Not Worth Defending

I work in the movie “Office Space.” If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s basically the existential crisis of one man realizes that he’s another cog in a corporatist Rube Goldberg machine. He comes to work, laments the mundanity of his job, goes home. A nihilistic, albeit, realistic, interpretation of “Ground Hogs Day” if you will.

I find myself questioning my existence, day in, day out. Why am I here? What I’m supposed to do? How I can leave an impact in the world?

In my semi-descent into madness, I’ve found myself researching, browsing or simply putzing about every subject imaginable. Obviously, I’ve spent a lot of time reading about our new president, his rise to power and the populous movements that have been sweeping a lot of countries.

People are desperate to cling to something. They realize that their time on this earth is short and they want to pass on something worth defending—something that wouldn’t be a far cry from the childhood they had growing up.

What is worth defending? Or maybe we should ask what do we build to defend things? Nowadays, it’s firewalls and RFID locks, but once we built permanent structures to defend our places, like castles, fortresses and keeps.

On my journey through the internet, I stumbled across this picture:

This is Najac, France. It’s a town that never crested 3,000 souls at any point in the last two centuries. I found the picture on a subreddit called r/beamazed. It’s one of the highest upvoted posts of all time and I thought that was interesting. EDIT: Apparently its since been removed due to copyright, so the above picture is actually something close. 

If you pop out to google maps this is the aerial view of Najac:


Beautiful, right?

Except that’s not France, that’s Wisconsin, just East of La Crosse (French in name alone) in the Driftless Area. Here’s the actual aerial view:


Pretty crazy that we have arguably the same topography and same geographic beauty as Europe, yet we build such boring shit.

If you had a transplantation machine, you could easily move Najac right to Wisconsin (or Minnesota) and it would feel right at home. It would, undoubtedly, be the hottest tourist attraction in the tri-state area. Najac, Wisconsin, would literally make millions of dollars annually.

We don’t build places like Najac, though. We double down on row houses out by our new school.

Town Houses nowhere near the town!

This, I think, plays into the populist message we’re seeing in America. It isn’t, in my opinion, based on racism or idiocy or isolationism; it’s based on emptiness. People today feel so disconnected, so adrift in a sea of global information, that they are longing to attach to something. They want to feel like Americans—an elusive, but critical, part of their identity.

I think our built environment can help do this. They can help root people instead of isolate them. They can make neighbors out of enemies and help people find the common ground. They can be places worth defending. If you wanted to feel connected, truly in-tune, with your city and the history that built it, you would start with buildings. You would start with the things your ancestors left for you to take care of and left you to build on top of. 

In Jane Jacobs “A Wealth of Nations,” she writes about visiting the familial Hamlet of Higgins, North Carolina. This was the height of the great depression and, to her surprise, even a rural village tucked away in the remoteness of Appalachia was impacted, but not for the reasons you might think. She recalls how the founders of the hamlet and their families held a variety of skills:
spinning and weaving, loom construction, cabinetmaking, corn milling, house and water-mill construction, dairying, poultry and hog raising, gardening, whiskey distilling, hound breeding, molasses making from sorghum cane, basket weaving, biscuit baking, music making with violins …”

But these skills were not being put to use. An excerpt from this Atlantic article, summarizes what she found:

Candles were a vanishing luxury. After the few remaining cows died, there would be no more milk or butter. One woman still remembered how to weave baskets, but she was close to death. When Robison suggested building the church with large stones from the creek, the community elders rebuked her. Over generations the townspeople had not only forgotten how to build with stone. They had lost the knowledge that such a thing was possible.”

This remote village no longer had the ability to sustain itself. The loss of wisdom, ostensibly, the loss of the skills that had given them an identity, had doomed this tiny town.

It’s skills like this, places built by hand, that feed people their identity. No one really wants to defend their slapped-together rambler built by GOODBUILDZ, LLC. They want to secure a shelter for their family and their “irreplaceable” possessions. However, places that craft identity are places like Najac, places that people rally to save, places that make you feel connected to something deeper. Places like we destroyed in the middle of the century.

