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.
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.
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.