City Centered: Fine Whine

Urban complainers are a city’s best friend.

Light Rail station
Photo by Graham Tolbert

If you see something, say something.

We read those words all over these days, in response to terrorism fears real and imagined. But what if the risk is merely front-end misalignment? I can tell you the default response in the Twin Cities is to look the other way. And maybe it’s the same everywhere.

But these days, our cities can’t function without squeaky wheels.

A couple summers ago, I noticed that Lake of the Isles Parkway was seriously dark. As in unlit. The walking/running paths were devoid of light, opaque with blackness. I feared for the women running alone at 10 p.m.

As the weeks went on, I started counting the number of streetlights that were out on the parkway. One, two, three, four, five, maybe more around the north arm of the lake. And they stayed that way for days. By late in the summer, I was irritated at the state of things. I wondered why the lights were not maintained.

So I contacted my city councilperson, who told me to contact our park board representative, Anita Tabb, as the parkways are park property. Tabb said my e-mail was the first she’d heard of the dark lake, which surprised me. She told me the city was responsible for maintenance of the lighting, but that it usually did not have staff on duty after dark to verify the lighting was operating.

The lights eventually came back on, after weeks, if not months, of darkness.

In early 2013, a giant gap opened on 21st Street near my house as a pothole ballooned a seam in the street. It was a bad winter and I knew it would take time to be fixed, given the backlog. It became second nature to swerve around the gaping crack, but I know many were not so lucky, with dented wheels and flat tires to show for it.

I finally called Minneapolis’s 311 line, thinking August might be sufficient time for the city to deal with the backlog. The friendly phone rep told me I was the first to report the pothole.

Fast-forward to this year. Sometime during the worst of our cold and snow in late February, when roads iced up for two weeks, traffic began backing up along Hennepin Avenue—extending blocks north and south of Franklin. The I-94 ramp to Hennepin Avenue looked like the first sunny summer weekend, every day.

I figured it was the ice. I figured it was slow drivers. But the ice receded. The drivers sped up. The backups remained. Then I noticed the stoplight at 22nd and Hennepin was only green for 20 seconds or so rather than the usual 60. I figured it was by design. But it never changed. Finally I called the city. My fingers are crossed.

Our cities are straining under decrepit infrastructure and lack the manpower or systems to keep them in good working order. They rely on the public to report problems, and when we “don’t want to complain” we merely prolong everyone’s misery or danger. Major inefficiencies fester for weeks or months.

The best thing you can do for your city and neighbors is to speak up. If you see something, please say something.

Adam Platt is the executive editor of Twin Cities Business Magazine and formerly held the same post at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine. City Centered is his monthly column in Mpls.St.Paul Magazine that examines the cultural climate of the Twin Cities.