [Lemonade and candy bars. West Side, Saint Paul.] [Lemonade. Saint Paul.][Lemonade. West Side, Saint Paul.]
Well, there was an interesting discussion on fivethirtyeight.com this week about resiency requirements for police officers. Minneapolis used to have a residency requirement until 1999. Today, they’re one of the lowest cities in the country in terms of percentage of police officers who live in the city. (at least, this is true for white officers.)
Here are some articles on residency requirements:
I’ve often wondered about the actuarial approach used by auto insurance companies, but I’ve never had the data or specific insight to really question it. For example, why doesn’t my car insurance company care how many miles I drive in a given year? The past five years, I’ve put 80,000 miles on my car. That may seem like a lot, but back when I was doing planning work statewide I put nearly 200,000 miles on a car in that same amount of time. Most of those miles were late at night, a dangerous time to be on the road, as is evidenced by the number of moving violations I racked up (small town speed traps were a professional hazard). Have my insurance rates changed now that I’m driving a lot less? Of course not, how would the insurance company even know.
I am aware that some auto insurance companies charge different rates based on your home address. Again, just looking at my own area, there are places in my zip code that are absolutely treacherous to drive, with high accident rates and a significant number of fatalities. There are other areas where the worst you are ever going to have is a fender bender. My insurance company has never gotten that fine-grained in determining my rate, at least not with me.
Now, as part of writing this article, I did go through the Geico application process. The form there did ask how many miles I drive in a year, how far my commute is and how many days I go into the office. Maybe my insurance company (which isn’t Geico) would ask this as well if I were a new applicant. Even so, they aren’t following up on that. Maybe it is bad form – poor customer experience – to be pestering me about my miles driven, but it would seem to be in the interests of their business model to do this.
These are just a couple of the oddities I’ve pondered over the years, so when our friend Steven Shultis of Rational Urbanism sent me this article along with some contradictory data, I wasn’t surprised at all.
It appears that Allstate is claiming Massachusetts drivers are “the worst” in the nation. Here is from the article, which is from Steve’s home town of Springfield:
Springfield drivers are the fourth-worst in the country, and Boston drivers were the second worst. Worcester, at the center of the state, was the worst, home to the most dangerous drivers in the country, Allstate said.
If you live in Springfield, you are 85.8% more likely to get into an accident than the average American driver (a number of such precision that the Talebian side of me automatically knows it is a ridiculous stat). So why is Springfield, and Massachusetts in general, home to the “most dangerous” drivers in the country?
"I wish I could tell you why," said Allstate spokeswoman Julia Reusch. "More congested cities tend to be more dangerous. We really just want to decrease car crashes. We want these communities to be safe places for people to live and drive."
So, if we are to believe Allstate, the more congestion we have, the more dangerous things are. Dangerous for whom?
According to the site findthebest.com, Massachusetts ranks 50th (that’s out of 50, Allstate) in traffic deaths per 100,000 population. That 50th as in last as in best. Massachusetts experienced only 4.79 traffic deaths per 100,000 population in 2010, a tiny fraction of what the far less congested state of Wyoming experienced at 27.48. In other words, if you want to avoid death – which seems to me to be the ultimate danger – you are far, far safer driving in Massachusetts than any other state.
In fact, if we look at the five worst and compare them to the five best, we can easily test the validity of the hypothesis that congested cities are more dangerous.
What is Allstate doing here and why should we care? First, understand that they are not ascribing “danger” to death but instead to accidents. Put more succinctly, it is dangerous to their balance sheet when they need to pay claims and, gosh, in cities there are a lot of claims. Does danger to their balance sheet from fender benders actually mean danger to you, the city dweller? Absolutely not, there isn’t safer place to drive.
The obvious problem here is that the incentive for Allstate is not to save lives but to save dollars. While there is a rough correlation, defining “safe” in terms of accidents/claims instead of deaths feeds precisely into the wrong-headed stroad design mentality that infects our cities. It reminds me of the AAA spokesman’s quote I shared a few years ago with my series on the diverging diamond.
Mike Right, spokesman for AAA Missouri, said the new design is a positive change, as it reduces construction costs while moving traffic faster and more safely. As motorists have adjusted to roundabouts, American drivers will learn and adapt to the diverging diamond, he said.
