Thinking out loud on Twitter about the new Minneapolis paid sick time rules

No further commentary, but I wanted to gather up my thread of tweets on this topic from today.

First, the news behind it: Minneapolis paves way to give thousands of workers paid sick time

Here’s what I had to say, as I thought through things on Twitter. (I know I should have used Storify or embedded tweets or something but a screenshot of the whole thread was easier.)

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Some thoughts on 5 of my favorite Prince songs

Confession: I was never that big of a Prince fan at his peak of popularity in the ‘80s. I watched MTV incessantly, so I had plenty of exposure to most of his big hits. But I was a repressed small-town midwestern Protestant white kid. I thought it was cool when I learned he was from Minneapolis, but I didn’t see that connection as an opportunity to liberate myself from my fear of everything; I was still freaked out by his uninhibited, guiltless sexuality. That’s probably the biggest reason I didn’t pay very much attention to him, if I’m honest with myself about who I was as a 10-year-old.

But even though I didn’t consider myself a fan, and never owned any of his music until I was much (much) older, I still heard his music all the time. Because once MTV realized it was not only OK but necessary for them to play black artists, Prince was on there a lot. Videos like “1999” and “When Doves Cry” are burned into my memory. And honestly, even if I was a little sheepish about it, I liked them. As time went on, my appreciation grew. And so, as my small tribute to the Artist whose music touched so many people, here’s my list of 5 Prince songs. Not necessarily my “top 5” Prince songs, but 5 that have made a big impression on me, in the order that they did.

“1999” from 1999 (1982)

This song was my introduction to Prince. It was probably 1983 when I first saw it, so I would have been 9. I was fascinated by this song and the video. As a kid, I was always interested in the future. I wanted to get there, fast, whether it was a paradise or (as this song suggested) something more ominous. I’ve never paid as much attention to lyrics as to music, but the lyrics of this song definitely got my attention even back then. It was my first exposure to the idea of an apocalypse. And it made a huge impression on me that Prince would sing about confidently, defiantly celebrating in the face of doom. The other thing that impressed me about the video was that it showed Prince’s band performing, and he had women in the band. The music industry is still far too male-dominated today, but back then I didn’t even think to question things like that. So to see a band with both men and women, playing music together, struck me as something unique.

“When Doves Cry” from Purple Rain (1984)

Whoa. This video. The Rorschach-like mirror image effect had me transfixed from the first moment I saw it, but what really struck me was the sound of this song. It was sparse and futuristic and weird. I’d never heard anything like it, and probably still haven’t. As a kid, this was definitely my favorite Prince song. And it was made even better for me as a nerdy college student in the early ‘90s when it was referenced in a Simpsons episode where Milhouse meets his Shelbyville doppelganger.

[Much time passes…]

“Let’s Work” from Controversy (1981)

I spent most of my adult life not really thinking all that much about Prince. As I became more of an accomplished musician myself, my appreciation of his immense skills grew considerably, but I still was not really that engaged with his music. Then, one day in 2010 I was listening to The Current on the radio, and this incredibly funky song came on. I wasn’t really familiar with any of Prince’s pre-1999 work, so I had no idea what it was but I thought, “Oh, that sounds like Prince. I wonder if this is something new.” (Yeah, I’m not proud of that… but I do think it shows how we’ve come full circle that the dry, immediate sound of Prince’s early ‘80s recordings sounds contemporary again today.) I fired up Soundhound on my iPhone to identify the track, and before the song had even finished playing, I’d purchased and downloaded the entire Controversy album. Thus began my exploration of Prince’s early work. I bought all of his first four albums and listened to them — especially Dirty Mind and Controversy — incessantly for the next several weeks. Finally, at the age of 36, I really “got it”. Prince was a visionary genius, virtuoso multi-instrumentalist, and all-around legend. And he was from Minneapolis and stayed here.

“Uptown” from Dirty Mind (1980)

As I delved into the early work of Prince following my “Let’s Work” epiphany, I realized that Dirty Mind was really the album that defined Prince, the Minneapolis sound, 1980s pop music, everything. “Uptown” quickly became one of my favorite tracks on the album. I loved the upbeat funk groove, and the fact that it was a song about a neighborhood I used to live in. In 2011 I decided to record an album as a tribute to Minneapolis, the city where I was born and have spent most of my adult life. I had to include a song about Uptown, and I took inspiration from this Prince track.

