Transit in the Twin Cities

Since I started serving on the Technical Advisory Committee for the Riverview Corridor transit project, I’ve had a front row seat from which to view the planning process here in St Paul. This isn’t the first time I’ve served on a group like this, but it is the most intensive and serious effort so far.

As a built urban environment, this is not an easy place to plan transit. Traversing the West Seventh neighborhood is only one problem – it has to cross the Mississippi eventually, which will be expensive.

I would like to tell you what I think is the ideal place for transit from Downtown St Paul to the airport and beyond, but it would be inappropriate. The process that we are moving through seems so deeply flawed that jumping to a “solution” is simply not what is needed. Whatever comes out of this is likely to be inadequate and jumbled.

Continue reading

Black Lives Matter

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests were forcefully removed from their 18 day encampment outside the Fourth Precinct in Minneapolis – and then took their protest to City Hall. In between they reiterated their demands – Release the tapes, appoint a special prosecutor with no grand jury to investigate the death of Jamar Clark, and institute a safety plan to protect Minneapolis residents from continued police violence.

It’s far from over and the problems did not start with the shooting of Clark by the Minneapolis police. This is a systemic problem and while it wasn’t the protesters’ choice this belongs squarely in City Hall at this point. It’s not about one incident with one police officer but a system, a city, that are not functioning anything like they must.

Continue reading

More than Sculpture

A lot has been going on, so I need this repeat from 2010.  Back live on Friday.

Cities mark the landscape across this nation and all others.  Images of the handiwork of a culture often define the people who come to inherit the space and, in turns, mark it with their own generation’s values.  Yet they are so much more than static collections of icons – they are where people come together and live their lives right now.  They are always ultimately about the connections that make them alive.

Even the bricks and mortar or glass and steel is ultimately a connection across time to what made the city what it is today.  Though it’s the stuff that makes up a city which gets photographed and noticed, they are much more than that.

Continue reading

Density Gradient

Cities are coming back across the US for many reasons. The unsafe, dirty urban core of legend is being replaced by funky, hip neighborhoods with character and charm. Life in the city can be good, now that the perma-haze of pollution has been tamed. Transit helps make life more relaxing and even cheaper. Young people in particular find revitalized cities to be affordable and great places to meet their mate and then raise kids.

The movement owes a lot to New Urbanism, junking the old industrial model for cities as centers for jobs and emphasizing attractive, functional places to live. We’ve learned a lot. But if there is one flaw in this model it’s the constant emphasis on higher and higher density. There’s always a place for high density in the urban world, of course, but it doesn’t work everywhere.

A better way to look at what makes cities great is a model based on the density gradient – a gradual increase towards the core that is economically and aesthetically sustainable.

Continue reading

Eight Years On

Eight years ago, Barataria began as a humble blog like so many others. It grew out of a need, first and foremost, to get a few things out of my head that would otherwise rattle around and bump into the stories that paid the bills from my job as a professional writer. It has grown into a loyal community of readers who are hunger for new perspectives on this crazy world and respectfully offer their own.

A rapidly changing world needs a diet of more than high calorie headlines. It needs time for a slow meal, carefully prepared and savored through a lingering evening. In a visceral sense that’s what I mean by “I don’t break news, I fix it.” We are all in this together, taking time to chew and swallow before we open our mouths in a joyous moment among friends.

Continue reading

Riverview Corridor

How is a successful transit project designed and implemented? In the past I’ve complained bitterly about a St Paul project that went badly and praised one that seemed to be going well. The difference? Primarily, it’s about engaging the public and making sure that everything is accounted for.

Today I am a representative of the Fort Road Federation on the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) for the Riverview Corridor. In the interest of practicing what I preach, here is a full disclosure of what we will do and how I am approaching it. I value your comments, regardless of whether you live in St Paul or somewhere else – everyone has something to add to big, expensive projects like this.

Continue reading

When Great Force Becomes Easy

The still summer evening was suddenly ripped apart by the heavy THWUP!-THWUP!-THWUP! of helicopters. In this part of St Paul copters are common enough as small emergencies across the state hurry themselves to nearby United Hospital. But this sound was different. It was heavy, immediate, and amplified by three of them flying low enough to sneak up on the otherwise placid city.

Then there was the shape. Medivac copters are small and light, but these were large and olive drab. Several low passes later they were joined by another sound, a gentle whoosh that might have been less disturbing had I not had the knowledge that this is what a Blackhawk sounds like.

Last Tuesday St Paul was the host to an unannounced training mission in urban warfare that included Navy Seals. Why? No one has been told why they did it here. Before, after, and during we all know essentially nothing. Our cities are being militarized and shown tremendous force behind a cloak of secrecy that is inappropriate – and naturally falls on the most vulnerable citizens of our community. But Ferguson, Missouri is hardly alone.

Continue reading