Reducing congestion and getting traffic moving traffic faster might cut down on the raw number of claims and the amount insurance companies pay out, but it doesn’t reduce fatalities. Quite the opposite. The way to reduce fatalities is to eliminate stroad design and instead focus on building either streets with very slow traffic or high-speed roads with very limited access.
Unfortunately, that’s not what cities (hungry for their share of auto-oriented retail growth) want. It isn’t what builders, developers and contractors want. It isn’t what construction unions want. And it isn’t what insurance companies want. And they all speak louder than you.
How many fender benders equals one life? That may be an offensive question, and it might not be how they ask it internally in the actuarial chambers at Allstate, but it is the question in play. If someone tries to tell you it is more dangerous living in a congested city than driving the wide open roads, tell them they are dangerously uninformed.
“I Am Not Your Brother” – St. Paul Cops Allegedly Taser and Arrest Black Male for Sitting in Public Space (Video)
Twin Cities Daily Planet brings our attention to this story: St. Paul cops allegedly taser and arrest black male for sitting in public space. City Pages provides some details: St. Paul police roughly arrest black man sitting in skyway
Note, this is hard to watch.
There are a number of transportation and land use and other aspects to this case which are worthy of discussion:
1. Do you have to identify yourself to the police? It depends. When driving yes – driving is a privilege. When walking (in Minnesota) no – “police can never compel you to identify yourself without reasonable suspicion to believe you’re involved in illegal activity.” Minnesota is not a stop and identify state, unless the police have “reasonable suspicion”.   
2. Is the skyway a public space? It is being patrolled by public workers (police), so apparently it is – though I am sure the law is vaguer than it should be - so the rights should be the same as on the street.
3. What are the details? The comment thread at TCDP suggests it starts near Caribou or Arby’s on the St. Paul Skyway System. He is going to New Horizons Day Care to pick up his child.
4. What happened after the incident – Charges were dropped according to City Pages. Did the police apologize to the man in front of his child? Was this incident expunged from his record? Did the officers have reasonable suspicion justifying their actions?
Every year I remember the loveliness of the bike ride to get to the state fair. And then I’m reminded of the horror that is the last one tenth of one mile to the bike corral. This is particularly problematic for anyone arriving on the U of M Transitway, which is the obvious way to ride there from Downtown, Dinkytown, or most of south Minneapolis.
Using the iconic Great Minnesota Get-Together map, the red arrow on the bottom is where someone biking from Minneapolis will pop out. The red circle at the top left is the bike corral that it makes sense to get to. There’s another bike corral on the bottom right, but accessing it requires navigating the gridlock on Como – not recommended! (There are usually lovely bike lanes on Como, but they are replaced by a car lane during the State Fair. We wouldn’t want anyone to get around the congestion on a bike, would we? That’d be cheating.)
Remembering this, I contacted the State Fair to ask, “How can bikes get from the Transitway to a bike corral? You have removed the Como bike lanes and put cars in the way. And you closed the bus + bike share lanes to be only buses. Thanks for the bike corrals, but… how do you get to them?”
“Thank you for your email and interest in the Great Minnesota Get-Together. If you are on the west end of the fairgrounds, I would bike Cleveland north to Buford. There is a bike lot on Buford and Randall Ave. Then, walk from the Buford bike lot to Gate 16 or 18 to enter the grounds. Here is a link to a fairgrounds map.”*
I was gobsmacked.
Here is the route they suggested. The challenging stretch is from Como to Dan Patch, circled in red. their recommendation for connecting is 900% longer (.9 miles) than the “rational” route (.1 miles). It’s also hillier and forces you to ride in a traffic lane on Como, which is choked with State-Fair-induced congestion. While Como USUALLY sports a lovely bike lane, they hide it for the State Fair every year. It’s no 8 minutes, given navigating Como.For comparison, here is the route that makes sense:
Now, an extra .8 miles doesn’t seem like much, but how about we look at an analogous and possibly easier-to-relate-to driving example. It’s not perfect, as drivers are more likely to go out of their way to get to a destination than people who walk or bike are, but it’ll do. I chose a downtown Minneapolis example, as it’s also congested and it’s an area I know.
I chose getting from the 394 exit in downtown to the Minneapolis Central Library. Here’s the route that makes sense:And, here’s an alternative route that’s 850% further, approximately equivalent to the State Fair’s lengthier suggestion. If you contacted the library for instructions and they directed you via Hennepin, with a scenic visit to Loring Park, and back through downtown, would you think they wanted you to come?
