When Bill Lindeke reminded me that streets.mn turns 10 round about now, I was sort of surprised – it feels both younger and older than 10 simultaneously. In 1867, 154 years ago, the Minneapolis Tribune was founded; it remains with us today. Ten years ago streets.mn launched, so has been around for about 6.5% of the life of the Strib. Will streets.mn be around in 144 years? Will the Strib?
We founded streets.mn back in the era of blogging, with the idea that all of us who wrote blogs about Twin Cities transport and land use issues would get more views at one address together than at 10 separate URLs apart. That worked out reasonably well. For the first couple of years we had exponential growth in readership. I was the Chair for the first 4 years (4 years longer than I wanted to be).
At first I imagined it would be a place to argue about the merits of topics like Minneapolis skyways or arterial buses vs LRT (I hope the answer is becoming more obvious with the H line being planned). Billions of dollars are being spent on transport infrastructure, and it is hard to believe it is being invested well.
But things took a dark turn. This is not so much because the world changed, though it did, but more because we became unavoidably aware (with a phone in every pocket, cameras and social media) of how it always was.
Someone said the role of journalism is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Streets.mn should agitate for more systemic change, and this will inevitably afflict the comfortable. Very few people reading this would look around and see that everything is alright. We might disagree about what needs changing or how it should be changed, but it should not be that hard to agree on a few things that are the opposite of ideal. I am disappointed to regularly see Minneapolis on the forefront here in Sydney: Justine Damond remains front page news. And Minneapolis claimed the front page the world over with the murder of George Floyd. This follows the case of Philando Castile in nearby Falcon Heights.
Police on civilian violence is very much a transport and land use issue that should be within the purview of streets.mn, foremost because this violence often occurs on public streets, and is justified by police stops purported to enforce traffic safety regulations. But the violence has a chilling effect on the willingness to use streets, to go places, to be able to access the amenities that cities uniquely provide. This kind of state-sanctioned violence, in which everyone is implicitly complicit, is far worse (per victim) than the terrible epidemic of civilian on civilian violence which is also found in excess throughout the United States, and is yet one more aspect of unfortunate dysfunctional American exceptionalism.
The reason we build cities and transport networks is so that people can readily access people, places and activities that they value, while maintaining their ability to access other things in the future. Maintaining that ability means being able to do things at a low cost. That cost includes not only their travel time and monetary expenditures, but the costs they impose on society like pollution and carbon emissions. But it also needs to include both a feeling and reality of safety and security, the belief that anyone can make a trip and return in one piece, uninjured by either car or bullet and unharassed by police or other people.
When your great-grandchildren read streets.mn in 2165, will Minnesota have at least solved the problems of today?