Confab 2013: Not An Argy-Bargy

In sum.

A Paul Ford slide

I went to the Confab content strategy conference and came back wanting to get good at handstands by the end of the of the year.

It’s the truth. The weird truth, but there you have it. Inspiration works in strange ways. Alas, I also left the Minneapolis Hyatt last Wednesday evening inspired to dig into content strategy (if you don’t know what it is or why a designer/yogini/traveler like me is interested, read this great explanation of the field/topic). Here’s what was great about Confab:  Continue reading

Traveling via foot or spatula

elephant statue

Close enough to Ganesh

My travel in the last few weeks has been on a smaller scale and/or of a more culinary nature, but I’ll take it, if it doesn’t involve a TSA agent raising her eyebrow at my cargo pants (really?). Below are details from this past weekend’s adventures in town.

The U

Late Friday afternoon I attended Change the World by Design: 5 Ways to Create Social Impact. This was an inspiring bundle of presentations and a thoughtful panel discussion about how people trained in design are particularly well prepared for developing social solutions.

Curious about that “how”? Design for Good Associate Director Sandy Wolfe Wood chose great words in her introduction: “…we designers are good at dealing with mess….” As the discussion continued, other notable comments included Tara Pham’s response to an audience member’s question, “what is ‘design thinking’?” She offered (pardon me if I paraphrase too much) that designers ask the simpler questions. I’m guessing ones like “what exactly do we want to do here?” And, designers demand answers. For the CityPulse project that she presented, these skills had proven to be very helpful. Designers tend to develop solutions with the future in mind, rather than the present, and this is a great approach for social change.

I mention the U (the University of Minnesota, in this case) as the presentation was in Rapson Hall, on the Minneapolis campus. This was my first visit; it appears to be a newer building for the U’s College of Design. What a treat, especially since my past experience with design at the U was when it was housed in the St. Paul campus in the “college of human ecology.” Its building there didn’t seem appropriate, other than in the fact that someone was being resourceful by using it, at the time. It was full of light, activity, and an obvious variety of spaces – so obvious that at first I wasn’t sure if the large interior space (see photo linke below) was the auditorium to which I was headed (it was not).

Here’s a photo of the Rapson Hall interior. I wanted to explore it a bit more; in that central area and down a few of the ramped hallways were various student projects that seemed worthy of a closer look. But, the parking garage clock was ticking, and I had to leave.

I didn’t get a great look at the exterior, but perhaps that was due to the fact that I was more of a drive-by (or drive-in, drive-out) visitor, and college grounds are better experienced on foot. As such, I’m really looking forward to the completion of the light rail line that will be able to take me there, without my car.

Lagunitas IPA

A frosty beverage from Petaluma on Friday, at the Bulldog.

Turkey, Macau, Shanghai, London, Scotland

Skyfall! Bond movies had a strong impact on me, growing up. One thing I’m particularly fond of is the travel: in each film, 007 typically hits four or more colorful, noisy, elegant, and/or fantastic locales. The other excitement in the films –Guns! Women! Diabolical bad guys! Terror! Style! Judi Dench!– plays a significant role. However, Bond’s globetrotting, or rather, globesprinting, has been key to my enjoyment of the films. Skyfall’s opening shots in Turkey may compel me to make that trip happen sooner, rather than later.

Four St. Paul neighborhoods. Twice.

From one edge to the other, and back again: On Sunday I ran 13 miles, starting from my house. My Adidas’ soles kissed pavement in the communities of the West Side, West Seventh, Summit/Crocus Hill, and Merriam Park. Then, all the way back through all of them.

Running 13 road miles at a time of year when I really don’t need to was perhaps indicative of my lack of control over my running habit.

Still, I had a cause! Early last week I was thinking I’d probably get out to a park for a fun 2-3 hour trail run with friends. So, when I noticed a challenge on the DailyMile site to raise a little money and awareness for the people affected by Hurricane Sandy, run4nyc, I committed to a “virtual half marathon,” which I had to complete by Monday. My trail run plans fell through, and I ended up doing the run on pavement and on a cold, windy day that even strafed me with ice pellets. It was nowhere near as unpleasant as having a hurricane wash away my reality, but it seemed fitting that 13 miles was particularly difficult, mostly as I hadn’t run more than six miles since October 7.

