Sidewalks. You can’t have a truly walkable community unless you have something to walk on. But some neighborhoods don’t want sidewalks, especially in the suburbs, due to landscaping and increased assessments. There was a big todo a year or so ago when the city of St. Paul wanted to put a sidewalk on the north side of Marshall along the Town & Country Club golf course to complete a grassy stretch between existing sidewalks on a major transitway. There were lawsuits from the Club and it got a little contentious before they came to an agreement and the sidewalk was built. 

What about industrial areas? Do people need to walk everywhere and where does safety enter in to that conversation? Last week at a meeting hosted by Rock-Tenn, business owners got a chance to have that discussion when the city sidewalk rep presented a relatively modest plan for the selective addition of sidewalks on both sides of University Avenue in our Creative Enterprise Zone to improve access and safety. The additions on the south side, where there are only a few blocks between University and I94, seemed to make sense as they connect the small residential area and the Avalon School to the light rail stations. 

The proposed additions to the north side cause a bit more concern. Without getting into the details too deeply, the plan would cause some problems for the very busy trucking companies and other businesses that dominate the area. This meeting was the first and last before the recommendation would be considered by the city council for possible adoption, and there was some heat generated by the feeling that affected businesses had not been consulted as the plan was being developed.

Despite repeated city disclaimers that modifications could be made at the hearing, it was determined that it would be helpful to arrange a meeting with Councilmember Russ Stark to work out the problems before it got to that potentially final phase. Hopefully now, there will be a happy ending or at least a better understanding of why there can’t be joy all around. 

While I have never worked for the city, I have been a part of enough of these conflicts to understand that it’s very tempting to narrow the time for community feedback for a variety of reasons. First, few people pay attention until action is imminent. Second, once they do plug in, it is often in a “my way or nothing” approach that ignores a larger, common good perspective. Third, there’s a general feeling by residents and especially businesses that the city will do whatever it wants no matter what constituents desire. 

That last one is particularly corrosive to building community. I think it’s clear that the constantly decreasing budget situation and ever-increasing needs limit the kind of city oversight we once came to expect. This requires more reliance on community councils and neighborhood groups to help gather and contribute feedback. That’s not a bad thing as it generates self-determination by forcing neighbors to get to know each other and vet possible solutions that can then be handed off to the city.

We are seeing this type of approach in both the anti-violence and Transition Town events that have happened in our communities recently, and in the Creative Enterprise Zone group. As national, state and local governmental bodies deadlock over solutions to urgent problems, these kinds of community level actions may be an alternate way to bring meaningful change. Our neighborhood’s present and future health is dependent on all sectors working together to manage that change. To work together you have to know each other. That brings us back to our commercial neighbors. 

Some may view the transport, manufacturing and industrial businesses in our neighborhood through a lens of grudging tolerance.  It’s important to remember that without these businesses, city taxes and unemployment would be a lot higher, our lifestyle choices a lot more limited, and our standard of living greatly diminished. And D12 has the largest contiguous industrial area in St. Paul, it’s a key engine that helps drive our local and regional economy. That zoning is not going to change anytime soon. 

We cannot live on boutique retail and non-profit HQ’s alone, as attractive as that may sometimes seem. Building local self-reliance will make our community stronger. Getting to know all our neighbors will make that task easier and more productive. It does take a village – and to fully succeed, we need to make sure our definition of village is fully inclusive. The soap box is now open. 

D12 – Speaking of the Zone, come to the Mixer on March 13 at 2500 University Avenue (the Triangle Building) Three creative spaces in the building will be open including the Collective Spaces LLC which will be displaying their beautiful and intriguing costumes and drawings created for plays, films, parades, dances, and more...Applications are available for the 2013 Community Garden Season. They are due March 11. New gardeners are chosen by lottery, and usually there are more applicants than there are spaces available, so if interested, check it out soon… Everybody is buzzing about the Million Dollar Challenge which invites you to answer the question: What would you do with $1 million to make Saint Paul great? The best idea will receive $1 million to make it a reality. The Saint Paul Foundation and Minnesota Idea Open are hosting open houses to learn more about the Challenge, brainstorm with others, share, and/or submit your million-dollar idea. Our closest open house is Monday, March 11, 5:00-7:00 p.m. at St. Anthony Park Library…More info on all this the D12 website

LISTSERV – A timely post on reporting potholes to the city appeared at just about the same time as the now infamous South StAP sinkhole opened up on Raymond Avenue just south of the bridge. The hole in the asphalt wasn’t very large, but apparently it went down a ways. Clearly from the pile of gravel and week-long road closure it was a serious sinkhole. Too bad it couldn’t have waited for the Raymond Ave road improvements already scheduled for the not-too-distant future…also a report about an almost mugging or at least an unpleasant confrontation in the same area. A couple young men (high school age?) asked for money from a neighbor out for a walk and were verbally abusive when told to move on. A good conversation about effective personal strategies and addressing larger societal problems followed. 

STAPNOTES – Some things I’ve been meaning to report…the St. Paul Cookie Company at Raymond & Territorial folded last month. It had been open and closed a few times before finally succumbing. Katie Novotny, the owner/proprietor, was a good person and very committed to the community. Sad to see her go. That building was recently purchased by Pat Jordan, who owns several properties in the area, including the adjacent buildings housing Shag and the music school. It will be interesting to see what she has in mind for that corner down the road…Since I read it on LinkedIn, I believe I can release this for public consumption: Sandra Weise, a former manager of the Finnish Bistro, has purchased the Bistro from Soile Anderson. Sandra brought some much-needed energy and life to the restaurant about a year or so ago. She is the one responsible for developing the outdoor patio that people love so much in the warmer months. Don’t know of any plans for changes yet, but Sandra has a lot of ideas so I’m sure it won’t stay exactly the same. 

That’s all for now. Take good care of yourself and be a good neighbor.