At the Streets.mn Contributors’ Workshop in February, managing editor Amy Gage hosted a panel titled Show and Tell, featuring several contributors ranging from newcomers to veterans. That discussion was recorded, and we are pleased to present it now on the Streets.mn Podcast feed!
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Our theme song is Tanz den Dobberstein, and our interstitial song is Puck’s Blues. Both tracks used by permission of their creator, Erik Brandt. Find out more about his band The Urban Hillbilly Quartet on their website.
This episode was hosted by Amy Gage, edited and transcribed by Ian R Buck. We’re always looking to feature new voices on the show, so if you have ideas for future episodes, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ian: [00:00:03] Welcome to the Streets.mn Podcast, the show where we highlight how transportation and land use can make our communities better places. Coming to you from beautiful Seward, Minneapolis, Minnesota. I am your host, Ian Buck. Wait. Seward Not Frogtown? That’s right. I’m moving right now, and all of my studio equipment is packed away, so I probably sound pretty different than usual, but we can talk about the move another day. Today we are presenting a panel discussion from the Streets.mn Contributors Workshop back in February. In case you didn’t know, Streets.mn Is a shared community blog, so just about anybody who has an idea for a piece that has to do with transportation, land use, you know, as long as you are imagining how we can improve our communities, how we can make the world a better place, like just about anything goes. And it’s a wonderful community of people who want to think about these things and want to contribute to that conversation. And so, yeah, this workshop was organized to help kind of get people over that first hurdle of like what, you know, what do I need in order to start off? And, and I imagine also there was probably some stuff there for, for folks who have done it a few times to kind of up their game.
Ian: [00:01:31] And I would also like to highlight that the podcast as well follows under that, that concept. I would love to hear stories from more people who have ideas for podcast episodes. I really want to have a broader community of folks producing stories for the podcast. I know that the pool of people who are interested in producing audio content is a lot smaller than the pool of people who are interested in writing written content. But if you are at all interested in making podcast episodes, no matter how much experience you have, I would love to have you, you know, come talk to me about story ideas that you have and and we can we can get you going. I teach a podcasting class at a high school. I’m very used to helping beginners and, you know, working with folks who have a lot of experience. So, um, so that’s my pitch for the podcast. With that, I’ll turn you over to Amy Gage, who is the managing editor at Streets.mn And the moderator for this recorded panel.
Amy: [00:02:50] I’m very excited about this portion of the workshop. For those of us who are professional writers, writing isn’t easy. It’s never easy. But but we can do it for folks who have good ideas and may not be professional writers. You know, there’s there’s angst beyond the usual proverbial writer’s blocks. And so these four writers, one of whom is a veteran with Streets.mn And three of whom are relatively new to Streets.mn, are going to share with you their personal experiences. And we also hope for a lot of audience interaction. So I referenced earlier that the golden rule of writing is show, don’t tell, but we are dubbing this show and tell. I’m going to ask each writer to introduce herself or himself and to as part of that introduction, to say why I write for Streets.mn. So I will call on you individually. Dan Gjelten, why don’t we start with you? Okay.
Dan: [00:03:52] All right. My name is Dan Gjelten. I, about a year and a half ago retired from a career in libraries. I started out my my work at the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library, as a matter of fact, as a reference librarian there. And then the next three decades at the University of Saint Thomas, which is where I met Amy, as a matter of fact. So you could say I had a career based on fact checking and and information literacy. And it’s always been a huge value for me that people understand how to use information correctly. And I think it’s become an even more an even more important need in the last probably in the last ten years as misinformation and malinformation and disinformation are. We’re flooded with that every day. So so that’s sort of the that’s sort of where I came from. I also was interested in writing and started out in journalism school, as a matter of fact, before I switched over to libraries. So I was really as I was thinking about what I was going to do in retirement and had no answer for the question, What are you going to do after you retire? I’m quite old, so I’m like, I don’t. You know how long I’m going to live.
Dan: [00:05:04] So why do I have to worry about that? But. And I just said to Amy on the way over, for somebody my age to be doing something new and for the first time, it’s kind of cool. It’s actually really cool to be a new writer at my age. I mean, it’s neat. So, um, so that appealed to me. I think my, I think my stories have been a little bit outside the the box for Streets, but I have really, really enjoyed doing them. I think I, I’ve always said one of the best qualities for a good librarian is curiosity. And I just like every day I have, there’s something I’m like, why is it that way? Why does how does that happen? How did we get here? What’s this? What is this all about? How does that work? And that’s kind of where my stories come from. And I and I, I in every case, have asked Amy if she thinks that. Does that make sense? Does that sound like a good that could that work for Streets. I have some stories that I think are appropriate for other places, too. But but so that’s that’s how it’s worked for me.
