Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Sunday, February 21, 2010
- This is a new home. And more significantly, it's not just a new home: it's a new home sitting on a lot that was, until recently, housing its original 1926 bungalow.
- Hicks is quoted as saying she had intended to "fix" the original house, but "when she discovered how much it would cost to fix what needed to be fixed, including the foundation, the electricity, the plumbing, and the outdated 6-by 12-foot kitchen with three doorways, Hicks decided it made more sense to build a new house -- one that didn't look new."
- The original house was "just under" 2000 square feet; the new home is 3,300 square feet, including the finished basement. The new space does, however, cost only one quarter of what the original did to heat.
- Final quote from the architect: "you should be able to take any style house and make it green."
I tend to be firmly on the side of historic preservation, but at the same time readily acknowledge that not every house can or should be saved. But this article really has me wondering: did the original house REALLY need to be destroyed? Maybe it did; I don't know the extent of what needed to be fixed. And I know it's not fair to start questioning without having all the details. But I'm always wary whenever people start throwing around things like "fixing" a small kitchen. A dangerous foundation or broken plumbing or other serious issues might indeed need fixing, but throw in mention of a small kitchen and my skepticism radar starts going up. Did all of those things really need to be fixed? Was the house in such bad shape that it required demolition? Sometimes houses do, and that's part of a neighborhood's evolution. But it's also true that there's a history of wealthy homeowners out there who want a house that looks old, but they don't really want the older house. They want the big kitchen, the enlarged square footage, and yes, the added energy efficiency and other similar perks. I don't have a problem with that, as long as they're not tearing down existing homes that don't need to be torn down. And by "need" I don't just mean they need to have a kitchen with an island. And if they do unnecessarily tear something down because they want a new house, then they'd better not call label themselves green. (Again, apologies to Jennifer Hicks, as I don't know if this applies to her situation or not.)
This isn't an attack on Jennifer Hicks or her architect; they did a nice job with the house, and it fits in well (although I'd be equally fine with a well-designed modern house, too) and shows that new construction doesn't have to look like a McMansion in Eden Prairie. I would, however, be curious to know just how uninhabitable the previous home was when she bought it. Mostly, I'm tired of reading all of the rah-rah puff pieces on LEED certified buildings and "green" consumerism. Again, not Hicks' fault, but where's the story of the many, many other people who buy existing homes? (rhetorical question: yes, I know, that doesn't make a good story. It's old news.) That's more environmentally friendly than ripping something down and building new, even if the old house was in terrible shape and the new house built to LEED platinum standards. Modern society seems to think that we can all just buy our way into "greenness;" just put up some low-VOC paint, an Energy Star refrigerator, and some bamboo flooring. All of this is great, of course, and new construction should absolutely seek to be as environmentally-friendly as possible. But all this attention on the new stuff distracts from the bigger issues. At risk of looking really grumpy, the article makes me ask: does it really make sense for one person to live in 3,300 square feet of space in the city, for one? (I wouldn't typically bring that up, but it seems a relevant question in the context of an article about a "super-green" project)
Or, when the architect says "you should be able to take any style house and make it green," I'm really not all that interested in how that works for new construction. That's fine, and someone has to be concerned about it, but the environment would be far worse off if everyone in Minneapolis rushed out to demolish their homes and build new "green" historic-looking homes in their places. It would be nice to see a bit more attention paid to existing houses retrofitted to make them as energy efficient as possible, as well as some debate or guidance over which environmental upgrades to existing properties are worth it (from a green perspective -- both the cash and the environmental kind of green) and which ones aren't. Because really, with the large number of houses already standing -- just take a look at all the empty foreclosures around (although admittedly not by Lake of the Isles) -- it's hard to get really excited about the environmental credentials of someone knocking down something old and putting up something new.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Paved roads: the curse of CARAG? An old photo, obviously (as in: pre-snowbanks), but just imagine what it looked like in 1915!
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
"'Save Lake Calhoun' is the watchword of a movement inaugurated this morning.
Residents of the growing community on the east shore of Calhoun have awakened to the fact that two-thirds of the expanse of the lake has been staked off by the ice companies, and ice fifteen inches thick will be cut off in this whole area. The lake is fed only by subterranean springs, and is now sixteen inches than it was ten years ago. Two companies, the Boston Ice Company and the Cedar Lake Ice Company, have been cutting there for several years, but this winter, it is announced, will cut ice on the lake for commercial purposes. They have already staked off more than twice the area taken any previous winter, and the situation is getting serious. Ice boating is practically ruined for this winter, in itself sufficient grievance, but the danger of reducing the city's beauty spot to a marshy pond has aroused the neighborhood."
"Put a stop to the evil."
Outraged residents circulated a petition to put a stop to the excesses. According to Secretary Ridgeway of the Park Board, the ice companies owned property on the shore, and were thus entitled to do as they liked out on the ice. "Our jurisdiction extends only to the shore," he told the Journal, "and we have no rights on the lake."
The scene is set
What did the lake look like when carved up by so many ice cutters? It was quite a different scene than today, certainly. According to the Journal, "each ice company has staked off a tract of ice, planting small evergreens about thirty feet apart to make the limits plain. Then, to prevent ice boats and skaters from crossing, the tract is fenced in with blocks of ice."