Downtown Mankato, C. 1961


I changed the title for this article maybe three or four times. I knew the general idea of it, but I didn’t know what I wanted to call it. So, I went to Google. I typed in “not worth defending” and as fate would have it, the third image that popped up was this:


Jim Kunstler is probably one of my favorite people on the planet. I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to him a few times and getting kinda drunk in his hotel room at CNU 22 in Buffalo, NY.

We have so many despondent people in the work force that would kill for someone to employ them to build Najac. People who would love to build a place that has meaning, that has character, that has something. In fact, in France, right now, there is a group of people working on restoring a medieval castle in the exact same fashion it would have been built hundreds of years ago. You can check them out here. It is purely a labor of love, no money, no fame, they just know its important to do. Here’s a picture I pulled off their Facebook page.



With all the talk of North Korea and Russia and nuclear annihilation, we have to ask ourselves if we would actually rally around America. Would we want to defend what we’ve built or do we want to defend the soft, consumerist lifestyle we’ve created for ourselves? Do we really want to make Prairie Winds and its subsequent housing the thing we pass on to our children? Or did we build it to be convenient for the parent? Is it for the here and now? Is it for the Happy Motoring culture we’ve created for ourselves? 

There’s an emptiness that’s descending on America, and if we don’t address it, we’ll soon find ourselves consumed by it. Building Najac wouldn’t be a panacea, but it’d be a step in the right direction, a part of a new identity, a place worth defending.  

 

Build Small, Not Tall.

If you haven’t noticed, there’s a prime piece of land sitting adjacent to the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge. It’s been empty for quite some time now, awaiting the construction of Bridge Plaza—a mixed-use tower with space for office, retail, and living.

There have been signs up for the better part of 2 years now, talking about Bridge Plaza without any indication of construction actually starting. I don’t blame them. It’s hard to get an anchor tenant so you can move forward on a huge project like this and I wish Brennan construction all the best in completing their building.

In the meantime, I’d like to think about something else that could go there. I’m not saying that this is a better idea, just a different one.

I’ve written before about the devastation that Urban Renewal inflicted on Mankato and I think that this building site would be a great place to make amends. This is a huge downtown lot, and, instead of building one large tower, I propose we build small mixed-use buildings with the same architecture (or at least facade) as some of the buildings that were torn down in the middle of the 20th century.

I’m going to spare you the actual calculations of how many buildings could fit there and rather am going to go with the tried-and-true “Photoshop and Google Maps” method of site planning.

Old Town will be our scale. We’ll take one mixed-use building out of Old Town and plop it on the site (at scale) to see how it looks (without getting into the nitty-gritty of how buildings are actually built.)

(I’m using Dan Dinsmore’s building as a reference, Coffee Hag is about the same size)

It looks OK. Now, what happens if we roughly duplicate Old Town on the site?

Wow. By my estimate, there are 32 historic buildings in Old Town that people would consider interesting (Hag, Mom & Pop’s, Dork Den, etc.) and you can fit about 24 of them on this one plot of land. Even on the low end, that would create close to 20 new downtown housing units. The “inside” of the lot could be used for parking. The city financed a ramp for the Tailwind project, I think they could do the same for this.

More importantly though, this would be a pedestrian friendly, efficient use of space. The economic impact of this would percolate out into the rest of the downtown neighborhoods and hopefully bring in a little redevelopment for blighted properties.

Again, this isn’t to say that Bridge Plaza would be bad, this is simply a thought experiment.

I think that this project would play in well to the Old Town redevelopment and would bridge the gap between Downtown and Old Town. It would also allow for plenty of new space for entrepreneurs and small businesses. Likewise, you could maybe even get more community buy-in as the development would not need to be owned by one company or a few wealthy investors. Anyone that could finance a building could be given a shot at developing their own property so long as it fits with the rest of them. This would be a nice way to limit fragility and create a sense of ownership.