Maybe I’ll go to the State Fair, some other year when the Fair creates bike-access to their bike corrals for Minneapolitans.
*They didn’t mention the final humiliation. They require you to dismount and walk your bike the last way into the corral.
This episode was recorded at CNU 22 in Buffalo. Participating are Jason Roberts (twitter) of The Better Block, Mike Lydon (twitter) from Street Plans Collaborative, Chuck Marohn (twitter) of Strong Towns and Joe Mnicozzi (twitter) of Urban-3. You can also watch the video of this conversation thanks to Gracen Johnson.
The following was posted on Facebook this week by our friend, John Anderson. You can offer your thoughts here or on the original post.
In very general terms, folks seem to be capable of making only two types of attributions when it comes to traffic engineers;1. They are all-knowing, capable of understanding traffic as if it were particle physics. Their findings should be not be questioned.2. They don't know anything about how humans behave in the actual physical world as witnessed by the twin phenomena of induced demand when roads are overbuilt, and disappearing traffic when freeways are removed. Their findings are always suspect.Traffic engineers operate within a perverse system that dooms their efforts. Rather than assign individual engineers too much or too little credit, I'd rather question why we bother with this rigged game in the first place. Maybe it is time to roll out an entirely new set of standards and assert that they make places safer.Let's triage the reality of what is out there right now. We have all manner of bullshit roads that are a horrible indictment of the profession's miserable performance. Over-engineered roads with high speed geometry, overly wide travel lanes next to stingy bike lanes full of debris, silly curb radii -stuff that actually gets people killed and maimed while still sanctioned within peer-reviewed standards that protect the municipalities and state agencies that commission the work. We have fire marshals without any credible qualification issuing decrees that become the street and urban design standards.For some years now, Rick Hall, Rick Chellman, and Peter Swift have been pushing against the glacier of bullshit that emanates from the wrong-headed and laughable assumptions built into Functional Classification. Others have taken the case for a connected network of slow speed streets to the International Codes Council with no good effect. Norman Garrick and Wesley Marshall have done great academic research on the comparative safety of various street patterns. Charles Marohn and Joe Minicozzican explain to three decimal places why street design and infrastructure delivery are too important to a community's fiscal health to be left to engineers. California is allegedly dumping LOS and adopting the ITE Context solutions manual and the NACTO design manual (-although it may take a couple generations for that information to filter down into the daily practice of the CalTrans District Offices). New Urbanists have have been in the trenches grinding out a serious effort at reforming the mess that guides the thousand lousy street design decisions made every week by local and state municipalities. The culture that shapes those lousy decisions is twisted in ways that would embarrass Franz Kafka. People are killed and maimed through the efforts to make them safe. Elected officials and senior staffers erode the quality of the places they have committed to protect and improve.I think it is time for some serious strategy, lawyering, and lobbying. What would it take to establish a greater authority than the ITE and the International Codes Council? What structure would you need to have in place for formal peer review necessary to effect a standard a municipality could rely upon? Could this be done through NACTO? Those professional associations/institutions did not always exist. They got started at some point and developed enough weight to be a standard that could limit liability (regardless of how ill-formed and ultimately dangerous). What would it take to launch a new build to replace the old lousy standard?
