Friday, May 29, 2009

Don't Even Think About Parking in Front of MY House, Says Local Resident

Top: do-it-yourself parking restrictions in CARAG
Bottom: legitimate city sign, also in CARAG

Sometimes legal channels will only get you so far. There are times when taking things into your own hands force necessary progress. But, I have to wonder, where does this local resident fall into the spectrum: neighborhood activist, parking vigilante, or selfish resident?

This house, located in the CARAG neighborhood, isn’t a particularly busy block, parking-wise. It’s a quiet street, mostly single-family homes and a few duplexes; unlike many blocks in CARAG, some of the houses even have driveways. The residents of this home, however, have for one reason or another decided that enough is enough, parking-wise. They took matters into their own hands, installing these vaguely official-looking “no parking between signs” signs in front of their own home.

When I first saw these signs I got mad. What nerve, I thought. Here’s some guy who thinks he’s always entitled to a spot in front of his own home, despite having his own driveway, alley, and, presumably, garage. If only I had a car, I told myself, I’d go park there just to make a point. What’s he going to do, have it towed? After working myself up, I started to reconsider. What if he really does have a reason for the signs? What if they’re official? Well, to make a long story short, I called the city. Signs like this, the helpful man at 311 informed me, were not legal. I could, if I wanted, make an anonymous complaint (I did not). City signs, sometimes installed at the homes of people with wheelchairs or other disabilities, are blue and don’t just “look” official, they are official.

I don’t know the owners of this house. I don’t know if they have some specific reason, other than pure laziness or misplaced sense of ownership, for needing parking in front of their home (or why they can’t just use their driveway). Maybe they do, but if that’s the case then they need to go the official route and go to the city and do it the right way (the city’s Traffic and Parking Services department will install disability loading area or parking signs for those who qualify). This do-it-yourself “solution” to this household’s perceived parking problem is the wrong way to effect change; it smacks of personal selfishness, an unwillingness to consider the shared good of the block or the community, and a sense of entitlement that doesn’t sit well with at least some fellow neighbors.

Again, I don’t know the behind-the-scenes story. Maybe the household has a real need for this sign, and has some legitimate reason for not getting what they need or want from the city. But what’s to stop other Uptown residents from putting up similar signs in their boulevards? Where does it end? If we were talking about some larger community act of, well, not necessarily civil disobedience (although I'm fine with that within reason), but something technically against city code (guerilla gardening or the planting of vegetables in the boulevard both come to mind as good Uptown possibilities…) then that’s one thing, but vigilante parking signs like these are not about community, they are about individual needs or perceived entitlements taken at the expense of everyone else.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

These New Neighbors May Ruffle Some Feathers, but Hey (Hay?), They Don't Add to the Parking Problem!

Above: Uptown chickens hang out under the coop on a sunny spring day.

The movement towards keeping backyard chickens in the city is sweeping the nation, and at least a handful of Uptown residents are fully onboard. Chickens are legal in Minneapolis, although you do need a permit (along with permission from 80% of your nearby neighbors). It’s a trend that seems only to be growing. The benefits are clear: enjoy the ultimate example of local fresh eggs, feel connected to the food you eat, and enjoy the company of what are entertaining and personable pets. Most Uptown backyards are easily big enough to fit a chicken coop and run. Chickens aren’t for everyone, of course – they do take money, time, and dedication, and if you’re only in it for the eggs you might as well just buy the local free range options available at the store – but I, for one, am thrilled that Uptowners have the opportunity to have a small taste of country life right in their own backyards.
Now if I could just have a couple of pet goats I'd be set...

Sunday, May 24, 2009

An Open Letter to Ralph Remington

Dear Council Member Remington:

Time is ticking; before you know it your time in the Minneapolis City Council will be up. No more dealing with annoying people, or at least no more need to put on a diplomatic front befitting of a City Council member. No more Happy Hour with Ralph – just plain old regular happy hours. You’ve put up with a lot; complaints from angry Ward 10 residents who think you’ve sold them out on the development front, complaints from other Ward residents who think you’ve sold out to the NIMBY crowd, probably countless calls and emails from grumpy residents whining about everything from parking to liquor licenses to whatever else floats their boats.

