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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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An Anxious Spring

It was a long hard Winter. It’s not letting go too easily here in the heartland, with Spring coming in short fits just long enough to give us all hope. But the transition is as bright as the green carpet of grass that covers the park, as pervasive as the smell of rain in the air, and as loud as the excitement along West Seventh Street. Each moment finds its own pace.

My daughter Thryn will graduate from High School in less than a month. Her dreams of hitting the road and finding a life beyond childhood color everything in her attitude now. The dark senioritis that wants to laze the last few moments collapses into anxiety in unpredictable fits of realization. Soon enough it really will be all about her, the desires of every teen made starkly real.

For her doting Dad it’s time to let go. As a parent, I can’t be good at everything.

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The Check is … Against the Boards?

With a 5-4 win in overtime, the Minnesota Wild beat the Colorado Avalanche, achieving more than the trophy for teams that don’t end in “s”. They advanced to the next round of the playoffs, against the defending Stanley Cup holders Chicago Blackhawks in the resumption of an intense Midwest rivalry.

They also made a great stride towards the team actually breaking even this year.

As any true fan of the game knows, the playoffs bring out the fair weather fans – a term that in the hockey season applies far too literally. But there is a lot more to the game than who wins on the ice. There’s a lot of money flowing through the NHL, and I do mean flowing. Hardly any stays. It’s a great benefit to the city of St Paul, or at least my neighborhood on West Seventh Street, but how does a team stay on the ice? It’s almost amazing.

Let’s talk about the future of the NHL as the Wild has a pretty decent chance at bringing the Stanley Cup to St Paul for the next year.

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Industrial Arts

If you have any fear for the future of America, visit a FIRST Robotics League competition. Your worries will simply melt away.

Three days with my son’s team (2491 No Mythic) at the Northstar Regionals, where we were knocked out in the Finals, constantly percolated with passion, grace, and ingenuity. The 800 plus high-schoolers in Mariucci Arena, and another 800 next door in Williams Arena, redefined competition beyond the unique sport that is something like hockey with robots. These kids make things happen and realize their visions together. As enthusiastically as they learned by doing, however, their drive showed that something might be missing from their school experience.

Call it shop class, call it “technical education”, use whatever words you want. These are the citizens that will make the world of tomorrow in their image, if only they have the tools to do it. That cries out for a revival and resuscitation of the Industrial Arts in a way that I have never seen contemplated before.

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