Who knows? Maybe this would even set the stage for developing on the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge.

Likewise it was just announced that the six acre public works site will go on the market this winter. This is a huge opportunity for downtown, but should we spend it on one or two big buildings? Or should it be a collection of small, mixed-use buildings like downtown already has? Those are the buildings that give a city its character, that give it life. We need towers, but we never really built back our stock of small buildings after Urban Renewal. Now is our opportunity.

Big towers are great for certain things, but they really suck at activating the street. Popular neighborhoods across the country are never near towering buildings, they’re always in small places designed for people. It’s more fun to walk along the street and gaze through the windows of shops than it is to stare into some corporate office space while being dwarfed by 15 stories of glass.

These are the types of development that we should be promoting, not boring “townhouses” built nowhere near the town.

Now, who’s with me? Should I start a GoFundMe? If Jordan can raise $2500 bucks because he sucks at biking (kidding, buddy), I feel like there’s no way we wouldn’t reach our goal.

New Stuff Coming to Mankato

Hi all,

Because I want more traffic for this site and because everybody seems to crap their pants when they find out something new is getting built, I decided that I would make a blog post about all the new stuff getting built in Mankato in the coming months.

Every month I review various packets from both cities to see what is going to be built in Mankato. Usually only nerds check these packets but almost always everyone is interested in what’s being proposed.

I’ve decided to make this process easy for you. Scan the post, I’ll tell you what’s being and built and give you my thoughtful and incredibly biased commentary and each item.

I’m hoping to do this every month, so I hope you keep coming back!

Here we go…

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#MMGA: Our River Sucks

I’ve been spending a few days in Des Moines, IA as a mini-vacation with my family. It’s a really interesting place as it has a lot of old school charm in places and a bunch of horrible suburbia in others. I actually see Des Moines as a bit of a model for what Mankato could be like, hopefully avoiding some of the mistakes they made along the way.

In 2008, the Des Moines river flooded really badly, jeopardizing a lot of downtown Des Moines with a few inches of over-nitrogenized water.  I’ll commend them, however, from not backing off from their river, not neglecting it but trying to find a balance between flood protection and placemaking. In my opinion, they are doing a pretty good job.

We’ve talked a lot recently about retaining young people in Mankato and I think that the Riverfront plays a crucial if not critical role in achieving this. My generation seems to value sense of place more than our parents. Maybe its because a lot of us grew up in boring, cookie cutter suburbia. We want to be proud of a built environment and our surrounding natural features. We love the Red Jacket Trail, Riverfront Amphitheater and Sibley Park. These are amenities to be proud of and our far larger anchors for young people sticking around compared to, I don’t know, a boring-ass sports complex for rich kids.

Downtown Des Moines. Brian Abeling on Flickr

Let me propose an idea.Take all the money that might be spent on the Sports Complex (yes, ALL of it) and put it toward making our Riverfront awesome.

A quick Google search will return plenty of results of cities revitalizing their riverfronts and the ensuing success that came with it. These places used their money to create a place that is interesting for all citizens, a place they could take pride in.

Right now, our riverfront is an embarrassment. There’s no denying it. Our neglect of it is another crowning achievement of past administrators and city councilors. (It’s hung right on the wall next to the decimation of our downtown.)

The river is what gave life to this city, we owe it everything that we have today. To sit here and watch it slip by, a gray, lifeless extension of our sewer system, is an absolute shame. While I laud the artists that got the mural on there, it’s just lipstick on a pig. I guarantee that all those artists would rather have a river to interact with than the wall that now dons their artisanship. We deserve to have a river that is worth taking pride in. Maybe it could even be a central feature of “Kato X.”

