Sunday, June 03, 2007

Back From Hiatus



After a week of frantic wedding planning, I'm getting back in gear with this blog. But besides the upcoming nuptials, a second factor has contributed to my... reluctance?... to keep hammering out blog entries. I thought a bit about this second factor, and realized that it itself merits an entry.

The fact is, Minneapolis is really cool. So much of my writing on urban planning has stemmed from my observations of what doesn't work in this or that city. I see something that doesn't work very well, and I ask: How can we make this work better? I've been very much focused on asking how to improve cities.

The problem, of course, is that Minneapolis is a strikingly well-run and well-organized metropolitan region. I do not constantly run into bizarre and annoying quirks of urban planning on a daily basis. Thus, I'm a bit stumped for content, ironically!

But the challenge, then, is to work harder at identifying what elements work so well in this city and why. Great urban planning is often--from the ordinary citizen's perspective--unconscious urban planning. That is, when an urban element works well (such as a neighborhood, park, retail district, etc.), the users of that space find it so easy to use that they don't waste time wondering why it works so well. Great design is unconscious design, from a consumer perspective.

(To be fair, the "unconscious" quality of great design is anything but! Behind all great design is a lot of very conscious reflection on how best to organize space.)

I'll try to address this in more detail this week, focusing on which urban elements of Minneapolis-St. Paul work so well that even a cynic like myself can't help but be impressed.

More soon...

3 Comments:

Blogger JeffreyT said...

I look forward to hearing more of the great aspects & concepts. So much writing these days is about what is wrong (with the war, with poverty, with Cleveland, with athletes, et cetera). Good material is wonderful to read!

10:05 PM  
Blogger Generalissimo said...

As a former journalist, I always was frustrated that stories with a positive angle, such as success stories, were considered "fluff" by editors and stories about failures or scandals were touted as hard-hitting journalism. My experience in graduate was similiar. Professors boasted about being "critical" and "analytical." However, at the end of the day, it seemed to me their conclusions generally had a negative slant: this failed, this didn't measure up, this lacked, this minority group was blocked access... Without including the upshots. This contrasts with the Disneyland-esque P.R. cheerleaders who always smiling, telling us everything is great... Ugh!

Let's find middle ground for this intellectual discourse. (I was tempted to say intellectual intercourse and leave the rest up to your imaginations. - get yer minds out of the gutter). My suggestion is that Gross should maintain his even-handed approach. If something is working, he should tell us why. Share not just the success but the operations that led to success. Other important questions to consider:

1. The bottom line: How much was spent. I think readers like to know the cost to make something work well.

2. Perspective: If Gross finds something working great in the Twin Cities, maybe he could provide perspective by offering an example of the same thing that is lacking elsewhere. I.E., great urban parks in St. Paul... Poor park system in (blank).

3. Access: Who has access? Does limiting access make it a failure or is some level of discrimination key?

4. Local Culture: Tell us about local attitudes and how the lend to a great or poor urban experience.

9:57 AM  
Anonymous Bonnie Erickson said...

generalissimo asks "how much was spent"? Ouch. Minnesota is way up there in the taxes department. The great roads and services don't come without a cost. Also asked is who has access? The answer will be interesting to hear. I think of the many activities my family participated in when I was younger and poorer. We took the children for free to Dayton's 8th floor auditorium every Christmas. It was a big deal. Will Macy's start charging or eliminate it? We went to Twin City Federal's Hollidazzle parade for free every winter. It, too, was/is a big deal. The St. Paul Winter Carnival . . . anyone who wants to play can. Most things are free although there was an entry fee for the last ice castle. The ice sculptures are free. Diggin' Dino's are free right now. The 5 year tribute to Charles Schulz of Peanuts character statues was free. The Children's Museum is free on certain days of the month. The Saints games are $7-$10 apiece and it's baseball like it used to be played. The beaches at the parks are free. The flower gardens at Lake Harriet are free. Many of the Aquatennial activities are free. Should I go on? Libraries, biking/hiking systems, top notch education, community theater in the park, . . . It will be interesting to see The Gross Report's analysis will be interesting to see unfold.

3:05 AM  

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