[Still waiting for yr Villager pics; snap 'em & send 'em, folks!][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: Mayor balances budget with cuts as well as tax hike; $2.4M levy increase would help pay for street repairs, maintain library, rec hoursAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: The city has a budget deficit. They're going to raise taxes, and cut some employee positions. [City staff are overworked already? Maybe we should be smarter about investments.] PED will get a deputy director position. [Seems like they went over every department's payroll with a fine toothed comb.] Fees are also going up. [Salt costs more now.] Headline: Mayor unveils $54M plan to repair streets; initiative would borrow from city's long-delayed Street Vitality ProgramAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: Everyone things the roads in Saint Paul suck. [Well, I kinda do, but not as much as most people probably.] For example, the article includes quotes from Mayor: "no one in this city is satisfied with the conditions of our main roads." But there is a fight about how do do this. The Mayor's plan would come from an existing street repaving program that focuses on neighborhood streets. Article includes quotes from CMs Bostrom and Stark expressing their concerns. [Let's think about how to encourage less driving, and in particular, fewer large in neighborhoods trucks? For example, how about reconstructing some of the arterials to add traffic calming?] Article also includes mention of "the city's new 8-80 fund" aimed at bike and ped proejcts. [I haven't heard of this before?] Article mentions that this fund would pay for a Jackson Street bikeway, the first part of the proposed downtown bike loop. [Kind of a lot to include in the last paragraph of the piece.]Headline: City finds DNR's river corridor rules too restrictiveAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: The city staff do not like proposed rules for environmental protections along the Mississippi that would make a lot of existing buildings "nonconforming" for various reasons. [These rules have been in the works for a loooooong time, like over a decade long time.] This might impact places like the Ford Plant site or Island Station or anything along Kellogg Boulevard. [That would suck. Those are all the places we need new buildings.]Headline: Homeowners can expect increases in taxes and fees in 2015Author: Jane McClureShort short version: Taxes and fees will go up probably, some neighborhoods more than others.Headline: Palace, Lexington projects will have to compete again for CIBAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: Money taken from the budgets of two rec centers to complete a bike project that proved more expensive than planned will not be guaranteed. [If that makes sense to you, seek help immediately.] Apparently this is not a big deal because "there is an understanding" that these kinds of projects will keep their precedence. [The CIB committee seems like a rather precarious affair.]Headline: Ramsey County owes Ford big tax refund for overvaluing its propertyAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: A judge ruled that the Ford site wasn't worth as much as the county assessors thought. [Maybe because it's so polluted? Thanks Ford!]Headline: Assisted living facility planned for site of old St. Mary's HomeAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: An old place for old nuns might become an new place for old non-nuns. Headline: Midway Walgreens' move to Snelling-Univeristy approvedAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: The old [modernist, ugly] bank on the corner of Snelling and University will be retro-fit into a Walgreen's [kitty corner from the CVS] with a new building section and a smaller drive thru. [All we need now is a self-storage facility.]Headline: TargetExpress eyes July 2014 opening in Highland VillageAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: The Barnes and Noble will be a Target sometime next year. Nobody knows what will become of the Starbucks. [I am not making this up.]Headline: County tests new median on Ford Pkwy. at Macalester St. Author: Jane McClureShort short version: The county has installed a "test median" [o, the dreaded test median] to look at traffic patterns. [IMO, if it's a good idea to calm traffic, don't test it. You'll just piss people off. This seems like a good idea.]Headline: Former Schmidt warehouse sought for self-storage bizAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: A warehouse near the Schmidt brewery development might become a self-storage warehouse [the sure sign of urban revival].Headline: Work continues on controlling residential teardown problemAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: People are tearing down homes to build larger homes, but CM Tolbert is trying to make sure they have permits and proper dumpsters.Headline: City awards $350,000 loan for homeless-youth residenceAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: The city gave some money for a building for homeless youth on University Avenue.Headline: City approves liquor licenses for Sweet Pea's Public HouseAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: A bar on Snelling can be open later.Headline: Little Grocery is fined $900 for violating tobacco regulationsAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: A grocery store on University Avenue sold smokes to a kid.Headline: Metro Transit postpones plan for 2nd bus rapid transit lineAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: The proposed arterial bus rapid transit project for West 7th is on hold for a bit while the county and city figure out exactly what they're doing.Headline: Tweaking the experiment; EXCO studies new path for nontraditional classesAuthor: Frank JossiShort short version: The Twin Cities "experimental college" teaches you stuff like how to ride bikes.Headline: Firm appeals reuse of former College of Visual Arts siteAuthor: Jane McClureShort short version: A social service non-profit wants to use the apartment building on Dayton as an office that was formerly offices for an art school but nearby property owners aren't allowing it, pending further review. [At least I think so. I don't know. *scratches head*]
Over the last few months, an ad hoc group of interested writers and readers here on streets.mn have started a conversations about cultivating diversity on the website. (You can read all about his effort on Cassie’s post from June, and I encourage you to do just that… especially the comments!) Back in July, some of us held a meeting to talk about the role of diversity in conversations about urban design, the kinds of conversations we’re having, and how to cultivate a broad audience.
While not an official action of the board, the diversity conversation fits well within the streets.mn mission statement: “expanding the conversation about land use and transportation issues in the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota.”
