Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Spatial Justice

I just got back from a long weekend with my husband, who's spending the year away from home on sabbatical. This semester he's in Minneapolis. I'll leave you to your imagination regarding the details of the reunion; you can probably figure most of it out.

But also... being us, we rode our bikes. Everywhere. There was no car involved at all for four days. It was a lovely thing. And this large urban space is designed (or has been retro-fitted, I suppose) to make that easy and safe. There are dedicated bike lanes on the streets. It gets a little dicey when there's also a right turn lane for the cars, but they seem to have worked something out. There are (doubtless expensive) bridges for foot and bike traffic over busy streets. There are bike paths around interesting city features. These paths are complete with traffic signs and speed limits for the bikers. I really wanted a speeding ticket on my bike. At one point I had actually even earned one, but alas there was no police officer in sight.

And then, there you are, noodling along on your bike. And you see union organizing store-fronts, community organizers, teeny-tiny little service organizations for a stunning array of ethnic minorities... The Onion comes out in a print edition.

Okay, it was four days. For all I know, Minneapolis is a hot-bed of corruption and strife. Not being there very long, I was spared a nuanced view. But I do have a fairly clear view of the place I do actually live. We have a few bike paths here and there, but no bike lanes that I can think of. We have about 15 people who identify as politically left of center -and that might be optimistic. Any ethnic diversity to speak of is from the university, and there's not much town and gown mingling around here.

Urban design and policy are so completely not areas of expertise for me that my musings are probably mundane. But heck, they're new to me. I've always thought my town was designed by accident. I figured they paved roads where the cows that used to wander around had beaten a path. Buildings sprang up along these haphazard roads. But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe urban design is a visible sign of human/cultural intention. It's just that our city leaders didn't mind authoring a tragedy, I guess.

The thing I do know about is building community. Maybe making community and making space for community are not as far apart as I had imagined. There are things we do right. There are lovely parks for varying uses. There are a few solar-powered street lights. We've had curbside recycling for a lot longer than many larger municipalities. But would a few bike lanes kill us? How about meaningful public transportation? If any place could figure out bio-mass fuels, this one is a good choice. Bio-mass, we've got.

Sigh. I think I'm talking myself into getting involved with local politics. Damn.


Rhea said...

If you have not already read it, you may enjoy "A Pattern Language," a book that holds an important place in the fields of city planning and architecture. It talks about how (with very specific examples) to create spaces that draw people and help create community. You will be able to find the book in a good library. I am super-interested in creating community. It's one of the most important things I think about.

jill said...

I'm constantly fascinated by the interconnectedness of things.

Also, Minneapolis? Would be heaven on earth if not for the winters. I lived there for 2.5 years.

Andrea Rusin said...

Thanks, Rhea. I'll look up that book.

ANd yes, Jill, this was just a lovely fall weekend -about two weeks further into winter than we are 6-7 hours south. Winter isn't my favorite event ANYWHERE and I understand theirs are brutal.

jill said...

They say that Minnesota has two seasons: winter and construction.