Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Urban Renewal and Other Modern Tragedies 

Editorial: 9th & Hennepin/A new hotel, an old lament
At last, the old Fairmont Hotel -- the decrepit landmark at the corner of Hennepin Av. and S. 9th St. -- will find new life. Plans for the corner -- including a 24-suite Chambers hotel, La Belle Vie restaurant and a nightclub -- are exactly what the Hennepin Avenue theater district needs to help create a critical mass of attractive venues and activities.

The complex will be a welcome addition to an emerging promenade that encourages people to stroll along a newly inviting streetscape of restaurants and theaters and to partake of a newly bustling, eclectic urban experience.

This is how things go in a growing city, and everyone should be glad that the vacant eyesore will be transformed into another lure for visitors to Minneapolis' increasingly vibrant downtown. That is the appropriate use for this corner at this time.
-Minneapolis Star Tribune, 2004

Well it's Ninth and Hennepin
All the doughnuts have names that sound like prostitutes
And the moon's teeth marks are on the sky
Like a tarp thrown all over this
And the broken umbrellas like dead birds
And the steam comes out of the grill
Like the whole goddamn town's ready to blow...
And the bricks are all scarred with jailhouse tattoos
And everyone is behaving like dogs
And the horses are coming down Violin Road
And Dutch is dead on his feet
And all the rooms they smell like diesel
And you take on the dreams of the ones who have slept here
And I'm lost in the window, and I hide in the stairway
And I hang in the curtain, and I sleep in your hat...
And no one brings anything small into a bar around here
They all started out with bad directions
And the girl behind the counter has a tattooed tear
"One for every year he's away", she said
Such a crumbling beauty, ah
There's nothing wrong with her that a hundred dollars won't fix
She has that razor sadness that only gets worse
With the clang and the thunder of the Southern Pacific going by
And the clock ticks out like a dripping faucet
'til you're full of rag water and bitters and blue ruin
And you spill out over the side to anyone who will listen...
And I've seen it all, I've seen it all
Through the yellow windows of the evening train...

-Tom Waits, 1985

Minneapolis is a city that, as far as I can tell, refuses to learn from its history. It had a vast, convenient, clean streetcar system. The auto industry convinced them to tear it up completely, and we're left with LA traffic, freeways choking neighborhoods, and the most bloated, inefficient bus system in the midwest. Recent attempts at building a light-rail system have been repeatedly sabotaged by those who wish to see them fail in order to prove that public transportation doesn't work. Everyone bemoans the effect "Urban Renewal" had on Minneapolis' historic downtown architecture and culture (it destroyed them both and put up big, blocky office buildings and Soviet-style apartment complexes). Now we're in the sudden rebirth of Downtown Minneapolis as a place where people from 1st-ring suburbs are no longer afraid to drive to (and they can park right under the Block E mall while they have a lovely dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe, which is across the street from First fucking Ave) and a home of faceless, ugly architecture. A "bustling, eclectic urban experience" in Strib-talk means "a place recently cleansed of punks and black people."

And christ almighty... Minneapolis has an absolutely horrible problem with homelessness, and no one has even tried to do anything about it as long as I can remember. It is literally a case of city-wide Looking the Other Way. Nothing. No, we have our priorities straight -- get some of those suburban sales-tax dollars. And use them for... enticing corporations to tear down our old, poetic buildings and put up big empty malls that, in a perfect world, would make like the notorious "City Center" and fill up with the black people who they thought they'd displaced, thus keeping the easily spooked nightlife/shopping commuters away.

As long as none of that money goes to low-income housing, public works programs, shelters, welfare, job counseling, adult education, or subsidized physical/mental health care, Minneapolis city planners may finally achieve their goal: a city in which no one lives, but into which everyone in the tri-county area drives to shop. Interstates 35 and 94 will each be 150 lanes wide, with diamond lanes for people who can afford the optional "traffic-reduction fee." The Light-Rail system will run in a loop on Hiawatha between 34th and 35th streets, until it is shut down for being wasteful of public funds that could (and should) be going to the Target corporation. The train station will be converted into a TGI Fridays. All those unable to afford new tract housing in Lakeville and Apple Valley will be airlifted to St. Paul and dropped near the entrances to the Wabasha Street Caves.

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