On the train: Tracks from the past to the present and into the future

On the train: Tracks from the past to the present and into the future

When the Stourbridge Lion steam locomotive rolled down train tracks for the first time, it was moving very quickly toward the future. It signified a new era for the United States. And by the time the golden spike took one last whack at Promontory Summit, Utah Territory in 1869 to connect sea to shining sea in America for the first time in history, the train had already contributed to rapid growth and a blooming domestic economy. But the train shouldn’t be lost to history. Quite the opposite, actually, as we have seen in countries around the world. The train is a clean, dignified way to travel, and rail travel only continues to improve. Well, in most countries, anyway. The train is still chugging toward the future. It’s the United States, it seems, that is falling behind.   On the train For trains to gain popularity, we have to understand the role has played, and continues to play, in the lives of people; how much better it is to travel by train than to drive, or to fly. The train has of course been romanticized in literature and film for years. The meeting of Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke while passing through Austria in Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise. The poetry of Philip Larkin’s Like The Trains Beat. The dreams of American ancestors leaning their heads against the glass as scenery rolls past, untouched, beautiful.   Scenery shoots past the windows. We wobble ever so slightly through the gangways as the train rocks side to side. The dining car smells of sandwiches and hot coffee steaming from behind newspapers. Another train passes outside, so close you can see the...
A Payne worth having

A Payne worth having

Payne Avenue acts something like Main Street for the East Side of St. Paul, with rows of storefronts not yet ravaged by parking lots. Years of neglect have taken their toll in parts, but the street is still incredibly walkable. It looks as though it could be Grand Avenue’s less-bougie, rough-and-tumble little brother. Through its ups and downs, one thing is for sure: Payne is developing an identity all its own.   The Payne of the past Payne has a long and storied past. We won’t go into too much detail, as there are already great sources for reading up on the history of one of the city’s most interesting stretches. Payne has a history as a business hub; a neighborhood full of working-class (hard-working might be a better name) Scandinavian, German, and Italian immigrants. Hamm’s, Whirlpool, and 3M offered thousands of jobs to these East Side residents, and, up and through the 1950’s, Payne Avenue enjoyed the fruits of the American dream, lined with thriving shops, bars, and restaurants. It was a small town in and of itself. The area fell on hard times after those businesses moved away in search of more space and lower taxes. As jobs disappeared, so did the dollars that once flowed into Payne Avenue businesses; many of Payne’s stores moved or closed up shop as well. (For a more in-depth look at Payne Avenue’s heyday: What was St. Paul’s East Side like in its economic glory days?) In more recent history, Payne was best known for the infamous Payne Reliever gentleman’s club. The avenue still had a few places catering to families and residents, but once the club...
On 5th Street: The pros and cons of a main downtown artery

On 5th Street: The pros and cons of a main downtown artery

There’s not the bustle in downtown St. Paul that you’ll find in larger cities around the country, but that is changing. 5th Street is one of the main arteries running through downtown. It has the potential to be one of the best routes for a stroll from west Rice Park to east Mears Park, and on to CHS field where the St. Paul Saints play ball. 5th Street’s pros and cons also represent the pros and cons of downtown as a whole: On the one hand, you have the Xcel Energy Center, Roy Wilkins Auditorium and Ordway Center For the Performing Arts. 5th Street takes you by some of downtown’s most important cultural attractions. The Landmark Center, the premier cultural center of the city, overlooks Rice Park and defines the western edge of the street. Built in 1902 as a courthouse/government building that saw the trials of some of the Midwest’s most notorious gangsters, the building remains as a testament to the grandeur St. Paul once embodied. Now, the building hosts two museums open to the public, the Gallery of Wood Art and the Schubert Club Museum, as well as concerts and other events supporting arts and culture in St. Paul. You will also pass the historic Saint Paul Hotel, the beautiful Lowry Building with grand Italian restaurant Pazzaluna at the base, the colorful Saint Paul Conservatory for the Performing Arts and, just shy of Wabasha, Subtext, downtown’s first bookstore in decades which operates in quiet elegance next door to the Conservatory. You will also pass a Chipotle, Starbucks and Dunn Brothers. And, on the other hand, you have The Dead Zone where there are more than...
The tiny house movement is coming to St. Paul

The tiny house movement is coming to St. Paul

Alchemy Architects, a modern architectural firm that gained fame for creating the weeHouse, is working with home builder Robert Engstrom Co., the East Side Neighborhood Development Co., and the Metropolitan Council to create a tiny house community right here in St. Paul. The neighborhood is being planned on Payne at Maryland Avenue in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood of St. Paul, and each unit (in the 900-1200 square foot range) would cost $100-$150k. But don’t start packing just yet. First they’ll have to convince St. Paul to change its zoning codes to allow the small structures. This has been the biggest challenge for small home communities across the country. But it has happened. Washington D.C. for example, has loosened restrictions to allow tiny homes to be built, and in Colorado, construction of the country’s largest tiny home community is already underway. Live a smaller life So what is a tiny house? And what are the benefits of owning one? Tiny houses give homeowners the ability to downsize the space they live in. It provides an option for urban home buyers who can’t afford, or simply don’t want, a larger house. After the housing market collapse of 2008, where foreclosures and financial ruin made the idea of owning a home superfluous to many Americans, the idea of “less is more” began to seem a lot more appealing. It’s also one of the greenest places to call home, as the energy expenditure is about 7% of that of a normal home. These tiny houses are a boast of the latest domestic technologies, from appliances to lighting to online tools. For example, Alchemy Architect’s model LightHouse features a dashboard website (pictured above) that shows the minute-by-minute usage of...
St. Paul, a city of the future

St. Paul, a city of the future

St. Paul, a city of the future? Not usually. Known for historic charm, St. Paul is often called quaint, quiet, and even sleepy, especially in comparison with its shiny neighbor to the west.   St. Paul isn’t usually mentioned when talking about cities of the future.   But leaving it at that means ignoring more than a few existing factors and upcoming projects that have the city looking forward. St. Paul’s population recently crossed the 300,000 mark for the first time in over 40 years, and people are moving back into the city center at an incredible rate. Here are a few things coming soon, or already in place, that are helping St. Paul keep its momentum.   The 8-80 Vitality Fund Centered around the idea of noted urbanist Gil Penalosa that cities should be accessible to anyone aged 8-80, the Vitality Fund has several projects around the city, including renovating the century-old Palace Theater in downtown, currently underway. One of the key components of the plan is the Downtown Bicycle Network. Cities all around the world have been looking for ways to integrate bicycle traffic more effectively into city grids. In the Dutch city of Eindhoven, a suspended loop that hangs over automobile traffic called the Hovenring (read more: www.hovenring.com) was constructed to revolutionize the relationship between bikes and cars. In St. Paul, where the landscape is defined by the Mississippi River, the bike network lets you enter, move throughout, and then exit downtown quickly and easily on raised, separated paths. This allows bike and car traffic to coexist in a safer, more efficient manner. The entire bike plan extends throughout the entire city, and will eventually connect to the Midtown Greenway...