You’re not running for reelection; why not lose some of that Minnesota reserve and just tell it like it is? Polite is fine, but I, for one, would really appreciate some straight-to-the-point answers and opinions.

Imagine the possibilities:

Neighbor: Someone is parked in front of my house!! I need permit parking on my street!
Remington: What were you thinking, living in Uptown? Uptown is an urban neighborhood. Cars come with the territory. Don’t like it? Move. Rent a garage. Just stop complaining to me about it. I don’t want to hear it; I live here, too, remember?

Neighbor: There was a drunk person on my street making noise last night. Can you make the bars close at midnight, or better yet, ten? Oh, and no more liquor licenses to anyone, please. Booze is the root of all evil in Uptown.

Remington: Drunk people are a problem, especially if behind the wheel. But wasn’t that you I saw sipping a glass of wine last week at Barbette? Why is it okay for you and your friends but not for anyone else?

Neighbor: Someone built a five-story building near Lyndale and Lake, and now I can’t see the sky. My pedestrian experience is diminished.
Remington: You picked the wrong neighborhood, my friend. Ever been to a real city? A five-story building isn’t going to kill you, and lots of Ward 10 residents love them. Want me to bulldoze all those tall, leafy elm trees on your block while I’m at it? Those darn trees really get in the way of watching the clouds, let alone the eagles...

Neighbor: You betrayed me! You’re in bed with the developers!
Remington: Funny, the last caller said just the opposite. Can’t make up your mind, can you?

You can tell me what you think, too. If I call or email you with a question I’m fine with getting a direct answer – “I can’t do that because I’ll be bombarded with calls and emails from annoying CARAG zoning committee members and their allies, and I just don’t want to deal with that anymore,” or “I think your suggestion is absolutely nuts, and I’m only granting you the courtesy of this email because I have to be polite to my constituents, even the crazy ones,” or whatever. Unrealistic, I know, but oh, how I love the idea of an elected official going out in a blaze of direct, straight, no-holds-barred glory…

Thursday, May 21, 2009

News Flash: Uptown and Lyn-Lake Character Dependent on Building Height, Say Some

Local Uptown-area NIMBYs, led by the Queen NIMBEE (and Minneapolis City Commissioner) Lara Norkus-Crampton, have led a mostly successful campaign to firmly establish the belief that the terms “character” and “height” are virtually synonymous.

Take this new passage from the revised Lyn-Lake Small Area Plan, for example:

Building height and character is discussed within context of each character area below… higher heights should be concentrated in the Activity Center, and height above four stories should be substantially set back from the lower floors.” (41)

The Plan went before the Minneapolis City Planning Commission on Monday; its earlier attempt at approval, back in April, was delayed by the efforts of Norkus-Crampton (she wanted to slow down the process to better evaluate issues relating to height and the pedestrian character of the plan) and – no surprise here – CARAG, which expressed concerns over “character, scale, context, and transitions,” according to the Southwest Journal. And as for the above quote, yes, building height and character are discussed, but so are a lot of other things. The singling out of these two particular elements, used together in the same sentence, is not an isolated example of “height” and “character” being lumped together as one topic; read enough of the local plans and attend enough public meetings and you’ll see and hear dozens, if not hundreds, of similar statements.

The fuss over height and character in the Lyn-Lake Small Area Plan is pretty minor in comparison to the controversy relating to the Uptown Small Area Plan, and to new proposed developments in Uptown, for that matter, but it does highlight the near constant refrain of “preserve the character of the neighborhood – limit height.” If you say it enough it must be true, right?

Height is only one element of neighborhood character. Sure, a skyscraper is going to alter the character of Uptown, but the occasional tall(ish) building isn’t necessarily going to harm things. There are many different aspects of neighborhood character, and a limited primary focus on just one thing is one of the biggest dangers being pressed on us by a small but vocal group of neighborhood activists. In some cases a tall building may offer other elements that actually enhance the neighborhood’s character; a knee-jerk reaction based purely on height is illogical and misguided.