Amy: [00:06:08] And we have a lot of good back and forth before you start writing, which I which I enjoy very much. So there’s the plug for use the managing editor. Let’s go to Pat Thompson next. Pat is the veteran here among among the writers. She’s been part of the climate committee. I know she’s very active in her own district council and been a writer for Streets for about five years.
Pat: [00:06:30] Yeah, I find it hard to believe I’m the veteran because I still feel like I’m new at this. I have been pretty actively working on climate topics, I don’t know, for 10 or 15 years and really longer than that, you know, in small ways, but doing a lot of volunteer related work for 10 or 15 years. And I started seeing transportation as the focus of that 10 to 12 years ago in mostly in my neighborhood, in Saint Anthony Park in Saint Paul. And so then I, I wrote a I have a blog that’s on lots of different topics. And I wrote a post about five years ago on about the slip lanes in Saint Paul and Bill Lindeke read it. And he said, you know, you should put this on Streets. And I was like, Oh. And I’d been reading Streets off and on and and so that’s kind of how I started and that’s why it’s around that date. And so generally why I’ve continued writing, I think for Streets and wrote more after the Climate Committee got started, which was very important in increasing the amount I wrote, I would say thank you Street Climate Committee, which needs people to keep it going again. We were just talking is I believe in contributing to society and I think I see Streets as a part of that. I see I believe in holding public space. And again, I see streets as an aspect of public space itself, as a website, as a modern version of public space. And I really believe in supporting the mission basically of of Streets.mn. So and I think we should all read it once a week if you’re involved.
Amy: [00:08:08] So on a day when it is what, maybe it’s 15 out there, I want to do a little plug for the picnic for the August picnic, which will be coming up. And that is where I met Ed Steinhauer, who came up and introduced himself. And then we had, I don’t know, a 60 minute phone conversation, I think, with Ed talking through some of the things he’d like to write. And I’m delighted that you’re doing so now for Streets.
Ed: [00:08:34] So at first I have to say to point out that this old man sitting next to me, we were talking before, before lunch about some of the stuff he does for fun, which includes riding his bike to New Orleans and to New York. And where else did he say, you’re going to go to Montana? Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. So so just put that in perspective. And I’m saying that to say I’m an urban cyclist and I’m pretty proud of that because I ride, oh, ten miles. Um, anyway, so yeah, so that’s what I utility cycling that the idea that, that you use your bike to get places and do things and once one day I was taking my son on a bike ride someplace and encountered a, oh, there was a neighborhood organization that was, that was tabling, getting petitions and it’s it’s an organization that names itself after a maritime distress signal. [crowd laughter] And I just got so mad because what they were upset about and what they were threatened about is bike riders riding through the neighborhood. Anger is a great motivating force. And when I heard that there was this picnic in in the summertime, I went and and as Amy said, got to talking and and it just got so mad talking about these issues and and the things that motivated me to to take up this lifestyle. And and Amy has been very encouraging. And and effusive praise is is a great it’s a great pay it’s that’s that’s you know we get paid in compliments so that’s what that is.
Amy: [00:10:14] Well and I will say with Ed Steinhauer in the room and Max Singer in the room, Andy Singer is not in the room. I am very proud as a former journalist that I think Streetman has done the most consistent and progressive and accurate coverage of this Summit Avenue debate, which is just becoming ugly in in the city of Saint Paul. And so, Ed, I thank you for that. Lisa Nelson is co-chair of the Transportation Committee for Union Park District Council. That is how we met. And she can further introduce herself and talk about why you write for streets, right?
Lisa: [00:10:58] Why I write for streets. I think ultimately so kind of in a way why I write for streets is because I live near where the soccer stadium is was built and I lived there before the soccer stadium. And when the soccer stadium started to be planned, I saw an advertisement in the Villager saying that Union Park was starting a transportation committee, and I thought that would be a good way to find out what was going on with the soccer stadium. And then like transportation and neighborhood issues just kind of like have sucked me in and now I’m here. My background is more in art, and I used to do art conservation. I did a lot of writing, but it was all academic. So writing in this kind of context has been new for me, but it’s been really it’s been a great learning experience. And I mostly kind of wanted to just kind of share some of the projects I’ve been kind of working on and my experience with with getting around town with my kids and doing neighborhood projects with my kids.