Around mile 10 I passed an adorable elephant statue (pictured above), which evoked Ganesha, the Hindu deity that is known as an obstacle remover. The inspiration was a helpful boost – at that moment I needed help removing the obstacle of sore feet and low energy.

Where it’s okay if you sample it several times a day

Italy! Gelato has arrived in St. Paul, and after picking up some groceries I stopped by the new Cow Bella for a treat. The Amarena (Italian Sour Cherry) was most excellent; the Gianduja was a nice complement. Sunday’s crisp temperature assured that a few spoons of the serving made it home for Steve to sample.

Frontier America. Or Egypt.


It finally rose.

For me, sourdough originated in my mom’s fridge in a glass jar with a rubber seal. Given my family’s frontier history, sourdough means old west coast to me: miner forty-niners. Tiny men standing by enormous trees with saws that require two men to use. If you look it up in Wikipedia, you learn that, like many things, it originated in Egypt. So be it.

My starter came directly from King Arthur Flour, this past July. Since then I’ve been learning the ins and outs of keeping it adequately fed and using it to bring food to our table. On Sunday, I was resolute on using the starter to make the dough for a calzone recipe. Cold weather, my preference to knead with the KitchenAid, and possibly just a little too much flour made for a less than supple dough ball, but we made it work. We ended up with eight lovely little gaping maws pockets of pepper, tomato, cheese and sausage on the table by 7pm.

That’s my “local traveler” report for the week. How do you travel, when staying at home?

Rails and the City: the Central Corridor LRT


Progressing … around the corner

Last weekend allowed me a good walk though most of downtown Saint Paul, as I needed to pick up my race packet, and wanted to get some blood flowing in legs that hadn’t run in seven days. On a Saturday morning, it’s a relatively quiet urban area, with various relics indicating that it was more busy, in years past. These include fine stonework on some buildings, the huge, hard-to-ignore St. Paul Union Depot, and in spots, sections of old trolley lines that have been mostly buried in asphalt.

I took this photo (at right) of the newer rails being put into some of the streets, as part of the Central Corridor rail line that is under construction. The project has posed a challenge to citizens trying to navigate the already-confusing one-way street arrangement downtown, and it’s also posed challenges to some businesses that are situated near the construction zones. Still, I’m very excited for this project’s completion, as I love trains, dislike the overuse of passenger cars, and hope that it brings some vibrancy back to this city.

What caught my eye about the scene at the time was the powerful bend of the rails: so powerful, it seems to have knocked down the road-block signs. The upwards/to-the-right directional movement signified progress. I imagined taking the train to Dinkytown for music at the Varsity, or over to Minneapolis for a Guthrie show, in the near future.

Several days later, I see the rest of the picture and I feel a little discomfort. Check out the ways the physical elements here have added on to each other, with apparent disregard to intent – like a wad of gum on pavement. It’s not attractive, the way that beige skyway feature bisects the mural, the way the ductwork on the red-painted area doesn’t blend in, and how the weight and shape of the train-station pergola seems a little at odds with it all.


Urban Chard: on Kellogg Boulevard

On the other hand, in terms of urban design, it indicates a willingness to work with the materials available, to adapt the environment, and to keep working toward a functional solution for human living. It may not be as simple as razing an entire block to build something shining and new, but it has an elegance that reveals honesty about how a city evolves. This brings to mind an insightful book I read a few years ago: Stewart Brand’s How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built and of a presentation I attended by Larry Millett, about his Lost Twin Cities book and photographs.

Still, I really wish that skyway stretch was invisible.

How do you insert a train into a city that never had one, or hasn’t had one in years? As a Saint Paul citizen I’m aware mainly of various town meetings and ballot items that were related, but I’m all the more impressed by my architect, urban-planner, and politician friends for their training and ability to consider and work with so many intertwining systems.

Some communities find less … enormous alternatives to rail. This summer I went to a screening of Gary Hustwit‘s “Urbanized” film, along the Minneapolis Greenway. In one segment, we learned that Bogota, Colombia solved some of the infrastructure and expense issues by developing a city bus system so that it functioned like, and had a similar public image as, an urban rail system.

I’m so excited for the LRT that I’m almost ok with the fact that I was completely unable to get to Cupcake for a race-reward cupcake, hours after my 10-mile race on Sunday.