Why don't the NIMBYs complain about too-short buildings? The Lyn-Lake Small Area Plan does encourage buildings along Lake Street to be more than one story, thank goodness. Still, how often do we hear people complain when someone comes along and wants to build yet another one-story building on one of our valuable major commercial streets? This is just as potentially damaging to neighborhood character as a five-story building (if not more), yet I rarely, if ever, hear many people complaining about anything being too short.

I’m going to repeat it again, as I think it’s that important: height does NOT equal character. It is something to consider, certainly, and an appropriate height and design can have a major impact on the character of a street, block, or even neighborhood. But it is not the only consideration, and I don’t even think the most important consideration. The NIMBYs (and yes, Lara Norkus-Crampton and certain CARAG activists, I’m talking to you) need to broaden their horizons a bit for the sake of the neighborhood and the true preservation of its character.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Sign of the Times: Lowry Hill East's Neighborhood Sign Project

Above: A Lowry Hill East (the Wedge) sign on Hennepin Avenue

Neighborhood signs seem to be a big deal in the community-building world. The general concept seems to be that they help build a shared sense of community, establish a sense of boundaries, create a sense of place, and generally contribute to a better neighborhood and a nicer place to work and live. To this end, cities and neighborhoods across the country have been hard at work creating sign programs, often fully funded through public or private grant money. Minneapolis is no exception; most neighborhoods have a smattering of signs around their edges, in some cases multiple sign designs dating from different eras. In CARAG, for example, I’ve seen both those older orange goose signs, as well as the newer cartoon version; the modern CARAG sign is not bad for what it is, but admittedly not to my taste – I much prefer something more elegant and streamlined. And that brings me to the topic of this particular post: the Wedge (LHENA) and its NRP-funded signage program.

The Wedge’s original NRP plan designated $15,000 in funds to “utilize neighborhood artists and their skills to create new signs for the neighborhood.” Artist Linda Strand Koutsky (coauthor of a wonderful series of illustrated books related to Minnesota popular culture, including restaurants and the State Fair) was selected to design and create the signs. She served as a visiting artist at Jefferson School, where she helped lead the students in creating graphic icons representing various elements of neighborhood life. She then took the student’s work, “refined” it, and designed and created the final product. The signs themselves were installed throughout the neighborhood, with the strongest concentration along the boundaries of Hennepin, Lyndale, and Lake. The NRP Phase I evaluation cites the project as a success, although does note that there have been difficulties with maintenance – presumably keeping the signs clear of graffiti, stickers, and other acts of vandalism.

I’m a strong supporter of nearly anything that can be seen as building a feeling of community and promoting a sense of place, so my conflicted feelings about these (and other) signs leave me feeling a little guilty. But ultimately, I have to wonder: are these signs really worth the money and the time? Was this project truly a success? Some thoughts on the project:

The signs are attractive.

I give the Wedge – and Linda Strand Koutsky and the Jefferson students – kudos for the final design. They are by far the most attractive of the Uptown neighborhood signs. I like the simple lines, the use of color, and, especially, the elegant choice of cutout graphic icons. I also enjoy the fact that not all signs are the same; seeing the different designs makes each one special and more interesting than they would be if all identical. I have no problems with the design itself, and wish all neighborhood signs were as attractive.

The use of “Lowry Hill East” could be confusing.

The Wedge has a more complicated name issue than do the other Uptown-area neighborhoods. It’s commonly referred to as the Wedge, many people simply call it “Uptown,” and the official neighborhood organization is the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association, or LHENA. Yes, I suppose some people know the neighborhood as Lowry Hill East, but I would guess that the vast majority of people do not. Does the Wedge want to be known as Lowry Hill East? If there was a concentrated effort to change the unofficial name then that would change things, but assuming that they don’t, I do wonder if the signs sometimes cause unnecessary confusion.

Neighborhood signs can contribute to sign pollution.