Amy: [00:12:01] So before we turn it over to all of you and we hope that you will have questions of our panelists, I these four writers do many things very well. But there’s one particular thing that stands out to me about each writer, and these are not gotchas. We talked about this on our on our Zoom call the other night, but I would like to start with Pat. Pat Thompson, ask you to reflect upon what I see as the observational nature of your writing. You strike me as someone who is very present in her community, in her city, and you find stories out of that. So for folks who are sitting here thinking, I’d like to write, but I don’t know what story to write, could you talk maybe with some examples about some of the stories that you’ve observed that are some of the things you’ve observed and then turned into stories for us?
Pat: [00:12:55] Yeah, I made a list. Amy asked me to do that, so I wrote a post called What It Takes to Have Nice Things, which is one of my favorite posts. There is a median on Raymond Avenue at Energy Park that I weed, and so I spend some several times every summer weeding that median. And of course that means you’re standing in the middle of a street with cars zooming past you and you’re there for an hour or two multiple times. And so you can’t do anything but think about all those cars zooming past you. And so I wrote a post and you can find it on Streets, and it’s just a contemplation of what it’s what it’s like to be standing in the middle of a street with cars going past you at 30 or more miles an hour. And what it’s, you know, just what that’s like. And then what if we want to have nice things like planted medians, which everybody wants? How do you keep them weeded like weeds come up and like, what is it going to take if that’s like, what is a Green New Deal even mean? If if the idea is to have trees everywhere or like even the Hennepin Avenue plan, I can’t remember if I talked about it. It might have been before that plan was out. Then you would see those pictures of planted medians with petunias. And I’m like, You’re not going to plant petunias on Hennepin Avenue. Who’s going to water them? I mean, like, people don’t know how to do anything. I mean, I’m just you know, I know things about plants. Like we just had a drought for two years.
Pat: [00:14:27] Petunias need to be watered. Are they going to put in a watering system all down Hennepin Avenue? I mean, like, you know, so, for instance and then I also had a post this not as long ago about where is it assessing the stadium village green line public space in. So if you’re all familiar right next to the Green line station in stadium village where they did eight years ago or so after the Green Line station was done, there’s a pretty nice public space that was designed and built right in the middle of of Washington Avenue with seating and trees and shrubs and. And everything and it is not bad. It’s pretty good. And I think I wrote, I thought, a pretty decent post about what that space is like and I don’t know how well it’s used on a normal day. It was a Sunday in June, right between two quarters, the summer quarter and the end of spring quarter. So I don’t really know what it’s like all the time during school, but like I can assess the plants and tell you how how like well-kept they are and whether they’re suffering, you know, and whether the the tables need to be refinished and that kind of thing. So anyway, so just like what does it take to have nice things? We all think we want these nice things. What’s it going to take? And so those are a couple of examples. There’s more things have about eight posts that are kind of in it. And then I have a bunch that are rants. That’s Amy didn’t talk about my rants, so I will list right here.
Amy: [00:15:52] Well, I think I think Rants might be a good Segway to Ed Steinhauer, who I think. [crowd laughter]
Pat: [00:15:59] He only has a couple, though. I have eight!
Amy: [00:16:01] So we talked earlier about passion. And, you know, there’s passion in what interests me and there’s passion in anger. And I mean, you strike me as a writer who feels very strongly about what he writes about. Could you share some of the posts you’ve done? The turning left being being one that comes to mind, for example?
Ed: [00:16:22] Oh, yeah. So I don’t know, that seems like that’s just a nuts and bolts minutia thing that everybody who who carries a helmet inside public spaces knows something about because it has to do with the interface between cyclists and motorists. And I don’t know if it was that striking because I think I try to go out of my way to say that most of the interactions you have with people passing you by or at stop signs, people tend to be very deferential. But there’s the one situation where we find ourselves where we have to be in front of people in order to turn left. It’s just that one thing where that that seems to to. I talk about the Bill Bixby slash Bruce Banner moment, which maybe is only relevant to people who are familiar with the MCU when when when you when you do that, one thing that makes people so mad, they just their eyes go crazy and they start to turn green and split their clothes. And that’s being in front of a motorist because you have to turn left and you’re sticking your left hand out. And all the times when I’ve been scared for my safety is when I have triggered somebody and and and somebody had this spit rage kind of exchange with me at an intersection saying, you need to know what the law is. So I said, oh, okay, I guess I’ll find out. And guess what? There’s a law and guess what? We’re allowed to turn left. So and I think it’s just like I took it for granted that it would be a moment of catharsis for anybody who’s been through that situation and says, yes, it’s we don’t have to be on the the farthest right part of the intersection and then cross several lanes of traffic. Somehow that makes it into the legal code that says, no, you can you can merge into a lane of traffic and so forth. And many people here will say, oh, you can do much more than that.
