Last Friday I wrote about walking in Saint Paul with a focus on safety. Today, I want to share some thoughts on the pleasures and benefits of walking as I have experienced it. I’ll also talk briefly about how a Saint Paul Pedestrian Plan might help get more people walking.
Until recently, most of my explorations have been within my own neighborhood, Union Park, where many residential streets are lined with 100-year-old houses. Stately trees provide shade for the sidewalks, and thanks to our recent perfect mix of rain and sun, lawns are a vibrant green, and lilacs, tulips, bleeding hearts and dandelions show off the full range of nature’s palette. From time to time, you may also come on surprising signs of little people living in the roots of trees.
One man-made element I see frequently are Little Free Libraries, each with its own particular selection of books. I always wonder who the people are who left the books, and what made them decide to pass them on. Who will pick them up? And will they really read them when they get home, or set them aside for later, when they hope to have more time? Which books will end up as keepers in a new home, and which will once again be returned to a Little Free Library to tempt the next passerby?
Another attraction that makes my walks rewarding is the prospect of discovering new sculptures or murals along the way, especially in people’s yards or on the boulevard in front of a house. Over the last few months, I’ve come on three large, wooden art pieces that I found especially intriguing. One was in my neighborhood at the corner of Hague and Pierce avenues. It’s a painted tree trunk in front of a local artist’s house. Apparently, when the tree died and was to be cut down, the artist, Hend El-Mansour, persuaded the forestry department to leave the bottom ten feet of the tree standing. She then peeled off the bark and painted images of women around the trunk, clad in costumes reflecting her Saudi Arabian cultural origins.
I came upon another large sculpture last week when I was walking near Macalester in Tangletown. I’m not sure what it represents, but it certainly caught my eye. Now I’m curious; can anyone tell me more about it?
Finally, when I went walking in Crocus Hill with a friend yesterday, she introduced me to a replica of the Statue of Liberty in someone’s front yard. Since I was raised on the east coast and lived for many years in New York City, it was fun to find a reminder of my past here in Saint Paul. I also noted that all three of these pieces of art are made of wood; with one rooted in the ground and the other two carved from large tree trunks, I assume they are all products born of strong, native Minnesotan stock.
The three tall sculptures would be hard to miss, but there’s another type of art that requires attention to the pavement under your feet, or you may miss it. Of course, I’m referring to “Poetry on the Pavement”, a program initiated in 2008 by Marcus Young, St Paul Artist-in-Residence. Public Art Saint Paul sponsors the program, which takes advantage of opportunities to add a poem whenever a section of pavement is being replaced. As a result, poetry is now embedded in sidewalks all across the City of Saint Paul.
I’ve known of the Sidewalk Poetry project for some time, but only recently learned that there is a map on the Public Art Saint Paul website that shows the locations of poems all around the city. This will be a great tool to encourage pedestrians to seek out new verses.
There are many things that can be done to encourage more people to move around Saint Paul on foot — completing the sidewalk network, allowing more time for pedestrians to cross the street, installing better lighting, and providing interesting things to see along the way: Little Free Libraries, statues, poetry under foot, and much more. Many people think it would be a good idea to create a Pedestrian Plan for Saint Paul to pull all these elements together, set goals and monitor progress toward a more walkable city.
On Wednesday, May 20th, 6:30-8:00 pm, the District Councils Collaborative of Saint Paul and Minneapolis (DCC) is hosting a roundtable discussion on what should be included in such a plan. We’ll begin with a brief overview of the Minneapolis Pedestrian Plan, followed by a panel responses and an open discussion. The roundtable will be held at the Western District Police Station at 389 Hamline Avenue N, Saint Paul. It’s free, and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.
Please join us on Wednesday, May 20th at 6:30 pm if you’d like to learn about the Minneapolis Pedestrian Plan and share your ideas about what policies and implementation measures should be included in a Saint Paul Pedestrian Plan. For more information, go the DCC website.