Yes, this is a nice sign. And yes, everyone else does it, too. But given that Minneapolis’s official neighborhood boundaries are often located along busy streets (in this case Hennepin, Lyndale, and Lake) pedestrians get bombarded with a streetscape filled with signs of all types. The visual clutter means that these signs don’t get the attention that they deserve. One alternative would be to move this type of signage into the neighborhoods themselves, posting them along quieter residential streets instead of along busy border streets; they wouldn’t designate the boundaries of the neighborhood, but I think they might gain more community-building power through the quieter viewing area. They would no longer announce that you were entering a neighborhood, but would serve the equally valuable function (and more effectively, at that) of reminding residents and visitors that they are within (and not at the edge of) the Wedge neighborhood.

Is this project really worth nearly $15,000?

I don’t know if the signage value itself – especially when used primarily on the edges of the neighborhood, and on extremely busy streets – is worth the high cost. On the other hand, this could be considered the support of a local artist and our local school. As a community-enhancing visual arts project linking school with neighborhood, well, maybe it was worth the money.

I realize that topics like this are pretty small potatoes in the grand scheme of things, but the little things really add up. The details of neighborhood life can make a large impact on quality of life, and it behooves us all to take the time to carefully consider the world around us, and to contemplate what works, what doesn’t, and what we can do in the future to make Uptown (and its individual neighborhoods) the best place possible to live, visit, and work.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

CARAG is for (Car) Lovers

When the CARAG Master Plan was completed in 2000, it was intended to serve as a guide to the next several decades of development and change in the CARAG neighborhood. It was created after a lengthy process involving many neighbors and other local stakeholders, and continues to inform the neighborhood’s decisions today. While there is much about the plan to be admired, there are also some glaring examples of hypocrisy, or at least examples of two deeply conflicting viewpoints that are never fully reconciled. Chief among these is the plan’s – and by extension the neighborhood’s – vision of the role of cars in CARAG. Some initial relevant snippets from the plan:

“Our plan begins with an understanding that CARAG is a great urban neighborhood and the actions that we undertake will only enhance its urban qualities,” states the plan in the introduction. (i)

“We believe that CARAG is a place where people could live without a car. (4-3)

“Our master plan recognizes that our dense, urban character is critical to the neighborhood, and if a parking problem is a by-product of what we like about CARAG, we will find ways to live with it.” (4-4)

So far, so good – these statements support the vision of CARAG, and of Uptown in general, as a vibrant urban neighborhood. Things don’t stay this clear, though, and conflicting views are quickly folded into the mix.

“We recognize that we live in a dense, urban neighborhood, and that people in CARAG will not give up their cars.” (4-4)

We do? Why? Not everyone will give up their cars, certainly, but isn’t it defeatist to start out with this attitude? There are many people who would happily give up their car if they had the opportunity, and there are people in CARAG who have already done just that. Part of the appeal of a dense, urban neighborhood is the ability to live without a car, and we should work to make that an option for as many people as possible.

And then there is this comment:

“One of the most significant issues in CARAG is the lack of parking that meets contemporary standards.” (4-7)

No, not really. The issue is that there are too many cars, not that there is too little parking. “Contemporary standards” means auto-centric standards, and it is these standards that pose the most threat to city neighborhoods. Luckily, the master plan offers a counterpoint:

“It should be noted that in CARAG, contemporary requirements for parking may not be appropriate. In a neighborhood where transit, bicycling, and walking are common, parking standards may be significantly reduced.” (4-7)

Now this, I agree with. Too bad the rest of the plan doesn’t agree…

“For site development in the CARAG residential district it is the intention of the master plan that parking is provided at the rate of two spaces per unit, at least half of which must be in a garage.” (4-32)

This doesn’t sound “significantly reduced” in the least, and is in fact an increase over what the city itself allows. The master plan is particularly concerned about parking in their proposed “lifestyle housing,” potential new housing developments that were envisioned as providing a denser, possibly row house-style homes between 31st Street and Lake. This vision was specifically designed to provide higher density living within close walking distance to Hennepin, Lake, Lyndale, the Greenway and other top Uptown business and recreational destinations. It should go without saying that these “lifestyle” developments are intended to offer residents a very urban lifestyle, one in which a car is not necessary. That should translate to fewer required parking spots, right? Especially given the earlier comment about how “contemporary standards” may not be appropriate for an urban neighborhood like CARAG? Think again:

“The city’s zoning requirements allows only one off-street parking space per unit, while our plan indicates that two would be desired. While we certainly do not wish to over-build parking in CARAG, we recognize that this type of housing [“lifestyle housing” such as row houses, townhouses, etc.] will likely result in a new housing type in the neighborhood – one where a greater number of off-street parking spaces would be desired by the ultimate residents. We believe the master plan is being realistic about market demands, and also recognizes that most people who might occupy these units will have more than one vehicle (or even have other recreational vehicles that will require storage on the site). (5-3)

I have so many problems with this statement that I find it hard to know where to begin. First, how can anyone possibly argue that this expanded parking requirement in any way follows in line with the stated goals of the master plan? What happened to CARAG being an urban neighborhood, one in which urban lifestyles were to be embraced? And who are these car-dependent people expected to move into these new lifestyle units? Presumably the biggest draw about living in the heart of Uptown, especially in a higher density development, would be the ability to live life without a car. These people, even more so than most CARAG residents, would be the least likely to need space to park multiple cars.

I suppose the plan is assuming that the residents in any such new development would be wealthy, and would as a result be likely to have more cars. While it’s true that these developments probably would attract a more affluent crowd, there are many wealthy people who don’t need or want to stable a garage-full of cars. What’s more, the necessity to add additional parking spot adds to the cost – further driving up housing prices and making this housing type even more unaffordable to lower or middle-class people. All residents, even those who don’t drive, or who own only one car, would indirectly foot the bill for the construction and maintenance of these unnecessary parking spots. That land could be put to better use as additional housing, or even as increased garden or outdoor green space., all uses that would benefit both the residents as well as the neighborhood as a whole more than would a parking spot.

The crafters of the CARAG master plan thought it “realistic” in their call for additional parking spots. What they call realistic, I call enabling. While the concept of lifestyle housing itself isn’t bad, the proposed parking requirements makes it appear that CARAG is advocating "suburban lifestyle" housing, not "lifestyle housing" for an urban neighborhood. Rather than water down CARAG’s urban nature to suit the perceived tastes of a few potential new residents, the movers and shakers (not to mention the rest of us) of CARAG should be supporting the creation and enhancement of an exciting city neighborhood, one that is designed for the needs of people, not cars. If CARAG really wants an urban neighborhood then it's time to dump the suburban mentality once and for all.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Garage Sale Season is Here!

It’s always this time of year when the weather is getting warmer, the leaves are budding, and the grass is growing that my thoughts begin to turn to one of late spring’s pressing questions: when does garage sale season start up? And, more significantly, when are the Uptown neighborhood-wide sales?

Garage sales, and neighborhood-wide garage sales in particular, are a great asset to any community. They’re fun, of course, but their benefits go beyond just entertainment value:

  • Garage sales build community. Sales are a chance to meet the neighbors. There’s nothing like looking over someone else’s cast-offs to provide a source of instant conversation. Besides the snoopiness factor, of course, is simply the chance to hang out outside with your neighbors, chatting about the day, exchanging information (and money), and just generally feeling more connected to both other people and to the community at large. Your garage sale-hosting neighbor is usually a captive audience: you can talk to him or her as long as you want, and when you want to leave you have the ready excuse of other sales to attend.
  • Garage sales are a form of recycling. You might not have a use for that green lava lamp anymore, but that student down the street might think it’s just the thing for her new apartment. Garage sales hook up buyers and sellers, and keeps things out of the trash. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.
  • Garage sales help you to make or save money. Most people don’t make a fortune from their garage sales, but you’ll probably make enough to make it worth the time and effort. And, even if the hourly wage ends up being less than what you’d make at work, there’s something about garage sale money that makes it feel like found money. Have the sale with a friend to double the fun; time goes fast when you’re lounging around in the front yard talking to friends and neighbors, and when the day’s done you’ll have a pocket full of cash and house cleared of clutter. For those who are doing the buying, garage sales are full of great buys. Whether you’re looking for weird novelties or have an actual need to fill, go to enough sales and you’ll probably find what you need, and for a fraction of what it would cost new, and probably even cheaper than what you’d pay somewhere like Salvation Army.

