Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Lake of the Isles Grapefruit

Yes, I have fallen behind -- waaaay behind -- on posts lately. I'd like to pretend it's because I've been so busy living the good life, hanging out outside in the warm spring weather, grilling up a storm. It's not, alas, but if you, too, are antsy for getting on with the summer, here's a local recipe to add to your collection. It comes to you from Betty Crocker's Outdoor Cook Book, published in 1961. Betty Crocker is General Mills, but you don't typically come across Minneapolis references in their cookbooks. It was a pleasant surprise to come across, then, this recipe for "Lake of the Isles Grapefruit":

Lake of the Isles Grapefruit

Remove seeds from grapefruit halves. Cut around sections, remove center. Place each half on single or double thickness of heavy-duty aluminum foil depending on method used for cooking. (Cooking on briquets requires double thickness; cooking on grill requires only single thickness.) Pour over grapefruit a mixture of 1 tsp. honey and 1 tsp. sherry flavoring. Sprinkle with 1/4 tsp. nutmeg. Wrap foil securely around fruit. Cook on briquets 5 to 8 min. or on grill 15 to 18 min., turning once. Serve one-half grapefruit per person.

I haven't tried this yet, so would be curious to hear from anyone who has/does make it. If you'd like to expand the menu and enjoy what the authors named the "Midwest Special", it's a breakfast meal consisting of orange juice, blueberry pancakes with syrup, grilled pork chops, scrambled eggs, toasted English muffins, and coffee. Or, in what I think sounds like it is, or should be, a Midwestern recipe, fry up some "Darn Goods," (page 152), which are "crisp-fried doughnut-like crips coated with cinnamon and sugar." Yum.

Fun fact: on the same shopping trip that netted me this cookbook I also picked up one of Amanda Arnold's former books. (her name was on the inside) Small world. Well, not that small; this was, after all, the Richfield Value Village, and it was a city-related book. But still...

Sunday, February 21, 2010

"Super Green" Lake of the Isles Bungalow

Today's Star Tribune has an interesting article about a Lake of the Isles LEED Platinum home. It's an interesting story, and it's an attractive house, but the more I read the more I started to wonder about how "green" we can really consider a project of this sort. First, let me admit that I don't know the details. As of right now all of my information is coming from the Star Tribune article. So please, if you have updates, go ahead and post them. All that said, let's get into the issue. First, some basic points drawn from the article:
  • 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

Dupont Residents Protest Street Paving

Paved roads: the curse of CARAG? An old photo, obviously (as in: pre-snowbanks), but just imagine what it looked like in 1915!

Did that headline catch your eye? Yes, I know I've fallen behind on posting, but I haven't fallen THAT far behind, "that far" being the year 1915. Still, given that the odds are slim to none that anyone reading this blog was around to remember the debate back the first time around, I thought it would be interesting to give it some second life in 2010.

Highlights from an article in the December 29, 1915 Minneapolis Journal ("Citizens Unite to Fight Dupont Paving"):

"Concerted opposition to the plan to pave Dupont Avenue from Lake Street to Thirty-Sixth Street South was voiced last night at a meeting of about a hundred residents of the Eighth Ward at the Calhoun Commercial Club. They oppose the plan on the ground that the paving of Dupont, which is strictly a residential street, would divert to it most of the traffic which now reaches the Lynnhurst district by way of Lyndale and Hennepin Avenue and parallel avenues, giving Dupont more traffic than should traverse it."

A committee was appointed to report back to the city.

Sort of puts things in perspective, doesn't it? People were complaining about traffic one hundred years ago, and unless things dramatically change they'll still be complaining about it next century. The modern solution of paved roads and regular stop signs seems to work pretty well. I'm not concerned about traffic volume, but definitely don't like the speeders. For more recent Dupont history, the neighborhood fought to put in a stop sign at 34th and Dupont back in the late '70s and early '80s to cut down on the speeding problem. I only remember life post-stop sign, but I do recall a few years ago (2006? 2007?) when the city temporarily removed it. It is now, thank goodness, back in place, and traffic along Dupont moves along at a reasonable speed.

Hmm... do you think we'd be restoring "character" to the neighborhood if we ripped out all the pavement and replaced it with dirt? My son would LOVE it... (or we could just flood it, let it freeze, and strap on skates to get around. Now that's an idea I could get behind...)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Save Lake Calhoun!

No, not from the dangers of tall buildings or even milfoil. Here's a taste of some of the big issues facing local residents in the winter of 1901. From the Minneapolis Journal, January 4, 1901:

"'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."

Frosty Relations

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.