“When You Were Mine” from Dirty Mind (1980)

The more I’ve listened to Dirty Mind (which has become my favorite Prince album), the more I’ve grown to love this song. It’s really kind of a weird song. It’s very poppy, with catchy hooks, but it is driven by strummed chords on an electric bass. And the lyrics seem, at first, like a typical pop song about a lost love, but as you listen closely you realize there’s a bizarre undercurrent to the story they tell that can only come from Prince.

I never was the kind to make a fuss
When he was there
Sleeping in between the two of us

Wait, what?

I figured my appreciation of this song was a bit unusual; it wasn’t a single, it was from before he really hit big. But in the days following his death, I discovered on Twitter that a lot of his fans cite it as their favorite Prince song. To me, it kind of symbolizes what Prince was all about: showing us that we’re all a little weird, that’s OK, and we’re not alone.

Into the storm

It began like many other Friday evenings. Our kids were on their way to “Kids’ Night Out,” a 3-hour activity at Lake Hiawatha Park, about a mile from our house. It was going to be a more exciting evening than most, as the whole group was going to walk over to nearby Lake Nokomis Park for a small neighborhood carnival-type event that was going on there.

Meanwhile, SLP and I did what we often do for those few hours: got takeout from a Thai restaurant and went home to watch some Netflix. (What can I say? We’re well on our way to old and boring. It’s even worse if you know what we watched.)

All indications for us were that there might be some rain on the way, and we thought it might force the carnival indoors. Unfortunate, but… oh well.

Around 7:40, just as our show was ending, we got a couple of weather alerts on our iPhones — not the usual Notification Center alerts from our weather apps of choice, but the serious government/emergency alerts the cellular networks send out for things like kidnappings or natural disasters.

There were two alerts, in fact: a Flash Flood Warning and a Severe Thunderstorm Warning. I don’t worry too much about floods where we live (though I realize a flash flood is different), and although the skies had definitely darkened considerably, it wasn’t even raining yet at our house.

We took a look at the weather maps, saw a bright patch of red and orange heading our way, and decided we’d better hurry off to the park to pick up the kids. It looked like we had about 20-30 minutes before the storm would hit.

Turns out, it was just a little bit less than that.

By the time we backed the car out of the garage at about 7:45, it had started raining, and by the time we had gone the mile to Lake Hiawatha (calculating that they had either canceled their plans to go to Lake Nokomis, or that they would have already returned by now) the torrents were unleashed and the trees were whipping in the wind.

We were drenched as we ran to the door of the park building. Locked. No one inside. Damn. They were at Lake Nokomis after all.

The storm was coming on fast, so we ran back to the car and prepared to high-tail it to Lake Nokomis, a trip that was made considerably longer by the fact that the main street between the two parks, 28th Avenue, has been torn up for weeks while CenterPoint installs new gas lines.

But that didn’t really matter. By the time we had gone a block and a half from the park, cars ahead of us at the intersection of 42nd Street abruptly stopped. Cars going on 42nd Street were stopped too, pointing in various unexpected directions.

Then, I saw it. Just ahead on the next block, a large piece of a tree — larger than the small Prius we were driving in, in fact — flew across the street about 20 feet in the air. I looked down 42nd Street and saw more trees down in the road.

Cars around us were stopped, but I had no intention of staying there! I carefully made my way around the obstacles — stopped vehicles and giant tree limbs — and drove on another block. I turned and raced down 41st Street. At least I think it was 41st Street. I wasn’t really taking the time to look.

28th Avenue was still under construction at that point, not that it would have mattered, because half a block away a giant tree was downed on top of the construction equipment, blocking the entire street.

I went on another block, and then another, turning down streets and then turning back as one street after another became impassable. All the while I was looking up, trying to make sure nothing was about to fall on us.

At one point we arrived at a dead-end street that we thought was a street some friends of ours live on, and we prepared to go to their door, but it wasn’t their street after all, so we turned back.

Beginning to panic, we considered going to the door of one of the houses in the area that had lights on, but it didn’t seem like the right choice. While I was sure (or at least hopeful) they’d take us in, then what? Our car might have a tree land on it; we might be stuck there. Then how would we get to the kids once the storm passed?