While every nice weekend between May and October is going to be filled with garage sale options (check the Star Tribune, Craiglist, and watch for signs posted at corners to find them), there are some definite Uptown highlights fast approaching. The local neighborhood-wide sales are a highlight of the season. They make it easy to hit a lot of sales in a short amount of time, of course, but they also tend to have a festive atmosphere that you don’t find on the average Saturday. There’s usually food and drinks to be purchased at some of the sales, and the food, combined with the wandering groups of fellow garage salers, make for a good time. I, for one, am counting the days until the first (and my favorite) Uptown neighborhood sale of the year: next weekend’s CARAG sale. So, with no further ado, the 2009 guide to Uptown neighborhood sales:

CARAG Neighborhood Sale
Saturday, May 16; 8:00 to 4:00

The CARAG Sale always has a good mix of stuff. The neighborhood itself has a pretty diverse of ages, which translates to everything from old-lady knick-knacks to hipster apartment furnishings. There are families, too, and I once filled a bag with baby clothes at just a quarter per item.

ECCO Super Sale
Saturday, June 6; 9:00 to 4:00

The ECCO Super Sale has been around (almost) forever – it’s now celebrating its 37th year. I think I’ve been to at least 25 of them, and my brother was born after my garage sale-loving mother went into labor following a long day of last-minute ECCO Super Sale baby gear shopping. Historically this has always been the best Uptown neighborhood sale for kid stuff, although there are plenty of options for adults, too. It was at an ECCO sale that I scored a brand-new Coach briefcase still in the original shopping bag and tissue paper; the owner said he already had another one, and that the shade of brown “didn’t go” with his fashion tastes.

Saturday, June 20; 9:00 to 4:00

The Wedge is filled with youngish renters, which often makes for great garage sale finds. Younger renters often have cool stuff, move often, and can’t take it all with them. I like the Wedge sale for finding clothes and random household stuff. One bonus about the Wedge’s sale (for customers, anyway) is that you can top off a day of shopping by stopping off at Mueller Park for the neighborhood’s annual ice cream social. The ice cream social runs from 3:00 to 5:00.

ADDED BONUS: In the spirit of one of my favorite local blogs, Picking Up Strangers, I’ll give a prize to the first CARAG Sale shopper who identifies me and says the special winning phrase: “Uptown, it’s where I want to be.” (sorry, family members aren’t eligible.) How will you know me? I’ll wear my heart on my sleeve, Uptown-style.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

ECCO Thinks You're Stupid

The April 2009 ECCO Board meeting was more heated than normal. Not fist-fight heated, but pretty exciting by ECCO standards. Voices were raised. Words were had. So what happened to cause this group of mostly middle-aged and relatively mild-mannered Minnesotans to resort to, well, not violence, but a shouting match? Given that this is ECCO, I bet most of you can guess the root cause of the argument in one try - yep, development issues.

Kay Anderson, an ECCO resident (although not a current Board member) showed up at the meeting ready for action. The way things went down, as described in the ECCO minutes:

“Kay Anderson read a prepared statement regarding letters that appeared in the March and April issues of the UNN [Uptown Neighborhood News]. The March letter was written by Robert Kean, who was identified as an ECCO Board member. The April letter was written by Tim Prinsen who was identified as an ECCO Board member and chair of the Zoning committee. Kay was concerned that these letters would be perceived as an official statement of the board, and, as such, would represent a violation of the bylaws (since they were opinions of individuals, not the consensus of the board). After lengthy discussion, a motion was made and passed to hopefully resolve the issue. The motion states that when publically expressing personal opinions, current or former board or committee members should include a disclaimer clearly indicating that the statement represents their personal opinion and does not represent the position of the board.”

Both letters should definitely be on the reading list for anyone interested or concerned about current or future development issues. Kean’s letter appeared in the March Uptown Neighborhood News under the banner “Save the Uptown Small Area Plan,” and argued that the proposed Lake and Knox development was in violation of the USAP. Prinsen’s letter came the following month, running under the headline “Responsible Common Sense Development,” and was a direct response to the issues raised by Kean. Prinsen supports both the Knox development as well as the USAP-guided process, and disagreed with Kean’s conclusions – certain to get him in hot water with some of ECCO’s most vocal residents. The author descriptions, the ones that Kay Anderson and her friends thought were so confusing? “Robert Kean is on the ECCO Board and lives in ECCO” and “Tim Prinsen is a member of the ECCO Board, chairs the Zoning Committee, and lives in ECCO.”