Amy: [00:18:26] Lisa Nelson, you you said in our in our talk a couple of nights ago that you were one of those people who saw the “expert” quality of streets early on and that maybe that was a little intimidating for you to write what I see as one of your strengths, and I alluded to this earlier in talking about your post this week, but you seem really good at drawing stories from your life and especially your life as a mom. Could you talk a bit about that?
Lisa: [00:18:58] Yeah, and I think a lot of times, just like stories about being a parent and like mom stuff seems very like non-expert, just like very mundane. But not everyone is having the same experiences. And also not everyone who’s having those experiences has like a platform or time to go around telling people about them and really like with a lot of like transportation issues going on, like the people that I really care about being safe when we’re talking about bike lanes or anything is like little kids. So I feel like it’s kind of it’s I was like, “Oh, it’s actually a useful thing for me to do, to talk about going around biking my kids around or like doing this thing for the neighborhood kids.” And like, I don’t, I don’t I don’t have like a PhD in, in writing about kids doing stuff, but I spend a lot of time doing stuff with kids. So like, in that way, I’m an expert.
Amy: [00:19:56] Lisa also. This also reminds me that that equity and our focus on equity can come in many forms. The first story that we worked on together as writer and editor was your piece about Play Streets, and Lisa has done a lot of work with the city of Saint Paul in getting them to lower the barriers to a street being closed so neighbors can gather and children can play. And the way it’s set up now, it’s expensive, it’s time consuming. And guess where most of the National Night Out events are; in the whitest privileged neighborhoods. So Lisa’s done. I think, you know, your Play Streets article also shows that we can make a difference on equity issues in Streets. Dan Gjelten, you alluded to this when you introduced yourself, but I will say your stories are among the best reported that I work with. You do a lot of research, and your most recent story with the word I can’t pronounce the one about fires, as you said, that actually you came into that with one belief and your reporting changed that belief.
Dan: [00:21:08] Yeah, I mean, I suppose it’s because of my career, but I do really I still believe in facts and that there are there are realities in the world that we ought to all agree on, even though we don’t. But yeah, my in that case, a friend of mine, I’ve been a lifelong lover. I’ve been a camper. I have always liked having a fire in my fireplace and having a fire outside. And I just I love it. I love the smell of wood smoke. And a friend of mine said, Well, you know, that’s the worst possible thing for the air, don’t you? I’m like, No, it’s not. And we can’t have fun anymore, can we? And I thought, Well, maybe I should just look into it. This is one of those moments where, well, I mean, it’s like it’s like digging, digging into the statutes and finding out what the statute actually says about turning left. There are experts that know about air pollution and where air pollution comes from. So I just started talking to them. And in fact, it’s pretty bad for the air. So I had the word, by the way, is hygga, hygga. It’s a Danish word for coziness. And so I, I really did sort of change my I mean, I went into it thinking, you’re just overreacting, but I came out of it thinking, yeah, I mean, I’ve got to be more careful. And there are ways you can mitigate the bad effects of having having wood fires.
Amy: [00:22:31] Let’s, Ed did you want to say something?
Ed: [00:22:33] I wanted to go back to Lisa for a sec because there’s something that I think needs to be said and you need a man to say it because there’s a lot of people who like to mansplain about what what we do. And I hear a lot of voices saying that this is just something that privileged white men do. And to the point about like being an expert, you’re an expert. And and so we need more women to tell us what life is like outside of that perspective that people think. So yeah, the mansplaining that I’m doing right now. Sorry. But no, I think and but I think I think to the point of a citizen journalist of telling your story, which is not something that people who actually do take their kids to go and collect groceries and a bicycle, that’s a story that needs to be told. So that’s one to make sure that gets clear.
Amy: [00:23:26] Are there any questions from the audience? We don’t have a lot of time left, but any questions? Yes, Steve.
Ian: [00:23:39] At this point in the recording there was a question from the audience, but the audio is pretty hard to understand. So I’m going to kind of repeat what was said in this section, because the folks were very, very far away from the microphones. So the question from the audience was, is there a mechanism for paying people to write? When Streets.mn Is an all volunteer organization, it automatically privileges people who have time and money and who have experience writing previously. Answer from Jenny Werness was yes. We have a program called Crosswalks that is meant to pay writers to write about communities of color, particularly people who have lived experience there. It’s a rather new program. You can see information about it at the top of the Write for Us page on Streets.mn. Jenny asked Amy, We’ve had some recent stories from that program right?
Amy: [00:24:39] Black Garnet Books was a crosswalk story, Central Honors Philando last August was a crosswalk story by a man who was a friend of Philando Castile’s, a classmate at Central High, and and who started that initiative and pulled it off five, six weeks after Philando was shot in July of 16. So, yes, we we are we are looking to pay for some content. Beyond that, I’m managing editor. I’m not on the board and I would defer to Jenny or Eric for for further explanation.