Somehow having gotten to this point without colliding with another car, flying trees, or getting a flat tire from driving over all of the debris, I noticed we were by a school. What school, I wasn’t quite sure, and didn’t care to figure out. I realized in an instant that we were on the side of the building sheltered from the storm, and that there were no trees around. So I raced across the school’s parking lot, up near the building, where I found a small, fenced-in alcove where a number of other cars were parked. We drove through the open gate and I tucked the car into a corner.

And we waited.

We were wet, and cold, and shivering more from fear than from anything else. We turned on the radio, and listened as the announcers cracked jokes about the irony of how the storm was making it so dark on the longest day of the year.

“Sure,” I thought. “You’re comfortable and safe in your studio in downtown St. Paul. You have no idea what it’s like to be in the middle of this.”

We turned the radio off.

We checked our weather apps. We wanted to call the park, or hoped they’d call us, but in our haste to leave home SLP had left her phone on the kitchen counter, and it was her number the park staff had. Well, that and my old cell number, which now rings at my office.

At this point I finally pieced together the clues that we must be at Roosevelt High School. I could see the lights of the football field peeking up over the side of the building. I realized that all of the other cars parked around us — empty — in the fenced-in area were neither storm refuge seekers nor school employees’ cars. We were in front of the school’s auto shop.

A few minutes later I heard a roar of an engine behind us. Someone in a black sports car was in the parking lot, squealing tires, racing back and forth, doing donuts. At once I thought both that I wished I was as carefree in the moment as they were, but also that it was idiots like that who go out in these kinds of storms and get themselves hurt or killed. We continued to cower in our little Prius, hazard lights flashing, tucked into our relatively safe little corner by the Roosevelt High School auto shop.

The National Weather Service had issued a Severe Thunderstorm Warning for our area until 8:15. We had about 15 minutes to go. I kept turning around and looking at the large tree across the street from the school, maybe 100 feet away. It was my indicator of the current wind speed. Every time its movements would slow, we’d start to wonder if, despite the still-pounding rain, maybe things had tapered off enough that we could either get home or get to the park to pick up the kids. But before we could act, the tree whipped up into a frenzy again.

So we waited.

Even in my fear and panic, I was still myself. There were two doors to the school, a few feet from each other, directly in front of us, numbered 11 and 12. I noticed, and pointed out to SLP, that the “11” was in Arial and the “12” was in Helvetica. It’s the ones. I hate how ones look in Arial. I was ready to take a picture of it to post on Instagram, but I thought better of it. SLP was shaking and upset — and so was I — and I think there was maybe even a brief flash in my mind of, “What if the worst happens to us tonight? Is this really the last statement I’d want to leave the world?”

At one point the weather seemed to have calmed enough that we could leave, but as soon as I turned the corner and was beyond the protective wall of the school, we realized that this was not over.

8:15 finally came, but the weather didn’t seem done with us yet, so we waited a few more minutes. At 8:20 we finally pulled out of the parking lot and headed towards… well, where should we go? And where could we go? We debated going home and waiting out the rest of the storm, or going to Lake Nokomis to find the kids.

We decided that we needed to go home first, because who knew if this was over, whether we’d even be able to get to the kids, etc. We knew the kids were far safer in a fallout-shelter-grade Minneapolis park building than we were in our car. I was also hoping the park staff might have left a message for us on SLP’s phone, and I wanted to at least be able to get word to them that we were OK.

I managed to navigate by a circuitous and mildly treacherous route back to 42nd Street, where this all had begun for us. In addition to the large branches blocking part or all of some streets, we noticed several uprooted trees, tipped against buildings. All of the construction signs on 28th Avenue were flattened. 42nd Street itself was relatively clear, so we got back to 34th Avenue and headed towards our house. At one point I had to accelerate and pass someone who apparently was out for a leisurely drive. As we turned onto Minnehaha Parkway, we noticed more damage, although not as bad as what we had seen a half mile to the north, until we got to the house on the corner of our street and noticed its front boulevard tree, a very large, old tree, was uprooted and on the house. At least the house appeared not to have sustained much damage, but something this close to our house? What did that mean for us?

We were lucky. We had a few large tree branches down on our driveway, but our trees were still standing and our house was intact. We got out of the car and cleared a path to the garage, parked the car and ran into the house.

I checked SLP’s phone. Two messages from the park staff, one of which had been left within a minute of us leaving the house. I called the park and let them know we were OK — and exactly what had ensued over the past 45 minutes — and that we were on our way.