Sidenote: In my opinion, “expanding” is a great word to use, and to me recalls images of a river flowing and adding streams was it the water moves downstream. (Hopefully, the conversation can stay just as deep, as it broadens.) In a sense, the diversity conversation is kind of like an avant garde, hoping to brainstorm, experiment, and accelerate the conversation broadening.
Anyway, the ever-changing working group held another meeting (actually a BBQ picnic) in Janne Flisrand’s beautiful backyard to talk more about increasing diversity within urban design conversations in general, and for this website in particular. The picnic was great, and we had seven interested people (some that I hadn’t met before) show up on a beautiful summertime Sunday for a sometimes difficult conversation. We spent a few hours chatting, and going over an engagement and brainstorm exercise that we’d prepared.
Here are the results!
Engaging with Diverse Audiences
The key question going into the meeting was about audience. What audience do you want to write for? What are their characteristics? Why is that the audience you want to reach?
Sitting around Janne’s backyard treble, we all weighed in on the question of audience, chatting in pairs with each other about the answers to some of these questions. After a few minutes, it turned out that we had three distinct groups in mind. For the next part of the meeting, we split up into a few teams and discussed each of these potential audiences for urban conversation.
Audience 1: Young people (i.e. teenagers)
A couple of us were really interested in reaching out to young people, i.e. middle or high school age students or college students. In other words, (i.e. the words of Whitney Houston), “we believe that children are the future.” Reaching this audience is crucial because young students turn into young adults who turn into the people collectively making the decisions in our society.
Additionally, young people have open minds and perspectives that are particularly tuned in to trends and technology. Including young people in conversations about urban design will probably lead to a lot of ideas that older people (already beaten down by social trepidation) that might exceed the horizon of those with weatherbeaten vision.
How to reach young people? Here are a few tips.
Use accessible language. Young people haven’t yet become experts in any particular field, and if you want to have a productive conversation with younger audience, it’s vital to not alienate them with jargon or exclusive language. One good test might be thinking about the “reading level” of your writing.
Avoid moral superiority. Nobody likes condescension, and young people especially. A few of the people at the diversity meeting were parents, and shared tips about parenting: kids respond better when you try and explain the reasons behind your suggestions, rather than simply saying that X or Y “is bad.” If you want to reach young people, one of the worst things you can do is to begin by shaming.
Anchor your conversation in specific problems. This is an old teacher’s trick: if you want a lesson to stick, teach the problem, not the solution. Challenge young people to with a problematic situation, and see what kinds of solutions they can come up with on their own. Try to figure out ways to relate your topic to the lives of young people today. (Some examples: texting and driving, parking lots in high schools, or how to cultivate more freedom for kids growing up without cars.)
Audience 2: Older people (i.e. seniors)
The second audience we were invested in reaching was the baby boom and earlier generations (roughly speaking). In other words, we wanted our conversations to include people like our parents. We felt it was important to reach this audience because they are so influential (economically and politically), and because they’re are going to need more mobility options in the future. (For example, as people age, it becomes more and more important to get daily exercise. This quite literally equals independence and freedom.)
But how to reach older baby boomers? Here are a few tips.
Use “expertise.” For various reasons, the older generations have a different attitude about expertise and more trust in institutions than the generations that have come since. (Probably because, in general, boomers have done OK with modernist state institutions.) This means that you shouldn’t shy away from using expertise when trying to reach an older audience. Flash those credentials, and try to surround your claims with evidence and/or knowledge that you’ve gained through other experience.
Avoid jargon. This might seem counterintuitive given the previous tip, but avoiding unnecessary jargon is still a good idea if you want to reach a broad audience of boomers. Plain language speaks to more people. In other words, try to put your point into words that your parents might understand. (Protip: your parents have no real idea what you “do” for a living.)
Empathize with their position. Again, when thinking of examples or topics, try to imagine your parents. For example, we imagined our parents walking around their neighborhoods or to the farmer’s markets, or struggling trying to find parking (while driving in the city). This generation loves farmer’s markets, Main Streets, and “liberal” values. Try to speak to these experiences empathetically.
Audience 3: New immigrants and economically disadvantaged
This was the third key audience that our groups wanted to include in the conversation about urban design. The main reason for focusing on this audience is that, for various reasons, they often cannot speak for themselves. (Often there are language, culture/class, or economic barriers keeping these groups from participating.) For these reasons, these groups need more middle-class progressive younger people to use their privilege to engage with, and speak with, people who are less able to find a voice in our system.
