One of the things I have noticed going to Corridor Housing Initiative meetings on 76th Street is how developer driven the solutions were to our senior housing issues. Yes there was “community input” but I can’t shake the feeling that the community was only given lip service rather than real power. After all I had suggested developing artist work/live housing, something other than senior housing which was the favorite with the developers on the presenting on the panel.

While living in Richfield, all I ever heard was the need to “build” more senior housing and to get seniors out of their homes. Why has there been no solution to help seniors stay in their homes so they can age in place? The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1999 that Americans have a constitutional right to be cared for in the least restrictive environment — which means at home.

Maybe the city has programs that I am missing but I one program that is very effective and not in place in Richfield is the Block Nurse Program is a community service program that uses volunteer to help older adults remain in their homes as long as possible. Using a combination of neighborhood volunteers and health professionals, the program provides information, support services and health care to neighborhood residents over the age of 65.

The aging at home option is not (surprise surprise) a solution pushed by the developers. I am not saying that senior housing is not needed or necessary but given the savings to taxpayers and the quality of live issues, I am surprised this is not an option supported by more by the city.

On January 14,2008 the Housing and Redevelopment Authority  and the City Council had a special meeting to discuss senior housing needs in Richfield and Mary Bujold from Real Estate Research and Consultant firm Maxfield Research Inc. was there (the meeting minutes do not report in what capacity she was there – as a neighborhood volunteer, or hired consultant)  to report on the senior housing need in the Twin Cities and to answer questions from the HRA and council. 

She was asked the direct question/s “Does Richfield have too much senior housing but not enough affordable senior housing?”

From the minutes: “Ms. Bujold stated that due to some restrictions in the 1990’s, there is now a need for affordable senior housing.” It is interesting to note that the meeting minutes do not reflect that she had answered the first part of the question “Does Richfield have too much senior housing?” but rather made it an affordable housing issue.

She was also asked “what percentage of residents from the community move into senior housing?”

The question is somewhat confusing as what is really being asked and said. Is the question “Of 100% of seniors what percentage actually move into senior housing before they die (as opposed to die from there homes) or is the question really “what percentage of Richfield senior housing actually have residents that moved there from out side of Richfield?”

Here anwswer appears to answer the latter question in the meeting minutes, “Ms. Bujold stated that generally 85% of seniors from the community are in senior housing. Although, she explained that percentage usually includes residents from adjoining communities.”

So 85% of ALL seniors in Richfield live in senior housing, of that it is still unknown how many were originally Richfield homeowners and how many are immigrants from Bloomington, Minneapolis, Edina, etc…

So the meeting was a waste as it never answered the original question: Does Richfield have too much senior housing?

Night after night, the one problem on 76th Street, that is very clear is the amount of light pollution and light trespassing (which occurs when unwanted light enters one’s property) from the businesses and heavily light roadways along the 494 corridor.
I can remember a time in the early 1970s when there wasn’t a greyish glow coming from 494. But that was when before the Honda car dealership and when the Colonial Motel occupied the spot of where the four story Hampton Inn is now. The brightest things at the Colonial Motel were the entryway lights on each of the cottages. I think they may of had a flood light pointing at a sign but I don’t recall it ever working. Shops at LyndaleIf you go across Lyndale Avenue, the light pollution created by lighting at “The Shops at Lyndale” big box retail center is surpassed only by the light pollution created by the city. While I am very happy to see the development and a revitalised business corridor there, the bright glare coming from the over-lit buildings and the parking lots has little to do with security and is more about competitive brightness and marketing.  So what is the limit on brightness? If none, will lights just keep getting brighter and brighter in retailers crazy attempts to lure consumers? A quick google search with the words “light pollution big box retail” helped me realize my neighborhood was not the only one dealing with this problem. The issues facing Richfield about light pollution and light trespassing are not unique to us but are part of a much larger nationwide issue. While many communities oppose the idea of big box retail out of principle, others simply take issue with the effects that big box usually bring including light pollution, but also the problems of traffic, water quality/run off, safety issues etc… Richfield, I suppect is of the latter.On the other side of the wall, in the neighborhood From what I have read on the web, communities like Richfield, that have been retrofited for big box retail seem to have the biggest issues. That is probably because in a new development you have more of an opportunity to develop away from residential, in a community retrofitted with big box retail, as in the case of “Shops on Lyndale” that may be impossible.However, what really worries me is not so much the current situation but rather the increasing brightness and glare that will come with future development.
The other light polluting culprits nearby appear to be hotels and car dealerships. The hotels nearby 76th Street are not much of a problem -understandably as they have an insentive to keep their lighting low key. However there appears to be little insentive for car dealers to change. For car dealerships crime and vandalism are big part of the reason for turning night into day in their lots. Other options, such as storing cars inside would be too costly for most. However, for big box retail it appears to be more of a mindset. As mentioned in the Globe and Mail:

No one seems to like high lighting levels more than big-box retailers. Many now use three times the intensity of shopping-mall lighting in the 1970s.”There is a lot of desire to boost up the light levels,” said TonyRutenberg, sales manager at Rutenberg Sales Ltd. of Mississauga, a majorCanadian lighting dealer. “It looks very inviting.” The big-box retailer thinks, ” ‘I’m going to have more people come in,’ ” he said.~Blinded by the light, Globe and Mail  

Honda DealershipMuch of these problems could be dealt with. Fortunately, light trespass is easily controlled by using full cut-off fixtures and reasonable illumination levels. Full cut-off fixtures keep the light down on the ground, where it is needed, instead of being cast to the side or in the sky, where it is wasted.Lights recessed into gas station canopies instead of mounted on the surface (which is typical throughout Richfield) is a good example of how to control light from flooding off to the sides.Excessive, poorly designed outdoor lighting wastes electricity, imperils human health and safety, disturbs natural habitats, and, increasingly, deprives many of us the nighttime sky.Lighting is effective in preventing crime mainly if it enables people to notice criminal activity as it’s taking place, and if it doesn’t help criminals to see what they’re doing. Bright, unshielded floodlights—one of the most common types of outdoor security lighting in the country—often fail on both counts. The bright glare caste by them, in addition to being a driving hazard, can actually inhibit seeing criminal activity with glares and by a creating deep shadows criminals can hide in. I am not saying good lighting has no impact on safety, but like any tool it must be used wisely.  

I have heard it come from the city council before, why didn’t we have the gift of foresight? EX: “If we did we would have built the new city maintenance garage two years earlier we would have saved boat loads of taxpayers money.”

Unfortunately foresight is not a superpower or a secret ninja skill possessed by most city governments. However hindsight is a super power possessed by all and we can use it to learn and act on future projects provided we use the superpower of “Political Will”

What I am talking about is Richfield has an opportunity to save a pile of taxpayers dollars if they finish the trail and bike paths from 11th Ave to Cedar Ave. How so? First, construction costs are down as are material cost with the housing an d building slump. Waiting would only guarantee a higher cost down the road. Secondly, the road west of 76th Street is already being torn up and refinished, we would benefit in cost savings of tying into a larger project.

This happened to me just recently, I negotiated a price to have a company cut down my very dead red maple tree. I then priced out what it would be to have them come back out in three to five years to cut down my dying blue spruce. It was very pricey. I asked them what they would charge me if they cut down the limply pine when they were out to cut down the red maple. They gave me a ridiculously good price.

Now I have a ridiculously large amount of firewood.

Not only are we saving tax dollars by doing it now, in a time of economic downturn for the construction industry, Richfield is creating much needed jobs. Finishing the parkway is not only economically prudent and pro-business, it is downright American and a win-win for all.

I just attended the Richfield city council meeting where they approved of the of recommended streetscape design concepts for reconstruction of portions of 75th Street and 76th Street. The final results as approved by the city council is sidewalks on both sides of 76th street with the south being an 8′ trail managed by Three Rivers Park District. The south is a 5′ wide sidewalk from Nicollet to 11th Street and 6′ from 35W to Nicollet. Good Right?

They also approved of a partial bike trail on 75th Street with bike paths from Xerxes to Penn Ave. maybe to Logan Ave. but they were very, maybe somewhat deliberately vague about that. If it makes them happy to save two blocks of on-street parking in a city of parking lots and driveways so be it.