I elected to take 50th Street to Lake Nokomis and loop around the back of the park building, and I’ve never so greatly exceeded the speed limit on 50th Street in my life. We were at the park within 3 minutes, and I was glad I’d taken the route I had. Just to the west, the parkway was blocked completely by a large tree, and there were a few uprooted trees in the park by the building where the kids were waiting for us. I’m not sure we’d have even been able to get through if we’d gone another way.

We ran into the building, embraced the kids, and realized that neither they nor the park staff, who greeted us with smiles and laughter, had any idea of the extent of what had just happened, nor what it felt like to witness it through a car windshield.

We rushed the kids into the car and raced back home. More storms were on the way, we had seen, and we weren’t about to repeat the last hour.

At 8:45, we were home. It was over. Barely more than an hour had passed, but it’s an hour that will be burned into my memory for years to come.

I know now just how lucky we were. We were in the middle of the storm’s path of destruction, as it was happening, in a tiny car. We’re safe, our car is fine, our house is unscathed. Many others in the city and the surrounding metro area weren’t so lucky. I haven’t heard any reports of deaths or injuries, but there’s plenty of damage, and hundreds of thousands of people were without power for at least part of the night. There were gas leaks and fires.

And there were tireless and fearless first responders — police, firefighters and EMTs — not to mention crews from Xcel and CenterPoint who were on the scene restoring power and fixing gas lines. I have rarely had more appreciation for their dedication and courage than I did last night.

This morning, SLP and I took a walk around our neighborhood to survey the damage. Our neighborhood was lucky… the damage was significantly worse about a mile to the north, and also farther to the east. But these photos show how bad it was even within a half mile of us.

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The Minnesota inferiority complex (and major league sports)

Twins UnderdogI love maps. I love charts. I love rankings. I love comparing the quantitative differences between major cities. I don’t know why I love this stuff; I just do. So bear with me while I geek out on this a little.

Minnesotans (at least, I think it goes beyond me individually) sometimes have an inferiority complex, especially those of us who live in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. We are a major city, the 16th largest metro area in the country. We have a diverse and strong economy, with a prominent national and international role in medical technology, arts and design, retail and manufacturing. We have an excellent arts community, and the highest number of theaters per capita of any American city besides New York. We have excellent parks and recreational opportunities. And, as I’ll get to in a minute, we have teams in all four major league sports (NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL). In short, this is a great American metro area, and the gem of the upper Midwest.

And yet, we feel inferior. We feel inferior to Chicago. We feel ignored by the rest of the country, who think of this only as a place too cold to ever visit, much less live in. (Never mind the fact that in July and August this place can be unbearably hot, and we typically experience warm weather from April to October.)

I was reflecting on this today, partly as I marveled at the fact that the comparatively tiny city of Green Bay, Wisconsin, has managed to retain an NFL team since the league’s inception (though that’s mainly due to their unique ownership arrangements). I thought about how it always seems like our sports teams are the ridiculed underdogs, occasionally openly dismissed by sportscasters despite their successes. (I’m thinking particularly of the loathsome Cris Collinsworth and his generally disdainful commentary on the Vikings’ pair of ignoble defeats on NBC’s Sunday Night Football in recent weeks.)

I also think about this a lot whenever talk of one of our major league teams relocating comes up. There are frequent cries that this market is simply too small to sustain the teams it has. Never mind the fact that in every one of the leagues its four major teams participate in, Minneapolis-St. Paul is above the median market size (even ignoring Green Bay). We are one of only 13 markets with teams in all four sports. And I think we deserve to keep it that way. But I wanted to have a more complete picture of how the leagues and the markets they “live” in break down, so I created a table. I found the 50 largest metro areas in the country, and compiled data on the number of teams each has in the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL. I decided to throw in MLS too, since it’s growing rapidly in popularity (not that you’d know it around here). Here’s what I came up with:

Rank City Population NFL MLB NBA NHL MLS Total
1 New York, NY 19,006,798 2 2 2 3 1 10
2 Los Angeles, CA1 12,872,808 2 2 2 2 8
3 Chicago, IL 9,569,624 1 2 1 1 1 6
4 Dallas/Fort Worth, TX 6,300,006 1 1 1 1 1 5
5 Philadelphia, PA 5,838,471 1 1 1 1 1 (2010) 5
6 Houston, TX 5,728,143 1 1 1 1 4
7 Miami/Fort Lauderdale, FL 5,414,772 1 1 1 1 4
8 Atlanta, GA 5,376,285 1 1 1 1 4
9 Washington, DC 5,358,130 1 1 1 1 1 5
10 Boston, MA 4,522,858 1 1 1 1 1 5
11 Detroit, MI2 4,425,110 1 1 1 1 4
12 Phoenix, AZ 4,281,899 1 1 1 1 4
13 San Francisco/Oakland, CA3 4,274,531 2 2 1 5
14 Inland Empire, CA4 4,115,871 0
15 Seattle, WA5 3,344,813 1 1 1 3
16 Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN 3,229,878 1 1 1 1 4
17 San Diego, CA 3,001,072 1 1 2
18 St. Louis, MO 2,816,710 1 1 1 3
19 Tampa Bay, FL 2,733,761 1 1 1 3
20 Baltimore, MD 2,667,117 1 1 2
21 Denver, CO6 2,506,626 1 1 1 1 1 5
22 Pittsburgh, PA 2,351,192 1 1 1 3
23 Portland, OR 2,207,462 1 1 (2011) 2
24 Cincinnati, OH 2,155,137 1 1 2
25 Sacramento, CA 2,109,832 1 1
26 Cleveland, OH 2,088,291 1 1 1 3
27 Orlando, FL 2,054,574 1 1
28 San Antonio, TX 2,031,445 1 1
29 Kansas City, MO 2,002,047 1 1 1 3
30 Las Vegas, NV7 1,865,746 0
31 San Jose, CA 1,819,198 1 1 2
32 Columbus, OH 1,773,120 1 1 2
33 Indianapolis, IN 1,715,459 1 1 2
34 Charlotte, NC 1,701,799 1 1 2
35 Hampton Roads, VA8 1,658,292 0
36 Austin, TX 1,652,602 0
37 Providence, RI 1,596,611 0
38 Nashville, TN 1,550,733 1 1 2
39 Milwaukee, WI9 1,549,308 1 1 2
40 Jacksonville, FL 1,313,228 1 1
41 Memphis, TN 1,285,732 1 1
42 Louisville, KY 1,244,696 0
43 Richmond, VA 1,225,626 0
44 Oklahoma City, OK 1,206,142 1 1
45 Hartford, CT 1,190,512 0
46 New Orleans, LA10 1,134,029 1 1 2
47 Buffalo, NY 1,124,309 1 1 2
48 Birmingham, AL 1,117,608 0
49 Salt Lake City, UT 1,115,692 1 1 2
50 Raleigh, NC 1,088,765 1 1

An interesting list, and it led to a few surprising observations:

1. There are the “old” major cities and the “new” major cities. Strong representation among the major sports leagues — especially the older NFL and MLB — is more common among older, more established cities, even though they may be on the decline in recent decades, like St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Kansas City. On the other hand, cities that have grown substantially in recent decades (even though they may be very old cities) typically either have no major league teams, or if they do, their teams tend to be in the newer (or more recently-expanded) NBA, NHL and MLS: cities like Las Vegas, San Antonio, Austin and Orlando.

2. Certain sports are more established in different regions. All of the sports seem to have their greatest representation in the oldest and most densely populated region of the country: the Northeast. But that area is especially well-represented in the NFL, whereas the NFL’s representation in the South is more sparse and newer — expansion teams like Jacksonville and Carolina — which may be due to college football’s comparatively strong popularity in the South. The rapid expansion of the NHL and NBA over the past 20 years has also led to more teams in markets in the South and West that have not typically been home to major sports franchises.

3. Major sports teams make a “major” city. Cities that have major league sports teams — especially those cities with multiple teams — seem bigger and more “important” than those that don’t, regardless of their relative populations. This is highly subjective, I realize, and maybe it’s just my own impression of those cities. But I think the frequent national exposure a city receives as a result of hosting a major team (especially an NFL team, as this is clearly the biggest “event” sport in the country today) creates a nationwide impression of that city as being major in a way that almost nothing else can. (Perhaps this is why we in Minneapolis-St. Paul fight so hard for our status as a “major league” city, and why our governor once compared a Vikings-less Minnesota unfavorably to Des Moines, Iowa.)