In my mind, there is no argument that riverfront redevelopment would bring more people and more money to this city than a sports complex ever will. Why? Because it doesn’t need continually upkeep if it’s built right. We will be forced to replace the roof, plumbing, air conditioning etc… on a sports complex and it won’t be the generation that’s pushing for it that will pay for it, they will be dead or in a nursing home. My generation will be the one forced to upkeep the temple of the sporting cult.

I can already hear you nay-sayers yelling at the screen, telling me that the Army Corps of Engineers owns the wall and that we can’t touch it without their permission. Well, “where there’s a will, there’s a way,” and the one thing lacking since that monstrosity was built has been the will to take it down and find a better use for our river. If we want it, we can make it happen. There are thousands of cities around the globe to look at for inspiration and logistics.

So, this is a public challenge to you, Greater Mankato Growth, and to you, The City of Mankato. Find a way to spend our sales tax extension on our river or, at the very least, a project that directly benefits all our citizens, instead of shoveling it out to the Sports Lobby.

Good luck. I’m sure you’ll leave me thoroughly unimpressed, but a guy can dream.

Thanks to Ben Lundsten for the cover photo.

Make Mankato Great Again

I’ve been postulating a lot on the current administration and what it means for building better cities.But do you know what? I stopped thinking about it and you should too. You can’t help everyone and you will probably never change the course of the federal government. They, in my opinion, are too far gone.

Focus your effort back home, right here, Mankato. See something? Say something. Better yet: do something. Fix a pothole (technically illegal).Yarn bomb a tree. Rake an old lady’s leaves.

410 project yarn bombing

In my time of advocacy, I’ve found that the decision-making process is almost completely arbitrary. Many people think that a bunch of data is being handed to  decision makers, and  that these decision makers have newspapers articles and studies tacked up on the wall all connected by red string.

Nope.

There is no “A Beautiful Mind” scene at every council meeting where people are trying to figure out the best decision. Trust me, I’ve been to so many meetings and I have seen the stupidest logic applied to situations.

“Let’s build a wall around the new middle school to prevent kids from walking there.” Looking at you, Councilman Frost.

The way that a lot of decisions get made at local level is city council relying on city staff. I would bet that 90% of the decisions they make have minimal input from residents.  However, if you show up or write to your councilperson, things can change and decisions can be altered.

Here’s some anecdotal evidence. When the civic center addition (gross) was being added, the architect decided that it would be better to forego making it look like the other civic center and just picked some weird precast siding that didn’t match anything in the area.


Here’s where I come in, I was scanning the planning commission packet and said, “Wow, this is stupid.”

I shot an email off to the head of the Planning Commission:


I won’t be able to make the planning commission meeting on Wednesday, but if you would please log a recommendation to make the exterior, the pre-cast concrete, match the existing civic center. I don’t know why they chose a different texture, but it would be nice to see the same pattern used on the outside of the new expansion.

It seems that architects have something to prove now by using obscure, contemporary materials. It would be nice to see them look towards what exists already.“


And voilà!  Now we have a huge waste of money BUT it’s sided with the right kind of pre-cast concrete. Success…I guess.

This is how everything works. People make decisions as best they can using the information they believe to be true.

Often times, they don’t go out and seek other inputs, they simply reinforce what they already believe or just “go with the flow,” waiting for a senior member of the committee to make a recommendation.

This is where you come in. All you have to do is show up. Maybe just once or twice, but if it’s a subject you know something about and you can halfway articulate an argument, there might be a chance it influences a decision or changes a perspective. If nothing else, you get the moral superiority of lording it over your friends when they complain about a decision the city made. (I’m super good at this.)

In this spirit, I’m going to be launching several articles about how to “Make Mankato Great Again.” This also why my Facebook profile pic changed to a very real (not fake at all) shot of our current president donning a sweet Key City hat. Little known to the public, I was the inspiration for the iconic headwear. True news.

I’m not stranger to voicing my opinion on urban development issues in the Mankato area, but this series will be focused on things I see as critical to returning Mankato back to its former glory. When I say former glory, I mean it. We are still on a path of unsustainable development and financial insecurity.

