The Bird Is The Word

Everybody’s heard the Bird if you live in one of the major metro areas that are fortunate, or unfortunate depending on who you ask, to have these electric scooters. The Bird company started in California in 2017, but since its March test run in San Francisco has grown exponentially to include several dozen cities throughout the U.S. But the Bird is just one of several scooter companies capitalizing on the new trend. There are scooter companies operating in 65 cities throughout the country.

Every time I see the Bird scooters I think of the Trashmen’s hit song Surfin Bird, so as a Minneapolis resident, home to the songs birthplace, I thought I would include it.

At first I thought the idea was just a way to provide lazy transportation or a silly toy to test out for fun. The scooters will get you from point A to B at a cost of only $1 plus 15 cents per minute. I zip past them on my bike ride home wondering why anyone would waste their time with the scooter. They do look fun, I’ll admit, but as a means of transportation they seem slow and inefficient. It is far healthier to just walk a few blocks to the bus stop or bike a few miles to your destination.

 A map of the Bird scooter locations in Minneapolis on a week night

A map of the Bird scooter locations in Minneapolis on a week night

Thinking more on the subject however, they do provide an easy and cheap option for the first and last mile concern for public transit. If there is a scooter waiting for you at your stop that you can literally park outside your door, that saves you a 15 minute walk home after a long day at work. The problem is these scooters tend to get clustered in certain neighborhoods and are very unlikely to be at your transit stop waiting to be used. In Minneapolis for example, whenever I check the app map they tend to be in downtown or huddled in the Como neighborhood by the University. This issue is not just limited to the scooters. The new dock-less bikes hitting city streets will have the same problem. They are great for picking up and dropping wherever you happen to land, but they can be hard to find and often get clustered in one area.

The biggest downsides to the scooters on a national level mainly fall back to the actual riders themselves. Not all scooter riders are inconsiderate, but as in any situation, the bad apples are the ones that give the entire group their reputation. The major complaints I have heard so far are scooter riders do not pay attention while riding and nearly hit pedestrians and cars, or block the movement of bikes when in bike lanes. While I have not seen this happen in Minneapolis yet, many cities struggle with piles of scooters laying in parks or taking up sidewalk space.

 An alarming number of Bird scooters in a Santa Monica park (photo courtesy of @mdeskind)

An alarming number of Bird scooters in a Santa Monica park (photo courtesy of @mdeskind)

The solution to these problems is good management on the part of the company operating the scooters. Many websites show a commitment to educating their users about where they should and should not ride and where they should park them when finished. It seems to work in Minneapolis where I see most scooters parked just off the sidewalk, usually next to a structure like a bus stop or bench. It is a hard program to enforce however as these scooters can go pretty much anywhere and catching a scooter rider disregarding the rules would take too many additional resources.

So while I find the scooters interesting, I have not made up my mind about their effectiveness as an urban transportation tool. I think on the surface they have the ability help with the first and last mile problems, but they also have the ability to contribute to rising health problems, cluttering city streets, and rising crash risks with pedestrians, bikers, and cars. Also, from my limited observation in Minneapolis, the users appear to be mostly millennial’s or college students. The population that really would need the scooters to complete their transit journeys are not getting on board.

Carry On Homes in the Commons

It was almost a year ago that I wrote about an interesting piece of artwork installed at the Commons Park in downtown Minneapolis. This year I watched during my lunches as a new educational piece of art was assembled in the same location. The winner of the 2018 Creative City Challenge was Carry On Homes, a way to tell the stories of immigrants to Minnesota. The five artists responsible for the display are Peng Wu, Shunjie Yong, Aki Shibata, Preston Drum, and Zoe Cinel. The idea for the project came from the Carry On Homes documentary photography project.

 Artists setting up the artwork

Artists setting up the artwork

The display was imagined as an interactive installation that envisions the home as an open structure. You can see the outline in the wood frames on each end with a peaked roof, but the walls are missing. One side of the structure has colorfully painted luggage while the other has white luggage. Between the two ends is a mirror reflecting a small garden. Hundreds of bag tags are attached to the luggage. Each tag asks two questions: what tips or tricks do you have for immigrants to have fun/survive Minnesota winters and what object would you bring along when migrating/relocating to Minnesota and why? 