Consider for a moment your relative impression of Austin, Texas to that of Milwaukee. Which one seems like a more “major” city to you? Now compare their populations on the chart. Or, compare your impression of New Orleans to Providence, Rhode Island. (I think the fact that I feel compelled to name the state of the city without a major sports team in both of these examples says it all.)

It’s a big reason why all of the sports teams in Minnesota use “Minnesota” in their names instead of “Minneapolis.” Until the Wild arrived in St. Paul, it would have been accurate to discuss the Minneapolis Twins, Minneapolis Vikings and Minneapolis Timberwolves, but what would that do to St. Paul’s reputation and self-image? It’s bad enough as it is.

Addendum: After writing this post, I discovered a handy and closely-related chart on Wikipedia listing US and Canadian cities by number of professional sports teams. Of note: the only city in the United States that is not in this list of the top 50 but is home to a major sports team is, of course, Green Bay. Nine Canadian cities have at least one team in these “American” sports leagues (mostly NHL). There are a few variances in the population rankings comprising this list vs. those I used for my list. Some may be simply out-of-date, but others may be based on different interpretations of what constitutes a metro area. Most notable in this regard is that San Jose is typically considered part of the San Francisco Bay Area rather than a distinct metro area.

Notes

1 Los Angeles did, of course, have two NFL teams for many years, until the Raiders returned to Oakland and the Rams fled to St. Louis, of all places, after the 1994 season.

2 Detroit fascinates me for many reasons, not least of which being its ability to hang on to both its four major sports teams and its 11th place ranking (though it’s slipped from its one-time peak at number 3) among major U.S. metro areas.

3 San Francisco’s position at number 13, along with its lack of NHL and MLS teams, may appear somewhat arbitrary; I’ve typically seen San Jose lumped into the same Combined Statistical Area, bumping it up to sixth place and, along the way, giving it San Jose’s NHL and MLS teams.

4 The Inland Empire lacks any major sports teams, true. It also lacks any kind of cohesive center or place of relevance (beyond jokes about funny-sounding place names like Rancho Cucamonga) in the minds of anyone besides its residents. Having lived there myself (in Claremont and Upland) for a little over two years in the late ’90s, I take that personally. It is most especially ignored by those who live in the Greater Los Angeles Area west of the San Jose Hills.

5 I still can’t believe the Supersonics ended up in Oklahoma City. That’s crazier than the Rams going to St. Louis.

6 Denver’s the smallest city with full representation in the five major league sports. But given that Denver is the outpost of metropolitanism for several states — I can attest from first-hand experience that there are people in northeastern Montana whose “local” TV channels are the Denver affiliates — its radius of influence significantly exceeds its immediate physical region.

7 While it’s true that the rapid growth of the Las Vegas metro area over the past 20 years may explain its lack of major sports franchises, the reluctance of the leagues to become (ah-hem, openly) involved in the world of sports gambling is also a well-known factor.

8 Hampton Roads probably suffers mainly from an identity crisis. Officially known as the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News MSA, a name that doesn’t really roll off the tongue, Hampton Roads is one of the oldest established population centers in the country, but it doesn’t seem to have the requisite prominent central city to attach sports teams to. However, it does look like Norfolk has come close to acquiring at least one major team in recent years. (Unfortunately I lost that citation among the mountain of links I clicked on to compile this list.)

9 I never realized Milwaukee was so far down on this list. I guess that’s what having a well-known Major League Baseball team for decades will do for a city.

10 And I’m really surprised New Orleans is this far down on the list, even after the population drop in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Looking ahead at the future of LRT in Minneapolis

Honestly, I have to admit that I’ve been fairly apathetic about the process of determining a route for the proposed southwest light rail line in Minneapolis. I love the Hiawatha Line: it’s the biggest reason why we moved to the house we live in. At the time I was working downtown, and our house is within walking distance of two stations. I commuted on the light rail every day for 3 1/2 years. I also take a keen interest in the extension of the Hiawatha line to the new Twins stadium, and I’m mildly interested in the next light rail project: the Central Corridor, because it connects to the U of M campus and downtown St. Paul, other places I am interested in traveling to.

But Eden Prairie? Not so much. All of the talk I have heard about the southwest line has been focused on Eden Prairie. Who cares? It’s the same reason I haven’t been clamoring for a ride on the new Northstar commuter line. I don’t need to go to Big Lake. I wouldn’t even know where the hell Big Lake was if not for the Northstar line teaching me that it’s obviously somewhere in between Minneapolis and St. Cloud (which, no offense to Michele Bachmann’s constituents, I also don’t need to go to).