Definitely from Logan Ave. east, across 35W and connecting up with 76th Street there will only be a side-path to with no bike paths. And believe me, it is a big improvement from the situation at the beginning

I had to smile when I saw a Richfield Sun-Current reporter finally at one of the 76th Street presentations and talking to Howard Green Company, the consultants on the project, about the trail. I had to wonder if they were at the city council meeting hoping for a hot but not-so-fresh round-a-bout issue and settled for the 76th Street redesign, …and people wonder why newspapers are disappearing faster than highland gorillas.

So all this is good and I am doing the happy dance, however I could smell the brimstone – for as they say, “the devil is in the details” and there he was, in all his glory, at the meeting with the city council, the city workers, Howard Green Co. and the Three Rivers Park district all talking about him a bit.

“Asphalt or concrete side paths?” “How will the maintenance be done and by who?” “Who will shove the trail in the winter time?” “What to do about 11th Ave to Cedar Ave on 76th Street where the sewer will not go but it is presumed the trail and bike paths will?”

Also… as yet untalked about is what about Upton Avenue where the trail goes north to connect with 70th Street and into Edina. Also the very important but under discussed connection from 76th to 75th and making it bike and pedestrian safe. How do we plan to tie this with to future North South bike trails? Not a peep, but I hear Satan speaking “details, details, details….”

The March 2008 issue of the Atlantic Monthly published an article titled “The Next Slum?” by Christopher Leinberger, had reinforced what I have learned on the changing tide of suburbanization. That renewed urban allure to Gen-xers and the Millennials, the second largest demographic in history after the baby boomers, combined with the disillusionment of urban sprawl, long commuting times and high gas prices (and home heating prices) have led to a critical glut in McMansions at metropolitan fringes and housing, and that the urban core, once a bargain twenty years ago,  are now going for a premium. 

The article isn’t dismissive of all suburbs and that while there is a shift underway to walkable environments the author, Leinberger, doubts that the swing from suburb to city will be as dramatic as the swing from city to suburb was in the 20th century. Many will still prefer the big house/car lifestyle. However those suburbs with access to shorter commute times or close mass transit will be among the suburbs fairing well.

Those suburbs that are on the wrong side of town, and poorly served by public transport, are already suffering decline finding long time residents replaced by Low-income people, displaced by the gentrifying inner cities. He make an interesting prediction, that much of the future decline is more likely to occur on the fringes in recently developed areas, that many of the the McMansions will be resale at rock-bottom prices to lower income families and will suffer eventual conversion to apartments.

I have heard apocalyptic suburban ruin wishful thinking before and I am sceptical, however, there is definitely some truth in the matter.   It is becoming increasing costly to runaway from problems instead of dealing with them. The days of cheap subsidised land are coming to an end, the costs are off-set by the cost of gas prices and home heating and the harder to measure but still costly – ever increasing commuting time.

There is also the issue that the article mentions I think has had a large factor in the return to the cities; most of the Gen-xers and Millennials have chosen not to have kids. The Baby Boomer’s parents generation (the settlers of Richfield), more than half of all households contained children, by 2000 they were only a third and by 2025 it will be closer to a quarter and there will be about as many singles households as family households. Schools, which once were a big selling feature of new suburban communities, hold less allure than they did fifty years ago. 

Speaking of the value of city planning :

Having once owned a home on Saint Paul’s West Side and having been lived next to West Saint Paul has made me very much appreciate Richfield, which like West Saint Paul, initially started with little or no urban planning but unlike West Saint Paul has made serious efforts since the 1980’s to correct it’s previous blind eye to unplanned development and have some design standards and not be afraid of urban planning.


The sad thing is, with it’s rolling hills West Saint Paul probably had some of the most stunning landscapes in the Twin Cities area and has pretty much made a sows ear out of a silk purse.  The following video was submitting to the Walker Art Center  for their “Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes” exhibit and pretty much captures the spirit of West Saint Paul living at its finest.



It’s amazing what a difference an exclamation point can make! I went to the January 30th open house at city hall on the changes to the 75th/76th Street street scape plan, with the sidewalk now going from Nicollet Avenue to 11th Avenue on the south side of 76th Street and with bike lanes and limited parking on 75th Street!

