Friday, August 8, 2008

St. Paul

I've always loved the area around Rice Park in downtown St. Paul (pictured above), probably because it's one of the few parts in the entire Twin Cities that has a European feel. I think this is due to the stately feel of buildings surrounding it, as well as the fact that there are several non-right angle intersections here. St. Paul claims to be the most livable city in America, and if all of downtown St. Paul were like Rice Park, I could get behind that claim. But once you move about a block outside of Rice Park (in any direction), downtown St. Paul starts looking like a typical midwestern American city: parking lots, non-pedestrian-friendly sidewalks, no trees. It feels very cold and unwelcoming.

So hopefully when the Central Corridor light rail line, which is supposed to enter downtown along Cedar St. and then turn down 4th St. to extend all the way to Union Depot on the east side of downtown St. Paul, will bring at least some pedestrian activity and/or streetscaping to this part of downtown. If the pre and post-game light rail usage at the Metrodome stop in Minneapolis is any indication, there will hopefully be a fair amount of pedestrian traffic between the 4th and Cedar light rail station and the XCel Energy on game nights. By reconfiguring the street (it's pretty bleak right now, as shown below) to be a two-lane street with wide sidewalks and trees, this could be one of the best streets in the Twin Cities.

As this Finance and Commerce article points out, the business climate in downtown St. Paul is worse than downtown Minneapolis, worse than the western suburbs, and worse than the southwestern suburbs. St. Paul should come to the realization that it can't beat Minneapolis at becoming a mini-Manhattan and, instead of trying to woo big companies with generous subsidies, begin branding itself as THE place to live in the Twin Cities. Streets in downtown St. Paul should be reconfigured with fewer driving lanes, more bike lanes, and much wider sidewalks with plenty of trees. Developers should be encouraged (but not subsidized) to build 3-6 story mixed-use buildings in a very dense fashion that creates the streetwalls that make European cities so beautiful. In other words, make the rest of downtown St. Paul more like Rice Park.

Images from and Google Street View.

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