Of course, I forget that in getting to Eden Prairie, the southwest line might just go through other interesting parts of the city along the way, such as Uptown. Or, maybe not. (Read on… I’ll get to it.)

Tonight has been a strange night of web browsing for me. I started off with a Daring Fireball post about Gary Hustwit’s (of Helvetica fame) new documentary Objectified. Then kottke.org led me to start thinking about geography, which is usually what carries me off on flights of link-clicking fancy. Even better, Kottke also linked to a fascinating post on oobject with before-and-after photos of cities, some good, like reconstruction of bombed-out European cities post-WWII, and others, well… pretty much the opposite. (Perhaps the eeriest thing about the exhibit was the similarity between Kabul and Detroit.)

After pondering urban decay, I was uplifted a bit by a series of photoblog entries by Alex Block, a Minneapolis native now living in DC, capturing his experiences on a return visit to our city this past summer. He had valid, if slightly stinging, criticisms of our Skyway system, but he also gave the LRT some attention. Most compelling for me, however, was his coverage of the proposed southwest LRT line, including the potent map below:

Minneapolis southwest LRT line alternatives

Block’s source for that map provides excellent background on the situation, and why federal cost-effectiveness guidelines may dictate that the comparatively worthless green line will probably get built, instead of the more expensive — but also immeasurably more useful — blue line. It’s not just population density; a pair of related maps show that poverty levels and current public transit use also heavily favor the Uptown route over the Kenilworth route.

Don’t get me wrong… the green line runs through some very nice parts of town, and I suppose in many ways it does make sense, at least from the perspective of construction costs, to follow existing rail right-of-way as much as possible. But “some very nice parts of town” don’t really need mass transit in the way that, oh, you know, densely-populated parts of town do, especially densely-populated parts of town with much higher poverty and transit ridership levels.

On the other hand, I suspect many people were initially critical of the route of the Hiawatha Line. I think I was myself, but of course back then I wasn’t familiar enough with this part of town to care very much. (And by now it should be obvious that I only care about what I care about.) It seemed that the primary selling point for the Hiawatha Line was that it directly connected the two heaviest-traffic parts of the metro area: downtown Minneapolis and the airport/Mall of America cluster in Bloomington. That in so doing, it could also be built relatively cheaply along available right-of-way next to Hiawatha Avenue — land originally intended for a freeway (source) that was never built — was a nice bonus for getting the plan through the funding process, despite the fact that that also meant that between the VA Hospital and Lake Street it would mostly run through a mildly-blighted stretch of abandoned grain elevators and former department store warehouses converted into self-storage units.

That mildly-blighted area is notably less blighted (the boarding up of Hiawatha Joe notwithstanding) today than it was a few years ago, thanks almost entirely to the presence of the LRT line running through it.

Perhaps there’s a lesson in this for the southwest line as well. Perhaps I should not be so quick to dismiss the potential for a light rail line to transform the ugliness around I-394 between the Dunwoody Institute and Penn Avenue. On the other hand, it’s not just the light rail that breathed new life into the area around Hiawatha Avenue. Hiawatha Avenue itself had to be there, and there’s nothing like it in the area of the proposed Kenilworth version of the southwest line. Nor does the majority of that part of the city need the kind of boost the light rail has given the Longfellow neighborhood. Phillips, Lyn-Lake, and Uptown, however, do need the benefits high-capacity rail transit would offer. They’re among the most densely-populated parts of the city, with some of the worst street traffic. Uptown is also one of the biggest destinations in the city, besides downtown itself, and for a southwest line to achieve the kind of success the Hiawatha Line has in its five years of operation, it’s going to need more riders than just Eden Prairie’s weekday commuters.

And so, much like my meandering links across the Internet earlier this evening, and my meandering reasoning here, it seems to me that there’s little question that if we think about the long term objectives of the line… the reason for building the damn thing in the first place, it makes sense to build it where it will actually be used, not just where it’s cheapest to do so.

Addendum: Lest you think I’ve gotten too swept up in my grand visions of freeway systems planned in the 1950s and ’60s, finished or not, and forgotten that they splintered and destroyed (disproportionately African-American) communities; or in this century’s counterparts in light rail projects and related work that lead to things like rerouting highways through sacred Native American land… I haven’t.