Form & Function: Four Corners

I’m often intrigued by the differences in buildings on four corners of a junction — in form and function. Below are the four corners of Selby Avenue and Dale Street in Saint Paul.

This had been a vibrant area until Interstate 94 and its destruction of the Rondo neighborhood in the late 1960s. When I first moved to the Twin Cities, you generally didn’t go near here as the crime rates were too high. Businesses had moved out, storefronts were vacant, and many lots were empty. A friend’s girlfriend lived in the building in the first picture (recently remodeled) so I’d visit occasionally with him and see the beginnings of improvements.





How would you rate these in terms of form and function? How well do they relate to the street? Are they pleasing to look at? Welcoming? Nice to walk by? Should they be replicated?

Walker Angell

About Walker Angell

Walker Angell is a writer who focuses mostly on social and cultural comparisons of the U.S. and Europe. He occasionally blogs at, a blog focused on everyday bicycling and local infrastructure for people who don’t have a chamois in their shorts. And on twitter @LocalMileMN

8 thoughts on “Form & Function: Four Corners

  1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    Obviously the oldest corner has far and away the best structure, with multiple doors and business and good interaction with the sidewalk. The rest seem to be hindered a bit from being from the earlier days of redevelopment in the area.

    But this intersection fascinates me. I remember when it was perceived as Walker describes – an area you didn’t got (at least those of us in the suburbs at the time).Now it’s a highly desirable urban neighborhood. How does the fall happen? What sparks the revival? Is it all just a cycle?

    I don’t know the area well enough to have a good story to answer those questions.

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      The wiki link talks about the decline and that kind of agrees with my perception. Would it have still happened if we’d taken the European approach and not run 94 through but instead stopped all motorways at the 494/694 ring or even farther out?

      The revival seemed to be completely organic. I’m not aware of any government programs or such other than some police focus. It seemed to be people kind of one by one moving in and fixing up houses and stores on the perimeter and slowly working their way towards the center.

      1. Rich Passmore

        Organic yes, sort of. It’s a funny coincidence, but St Paul did have a grant program for homeowners to fix up properties across the city. Their offices were located upstairs from the Mississippi Market (second photo). We received $1,500 to update the exterior of our house in Merriam Park. We used the funds to help defray the cost of replacing old aluminum storm windows and stand blasting painted stucco. The loan/grant was to be forgiven if you occupied your home for at least 10 years. We’re on year 9. There are newer programs now that are targeting more troubled neighborhoods in St Paul.

        1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

          Rich, thanks for the correction.

          Speaking of the space above Mississippi Market… Interesting that it’s been vacant for so long. I’d have thought it’d be a great spot for a small biz.

          1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten

            It’s actually pretty sizable space, I was an intern for Transit for Livable Communities when it was there. The space was shared between HourCar, TLC and a non-profit focused on youth hostels, (at least), and it had to be leased and sub-leased it seemed.

  2. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    One of the better intersections in the city, which isn’t saying much on one hand, but compared to what this area was like in the 80s and 90s when I was growing up, is actually quite an accomplishment.

  3. Cindy

    I don’t like this intersection at all, because the sidewalks are way too narrow. If you look closely you’ll see the only original building on this corner has the corner sliced off with a post that creates an open triangle at the corner. That means pedestrians and drivers can see around the corner a bit before they actually reach the intersection. Most of the new buildings are the same distance from the street as the original building, but without that open corner. It’s impossible to see what is coming at those corners unless you are basically in the intersection. Unfortunately St. Paul has copied this tight street setback – but WITHOUT the corner cut-outs – all over the city as “good” new urbanist development. As a ped I hate narrow sidewalks smashed between a street and a brick wall for lots of reasons, but as a driver I find the lack of visibility dangerous. I can’t really see on-coming traffic (or a runner) and I know they can’t see me. Yeah, it’s signal controlled, but that means drivers fly through on a green or yellow, often swerving around stopped traffic trying to turn. It makes me nervous everytime I drive through here. The corner at Western is a lot better, as it is both wider and the stop sign forces all drivers to slow down.

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