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News & Views: Defining Urbanism, Plus Join our Streets.mn Community

Upcoming Events

Saturday, May 11: Our first contributors’ workshop in Greater Minnesota will be in Rochester the day before Mother’s Day. Although we expect mostly local attendance, anyone is welcome to join us for presentations by photographer Wolfie Browender, podcasters Ian R Buck and Jeremy Winter, and transportation and cycling advocates Mary Morse Marti and Max Singer. Learn more at the story on Streets.mn.

Saturday, June 1: The second editorial Open Office Hours, held quarterly at a local coffeehouse with editors present and welcoming any contributors who stop by, will be at 10 a.m. in Minneapolis. It’s a relaxing way to meet your colleagues and chat with editors and writers about your story ideas. Watch the Streets.mn homepage for location and other details.

A Black Lives Matter yard sign.

In fact, a recent think piece on the merits and misperceptions of virtue signaling began over table talk at the inaugural Open Office Hours, held in February at Rafiki Coffee & Cafe in St. Paul. Confessions of a Virtue Signaler, by climate watcher and year-round cyclist Ed Steinhauer, was published on April 3, 2024.

What Is an Urbanist?

Odd as it may seem for someone who’s been involved with Streets.mn since 2017, I can’t tell you what I think an urbanist is. I don’t use the term to describe myself — a kid born and raised in Mankato, who raised my own kids in Northfield and who values the community ethos of small-town life.

Though I live smack in the middle of an urban area now — an easy 15-minute walk or less from four bus lines, the Green Line and all manner of amenities — I call myself a multi-modalist rather than an urbanist, a person who loves to walk and bike, finds mass transit calming and prioritizes driving as little as possible.

So, it was with interest and curiosity that I attended a meeting of the new Urbanist Club at Macalester College in St. Paul (whose urban studies department bills itself as “asking the big, big-city questions”) on a recent Friday afternoon. How do these students define the term that they adopted for their organization? What does “urbanism” mean to them? Is it, as some stereotypes suggest, a movement or space still dominated by white, economically privileged males?

“A lot of spaces in our society are predominantly white, economically privileged males,” one person retorted. Indeed. (I liked this feisty woman.)

The Macalester Urbanists didn’t suit the stereotype. Seven introduced themselves using she/her pronouns, with five using he/him and two using they/them. They offered no uniform definition of “urbanist” as they described their efforts to enhance and influence the world around them. They do know that the planet is on fire. Climate, one told me, is “implicit” in all they do in college — not a standalone subject that only the urbanist or environmental student groups address.

To these young adults, most of whom are new to Minnesota, urbanism has a wide range of goals and meanings. Those include:

  • Doing away with a reliance on cars. “Streets didn’t used to be designed for cars,” one person said.
  • Green spaces, road safety, public or third spaces, housing, pedestrianization.
  • The well-being of people, with a focus on inequality, justice and accessibility.
  • Small-scale or short-term interventions, such as zebra-striped crosswalks or bollards to set apart on-street bike lanes.
  • Public policy, especially “the over-policing of urban areas.”
  • Walkability, mass transit accessibility, urban farming.
  • An experiment in the challenges of city life, which include living amid density and accepting the differences among us.

We want to hear from you about how you define urbanism — or whether you define it at all! Whether you want to leave us a note or propose a full-blown article, you can drop us a line at [email protected].

Urbanism, City Nerd Style

New Streets.mn contributor Luke Birtzer defines urbanism as the antidote to a “car-dependent society” and emphasizes infrastructure that readily — and safely — not only accommodates but welcomes pedestrians, cyclists and others using wheeled devices.

When YouTube sensation City Nerd (aka Ray Delahanty) came to town, Birtzer documented for Streets.mn how more than 200 cyclists crowded into Venture Bikes along the Midtown Greenway to hear Delahanty, enjoy good food and confound some drivers once the bikers took to the streets.

On the Streets.mn Podcast

microphone with an out of focus background containing the Streets.mn logo

Host Ian R Buck drops a podcast on (or around) the 1st and 15th of each month. Ian and his growing team reached beyond the Twin Cities boundaries with two recent episodes that highlighted Bemidji’s efforts to attract telecommuters and voices from Greater Minnesota during the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota’s lobbying day at the Capitol in March.

Love What We Do? We’d Love Your Help!

Help us keep the lights on and keep growing Streets.mn. Click here to make a donation in any amount, either a one-time or sustaining gift. And if you’d like to contribute your own writing, photos or videos, contact us at [email protected]. Your voices and views are essential, too.

Photo credits (in order of appearance): Khana Ennis, embracerace.org; Streets.mn contributor Paul Nelson.

Amy Gage

About Amy Gage

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Amy Gage is managing editor of Streets.mn. A former journalist, she writes a blog about women and aging (themiddlestages.com) and contributes to the Minnesota Women's Press.