Tuesday, February 02, 2010

A Bootstrap Neighborhood

I've recently come to the conclusion that my world is incredibly small, despite my living in a metropolitan community. I go to the same places, I drive the same city streets, I take my kids to the same our or five kid places for entertainment, because hey, they aren't tired of them yet, and I just haven't found new places to take them yet.

That's changed a bit with my job change, which requires me to travel to...dum dum duuuuuum!! The other side of the river.

That would be St. Paul.  You know, land of twisty streets since those drunken Irishmen made them (thank you, Governor Ventura, for pointing that out), capitol of our fine state, home to many a Fortune 500 company even though I can't think of any right now.

My commute to work is not much longer than my old commute -- about 30 minutes instead of 20, but in the opposite direction. Getting home, however, is another story, as I found that the city of Minneapolis is apparently in a perpetual rush hour, with both morning and evening traffic in to the city being the heaviest traveled. Since I have to drive in to Minneapolis from St. Paul to get home, it can take me anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour to get to my daughter's school to pick her up, much less home from there.

The interstate backs up to an imperceptible crawl, which has required some new exploration on my part -- on to city streets I go, winding through some St. Paul neighborhoods, some Minneapolis neighborhoods, and finding new routes and new sights along the way.

Which has led to my discovery of the Seward neighborhood.

Seward (pronounced SOO-wird) is just south of downtown Minneapolis, and I cut through it on Franklin Ave. It is an interesting, eclectic mix of old and new. There is a significant East African presence, primarily Somali immigrants, who have settled here, resulting in an amazing mix of grocery stores and restaurants. When I first get on Franklin Ave, I can smell the fresh garlic smell of one of the neighborhood restaurants. I haven't figured out which one, but I plan on finding out. Later on down the street, I pass the Franklin Ave Bakery, a two-story building, and the yeasty smell of fresh baked bread overwhelms the senses. The smell literally wafts through the vents of my car in this cold weather; I can't wait to smell it when the weather is warmer.

I go through a little retail area with lots of pedestrian crosswalks. There are lots of people walking here. They are waiting for buses, leaving work, walking to one of those grocery stores for some provisions before heading home. There's one building in particular that always has a lot of traffic when I'm going by, people visiting out in front, students coming and going. I finally got a closer look and saw that it's a branch of the library. It looked so vibrant it made me want to stop to see what that library had that other Minneapolis library branches didn't have.

There are some new buildings along this area -- those retail/residential mix buildings that are so popular right now. Yet you won't see many chain retail stores taking up the retail spaces, they seem to be mostly local or niche businesses.

Within all of this is a mix of struggle and success. There are several community outreach organizations operating in the area: an employment and training center, a Native American community center, a trade and skills center, along with a store to sell the goods that they trained people to make. And then there are the accompanying successes of those efforts: the locally owned artisan store, the immigrant owned grocery store, the East African pottery place.

The first time I drove through this area I was a bit worried about where I was at -- I was surprised when I checked the street signs and they all said "South Franklin," or "South 26th Ave." Here I was, 6 miles north of my Minneapolis home, and I was still in SOUTH Minneapolis. I need to get out more.

Recently Lindsey began taking a Saturday morning art class at one of the local shops there, a place called Articulture. She is loving this class, and I am loving that I get to explore a new neighborhood while she's there. Can't wait to expand my horizons.


  1. Sounds like I need to take some pictures of that wonderfully eclectic area to prove it exists.

  2. You raise a point that I've thought about for years. Others of my age, in discussions, have said it is like they lost 20 years of their life and weren't aware of the passage.

    You have not lost 20 years, but you are in the routine of providing for family, working at a job, establishing a career and being busy trying to enjoy weekends.

    I never had a commute like you do. I did have half an hour or so to travel, but I never had the brutal traffic conditions to frustrate me. What I did end up with though is a drive to get to my destination ASAP. There are people who travel and stop and look and explore. I rarely did that, almost never. I wish I had a greater interest in my surroundings because there is so much to see and learn about.

    Your interest in this area is obvious. I encourage you to stop occasionally, buy a loaf of bread for that night's dinner. Explore a shop, or just take 10 minutes to walk the street and get a feel for the neighborhood. Even if you have to leave work a little early to do that.

    I know there are kids to pick up, and obligations and I don't suggest for a minute that you abandon them. However poke some room for you. Wayne has picked up a passion for running long distances. I read about you attending those events or taking the girls for some Mom/Kids time. That is great, however in some few years they will have their own activities to enjoy and you'll be alone. So push and poke some time for just you, it may allow you when you are 60 to feel like you didn't lose 20 years someplace.

    I love you a lot and you are a special person, just some advice from Old Dad.

  3. That's where I live! I love that Seward is my home. It is made up of such a wonderful group of people from all over the world in just a few blocks. Plus, so many great places to eat and art galleries. One block away from our house is the birchwood cafe. You need to eat there if you haven't. I walk to the seward co-op for groceries, the French bakery 3 blocks away for fresh bread, and walk along the river in the mornings (when it is warm enough). Oh, and you have to check out True Thai on Franklin. Often voted the best in Minneapolis but also made a top 100 Thai list for the whole US! In the spring give me a call and we can go to Brackett park (technically Longfellow)--great park with really cool playground equipment. Oh, and a cafe specializing in cupcakes is opening a block away from our house in the spring. Dangerous!