The City Space

Cultivating Urban Understanding


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3 Half-Assed Attempts at Walkability

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I made it to Milwaukee, WI, my new home! (Although that photo is not what it looks like now. Not for a couple months at least.) During my first few days here I saw the apartment we’re moving into soon, cooked and baked more than I have in weeks, and adjusted to a new freelance schedule. So far the biggest shocks to my system after moving from NYC have not been the lack of skyscrapers, the Midwestern accents, or the quiet atmosphere (praise the Lord for this). No, the biggest change has been the drastic shift in my transportation options.

Milwaukee is definitely a car-centric city, but I do not have a car (nor do I have plans to procure one)—just my feet and a bus pass. I was prepared for this, but it’s still a huge change coming from New York, which is the land of quick, cheap and easy public transit.

One thing I noticed upon my preliminary attempts at traveling by foot was the half-assed nature of walkability in this place. The city is chipping away at it’s auto-oriented streets with sidewalks, crosswalks and more, but none of these are quite accomplishing what they’re supposed to because they weren’t invested with the proper amount of forethought and intention in the beginning. This is not unique to Milwaukee by any means. It’s also not a bad thing at face value: better to have some sidewalks than none at all, right? However, as someone who is always looking for ways to improve cities, I have to take them to task when they half-ass their walkable places. Here are three of those half-assed attempts, and ideas for how to make them better:

1.  The sidewalk that suddenly terminates. Here’s what it looks like: You’ve charted your course to the grocery store and you’re making good time on the sidewalk. You can see the store two blocks ahead of you when all of a sudden, you realize that the sidewalk is about to end and only way forward is in the road. We usually encounter these interruptions near busy, multilane streets where the focus is obviously on the driver, so much so that it appears the engineers forgot that there might be pedestrians around.

Solution: It’s probably not doable for most towns to interconnect every one of their sidewalks, but at the very least, Continue reading


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The Magic of Summer Saturdays

Larsens Fish Market, Menemsha, Martha's Vineyard

Picture the last time you had a truly wonderful Saturday this summer.

I think summer Saturdays are magical. The city wakes up in waves, with the rising of the sun inviting the first surge of dog-walkers and joggers out onto the sidewalks and into the parks. A few hours later, older couples and families with children venture down the block to their neighborhood coffee shop or bakery, lingering over the last muffin crumbs on the plate, chatting with neighbors and friends. The farmers’ markets set up their white tents and welcome the next wave of shoppers, eager for fresh produce and conversation. Saturdays are open with possibility. If you’re a kid, you might choose to play at the local park or run around the neighborhood with your friends. Adults might finally take time for their hobbies, reading books from the library, working on building projects, practicing musical instruments or sharpening their basketball skills. As the day comes to a close, we dive into cooking comforting meals for our families, or heading out to the neighborhood diner for a burger or pizza. Sunday hasn’t come yet—with its pressures of the impending Monday and chores at hand—and the workweek is melting away. The city is alive, but calm and present.

I tell this story of the magical summer Saturday because, to me, it is a perfect picture of what cities and towns could be all week long, and it’s proof that they’re capable of it. Even in my little college town of Walla Walla, WA, which was empty and quiet six days of the week, Saturdays always brought a new energy and vibrance into the space. In particular, here are a few of the positive summer Saturday trends I’ve noticed in cities all over the country, and would love to see blossom throughout the week:

  • We choose to walk or bike instead of drive. With more time on our hands and quite likely, an exhaustion from driving back and forth to work all week, we often choose to stick closer to home and use our feet to get where we need to go. The environment is better off and so is our health.
  • We frequent local businesses and markets in our neighborhoods. We get our shopping done without having to jump in the car, and they get our business more than they might during the week. It’s a win-win.
  • We linger. We hang out at cafes, at parks playing ball, and on the waterfront, feeling a sense of calm and starting to notice everything our towns have to offer.
  • Some of us choose to spend our weekends caring for our gardens and houses (if we have them). It may not always be fun, but it transforms our cities into beautiful, inviting places.
  • We visit with our neighbors, friends and family members. We bake pie and take it to grandma’s house where we enjoy an afternoon snack and share stories from the week. We beckon our neighbors across the street to join us on the porch for a glass of lemonade or beer. This warmth is extended towards others because a day of rest gives us the time and energy to do so.

What each of these aspects point towards is an atmosphere of leisure and plenty, which enables us to support local businesses and spend time with one another on a deeper level than we do during the hecticness of the week. Saturday can be the day when we engage in simple but powerful community-building activities like beautifying our streets and actually saying “hi” to our neighbors when we encounter them on the block. These actions incrementally add up to more positive places.

I realize I’m being idealistic right now, and that on many weekends, Saturdays look a lot different from this. Maybe they’re full of driving the kids from music lessons to soccer practice to Target. Maybe Saturday means going to work. Maybe Saturdays seem like an endless list of chores and tasks that just won’t let up. But maybe also, you yearn for a weekend that is more peaceful and warm. If our cities looked and felt like this all week long, we could have that. I understand we can’t all play at the park when it’s 20 degrees out, or sit around sipping beer when there’s work to be done, but we don’t need to completely give ourselves over to the regiment of to-do lists or weather or whatever else might distract us from living the lives we want to lead.

