A Density Gradient

This is a repeat from 2015, with a minor update.

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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Inflation is Hip

Inflation is certainly surging, it remains to be seen how much of a problem that is. What we do know is that some regions of the nation, particularly cities where businesses have embraced technology, are surging ahead quickly. Some a bit too quickly.

In a nation already divided, the success of some cities is only accelerating the divide. If they become too successful their high cost may ultimately slow growth. But for now, the benefits of the recovery are heavily centered on a few places.

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Renewing Our Cities

American cities are booming, or at least some of them are. The process of re-invention has been difficult and uneven for the economy as a whole, and old industrial cities are no different. The keys to successful cities? Reinvention, inclusion, diversity, and education.

That is the conclusion of a report from the Brookings Institution entitled “Renewing America’s economic promise through older industrial cities.” An analysis of the legacy industrial base shows that some cities have been successful, others have not. The differences? In large part, a willingness to embrace change and diversity, giving it the space and tools they need to blossom.

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Schmidt Rathskeller

This is a post from 2011.  After a long delay, the Rathskeller is indeed going to be open to the public in a few months!

The tower rises from the heart of West Seventh, defining and defying the passage of time and the lay of the community.  The Schmidt Brewery is the West End to many people because it rises like an old oak from secure roots to dominate the skyline longer than anyone can remember.  Its endurance is remarkable because it cannot be ignored yet somehow has been neglected,  too big to care for and yet too important to imagine life without.

That’s how the Fort Road Federation, through the help of the City of Saint Paul, came to acquire the property for redevelopment.  Decades of tireless work by many people, led by City Councilmember Dave Thune, has reached another turning point for this symbol of a community and its endurance.  After years of planning and haggling it has a new owner and, soon, a new use.

I toured the site as member of the Federation’s Board of Directors.  I’d like to show you one small but vital part of this great site, the Rathskeller.  It is one of the hidden jewels of Saint Paul, soon to be uncovered once again.

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(re)New America

A few years ago, I found myself on Payne Avenue in St Paul after an absence of many years. It had changed, noticeably, and for the better. Shops were clean and bright, people filled the sidewalks, and traffic was impressively bad.

More interestingly, many of the signs on the newly refurbished shops were in Spanish and Hmong.

This process is hardly anything new in American history. A new generation of immigrants often arrives with little more than what they can carry but soon saves and scrapes enough to put a stake down. The first places they invest the rewards of restless work meeting boundless opportunity are neighborhoods like St Paul’s East Side. For those short on cash but long on vision Da Hood is not a problem but an opportunity.

This and many other examples show the real stakes in the immigration ban – the heart and soul of the relentless ability of our nation to renew itself.

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Ending Institutional Racism

My thesis is this: there is nothing more important to the future of our nation than ending racism, particularly institutional racism. This has become a desperate matter of survival for far too many people when it comes to the issue of police killings. These tragedies happen disproportionately to minorities largely because of racism.

Yet the problem goes far beyond that. There is not a single issue in this nation which does not ultimately become polarized and frozen by race. Much of the resistance to government intervention and assistance comes down to a belief that “They” are getting the benefits – the mysterious “other” that is easily blamed for everything. It prevents us from having a useful discussion about “Us”, a free and united people ready to tackle the changes of our world bravely and directly.

But let’s stay with police killings for a moment. Let’s talk about how we get from where we are to a world where no cringes in fear when the disco lights and sirens blare, a world where Black Lives Matter. Let’s talk about how complex issues with hardened battle lines are taken on so that we can get past the problem. Let’s talk about tactics, or how a battle is won.

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