I hope this somewhat inspires you to do the same. There’s an issue you care about, show up and say something about it. Don’t get fatigued by national politics, that stuff is largely out of your control, but you can make a difference right here, right now.

No Salvation in the East

It’s not hard to recall all the headlines of Mankato’s miraculous growth over the past few years.  They were everywhere. We were told we had low unemployment and that the city was growing despite a lot of fundamental problems. Today, we’re still in pretty good shape. Check out the Greater Mankato Growth Blog’s (GMG) Q4 article (keep in mind their job is to promote  Mankato commerce, not that that’s bad) and FRED data saying wages are up.  

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The River Hills Mall is Screwed

Dearest readers, I can’t tell you how long I’ve been waiting to talk about the River Hills Mall. Today that day has come.

Let’s crack out a bit of history first, shall we? The River Hills Mall was built in 1991, it was pretty much unecesarry at the time, but hey, Mankato loves to blow money, right?

OK, actually, let’s back up just a little bit further than that to the very first mall. The first shopping mall was designed by Austrian architect Victor Gruen. Basically the TL;DR version is, he built the mall as a place for people to gather and then in true Dr. Frankenstein fashion his creation just pretty much sucked and he ended up hating it even though it became ubiquitous throughout the American landscape

I mean, if you had come from the picture on the top and ended up creating the picture on the bottom, wouldn’t you spiral into a pit of self-loathing?

Vienna-mall

Back to the River Hills Mall. In the years preceding the construction of the river hills mall, many Mankato residents were hoping to see the Madison East Mall expanded.

Let me divert again for a minute, Mankato has three malls, the downtown mall (which is pretty much a mini-DC with all the government buildings in there) the east town mall (which, honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever been in there) and then our beloved “River Hills” (lol, k) mall. The first two were built in fairly close succession, the Madison East mall was built in 1968 and the downtown was an “answer” to that to get people back downtown. 

You can ask the old-timers in Mankato, even with the Madison East Mall, the downtown mall was doing pretty good. It was vibrant, there were stores and people shopped there. It was the river hills mall that was the final blow (after all the urban renewal shenanigans) for the downtown mall and ultimately downtown.

As I was saying, Mankato residents and developers were looking to expand the Madison East Mall but an agreement was never reached with the then property owners. Shortly thereafter they said “whatever, we’ll build it 1.2 miles away” resulting in a billion dollars in long term infrastructure maintenance. Holy Crap.

After the mall opened, things started to fill in along Madison avenue and that’s how we got the current incarnation of that garbage stroad. 

Ok, so nothing I’ve said as of yet has made you think of why the RHM is “screwed,” but I’m about to provide some pretty compelling evidence, much to the chagrin of the “sales tax for everything” cheerleaders.

American Eagle, Hollister, Victoria Secret, stores like that are great, people love them, but it’s not what makes a mall profitable, it’s not the thing that a mall is designed around, otherwise it would look different than it is today.

Malls are profitable because of “anchor tenants” these massive stores that are a sure-fire draw for a bunch of people and then they fill in all the spots in between with the above stores.

For the River Hills Mall our anchor tenants are Herbergers, Scheels, Barnes and Nobles, JC Penny, Sears and Target. The food court and movie theater could be considered anchor tenants as well, but not to the same degree.

If you look at those companies I just listed, there’s a problem… When was the last time you went to Herberger’s or JC Penny or Sears? If you have great, but you’re not having much of an impact.

Here’s the 5 year stock for JC Penny, Sears, Bon Ton (who owns Herbergers) and Barnes and Nobles.

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 11.19.24 AM

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Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 11.19.49 AM

__________

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 11.20.13 AM

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Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 11.20.49 AM

Notice a trend? Some of them could just be leveling out and restructuring to a changing economy, or some of them might just be going the way of Blockbuster.

EDIT: If you’re reading this as of 5/13 JC Penny missed their Q1 earnings and dropped by 10%. Yeah, they’re toast.

