(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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Us versus Them – Put It to an End

The last week has been hard in the US. It’s been especially hard here in St Paul, the nearest large city to Falcon Heights. That is where St Paul resident Philandro Castille was gunned down at a traffic stop, and the city that has seen the brunt of the protests as his home and the capitol of the state.

More than the horror of this shooting and the protests which turned ugly afterwards, the situation appears to be spinning out of control. For those of us who support the Black Lives Matter movement as well as our excellent St Paul Police there is a lot to be concerned about.

If cooler heads prevail, as they usually do in this city, we’ll be allright. But we have to keep our eyes on the prize and no longer accept the “Us versus Them” mentality destroying our nation.

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Visions for West Seventh

How do you fit all the public amenities needed for a 21st century city into a 19th century street? Some cities benefited from great forethought, like Salt Lake City, and gave a few extra feet here and there for the public realm. Saint Paul, my hometown, wasn’t as generous.

As I have discussed before, I’m deeply involved in the process of considering transit improvements to West Seventh Street. For me, it’s more than just my ‘hood – it’s a very classic street through a neighborhood that demonstrates many of the best things that cities have to offer. Yes, it needs a little something here and there, and should include better transit.

This is a big public decision, and the public has to be involved. In order to communicate not just plans but the thinking behind them, for true citizen empowerment, it’s vital that we get into how this is going.

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A Durable City

The noise of construction and the vision of cranes on the horizon has become a feature of urban life in Minneapolis and St Paul lately, at least in some neighborhoods. The construction industry is booming, and the structures of choice are large apartment buildings. The demand appears insatiable – and no one is building condominiums. It’s all apartments, reaching to the sky in large complexes of 100 units and more.

My own neighborhood, West Seventh, is one of the hot-spots for this development craze. But are these units a good idea? Is this what the city needs? Or are we simply building the slums of tomorrow, today?

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Flexible Cities

Predictions of the future are often tricky. It requires an extrapolation of a trend from today to some kind of logical conclusion, taking into account how the object changing connects to the rest of the world. There’s a real showmanship to it all, too, when you start from the logical conclusion and then explain yourself backwards.

Cities will be radically different by 2050, with zoning codes and concepts that are more flexible and the corresponding buildings will have many uses on top of each other. Suburbs, as we know them now, will require extensive rehabilitation that will work well in some places but create wastelands in others.

See how it works? This is simply the logical conclusion of a flexible workforce and a fast-paced economy with people changing careers often. Should all that come to pass, our cities will have to have more flexible structures and more agile concepts of zoning. We can easily imagine how that might look because that is what cities were like before zoning came along about 100 years ago.

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