Civil Discourse

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

Are YOU Happy? CARAG Residents Speak Out

You may remember last August when CARAG gathered community input for use in making NRP funding decisions. You may have even filled out one of the surveys yourself. The final results have been tallied and are being discussed; check out the full report for yourself on the CARAG website. While voluntary and therefore not fully representative, a respectable 409 respondents filled out the surveys, including a decent number of traditionally underrepresented younger people and renters. You can read the details for yourselves, but some highlights that I found interesting:
  • 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.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Updated 3005 Emerson Renderings

Hoyt Properties has provided an updated rendering of the proposed 3005 Emerson site, although they note that this, too, is subject to change. While I still can't say I like the design itself, I will concede that this rendering is far more attractive than the previous version. Clark Gassen noted that these were intended to demonstrate scale of the building more than final design details, so I'm still hopeful that whatever goes into this location will be a valuable asset to the neighborhood, both in terms of aesthetics and function.

Friday, January 1, 2010

3005 Emerson: CARAG's Next Controversial Building

Image from (additional renderings and specifics can be found there as well)

What's a neighborhood to do without a good building controversy to keep things interesting? Some CARAG residents certainly seem to follow that train of thought. I'm not criticizing, by the way; I might not agree very often with the Aaron Rubensteins and Howard Versons of the world, but I have as strong opinions as anyone else when it comes to discussing the built environment of Uptown's neighborhoods. The latest controversial project seems to be the proposed building at 3005 Emerson. Developer Clark Gassen and local firm BKV Group envision the site as a restaurant, and some preliminary renderings also show a rooftop deck in the back.

Neighbors are not, as you can imagine, happy. There's a petition going around; I haven't seen it and am not sure what is being protested, but since the site is zoned commercial I can only assume that the neighbors are protesting the requested parking variance (they're asking for only six parking spots, not eight), and probably the roof patio.

I have mixed feelings on this, and can see the pros and the cons. Let's address the negatives first:

Hideous architecture. Yeah, I know not everyone agrees with me; I know some people actually like this, and some people think while it's not exactly beautiful, it's not atrocious, either. I think it's absolutely terrible, and looks like an architecture clip art book vomited up its contents onto the rendering page. It's going to look dated in about a year, and has absolutely zero architectural charm. I know it's subject to change, but that horrible blend of brick coupled with that dark siding (or is it metal sheeting?) on top, plus those weird jutting outcroppings just scream dated-upon-arrival. Please, please, BKV Group, don't make us live with this atrocity in our neighborhood.

Do we really need another restaurant? I love restaurants, and wish I could afford to eat out more often. I don't have a problem with restaurants, necessarily, but enough already. What Uptown really needs is more daytime uses; what about an office, or maybe a medical building? Useful retail space would be okay, too. A daytime-focused use would bring more workers to Uptown during the day, while a restaurant would inevitably contribute to making Uptown and Lyn-Lake even more of an entertainment/nighttime destination. I have no problem with plentiful evening options, including restaurants and bars, but I'd really prefer not to have one on this specific site.

On to the positives:

Filling in the parking lots is a good thing. More businesses closer to housing is a good thing. It's not really a corner store, and it's not in the heart of the residential areas, but I like to have lots of businesses within walking distance. I also am happy to see surface parking lots disappear.

Potential. I hate the building, but admit it could be worse. At least it's not a drive-through credit union or a strip mall-like building with parking in front. Even an ugly building is better than a parking lot. It's also exciting to think about what new business might move in to the location, and hope it's something good.

Some final thoughts:

Parking. This is always a big one. Permit parking is the name of the game in that section of CARAG, and I'm sure parking is going to be one of the big reasons many of the critics oppose the project. I admit that I don't care much about parking, other than to admit that parking issues are important to the economic viability of most local businesses. Maybe I should say that I don't care about the parking issues for residents. If you want guaranteed parking then buy or rent a place that comes with a garage or parking spot, otherwise join the rest of us and look for street parking, take the bus, walk, or bike. Free parking shouldn't be considered a right, and parking problems for people who choose to live so close to Lake (their location certainly comes with plenty of other perks) shouldn't be something that concerns any of us. That's another topic, though. Still, parking remains an issue in Uptown and will undoubtedly continue to be a hot topic for years to come, so at least a daytime-focused business would help spread the parking needs throughout the day.

Height. Height is, of course, always another hot topic. This project is short, so the usual cries of "it's too tall!" aren't going to be heard. My complaint is that it's too short. As currently proposed, it's a one-story building with a rooftop patio. Let's skip the patio (I can see why neighbors aren't thrilled with that, and I think they have a legitimate complaint there) and put apartments or additional small office space on the second floor. A one-story (even one-story with rooftop additions) single-use property is a wasted opportunity.
So, what do you think?