Wanted: Your Full-Time Input for this Part-Time Role

Please allow me to introduce myself. I’m a familiar face — having volunteered for streets.mn since 2017 — but a new hand at a recently created role. As of last week, I became only the second managing editor of this community blog, now approaching its second decade.

The main purpose of this part-time position is “to grow the number and types of articles that we publish on Streets.mn,” according to the job description that the board of directors approved last spring. That means continuing to do what we do best — advocating to minimize climate change and for more equitable use of roads, parklands and other public spaces — while building out recurring sections, diving deeper into themes and consistently following stories as they develop.

All of that is going to require networking and research, curiosity and fearless cold calling, skills I honed during the first two decades of my career as a journalist at various magazines and newspapers in the Twin Cities.

  • Who do I know, having lived and worked both in the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota?
  • What types of stories would our board members, readers and copy editors like to see? And where might we find partners in this media-rich community to enlarge and enrich our coverage?
  • Our writers are a talented, passionate and socially conscious group. Where are they connected in various wings of the Twin Cities and throughout the state?
  • How can a greater variety of writers — people of various ethnicities, ages, geographies and gender identities — enhance our coverage?
  • Where can these sources lead us beyond the parameters and limitations of our own identities and experience?

Because increasingly, the many dedicated people who make up Streets.mn want to prioritize writing, podcasts, photography, and video by and for communities of color, an exciting and essential initiative called Crosswalks, launched under previous managing editor Jared Goyette.

Two examples: At a recent district council meeting, I heard a foundational member of Neighbors United Funding Collaborative in St. Paul ask pointedly why the monied patrons of Allianz Field don’t patronize local businesses — many owned by Black, Indigenous and other people of color — after Minnesota United soccer matches, and instead simply drive back home.

I’m losing count of conversations about the privilege of environmentalism, the luxury to prioritize living green. A white woman around age 70 who does own a car described how she is able to maintain bicycling as her primary form of transportation because she can afford the equipment — and the time. The “high visibility” she prioritizes as an aging cyclist requires bike lights, a reflective jacket, wheel rims that glow in the dark and two different trailers so she can haul groceries or other goods.

“I can afford to buy that stuff,” she said, noting also that lifelong insurance coverage has helped maintain her physical health. “I can’t get away from the privilege. I can’t take pride in what I do. I can only have gratitude.”

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving” (Albert Einstein).

I first became involved with this member-supported, volunteer-driven community blog in 2017, once my household had relocated to St. Paul, walking distance from my livelihood. Betsey Buckheit, an acquaintance from my two decades of living in (and commuting from) Northfield — and the last writer I recall who consistently focused on issues beyond the Twin Cities — was Streets.mn’s board secretary at the time. She urged me to attend a writer’s workshop.

Urban geographer Bill Lindeke, an original board member, encouraged writing that fell into the “delight cultivating” camp of our site’s core values, the sort of fun features that position Streets.mn also as an online magazine. My husband and I got tickets to a Minnesota Orchestra concert one June, pre-pandemic, provided we were willing to bike to Orchestra Hall, attend the concert in sweaty bike clothes and then write about it.

Having been a volunteer editor for the past four years, recently under the direction of Editor-in-Chief Jenny Werness, I delighted in editing some of those delight-cultivating stories: Lindeke’s piece on urbanist books for babies (complete with adorable photo of his 1-year-old ready reader) and Christy Marsden’s reverie about skating the Riverbend Trail, way up in Warroad, Minnesota.

I admire the folks affiliated with Streets.mn who get around their world without a car, and I hope to see us feature more stories about people who are striving to become multimodal in a society designed for and worshipful of cars. (See “Waking Up from the Car Cult” by Pat Thompson, a member of the Streets.mn Climate Committee.)

Can we celebrate and dream about how our landscape, quality of life and pollution quotient would improve with fewer vehicles? I watched a video last week created for the Midway Chamber of Commerce promoting the businesses and diversity of a neighborhood struggling to get on its feet again after the civil unrest of summer 2020. All I could see was the traffic and congestion in an area amply served by the Green Line light rail and Metro Transit buses.

At a recent public meeting about the Summit Avenue Regional Trail Master Plan — a heated topic that exemplifies why the debate cannot easily be reduced to a zero sum game between climate and convenience — longtime sustainability leader Mary Morse Marti raised a question that Streets.mn is obligated to answer: “What do we think is going to happen if we keep spending money on making a world for cars?”