A resident on 75th Street showed me a flyer he found on his door, it was a 4″x6″ card evidently sent out by the city and Howard R Green Company (Confirmed later) advertising the Open House! Normally I would say good going, transparency and getting the citizens out to the community meeting would be good. It was actually done in a style different than what the city usually does so no one this time could confuse it with a park and rec flyer as so often happens in the past! The font usage and graphics made it look more like the designs that have been submitted by Howard R. Green Company, the consultants on this project!

However the one thing that bothered me on this was the spin that was put on it! Up in the left hand corner was a “note” in yellow saying:


Earlier requests for parking along 75th Street may be in jeopardy! If it is your desire to have parking along the corridor, please join us and let city officials know what is important to you!

Now if this was sent by a private organization like the Tax Payers League or individual I would have no problem with them sending it! I would even think them geniuses for this strategy. However, since spin this was city sponsored I really have to cry foul. When the note says “please join us and let city officials know what is important to you!” who are the “us” they exactly talking about?! Is Howard R. Green Co. the “us”?! Maybe is it the city protesting themselves! Another problem is, with the exception of Crime Watch Bulletins, I can’t recall when the city used exclamation points in their meeting notices! It gives it that crisis effect! A dishonest affect when the city should be playing neutral!

The other issue was the note was customized so that the residents along 76th Street between Nicollet Avenue and 11th Avenue got there very own note, alerting them of the new sidewalks! Now I did not get to see the note, so I cannot tell you just exactly want it said but the residents there did say that they did get it! The reason I can not tell you is because I did not get a note because only houses two houses in from 75th/75th Street were flyered so a lot of people interested in and affected by the the project were not privy to the notice!

I am not sure what version of the note was flyered in my area!


So ultimately if the intent was to stir up the rabble I it certainly didn’t, especially the sidewalk folks! They were pissed! However, it backfired, because once they heard the other side and arguments many were either swayed to the sidewalk idea or became indifferent to it!

Again, I think it was very important to have the open house again and I applaud the efforts to get the people effect out to the meeting because in the end I think it was a very good thing and everyone got to hear the arguments and ideas! However, it is the spin on the those efforts to get people to come that I disagree with!

I also wish Howard R. Green would fix their in accurate graphics which they presented to another meeting again!!!!!!

So there has been a series of interesting articles and blog entries about the metro area cities attempts to market themselves. The Pioneer Press came out with a piece on cities in the metropolitan area attempts to brand themselves usually with all the flare and charisma that one could expect when you have the office intern, or your very talented high school age son or daughter execute your city’s marketing plan, except many of these cities paid good money to ad agencies to come up with city slogans and branding like “A ‘Small Town’ City” (Mahtomedi) the mouth full that North Saint Paul uses, “a small-town atmosphere in a large metropolitan area”. They talk about the old stale standards that cities aways fall back on when coming up with these things; bodies of water, community, geographic gateways and history are usually popular.

In case if your wondering what Richfield’s slogan is, it is “Your urban home town in the heart of the Twin Cities.” A slogan I certainly would not confused at least with, say, Moorhead, Minnesota.

I have been harping on city officials at meetings on the need for marketing and developing Richfield’s brand. Unfortunately Richfield’s brand at present is more like “Laurence Welk Village” and less like “Johnny Carismaville.”

Unfortunately what most cities fail to understand, including Richfield, is that brand is more than just a catchy slogan. It is an essence. Imagine going into a Starbucks and finding it looking instead like a White Castle. A brand is a promise, an expectation on want to expect. If employees are rude at Starbucks that effects their brand. If the restrooms are dirty that effects their brand because it effects the customers experience.

Most cities create a bad slogan and leave it at that when thinking of brand, and some might push their brand identity as far as people’s impressions of their school system or even street scapes, but most go no further than that.

Most corporations are very concerned about brand control. To most cities, brand is a by-product something to react to.

The blog “twin cities sidewalks” whose post on the subject inspired my post, paraphrases Louis Mumford and American historian known for his studies and writings on cities, I will quote him here

Creating memorable places is really the key to attracting people and business to your area. Cultivating streetcorners and sidewalks worth walking on, emphasizing historical landmarks like a watertower, old church, library or city hall, and trying to get people to come together physically in the same spaces at the same times are all ways to really brand suburban cities, and to replace empty spaces with memorable places.

