The Importance of Place

I get this question a lot: what is your favorite building? Seems like a reasonable question, given my education in historic preservation, and my affinity for architecture. So, I guess that’s why people are surprised when I don’t really have a favorite building. Two reasons for this:

(1) I tend to be more attracted to vernacular, ordinary buildings than remarkable architectural monuments and there are many great examples of lovely, albeit “simple” buildings, I couldn’t possibly choose a favorite and

(2) to me, “preservation” is more about neighborhoods – or a collection of buildings – than it is about any one particular structure.

View from Foshay Tower – how does a person pick just one building to love?

For instance, I love the Basilica of St. Mary, and support its continued preservation, but when I worry about preservation in Minneapolis, I worry about LynLake, Eat Street, and St. Anthony Main – and other quaint urban areas, composed of small unassuming buildings which, individually, may not hold historic value, but collectively create a unique neighborhood, a unique “sense of place”. I just love that phrase. Sense of place gives me a feeling of warmth – it’s somewhere I want to be, it’s cobble stone streets, sidewalk cafes, rooftop patios, small artisan shops with smiling passers-by walking or bicycling to their destination. Its laughter, vibrant conversations and soft summer breeze as I sip on some new seasonal beer flavor. This version of “sense of place” is mine, it doesn’t have to be yours – that is what is great about a sense of place, it can be something different for everyone who experiences it – all that is important is that it exists.

Sonny’s Ice Cream in LynLake has a great “sense of place” in it’s little bistro alleyway

What is placemaking?

The common thread of neighborhoods that have unique identities is they were developed with people in mind – either intentionally or not. People are not complicated; for the most part we can predict what they will do in public spaces. Where they will sit, what time they will arrive, how long they will stay and so on. Problems arise in city design when the focus is not on people who inhabit it but instead is shifted to things such as; accommodating cars, constructing impractical plazas or buildings just for design’s sake, or cutting corners to reduce upfront costs. This is when we create stale, generic cities which lack unique character that makes them special. In response a new trend in urban planning has begun to take hold, referred to as “place based development” and “placemaking” – are you starting to sense the theme? The point is, let’s be intentional in the way we create places, let’s make them for people to enjoy and the result will not only benefit those who visit or live in these places but it will boost the economy and support the environment.

Placemaking is happening all around us these days. You’ve probably experienced some type of intentional placemaking initiative, but you’ve definitely been exposed to unintentional placemaking if you’ve ever been somewhere and thought, “huh, this neighborhood is kinda neat”. This concept casts a wide net and is meant to include anything that makes a place special. I intend to do a series of blog post outlining how placemaking impacts city life. Hopefully this will raise your awareness, and then you’ll feel more inclined to support such initiatives – maybe get involved and develop some of your own within your community.

Tactical Urbanism

A Minneapolis Parklet along Hennepin Avenue last Summer

Now that you know about placemaking and place-based development, you’re nearly an expert on the topic. One more term you’ll hear thrown around is tactical urbanism.  It sounds pretty fancy, maybe even a little dangerous, right? Essentially, tactical urbanism is an example of a placemaking initiative – one that is temporary, usually low cost, and allows a community to test-drive something before committing to expensive alterations. Examples of tactical urbanism can be seen around the Twin Cities. The series of Parklets spread around Minneapolis, Open Streets events, the make-over of Pedro Park in St. Paul to name a few (that I have pictures of – ha!). Tactical urbanism has been successful in illustrating to city leaders, that if you build it with people in mind, people will come.

Pedro Park in St. Paul designed by Urban Flower Field

View of Open Streets – Lyndale from LynLake Brewery’s rooftop earlier this summer

So, now that you’re a placemaking expert – let’s start talking specifics. Look forward to some future posts about my favorite placemaking initiatives. In the meantime, I want to hear about yours! What have you seen on the streets of your community that you loved? What would you like to see? How do you feel about placemaking and tactical urbanism?