 Tags on each of the bags, each with answers to the two questions

Tags on each of the bags, each with answers to the two questions

The answers to these questions were very similar. Find warm clothing such as a large scarf, hats, and mittens. Others were centered on activities like make sure to tour the state and take lots of pictures. In my other posts chronicling Minnesota winter activities you get a sense of the outdoor spirit of native Minnesotans that showed in these tags. Where is the sense in letting cold weather dictate what you do? What people should bring with ranged from photos of family and friends, blankets that remind them of home, to a resilient attitude. 

 Colorful luggage side of the display with a stage in front

Colorful luggage side of the display with a stage in front

I love the work that the City of Minneapolis Arts, Culture and Creative Economy program along with Northern Lights puts into this program each year. Last years Orbacles display started the discussion on the effects of climate change on migratory bird action. This years timely installation has visitors to the Commons thinking about what it would be like to immigrate to a new county and the meaning of home. These projects are up for six months and attract the attention of visitors to the city attending nearby Vikings games, a show at the Armory across the street, or downtown employees having lunch from a nearby food truck. Visitors are encouraged to interact with the exhibit through the picnic bench on one side, the stage on the other, or walking along the reflective wall. These annual displays, now in their sixth year, are just one site among many that artists use to spark discussion, change attitudes, and improve the health of society. 

 The white luggage in the forground with the reflective wall and plants in the background

The white luggage in the forground with the reflective wall and plants in the background

An Exposition for the Ages

An Exposition for the Ages

In today's world we race to build enough structures to accommodate the Olympic Games every four years, but back in the 1800's, cities raced to build buildings for the World's Fair. The first World's Fair on record took place in 1851 at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London. Subsequent cities to host the fair included Paris, Vienna, Melbourne, and Barcelona prior to one of the most renowned fairs which took place in Chicago. These fairs were and still are designed to showcase the greatest achievements of society and push the limits of construction and design. Each fair influenced some aspect of society, leaving their mark for generations to come.

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Greening Our Cities

Greening Our Cities

There were numerous ways to learn about how planners can have a positive effect on water at NPC18. One session in particular highlighted how Prince George County used a public private partnership to retrofit their community with green infrastructure. Presenters covered the history of the program from inception through completion of Phase I and adjustments made prior to launching Phase II.

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100 Years of History

100 Years of History

I have always wanted to live in a house that was over 100 years old. In many cities, that’s hard to come by because they have either demolished all the old homes, lost them to natural disasters, or the cities themselves are just not that old. When I bought my first home it was a bungalow built in 1930, but now, about 10 years later, there are a plethora of homes over 100 years old available. All the bungalows that were built during the 1920's and 1930's are now coming of age and about to celebrate their 100th birthday.

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300 Years of NOLA

300 Years of NOLA

I do not travel nearly as much as I would like, so when the opportunity arose to visit New Orleans for the National Planning Conference I jumped on it. I was only in the city for about four days, but I covered quite a bit of ground, while still attending sessions during the day. The two things that helped me accomplish both was waking up at 6 am every day and running through the neighborhoods.

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The Bars of Northeast Minneapolis

The Bars of Northeast Minneapolis

I'm fascinated by the way cities used to look, with the corner grocery store, hardware store, restaurant, and of course bar, tucked into neighborhoods, spaced  about a mile apart. The resident of the 1920's city could walk to get everything they needed or take a trolley if they needed something just a little bit further. Peppered throughout my neighborhood in Northeast, Minneapolis are dozens of small two story buildings, but most have been converted into apartments. There are several though that have maintained their original use, the buildings with first floor bars.

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The Experimental City

The Experimental City

A few weeks ago I took advantage of living in a city that has a population to support the routine showing of documentary films. I went to see The Experimental City presented by the Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul that featured a Q&A with director Chad Freidrichs and Todd Lefko, member of the Minnesota Experimental City Authority afterwards. The documentary revived the story of the Minnesota Experimental City project from the 1970's, a project intended to solve issues of population growth with futuristic ideas.

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Maribou Water Gardens

Maribou Water Gardens

Over 10 years later, New Orleans is still recovering from Hurricane Katrina and the devastating effects of the Levee failures. That disaster proved to the world that building walls and pumping out water is not a long term or permanent solution. Water must be managed on site, with features such as permeable pavement, rain gardens, cisterns, and underground storage tanks. It takes projects installed throughout the city to protect it when a large storm hits. One of the projects New Orleans is working on to help low lying neighborhoods is the Maribou Water Garden.