Brand for a city is more than just one element. It is about creating an experience. Looking at the city holistically.

Is Richfield’s brand really perceived by most people that we want to locate here as: “Your urban home town in the heart of the Twin Cities” or is it perceived more like my friend puts it as: “God’s Waiting Room”?

Personally I think our brand Slogan should be more like: “As Sexy as South Minneapolis, only with big backyards.”

The design of Lyndale Avenue bridge over I-494 was unveiled yesterday at Bloomington City Hall. Unfortunately the low turn out (about 12 people) to see the design probably reflects the poor time slot that the viewing was put into (4:00pm-7:00pm). However, the Bloomington city staff that were there were very accommodating to myself and another person that arrived late at kept showing past 7:00pm.

It was nice to see TKDA‘s street scape designs and nicer still to see attempts to correct and improve upon the lack of street scape design from a similar design on the Penn Avenue Bridge. It has the same pressed faux brick concrete on the sidewalk that Penn Avenue has but unlike Penn the median islands have planting, trees and shrubs over the land areas of the islands. However, it looks like most of the islands are going to be combination of concrete and landscape rock (rock mulch), in a design that I would imagine must look pretty from the airplanes would not have any visual impact what so ever from car of pedestrian point of view. The other problem with the concrete rock mulch combination is that it does nothing to help reduce or eliminate the “Heat island” that is created with vast spaces of stone and pavement. Yet another problem with rock is it seems to be inviting trouble by having a collection of rock sitting next an overpass, but maybe I am just a pessimist when it comes to my faith in humanity and lack of belief that no kids will throw rocks over the bridge. So while the light colored concrete and rock proposed is better than asphalt, better still is the use of vegetation.

I can understand TKDA, the designers of the bridge, concerns with site lines and root systems effecting the bridge however, the best solution it seems would be the use of prairie grasses which are drought tolerant and low growing instead of concrete and rock mulch. The biggest problems with prairie grasses, are first to get established they do need to be maintained for the first two years and also problem of perception. Richfield is a city that appreciates its mowed lawns and it may have a difficult time adjusting to unmowed islands. However, Minneapolis made the change of attitude and no longer boats out lawn mowers to mow the islands on Lake of the Isles, Powerhorn, and Loring Park – I think Richfield can make the adjustment too.

River Woman by Amy CordovaThe design also showed an increased if not interesting use of railings. Which I while I think it is a good start I think there could be much to improve on. First, they put railing in-front of the islands. It is an interesting but not all necessary. The islands do not need barrier protection from traffic. This is not done with Penn so I imagine it is not needed and it only for effect. But what is the effect? First if the islands are landscaped with plantings, the effect will be to block them from view of cars using Lyndale and somewhat from the pedestrians. The railings have an unfortunate design of concrete for the bottom half and metal railings on the top. Better would be to do what was done near the 76th Street over I-35W Bridge which was metal railings set in concrete posts that go most of the way down exposing the landscaping or to do away with the idea of railings all together. The other problem with the railings is this design creates is a loooong corridor effect. Better would be to break it up with simple unique designs in each island center, using designs not unlike the work by Amy Cordova on Saint Paul’s West Side which consists of organically cut thick plate steel which is allowed to rust naturally. Together with the mosaic on the retaining wall the natural vegetation surround, it makes a stunning yet subdued effect.

The artwork in the island centers would probably cost less than the railing in front of the island centers. That being said, it is important to note that the cost of aesthetic improvements in the design are just a fraction of the over all bridge cost. The decision to upgrade and over build the bridge to a diamond design vs. the lower cost traditional bridge design probably added far more to the overall cost of the bridge than any street scaping improve ever could add.

Hopefully when the city posts the designs on their web site I will have something to show rather than describe.