Now, to be fair, Target has seen pretty good gains in stock and Scheels has been pretty solid because, ya know, sports.

I will also undermine myself slightly by saying that the stock market isn’t a good reflection of the economy in general, but it does a pretty good job of gauging retail consumption, which is what all of these stores are. However, Sears just closed a bunch of stores and Aeropostale just filed for Bankruptcy, a sign of things to come.

This article from AOL (yeah, I know) Finance gives a pretty good outlook on the whole mall situation in general.

To further understand how the RHM might be in the first phases of decline, we need to look a little deeper.

General Growth Properties, the company that owns the mall, filed for bankruptcy shortly after the economic recession. After liquidating a bunch of property and cutting 20% of its staff, it figured out a way to right the ship and obviously it felt that RHM was a property worth keeping and re-investing in. A company going broke certainly leaves some room for doubt.

Nationally, we’re seeing a push away from malls. No new (enclosed) mall has gone up in the U.S. since 2006 and the recent push back towards urban living, internet shopping, and lack of car ownership is undermining the very business model that holds up a mall. Not to mention that debt-laden Millenials can’t just “go to the mall” anymore. I’d say this has something to do with it. 



So is the River Hills Mall Dying?

No, it’s not and it’s not going to for years to come. Actually malls across America are doing fine. In fact General Growth Properties stock has risen pretty well since 2012.

So why are you bringing this up?

Because we both know the economy never went back to normal and we’re guaranteed another recession. That coupled with are arguably pretty weak anchor tenants could spell disaster for the RHM, or at least a complete restructuring.

Again, I’ll say that the River Hills Mall is doing fine for now and probably the next decade(ish) will be in ok shape.

But keep in mind, the bigger they are, the harder they fall. And the question we have to ask is, we will have an empty shell of a mall taking up a huge amount of resources in short order?

The other reason is to prepare for when that time (most likely) does come. What can we do to make sure the mall doesn’t die (because we might as well keep it around) or to mitigate the impacts of its decline.

So what are we supposed to do about it? 

We should be encouraging small, incremental development on unused or underused parcels in our city. Yes, I know we’ll still need big box stores and probably even malls, but the more diversified our local economy is the better shot we have at weathering an economic downturn. We can encourage our wealthy citizens like Doctors, Lawyers, Dentists, etc… to invest in these types of buildings. They make money on them, build a better city and give small businesses and entrepreneurs a place to get off the ground. A place like Salvage Sisters or Nicollet Bike Shop aren’t going to open in an empty slot in the mall.

Heck, even the average joe can get in on the action with the right people. There have been plenty of folks who have bought or built small mixed used buildings and allowed their community to prosper.

At the end of the day, arguably the most frustrating thing is how much space we waste on the mall. Look at this awesome photoshop rendering by my cohort Ben Lundsten. This is the Madison East mall, but it gives you an idea of how much space we waste on parking.

994302_4815514917938_1816310621_n

Red is Parking, Blue is Apartments.

All the parking that is there today generates essentially nothing for the city. Time to fill it with some affordable housing, no?

Everything ends, the RHM is no different so we should start hedging our bets now. We should be developing in a tried and true method that has withstood thousands of years. Incremental mixed use buildings, that way if the RHM bites the dust, we’ll have an economy and a place to fall back on. 

 

 

Cover photo from GMG who I assume got it from someone else? Maybe not.

Why this whole “fix our roads” thing is a crock of crap

If you’ve paid any attention to local politics (I know, it’s hard to watch anything other than “The Donald”) You’ll know that if we don’t pass “sustained road funding” everyone in the state will die from starvation as no goods or people will be able to get around anywhere. EVER AGAIN.


Don’t believe me? A quick google search will bring up some great results.

Here’s some opinion pieces from the St. Cloud Times, The Post Bulletin, and the Free Press.

