Friday, June 3, 2011

Closed to cars, open to people

"Become the street. Think like the street. Be one with the street."

Grand Old Day is arriving in Saint Paul again this weekend, for the 38th time. I'm endlessly amused by their promotional video this year. Clearly this guy has a destiny as an urban planner.

I've really only been to Grand Old Day two or three times—usually I miss hearing about it until it's too late. It's a sort of proto-cyclovia event where 2.5 miles of Grand Avenue from Dale Ave to Fairview Ave in Saint Paul get closed down for an initial parade followed by events scattered all along the street (though I'm sure it's much more organized than a cyclovia is meant to be). I was impressed by the scale of it back in 2007 when I took this photo:


Some websites claim the event gets 250,000 visitors, which would make it busier than any single day of the Minnesota State Fair (their one-day record currently stands at 234,384). I suppose the fact that Grand Old Day is a "linear" fair makes it relatively easy to access, though the fairgrounds themselves stretch for nearly a mile north-south and about half a mile east-west, if you average it out. Grand Old Day is also free, unlike the fair -- can you imagine trying to fully cordon off 2.5 miles of a traditional neighborhood and charge admission?

Hmm. Well, I have actually been pondering the role of the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in a potentially more urban world. I go past it frequently since it's between my home and my workplace, and it strikes me that the place is roughly the same size as my hometown (the actual contiguous urban street grid as I knew it growing up, at least). You could easily fit a couple thousand residents on the land—no wonder my legs get so tired when I visit!—but it sits largely disused for most of the year. Sure, there are a lot of small events booked into the sturdier permanent buildings, plus a few major horse and car shows each year, but it's generally a big blob of empty streets, buildings, and parking lots.

I may have to dig deeper into the major fairs held in urban areas of older countries. Could people actually live at the fairgrounds year-round? I find it an intriguing thought.

That thought process also brings up the idea of putting the Vikings stadium on the fairgrounds rather than way out in Arden Hills. The transit patterns for the fairgrounds have been practiced for over a century at this point—originally with streetcars, and with buses for the last several decades—so it would be a much more logical place to put a new stadium (though still less logical than downtown Minneapolis).

Anyway... Hmm, I lost track of my original thought process. Ah yes—

Minneapolis is going to have a cyclovia event of its own on June 12th, Open Streets Minneapolis. It will close down about 2.3 miles of Lyndale Ave from 22nd St. to 42nd St. I'll be very interested to see how big the crowds are for that versus the well-established Grand Old Day. Of course, being a "cyclovia", it'll be much more welcoming to bikes as well.

And now, after poking at the Minneapolis cyclovia page, I am amused that Fargo beat the Twin Cities to the punch by holding an open streets event last year.

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