I suppose that the headline of this post shouldn’t really be “ECCO Thinks You’re Stupid.” It would perhaps be more accurate, although not as pithy, to say “Some ECCO Residents and Board Members are Mad at Tim Prinsen Because he Dared to Suggest That Not EVERY ECCO Board Member Believes New Development is ALWAYS Inherently Evil.” Because really, that’s what happened here. Word on the street (I was, unfortunately, not able to attend the meeting itself) is that the real discussion at the meeting was not about the letters written by Kean and Prinsen; it was specifically about Prinsen and his letter.

I don’t have the exact wording of the new motion (note to all boards: good minutes always record the formal wording of the voted-upon motion, as well as record who voted for it and who voted against it), but based on the description I think it’s a ridiculous rule. ECCO Board members shouldn’t, of course, represent their personal opinions as that of the Board without Board approval. Besides the fact that it was the Uptown Neighborhood News that added the descriptions to the bottom of the letters, and not the authors themselves, there was nothing in either to suggest that the authors were expressing official ECCO Board opinions. A formal disclaimer is a waste of time and a waste of newspaper space. Most Uptown Neighborhood News readers aren’t stupid; they don’t need Kay Anderson’s burdensome regulations to help them identify formal ECCO stances versus the viewpoint of individual neighborhood residents who also happen to be on the ECCO Board.

Even more concerning, this motion attempts to force this new motion on former Board members. Presumably that means only future former members; anyone (including Kay Anderson) who has previously served as an ECCO Board member should be able to ignore the motion, as it didn’t apply to them while they were involved. ECCO might be within bounds to force this silly rule on current Board members, but is it really realistic to think that every ECCO Board member will have to slap this disclaimer on every neighborhood-related opinion piece or letter for the rest of his or her life?

I believe that this sort of public debate, meaning discussion in the form of publicly-available letters and writings accessible to all residents, not just those who can or want to attend meetings, can only be a good thing for the neighborhood. It’s important for residents, developers, politicians, and every other local stakeholder to realize that there is a diversity of opinions out there. Debate, as long as kept civil, could also encourage increased community involvement at the neighborhood level. It serves as a reminder that neighborhood Boards aren’t just casual social clubs, and that local residents, board members or not, can have an impact on decisions that will shape the future of the neighborhood. That’s powerful stuff, and should be encouraged, not stamped out.

I do believe, though, that board members should be recognized as such in their public statements; given that they are given power to vote on decisions impacting the neighborhood and that official Board resolutions carry some weight with the city it’s only fair that neighborhood residents know exactly who it is that they’re trusting to carry out this duty. That doesn’t mean that a formal disclaimer is needed every time someone expresses his or her opinion in public. The Uptown Neighborhood News’ author descriptions were sufficient. But then, of course, this motion isn’t really intended to clarify things for a presumed-stupid or easily confused public. It’s about trying to crack down on discussion and to punish an ECCO Board member who spoke his mind. Protest a new building, fine; write anything in opposition to the NIMBY crowd’s viewpoint, get yourself censured.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Fishin' For Fun? Party Like It's 1927!

The countdown is on! To what, you ask? Why, fellow Minnesotans, to that annual unofficial state holiday: the Minnesota Fishing Opener! The event that the DNR and other fish folk would have you believe to be the BEST Mother’s Day event ever, as seen by their “Take-a-Mom fishing” weekend designation. Despite my Minnesotan roots, please, no fishing trips for this mom. Somehow I missed out on the Minnesota fishing gene. Still, I do have a thing for theme parties, and was pleased to find the perfect Minnesotan theme party suggestion in Jean Walden’s book The Art of Entertaining, published by the Uptown-based Buzza Company in 1927.