I’m glad we have these local newspapers to take such a hard stance on road funding. Apparently it’s so obvious that we need road funding that it’s no-brainer when it comes to op-ed pieces. “Just get more money and build the roads, right guyz?”

Yeah. That simple. Except if it were so simple, we would have done it already.

The truth of the matter is, it’s a load of crap, pretty much all of it (with a few exceptions.) The system is broken in it’s entirety and no matter what anyone promises with new road funding, none of it will solve the systemic problem that we’ve built too much.

I’m not going to disagree with you that there are bad roads out there that need fixing, nor am I going to disagree with the fact that the system needs to be funded and funded sustainably, what I am telling you is that unless the system shrinks and we address more pertinent issues, we’ll never get out of this pit.

Iowa, our cool southern neighbor, has already realized this and is planning accordingly. If you want to read more on this and essentially a better version of the article you’re reading now click here.

Again, I’m going to tell you this, our biggest problem isn’t transportation funding, it’s terrible land use. Say it with me “TERRIBLE LAND USE”

We recently heard that Mankato is going to dump a bunch of money into a road pushing east, a road that has essentially no development on it, nor will it in the foreseeable future. It’s being hailed as “necessary” because it “will be the busiest intersection eva in 30 years or somethin’ like that. lol

Let’s not forget that, more or less, the SAME CLAIM was made about victory drive extension as promoting economic growth. So, how much “economic growth” showed up for that $12.5M extension of Victory Drive? By my count, there’s 131 acres of primo, undeveloped land abutting (or close enough) to Victory Drive. Hey, we’ve made WAY worse decisions if it’s any consolation.

Do you think our roads have magically deteriorated to the point they are in the last 10 years? I guarantee the roads were in largely the same shape 10 years ago when the city approved this ridiculously wasteful expansion of Victory Drive. Now they want the same thing for Adams. Continue Reading

The Cherry St. ramp needs to die

I’ve been quiet over the past few months, working on my house, contemplating Mankato’s existence as a “regional center” and being busy trying to convince people that there is indeed no war on cars. But more so than that, I’ve been lazy. Recycling my post from my semi-regular gig over at Strong Towns and passing it off as original content for you, the readers of Key City. Today I say no more! I have a beef with something kato-centric and I’m going to air it out.



That stupid ramp that flanks the cherry street “plaza”. For the love of all that’s holy, tear that thing down and put something, anything worthwhile there. The idea that we have a “plaza” whose one wall is dedicated to sleeping cars is absolutely antithetical to the idea of anything urban, because when you see the great public spaces of the world they make sure that they have abundant parking right next to it.

The parking lot isn’t even necessary! It’s completely free (which is my first grievance) so it’s not generating any revenue, they just built a brand new one a half block over which is, from what I can tell every time i’m there, totally underutilized, and the ramp sits empty for most times outside of the weekend.

There is one, and I will make this clear, ONE saving grace to that parking lot. It was designed to have a building put on top of it. I’m not sure when that was built, but I assume it was the early 2000s. We’ve gone at least a decade now with no development on top of it, either we wait it out and subsidize something to take that spot, or we tear it down and give the market the chance to snap it up and given the development that has happened downtown and inevitably will continue, someone will jump at it.

Though the ramp may have been a type of godsend when it was built because it alleviated some perceived parking “problem” it has since outlived its usefulness and the city is missing out on valuable tax money by leaving it alone. Heck, you probably wouldn’t need to tear it down, you would just need to retrofit it to put something in there, using the existing footings and structure to build something worthwhile.

Any way you slice the cake, that ramp doesn’t need to exist, there’s plenty of parking in and around the area as proven by the THREE giant parking structures all within a stone’s throw of Front St.

This would be a good chance to show a commitment to downtown, to give us a real plaza and to generate more things to do for pedestrians and more taxes for the city.

Oh, and in case you’re curious, here’s what it replaced (the far building, but the near one was also torn down and is now, you guessed it, a parking lot.)

pg 6d
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