(Also, if you want to reach more diverse audiences, it’s crucial for those audiences to see a reflection of themselves in the conversation.)
How to include the disadvantaged in the conversation? Here are a few tips.
Speak with them, not for them. For example, interviews are a great way to allow people to speak for themselves without putting all the onus on these groups to do al the work. In other words, you’re explicitly using your capacities (to clearly narrate, to post things on the internet, to frame things) to allow others to speak. Ask them about taking transit, problems like walking or shopping, etc. Then translate what they say into the mainstream conversation.
Use accessible vocabulary. This might sound like a broken record at this point, but if you want to reach diverse audiences that might not have the privileged educational backgrounds, using accessible, straight forward language is crucial.
Include visual content. For example, use pictures, charts, maps, or infographics. Photographs are a great way to make your point in a way that is accessible to almost anyone. Including photographs or visual illustrations might seem a bit overwhelming to people used to expressing themselves in speech or writing, but if we want to reach broader audiences, quality visual content is well worth additional time. (This is why cartoons have been so extremely popular for hundreds of years.)
Anyway, those are some of the tips and thoughts from the most recent diversity meeting. This is not the end of the conversation, but the beginning. What kinds of audiences do you want to see this website reach? Why are they important? Would you be willing to help reach out to new audiences?
Post your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks for your time.
On Saturday September 20th I’m helping put together a Better Block event at the corner of 42nd Street and 28th Avenue. September 20th is also PARKing Day and Max Musicant at the Musicant Group is planning a large PARKing Day event in southwest Minneapolis. Both events are one day, and use public space on sidewalks and streets in a different way to encourage people to come out, mingle, enjoy themselves, lobby for change, and most of all to see and enjoy their city in a new way. Come and join us!
Better Block (sometimes called Tactical Urbanism) is a grassroots effort to demonstrate how to better use our cities by calming traffic, adding amenities and bringing people together. For example, Better Block events may create temporary bike lanes, trees, traffic calming, even pop-up businesses to provide a physical example of what can be, and to show how our cities can be more pleasant places for people of all ages. Sometimes these raise awareness about how institutional rules and ordinances work against livable cities. A Better Block event can be measured in real time to help make the case for permanent changes. PARKing Day is an international guerrilla urbanism project that uses a simple idea – occupying a parking space with a park rather than a car. It is quite elegant in its simplicity and, similar to Better Block, is a way to demonstrate to the neighborhood we can use our streets to add greenery, social and economic activity.
Why Better Block at the intersection of 42nd Street and 28th Avenue? For starters, the corner is at the heart of the Standish-Ericsson neighborhood. With several long-time businesses like St. Mane Sporting Goods and A Baker’s Wife, the commercial node has also seen turnover and newer businesses like Buster’s and Angry Catfish have added to the retail mix of the corner and reflect the evolving tastes (literally) of the neighborhood. Perhaps more importantly, they have outdoor seating that greatly improves the attractiveness of the corner. More people hang out there and it is a “better block” as a result.
Still, there is more to do. A key retail space at the corner sits vacant, and moreover, the corner lacks trees and greenery and traffic calming to make it more pleasant for neighbors and customers. In two recent posts, I addressed the testing of a four-way stop sign at the corner and the aftermath of scuttling the test after folks complained. While I still believe a four-way stop sign makes the intersection safer, even if it caused congestion during rush-hour, in the overall big picture it was one part of an effort to make the corner a better place for people. If the intersection can become a four-way stop sign again, just for one day, I’m all for it. But in the meantime, with Better Block on September 20, business owners, neighbors and I will be providing temporary street trees, an on-street bicycle rack, live music, a parklet, a space for children’s storytime, games, sidewalk chalk, a Tai Chi class, and more!
At the end of the day, the goal is to make the corner a more pleasant place for people of all ages. Even if people arrive by car, they complete their journey on foot. Therefore it is critical that the area is attractive for people. Otherwise, what reason is there to bother visiting? Making the corner more pedestrian-friendly and pleasant draws people and acts as a glue that bonds all businesses together. The goal is that these temporary items lead to permanent improvements, like street trees, bicycle parking and perhaps even additional shops or restaurants…a Better Block.
Join us on September 20th!