Design of the Lyndale Avenue Bridge over I-494 in RichifieldThe proposed design of the Bridge is to be a single-point diamond interchange and will look similar to the Penn Avenue Bridge over I-494. While the Penn Avenue Bridge won awards and gets an “A” for its traffic engineering, it fails to enhance the aesthetic of the road, respect neighborhoods, and provide opportunities as a gateway into Richfield. While it is a great improvement for mobility for pedestrians and bicycles, the bar was not very high in the first place as the old bridge, like the current Lyndale Avenue Bridge provided none. Cars zipping along I-494 at 55 to 65 mph might not be overly concerned about streetscapes but it does affects the people, neighborhoods and businesses near the bridge. Bridge designers tend to be conservative in their approaches to bridge design with a form follows functions edict. This is understandable, the I-35W bridge disaster only underscores the human tragedy of design flaws.

Excelsior Ave. Bridge over Hwy 100However, unlike over 40 years earlier when the original Lyndale Avenue Bridge was built, aesthetic design is becoming a consideration in the overall design of highway project. New highway bridge developments like those in Woodbury and other outer ring suburbs are not just being with incorporated sidewalks and bikepaths but are being designed with enhancements to the streetscape which contribute to the experience for pedestrians and help define neighborhood character.

Detail of Excelsior Ave. Bridge over Hwy 100 showing railing and wall treatmentsAesthetic design is not only being considered in new construction, but also in replacement of older bridges as well. The reconstruction of I-94 between the State Capitol and Downtown Saint Paul allowed the State to rebuild a freeway with design that reflected the design of the State Capitol Mall and provided an opportunity to reconnect downtown Saint Paul with the State Capitol, a connection that was severed by the earlier I-94 freeway which was designed only with the goal of moving motorized traffic. The Excelsior Avenue Bridge over Hwy 100 in Saint Louis Park was recently replaced with a bridge that incorporates elements like pedestrian level street lighting, ornamental iron railings and molded concrete to mimic stone. The bridge incorporated elements of the Excelsior Avenue streetscape redesign tying bridge into the neighborhood. Currently the I-35W / Crosstown interchange is being rebuilt, molded is beginning

The Road Ahead

Penn Avenue Bridge over I-494, showing large span of sectionThe challenges in the aesthetic design of the new Lyndale Bridge are both in the length and the breadth of the bridge. The Penn Avenue Bridge gives a good idea of the problems the Lyndale Bridge will have if nothing is done. The single-point diamond interchange creates four very large triangle patches of land. While there are several advantages to this type of design over other more traditional bridge interchanges, one problem is the single-point diamond interchange has a much larger foot print covering the land surface and while the bridge engineers have taken into account water removal, the solution to cover the triangles with concrete has created barren stretches of land and a much hotter surface area.

Penn Ave bridge looking north toward Richfield showing poor sidewalk conditions

As each year goes by the large concrete triangle casings become more cracked and as weeds grow it becomes more and more desolate looking. There seems to be an overlooked solution would have been to landscape and put plantings in there. Minneapolis has tried landscaping at its downtown interchanges with a resulting reduction of speed of the traffic as well as an overall increase in aesthetic appearance.

Design for the Public

Central/Broadway Bridge – Northeast Minneapolis
Central - Broadway bridge in Northeast Minneapolis showing German design element -looking east Central - Broadway bridge in Northeast Minneapolis showing Lakota design element
Central - Broadway bridge in Northeast Minneapolis showing Lakota design element Central - Broadway bridge in Northeast Minneapolis showing Irish design element

One of the more clever and appealing treatments to a bridge was in Northeast Minneapolis. Back in 1990 the Broadway Avenue / Central Avenue Bridge was replaced. Because the bridge was not only a major intersection for two main roads, but was also a neighborhood landmark to the the community, Artist Susan Fiene was hired through the Minneapolis Dept. of Public Works and Art in Public Places Program to work with the community and create a work that would represent the diverse ethnic groups that made up Northeast Minneapolis. The result was the creation that use traditional design motifs found in textiles from each ethnic community that made up Northeast. At first the motifs were freestanding panels away from a chain link railing, but later in 2007 an iron railing was put in place and the panels were incorporated into railing. One of the benefits from this was not only did the work enhance the street scape, but from an intimate level, the walkers experience with the work would allow them to learn more about the different ethnic cultures that made up the neighborhood.

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