View of the stage at this year’s Rock the Garden music festival. Events like this add to a city’s sense of place.

Minnesota Made Beer: Part Two

I promised when I wrote this post on some local breweries, that I’d create a series going forward about Minnesota breweries. So, here I am making good on that promise with four new tap rooms to which I recently paid a visit. It is extra fitting that I’m writing it this week as it is Minnesota Craft Beer Week (that was dumb luck, I didn’t know such a thing existed until after I had decided to write the post for this month). One caveat I’m going to throw out there – my brewery visits are going to pay very little attention to the beer itself. Which I guess might seem silly – but if you have been reading my posts you probably understand that I really like buildings and history. So my focus is on the spaces that the tap rooms occupy, the history of the buildings and the history of the brewery. I do like beer – and drink quite a bit of it – but I’m in no way qualified to judge or recommend beer flavors to you, so I’ll just stick to what I’m good at – rambling random facts about buildings and history.

Continue reading “Minnesota Made Beer: Part Two”

Musings of a Minnesotan Preservationist

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about historic preservation as a social cause. This is not entirely new for me (I spend an embarrassing amount of time thinking about these things), but I have slightly changed my view on the topic given recent events. I get so frustrated by the way I see preservation presented in the media. Recent examples being coverage of conflict between Nicole Curtis and the Minneapolis City Council over demolition of a house on Colfax Avenue (see my post on this topic here) or tensions between preservation groups and developers amid the proposed construction of a high rise tower within a historic district and next to Nye’s Polonaise. It seems the only time we hear about preservationists is when they are fighting with someone and they’re often depicted as “not in my backyard” fanatics. In an effort to reframe what I believe to be a huge misconception, I’d like to offer up some alternative views for your consumption.

NYC Skyline Midday

NYC has old AND new buildings. If I’m a preservationist, does that mean I have to hate all the new buildings?

Continue reading “Musings of a Minnesotan Preservationist”

A little paint, exposed brick and pieces of my favorite people

Ok, guys, let’s lighten things up a little bit here, alright? Lately I’ve been posting on serious topics which I’m very passionate about, from the way that preservationists represent themselves, to a decision made by the St. Cloud School District to vacate the 1917 building where I attended classes in favor of building a large, sprawling school on the edge of town. These topics are important, and I encourage you to visit those posts if you haven’t had the chance to take a look at them yet. All that being said, I thought it was time to add some levity to this blog so I’m going to share with you some of the projects I’ve been working on in my house!

Continue reading “A little paint, exposed brick and pieces of my favorite people”

An Open Letter to Nicole Curtis

**Please note** The following are my own words and opinions. They are in no way associated with the organizations for which I volunteer or am employed.

Dear Ms. Curtis:

I’d like to start by thanking you for all the work you have done to rejuvenate the dilapidated housing stock around the Twin Cities and elsewhere. The work you do is incredibly important and I admire your courage in completing projects in neighborhoods which others have written off. These communities are worth investment, and I’m glad that you have highlighted how strong and vibrant they are, regardless of what we might hear through the media. I believe that your efforts will contribute to a renaissance in these neighborhoods, and for that we should be grateful.

Continue reading “An Open Letter to Nicole Curtis”

Tech High: A Tradition of Excellence, A Future in Flux

The other day I was wondering to myself, what makes the St. Cloud “metro” area different than the Twin Cities, aside from the obvious size difference. I think that one of St. Cloud’s great qualities is how it changes from edge to edge – it has its historic downtown, paying homage to the city’s beginnings, a commercial district with the more familiar car-oriented layout surrounded by suburban-esque residential development and, at its peripheries, rural expanses of farm land and natural amenities. A person can experience a little bit of everything in the greater St. Cloud area. My parents’ house is located on 10 acres of land against the backdrop of a pond, home to loons and wood-ducks, and yet every day I went to high school at the center of town.

St._Cloud_Tech_High_School Continue reading “Tech High: A Tradition of Excellence, A Future in Flux”