The Buzza Company, located in the venerable Buzza Building (now Lehmann Center) on Lake Street between Dupont and Colfax, is one of my favorite chapters of Uptown history. The building itself dates to 1907, when it was built for the Self-Threading Needle Company; Buzza bought the place in 1923 and proceeded to set up a publishing empire. The company was known for its greeting cards, posters, framed lithographs, and other artistic paper products. The artwork and products were designed and manufactured in the building, then called Craftacres, and from there were loaded onto railroad cars for distribution to the rest of the country. Buzza was not a book publisher, but The Art of Entertaining fit in well with their business focus on stationary, greeting cards, and other entertainment-related items. In conjunction with The Art of Entertaining Buzza also offered the “Bruelheide Buzza Bridge Service,” intended to assist hostesses with the planning of elaborate bridge parties (no doubt using Buzza-produced invitations and other materials).

The Art of Entertaining is packed full of party suggestions, all of them themed, and most of them involving bridge. If you’re looking for something fun to do this weekend but prefer not to bait a hook, let alone touch a fish, Buzza has the answer. “When the fishin’ season opens,” Walden wrote from her Uptown desk, “it is a good time to celebrate in an informal and rather unusual manner. Write the following invitation upon white correspondence cards. This is good entertainment for a ‘stag’ dinner also.

Dear Walter –
You’re just a poor fish – so I’m “droppin’ a line”
To ask you to dinner, old friend o’mine
‘Cause we’re goin’ fishin at our house, you bet.
You may “get the hook” but – you won’t get wet.
So come here on Friday ‘bout seven o’clock
Flappin’ your fins just a bit as you knock:
But one thing – you’ll have to play cards as you ought!

Dinner consists of a lobster cocktail or canapĂ© followed by a planked trout, Lake Superior whitefish, or baked shad. Other details are left to the hostess.”

Decorating and non-food suggestions included:
  • A crystal bowl centerpiece filled with a lily pad and containing several goldfish

  • Place cards depicting a “very modern young lady carrying a fish-rod”

  • For prizes, “a reliable brand of canned lobster Newburg is very popular in these meatless, maidless, heatless days of Spring.”

Want to have your own Buzza-style Fishin’ Opener party but don’t know how to play Bridge? Well, there’s always that old standard – Go Fish.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Beautify Your Boulevard

Are you tired about garbage on the street? If so, here’s a novel solution: the Adopt-a-Litter-Container program. The premise is simple. You fill out a short application, agree to provide garbage bags and to keep the area around the container clean and clear, and either empty the garbage yourself or pay the city a small fee to pick it up for you. While there’s no guarantee of “litter container” (really, who else other than a government official refers to “litter containers”?) style, you can put in a request for plastic, smooth concrete, or aggregate concrete. They drop it off, you agree to maintain it for two years, and there you have it – your own personal public garbage can.

Residents of the Wedge have an extra incentive to get the cans. LHENA approved NRP funds to give the first 20 applicants $100 in return for your participation. You can use that money to help offset the cost of liners or to pay for any additional garbage hauling fees associated with the project.

For an odder clean-up effort, you can also participate in the “Adopt-An-Ash Receptacle” program. It works essentially the same as the Litter Container program, but instead of trash you get to clean up cigarette butts. While I hate it when people throw their cigarettes on the ground (and even designed a billboard with the slogan “the Earth is Not Your Ashtray” while in junior high) I don’t know how well this program will work. Will it encourage smokers to congregate in specific areas? Who should decide where those spots are located? Do neighbors get a say in it? I’m all for public gathering places, and just as against cigarette litter as the next person, but that doesn’t mean I want my local boulevard turned into an outdoor chimney.

If you’re looking for actual boulevard beautification, and not just the absence of unsightly litter, then consider adding a boulevard garden. Helpful Twin Cities boulevard-specific gardening tips, including a list of dos and don’ts, can be found here. Minneapolis has specific ordinances regarding height and type of plants, but there’s still plenty of room for creativity. Just don’t grow or plant weeds (or weed, for that matter), shrubs, vegetables, or “noxious plants,” at least not without first obtaining a permit from the city.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to empty the Dirty Diaper Receptacle. (and yes, I'm accepting Dirty Diaper Receptacle adoption requests...)