Our focus on cars drives the pace of our society. When you walk for transportation, as I do daily, you move only as fast as your legs will take you. When you bike, your progress depends on the vagaries of the weather. When you ride the bus or train, you’re at the mercy of someone else’s schedule. You must breathe; you watch and wait. You have to pace yourself.

Help all of us at Streets.mn to expand our outlook and imagination and hold our public leaders accountable toward our mutual mission of “inclusive conversations about better places in Minnesota.” Send me your ideas: amy.gage@streets.mn. Let’s schedule a conversation. Together, we can write a better world.

Photo at top courtesy of Randy Lisciarelli on Unsplash

Amy Gage

About Amy Gage

Amy Gage is managing editor of Streets.mn. A former journalist, she writes a blog about women and aging (themiddlestages.com) and recently was named executive director of Friends of the Parks & Trails (of St. Paul & Ramsey County).

2 thoughts on “Wanted: Your Full-Time Input for this Part-Time Role

  1. Jenny WernessJenny WernessModerator  

    We are so happy to have you in this role, Amy!! Looking forward to working with you (again/still/more) 🙂

  2. J Baxter

    Waking up in a world magically without cars or trucks of any kind could be a b-list dystopian movie, starting out comically with people fighting over toilet paper and leading to riots as people begin to run out of food. Am I being absurd? A little, but the implied notion that society can replace motorized vehicles as the dominant form of transportation is equally absurd.

    The answer to Ms. Marti’s question, “What do we think is going to happen if we keep spending money on making a world for cars?” Is that we are not. We are building a world for humans, and that world must address the very human need for transportation. Ms. Martin’s framing of the question is the opposite of “delight cultivating”— it is a shallow retort that serves to divide, and shuts down any meaningful discussion. Describing the world today as a “world for cars” is overly simplistic, and frankly makes villains out of regular folk who may not have the luxury of time to walk, or of money to have their groceries delivered (by someone else in a car), or the ability to bike, or a job in proximity of any means of transporation other than the car. People who want to be able to park within a safe and reasonable distance of their apartments, or people with limited mobility, people who have schools and businesses on Summit who rely on the access of on-street parking, these people are not being “worshipful of cars”; they’re just trying to get to work or church, stay safe on the streets, take care of their families. The question as phrased offers no realistic contribution, or invitation to discuss, the problems we face related to our transportation system.

    Your posited question is more realistic: “Can we celebrate and dream about how our landscape, quality of life and pollution quotient would improve with fewer vehicles?” YES — we can do that. And not just dream, but PLAN for it. How do we get there? The answer is not bikes bikes and more bikes. (I write this as a privileged white guy who bikes a lot, but who can also recognize that I can bike to work because I have showers there, and because my wife drives the kids to doctors appointments and soccer and school.) Getting to fewer vehicles is a longer answer–with phrases, commas, and stages. To truly decrease the role of the motorized vehicles first and foremost we need more robust public transportation, but of course that takes time. So, we need to start with working toward fewer vehicle miles driven. We need to make the pedestrian realm safer and more inviting. Our feet (or wheels, for some) are the most basic form of transportation. We need reasonably close destinations (we have this much better in the city already, compared to the suburbs) so we can use sidewalks for as many tasks as possible — so we can walk as much as possible to and from home, between tasks, maybe to work, school, and to the new and improved public transport network; and then, yes, there is a nice-sized role for bikes, too. In the near term, we might need a little more parking, as people can do more tasks by bike or just in their shoes, that car we can’t get rid of yet might just need to sit on the street more. In time, we can transition form fewer vehicle miles to fewer vehicles. We could even work toward removing all the personal vehicle off the roads in the city center– as some European cities are doing now — but we need to recognize that there will continue to be roadways for motorized vehicles. We need point-to-point services, and that will be done by motorized vehicles (we’re not going back to horses) for the deliveries of goods to shops and orders to homes; we need roadway for emergency, construction and maintenance and utility services, etc. There will continue to be vehicle roadways even within the center core, and many many more outward: leading to and from the city center. So, we also need to focus on decreasing the carbon footprint of those vehicles, including transit vehicles. Most importantly, we need to continually work to make all modes safer, to lower vehicle speeds and design our streets for humans to be safe, regardless of whether they’re on the feet, on a bike, or on a bus train or in a car.

    So, yes, let’s cultivate delight by celebrating those stories about people “who are striving to become multimodal” in our society, striving for fewer and fewer vehicle miles driven. Let’s be sure to present these as positive examples, and do so without villanizing or dismissing the needs of our neighbors and businesses who can’t get there yet.

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