Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist


Urban Boating (Excelsior and Lake Minnetonka)

Dateline: 12:46 pm May 7, 2015 Filed under:

Lake Minnetonka is one of a few places that combines two of my favorite things: boating and urbanism. Last Saturday my father, my two kids and I took our boat out for a voyage to explore the lake and have lunch in excelsior. While our Lund “Mr. Pike” boat (and Mercury “Classic Fifty” motor) is more than thirty years old, it is new to us, having bought it last fall, so every excursion is a chance to explore a new body of water. Lake Minnetonka is definitely worth exploring, and stopping for lunch and strolling the sidewalks of a traditional small town…

Better Urban Design From the Ground Up

Dateline: 1:49 pm April 23, 2015 Filed under:

The past couple months has seen a robust conversation about development in Minneapolis, starting with Tom Fisher’s Star Tribune piece and followed by Jason Wittenberg’s streets.mn rebuttal. But taste is subjective, so rather than talk about what makes a building “ugly,” let’s instead discuss the ground floor and how it relates to the public realm around it. Building frontages are at eye-level, and together with the streets themselves, this is by far the most important element to get right for a vibrant, livable city. In his post, Wittenberg cited the City of Minneapolis one-pager guide called Exterior Building Walls and Materials. But here is another one-pager dealing with building footprint and massing, context,…

Downtown East Commons Access Paths – X Marks the Spot

Dateline: 2:12 pm April 16, 2015 Filed under:

With so much attention focused on bells and whistles and whether or not Portland Avenue should be closed through the park, when it comes to the debate about Downtown East Commons, perhaps quite literally we can’t see the forest for the trees. Playgrounds, restaurants, gardens, terraces, and even water features are all well and good, but what about the countless visitors to the park who simply want to stroll in, maybe find a bench, or just pass through? Past coverage has estimated that, for the park to be successful, 1 to 2 million people must visit per year, and it is reasonable to estimate that…

Kensington Park – Ten Years Later

Dateline: 2:04 pm April 9, 2015 Filed under:

For the third installment of the “Urban Design – Ten Years Later” series, we head to suburban Richfield, Minnesota to take a look at Kensington Park. What was envisioned back then? How is it used and loved today? Has it lived up to the hype? Is it a great place for people? The good news is Kensington Park, when viewed in isolation, is an attractive, successful project that mixes uses well and adds tax base to the city. Where it falls short is adding to the walkability and multi-modalism of the city, but this can be mostly blamed on its surrounding…

We Can Make 28th Avenue Better for People

Dateline: 12:45 pm March 26, 2015 Filed under:

Driving 28th Avenue from 38th Street to Minnehaha Parkway in south Minneapolis is a pleasure, a little too much so. Traffic is relatively light compared to so many busy streets in the city, the speed limit is 30 MPH, the road surface was repaved last year and is nice and smooth. The only likely place you have to stop is the signal at 42nd Street, but even there you have close to 50/50 odds of a green light. There is the occasional cyclist trying to cross at the Minnehaha Creek crosswalk. Otherwise 28th Avenue is clear sailing. Taken in isolation, smooth traffic…

My Favorite Place in New York City

Dateline: 1:52 pm March 12, 2015 Filed under:

My favorite place in all of New York City is a front stoop on St. Marks Avenue in Brooklyn. On a vacation last spring, I’d sit on the stoop every morning and sip my coffee, watching the sun come up and the world go by. Alas, we saw and did much on that all too brief vacation, and my wife and I discovered many potential favorite places across the city, but I’ll take the front stoop. Contending for favorite place was the first restaurant we visited: Pork Slope, located along 5th Avenue in the Park Slope neighborhood. The beauty of airbnb is…

The Midtown Exchange – Nearly a Decade Later

Dateline: 4:36 pm February 26, 2015 Filed under:

Can you believe it? Has it been that long? Indubitably, it has been nearly 10 years since the Midtown Exchange was redeveloped in the old Sears building. I was there, with a very pregnant wife, for the grand opening in June 2006, and today my wife works there at Allina’s headquarters office, and we take our two kids there frequently to enjoy the offerings of the Midtown Global Market (I love Manny’s Tortas). Nine years on, the Midtown Exchange is a success from a number of perspectives, including urban design, and is loved by many. While architecture review is a very important part of our…

Prioritize Pedestrians at Hiawatha Avenue

Dateline: 2:14 pm February 12, 2015 Filed under:

The City of Minneapolis is asking citizens for input on the signals at major intersections of Hiawatha Avenue. Yesterday evening, when the “smart” pavement sensor recognized my car and gave me a green light, I passed a pedestrian stranded on a porkchop island who should have had a Walk signal as part of that light phase. As I drove past him, I saw him glance up at the signal, confused as to why he still had a Don’t Walk. I glanced up at the thermometer in the console of my warm car. It read seven degrees. For all I know, by the…

The Soul of St. Paul’s Highland Park

Dateline: 3:29 pm January 29, 2015 Filed under:

If you’d have told me ten years ago that I’d be bemoaning the loss of a large-format chain retailer, anywhere, I’d have been suspicious. Stranger things have happened, and as of January 1, 2015, Barnes & Noble in the Highland Park neighborhood of St. Paul closed its doors. The neighborhood lost not only a bookstore but a “third place,” a beloved gathering space. I used to get my Financial Times Weekend there (the House and Home section is my guilty pleasure), and I miss it. As well, sidewalk replacement in late summer 2014 cost the neighborhood a little public square nearby at the southwest corner of Ford Parkway…

Making Downtown East Commons a Great Place

Dateline: 1:14 pm January 15, 2015 Filed under:

This past weekend the Star Tribune reported the Minneapolis city staff have recommended approval of a $1.8 million contract with Hargreaves Associates to design Downtown East Commons, the 4.2 acre park proposed on two and one half blocks near the new Wells Fargo campus and Minnesota Vikings stadium. The park and campus are being developed by Ryan Companies. What is worrisome is the target completion date of summer 2016 and the difference between the city’s estimate that the park. The Strib reports that “some estimates” (the city’s, I think) are the park will cost between $6.3 million and $10.5 million, whereas Hargreaves envisions…