Approximately fifty ice boats were kept docked up at Ewing's dock; the paper notes that the owners used to "tie them up on the bank wherever they pleased," but ice workers allegedly began to cut their ropes and even "used some of the boats roughly." Meanwhile, the employees of the ice companies depended on their access to the lake for their livelihoods, and presumably weren't always sympathetic to the recreational needs of those lucky enough to own ice boats.
One of the things that impresses me most about this story isn't the sheer magnitude of the ice cutting operations, although obviously that's significant. From a more modern perspective, I appreciate that the opponents of the ice cutters generally seemed to be taking the high road when it came to voicing their opposition. A sample quote from one of the local petitioners, Dr. J.W. Penberthy of Calhoun Boulevard:
"It is a downright shame to see one of the beauty spots of Minneapolis so despoiled. It is of the interest of every one in Minneapolis to see that it is preserved. I do not want to see a hardship inflicted on any one, and as the companies have begun their winter's work and have money invested in their plants, it might not be just to stop the work this winter. But eventually the work must come to a stop. The sentiment of the whole community must be aroused against it."
I like this. Short, to the point, doesn't resort to talking about evil outsiders out to destroy the community in the name of commercial gain. It seems a legitimate attempt to balance, or at least acknowledge, the varied needs of the community (the article also cites the many jobs created by the ice cutters), while still standing firm on the proposed ultimate solution. The ability to look at the issue as a whole, and to at least consider the various implications of action, is something that today's residents can take to heart. We might not agree on final solutions (and today's aren't as pressing -- and uncontreversial -- as the obvious dangers of draining a lake), but we should be able to find at least some common ground when talking about the pros and cons of current issues.
Monday, January 18, 2010
- Nearly everyone (98.5%, to be exact) said they were somewhat or very satisfied with the neighborhood. The numbers did vary a bit with age, with younger people (18-34) more satisfied than the 55+ crowd.
- Crime was the number one issue. No surprise there, I don't think. While I think some people's perception is off ("crime is high"), obviously while CARAG isn't a high-crime neighborhood it's also not without its problems.
- Transportation was cited as important by three quarters of respondents, but the written comments made it clear that people defined "transportation" in very different ways. Some took it to mean light rail or public transportation, others read it to mean parking, while others focused on speeding on residential streets.
And now to the good, or at least interesting part... the comments. I love reading these, as it's interesting to see how drastically opinions can vary. Most of them were reasonable or straight-forward (i.e. petty crime is a problem, street lights are out, etc.), but there were a few that deserve to be pulled out for special consideration.
"Gang graffiti is everywhere." I'm not criticizing this one; I just have a question. I've been meaning to look more into this myself, but is gang graffiti really everywhere? Graffiti does seem to be an increased problem and while the weather was still warm and sunny I wandered the streets and took what seemed like hundreds of photos of examples in CARAG and other Uptown neighborhoods. But is it gang-related? Any gang experts out there? I know there's gang activity in neighborhoods like Lyndale, but how far over does it reach? Is CARAG's graffiti problem gang-related in nature? If so, what gangs are most active in the area? I'll have to do some more research into this, as I have some major gaps in my knowledge here.
"Neighborhoods look old and run down." There are some individual properties that look run down, but I think that as a whole the neighborhood looks pretty good. Then again, I'm happy with places looking "old," although not "run down." (would be worse to be new and run down, though!)
“The increased density may lead to crime issues and transportation issues which may cause long time residents to relocate.” Ah, the old density equals crime argument. Facts need not apply. As far as transportation issues, I'm guessing the person means parking. My honest opinion? If long time residents don't like increased density then maybe they should leave. Uptown has been busier in years past, so it's not like this was every some quiet little village (at least not in most of our lifetime) that suddenly exploded in population; why would anyone move to an urban neighborhood and then complain about still relatively population density levels? I know I've said it before, but I just don't get it.
“Too many rental buildings being built. Buildings too tall now. Utter disregard for home owners.” Not to be negative or mean-spirited, and kudos to this respondent for being totally honest, but this attitude needs to be singled out as a problem in the neighborhood. "Utter disregard for home owners"? HA! Because CARAG's homeowners are oh-so-underrepresented in local politics.... Seriously, what could they possibly mean by this? Home owners are the kings of the CARAG castle. They have nothing to complain about in that regard. I'm crossing my fingers that one day (soon, I hope!) I'll be one of those poor CARAG homeowners who are so disregarded. As to the rest of it: typical. Another anti-height person. Because a five story building on Lake Street is going to bring down the neighborhood, as we all know. And rental buildings... god forbid we provide opportunities for more people to live in Uptown, including those who can't or don't want to buy. What an elitist.
In general, though, anti-renter, anti-density, anti-renter respondents aside, the results were quite interesting and useful. Everyone seems to have a shared concern for making the streets and alleys safer, so maybe we can focus more attention to addressing those issues and less time zeroing in on building height. It's also great news to see that so many people are happy with the neighborhood, despite having some legitimate concerns about livability issues. It's clearly a neighborhood worth fighting for, and this survey does its job in identifying some common ground for how to move forward in the years ahead.