For Vancouverites, coming to Minneapolis is like radio nerds going to Signal Hill in St. John’s where Marconi sent the first wireless message or food crazies visiting Warwick, Quebec, where poutine was allegedly invented in 1957.
Because it was here in Minneapolis that the transit mall was created, in 1968, as part of the effort to bring life back into downtowns that were being sucked dry by suburbanization. It spawned a host of imitators, one of which was, in 1972, dear old Vancouver and which people fought over for decades after.
I just finished walking down the Nicollet Mall, after an exciting bus trip to St. Paul and back, and it is eerily still like the Granville Mall, with its wide sidewalks, curving look, and buses roaring down the middle. (Makes trips on the bikeshare bikes, which are allowed on the mall, feel somewhat death-defying.)
But it has some crucial differences.
For one, no entertainment district quite like what the city has created on Granville, which has driven out many other businesses and tended to attract those that can co-exist with a nightly crowd of hard partiers at the south end. Instead, it’s pretty quiet at night, with just a light sprinkling of wanderers in the shopping section and a kind of hang-out for younger black folks (but not teens — more like 20-somethings, a couple with babies) at the north end.
Nicollet was one of the city’s primary business and shopping streets before and it remains that way. It has the major department stores, as Granville does, but also two of its tallest office towers — as though the Bentall buildings were moved over to Granville.
It also appears to have moved along faster to capitalize on the attractions of the street’s wide sidewalks.
There are several blocks just south of the department stores with a lot of pubs. But those pubs are extended onto the sidewalks quite a long way, with rows of tables and chairs that are more like what Paris does with its wide sidewalks on streets like the Champs Elysees. (Not that I am FOR ONE MOMENT asserting that Minneapolis is Paris.)
As well, there’s a several-blocks-long farmers’ market that runs from 9 to 6 every Thursday. It gave the whole street a different feel today to see people coming out of the office towers to buy strawberries or fresh peas or a bunch of daisies. That, combined with food trucks both on the mall and lined up one block over from the mall, give the whole street a festive atmosphere.
But a funny thing I’ve noticed about these lively places Minneapolis has created in various spots — walk away from those clusters and the streets are dead. (We saw the same in St. Paul tonight, where there was a salsa band playing in one square, a jazz festival in another park nearby. Both places attracted a few hundred people. But the streets in between were as empty as if they’d been evacuated.)
We’re so used to our downtown streets filled with a constant trickles of people everywhere. It’s strange to walk so many of the streets downtown here and, except for the fair-like atmosphere on the mall, they’re as empty as Winnipeg’s in a snowstorm.