Ian: [00:25:17] And here’s what Streets.mn Board member Eric had to say. We know that we would get different content if we were paying writers for it. We are a nonprofit organization and we would have to raise the money to pay people. So that would mean either a lot more fundraising than we currently do or running advertisements on the website. We haven’t decided yet if or when we will be able to do that, but it has been on our radar for a few years that that is the obvious thing that we are missing. And Eric says that he personally debates whether we should offer pay writers a little bit as just like a thanks or do we pay writers what we think their writing and their time is actually worth, which would be substantially more, which would mean more advertising and more donations. So we just haven’t figured that out. How to do that yet.
Amy: [00:26:13] Certainly a limitation that I feel is that it is harder to follow the news and it is very difficult for me to assign stories when when writers aren’t being paid. That said, this is a community of people. I think today has really shown that you we’re not the experts. You are part of us, and there are ways to have to have influence. And I’m very proud of the site. I mean, what we what we say matters. Let’s let’s conclude. I wish we had more time, but why don’t we start at Lisa’s end? Anything you would you would like to conclude with or words of encouragement for the people in the room who may be feeling like I’m not going to get paid for this. Where do I find the time?
Lisa: [00:27:05] Well, I think one thing, like one thing about the fact that no one is getting paid to do this we’re not professional writers is. You don’t have to be a professional writer. No one is. Who’s writing all these stories. The editors and the copy editors just make everyone’s stories look good like and they can do it for your story, too. If you don’t know what you want to write about. Like having a conversation with someone. Like I’ve talked with Amy about things I’ve been thinking about, it’s it’s not as hard as it seems. And it also doesn’t have to be perfect. And that was kind of like that was kind of the thesis of my the article I wrote about like failing at my goals. And I was kind of feeling like, I don’t know if this article is good enough. It’s like, Wait a minute, didn’t you read your article? It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just just do it and see what happens.
Amy: [00:27:55] Pat Thompson.
Pat: [00:27:57] Um, I also want to just say that it doesn’t have to be long and, and a couple of photos of something where you, a place you go and what you think about it. I mean it just part of it. I always remember that one of the things that’s within the mission is delight cultivating and just recording the place that we all live is is a worthwhile thing, even if it’s a way for to get started. If you’ve not ever written before, just getting your feet wet is a good thing.
Ed: [00:28:28] Maybe one thing is that everybody has a perspective and I’ve had some some perspective changing conversations with people who had a different experience than I do. And I think that’s in reading this format. There’s there’s a lot of new perspectives. I was just looking at one of Dan’s pieces about coyotes and in the city and the things that you notice, the things that you pick up on, how you move around them might be different than what other people do is a valuable thing and is is a story worth telling.
Amy: [00:29:06] And Dan Gjelten.
Dan: [00:29:08] I guess I would say the information ecosystem is a really complex one. And I think it goes from social media and tweets and and information, which I think is information at that level to The New York Times and National Public Radio. And that citizen journalism and public journalism community journalism has a really important role in there somewhere in that system. And I don’t know if I shouldn’t even say that they lead up to something in The New York Times, But it’s all an ecosystem, and it’s really important that that citizens and the public contribute to that.
Amy: [00:29:46] And before we get to the drawing for our grand prize and two smaller prizes, my final word would be to find a reason to do this for yourself. If you’re a young person fairly early in your career, these posts can be resume builders. I started writing for Streets not only because I believed in the mission, but because frankly, I mean, I had left journalism because, yeah, it was getting hard to support a family on it and I was in higher ed and I really missed the work. And Streets was a way for me to keep my my finger in this. I am enormously proud to be part of this community and I thank Jenny and Eric for the opportunity to be here. I thought about that at the picnic last year. Like, these are the people I want to be hanging with, you know? So find a reason that it works for you, you’re citizen journalists. You’re also, I trust, pretty active citizens. And in an era of social media, your post can help you advocate for any number of things, making sure that the reconstruction of Lyndale that’s coming up in a few years is going to be bike and pedestrian friendly. You know Katie Jones, a writer. I’d like Katie whenever you’re ready. Let’s start writing about that because we need to get our voices in now.
Ian: [00:31:11] Thanks for joining us for this episode of The Streets.mn Podcast. This show is released under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial Non-derivative license, so feel free to republish the episode as long as you are not altering it and you are not profiting from it. The music in this episode is by Erik Brandt and the Urban Hillbilly Quartet. This episode was hosted by Amy Gage and edited by me. Ian R Buck. Until next time, take care.