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Saint Paul Winter Carnival: Another Distraction to the Fact that its Winter

Saint Paul Winter Carnival: Another Distraction to the Fact that its Winter

As I have mentioned in past posts, Minnesota is a state that does not let winter affect their ability to have fun outside. A recent example of this is the Saint Paul Winter Festival, which wrapped up its 132nd season yesterday. I attended my first (and only) Winter Carnival two years ago, right after moving to the Twin Cities. I tried to attend twice this year, but the traffic jams created by the Dave Matthews Band Concert and a Wild Hockey game deterred me (next year I will map out a better transit route to avoid the parking situation altogether).

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Life in the Super Bowl 52 City

Life in the Super Bowl 52 City

Hearing about Super Bowl 52 began months ago for me because I both live and work in the host city. As a city planner the phrase, "it has to be done by the Super Bowl" was heard more times that anyone could count. I luckily had less to do with the planning than some of my colleagues that deal with permits and licensing, but it was easy to see the city gearing up faster and faster as the event neared.

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Breweries Are Taking Over

Breweries Are Taking Over

Whenever the topic of breweries is brought up, I always hear "when are we going to finally over saturate the market with breweries?" While it may seem like there are a lot, the market share of local craft beer sold pales in comparison to national conglomerates. Only 12 percent of the market is craft beer with two companies holding 50% of the total beer market. There are two factors that have spurred the rise in local breweries over the last decade though: consumer taste and government regulation.

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Festivals on Lake Harriet

Festivals on Lake Harriet

During the winter, we get an extra 1,439 acres of land in Minneapolis that is less accessible in the summer months. When our 13 lakes freeze they can be used as extra space to walk your dogs, cross country ski, and fly a kite. The last activity probably seems a little odd, but the Minneapolis Park Board has been sponsoring the Kite Festival on Lake Harriet for the past 17 years. 

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Gruen's Grand Plan

Gruen's Grand Plan

A recent newspaper article about the ABC parking ramps in downtown Minneapolis made reference to the Gruen Plan in Fort Worth, Texas. The brief description outlined Gruen's proposed ban on all cars from downtown Fort Worth to provide a better pedestrian experience and revitalize the area. Having lived in Texas for a few years, I found this a radical idea for the city, especially because it was a plan derived in 1959, a time when the car was king. Intrigued by this reference, I decided to delve deeper.

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Building Nordeast

Building Nordeast

The area of Northeast Minneapolis, commonly referred to as Nordeast, comprises 4,564 acres and 12,197 buildings. It has been surveyed a number of times by the City of Minneapolis, the first of which was back in 1981. Within this area, 204 properties are considered to have potential as a local historic landmark. Despite the number of eligible properties, this area of the city has the fewest designated properties. What we do have up here is a lot of buildings significant for their religious and social organization as well as the famous Grain Belt Brewery (originally Minneapolis Brewing Company). This area is also host to a number of residential developments from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

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Victorian Christmas at the Ramsey House

Victorian Christmas at the Ramsey House

The best time to go on a historic house tour is around the holidays because they are filled with elegant decorations common among the time period the house was first occupied. Not having had the chance to visit the Alexander Ramsey House in Saint Paul yet, I decided to book a Victorian Christmas tour of the house. 

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Hollidazzle and the Winter Open Streets

Hollidazzle and the Winter Open Streets

I attended Holidazzle for the first time last winter, but missed the excitement and activity because it was early on a Saturday afternoon. This year I went on the Saturday that coincided with the first Winter Open Streets event, drawing quite a large crowd and making the event more active. It was fun walking around Loring Park, where Holidazzle has been held for the past several years during construction on Nicollet Mall, to experience all the sites, sounds, and smells. 

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The Holiday Train

The Holiday Train

One of the benefits of living in a Midwest city that still operates a thriving rail system is the Holiday Train. While not quite the Polar Express, the Holiday Train still draws a large crowd at each stop it makes as it travels across North America. Despite the freezing cold temperatures last year, I was able to attend the event as the train rolled through Minneapolis. The stop is located in Lions Park, dividing the cities of Minneapolis and Columbia Heights. I had no idea that it was an actual park until this event. It is more a leftover patch of grass in-between the street and railroad tracks.

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What is a Well Building?

What is a Well Building?

Most people have worked in an office with poorly regulated temperature, where it seems that whatever the weather is outside, its the same inside. The office also probably had terrible fluorescent lighting, a severe lack of windows, and the ability to waft the terrible smelling tuna someone brought as their lunch throughout the building. These buildings were all designed to cram as many people into a building as possible without regard for how the office environment would turn out. For some design professionals, this does not make sense which is why they are turning towards WELL Building certification.

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