If we took simple steps like utilizing public spaces more often, frequenting our local businesses, and walking instead of driving on occasion, we could welcome that Saturday spirit into our everyday lives. It takes nothing more than a reorientation of mindset.

So what do you think? Can we live like it’s Saturday all week long?


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The New York Files

Rachel Q at the High Line

As my departure from New York City nears (1.5 weeks left!), I’m doing a lot of packing and a lot of goodbyes – to both places and people. It’s a busy time, as any move is, but I wanted to take a moment to share with you a slice of the posts inspired during my year here.

  • My first big reflection came in the form of this essay entitled, “My Role in Gentrification.” It’s still something I think about every day here, and my insights about this key urban issue will stick with me in cities far beyond New York.
  • Soon after arriving, I realized the need to cultivate calm and quiet in this bustling place, so I wrote about how to live a simple life in a complicated city.
  • I also faced some moments where I wasn’t so thrilled to be in New York.
  • In November, I reflected upon my family’s history coming to this country from Germany during the Holocaust, and settling in a neighborhood very near to where I live in New York City. And I recognized how it affects me to this day.
  • By February, I’d been here long enough to have built a knowledge base of skills for New York City life, as well as some areas I could still stand to improve upon (For the record, I can report that I definitely got better at #1 and #3, but I have made my peace with the fact that I will never successfully walk in 3-inch heels all day.)
  • In the spring, I shared a list I had been working on all year: my New York bakery list! I sampled so many tasty treats over the last year and it was fun to have this little quest to guide me. I ended up continuing the quest for my remaining months here, trying the pastries at Baked in Brooklyn, Bouchon Bakery and more.
  • I enjoyed writing this short piece about Why I Love My Neighborhood, and I invite you to think and comment on that topic over there.
  • Finally, I closed with my ultimate NYC guide last week. Here are Parts 1 and 2.
  • For a complete list of all New York City posts, click here.

 

With that, I’m off to Milwaukee, WI. It’ll a brand new adventure and I can’t wait. Thanks for reading along during my time in New York and you can be sure I’ll have a whole new batch of insights in the coming month.

Photo credit: My friend Matthew Morriss


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New York City, My Way – Part 2

Central Park

Last week, I posted the first half of my list of best things to do in New York City. I figured that since I’m about to move out of the city, it’s time to share my secret favorite places and adventures. Starting with last week’s post (which began with my favorite coffee shop), I’ve structured the list in rough chronological order so theoretically, you could do all these things in one day — although it would involve many subway rides up, down and across Manhattan. Let me know if you’ve tried any of these places or plan to. Today we begin with my favorite parks for a post-lunch afternoon stroll and we conclude with the #1 best thing to do in New York City.

Best Park: Tie between Riverside Park and Central Park (pictured above)

Don’t make me choose! I’ve spent too many glorious afternoons in New York’s parks to pick just one favorite. Riverside is the park has been most significant and valuable to me during my year in New York because it’s two blocks from my house and has a wonderful running trail that I use multiple times a week. Read more about it here. Central Park, the New York City park, is surprisingly not overrated. Rather, it is 100% fantastic, expansive and full of hidden delights. You can wander there for hours, take a nap in one of its grassy meadows or admire one of the many statues, ponds and gardens it has to offer.

Walking the Highline - New York City - Rachel Quednau

Best Afternoon Activity Combo: Chelsea Market and the High Line (pictured above)

If you have a few hours to kill and you want an eating/walking combo (two of the best things to do in New York City) this is just the ticket. Continue reading


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Do you have a story to tell?

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One of the best things that happens on this blog is when I get to hand the mic to other people. I’ve done a few interviews over the last year, but I’d love to do many more. Do you have a unique perspective on the city where you live? Have you witnessed community developmentgentrification, small business growthhousing issues? Or do you just live in a really cool neighborhood that you want to tell us about?

I’d love to interview you. It can be quick. It can be long. It can be phone, Skype or email. Drop me a line if you’re interested: rachelquednau@gmail.com .


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New York City, My Way – Part 1

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Now that my time in the Big Apple is coming to a close, I can share all my secret favorite places with you —from coffee shops to high-flying adventures to thrift stores. In this list of best things to do in New York City, there’s something for everyone and I’ve structured the list in rough chronological order so theoretically, you could do all these things in one day! (Although it would involve many subway rides up, down and across Manhattan.) Let me know if you’ve tried any of these places or plan to

Best Coffee Shop: News Bar (pictured above)

I have two main criteria for NYC coffee shops: fair trade beverages and space to sit. Located just off Union Square in Manhattan, News Bar consistently delivers on both fronts. It has comfortable seating with tons of laptop plugs and options for configurations of one to ten people. Plus, it never gets too loud, although you can often overhear interesting conversations there (like that one time I got stuck listening to a thirty minute monologue about why communism is the best political model for America). News Bar offers a variety of coffee-, tea- and juice-based beverages and the food–a mix of sandwiches, breakfast choices, pastries and healthy stuff–seriously rocks. Finally, if you ever get bored with your laptop/coffee companion, News Bar has a whole wall full of current periodicals for the reading.

Best Neighborhood to Stroll Through: Union Square (pictured below)

People-watching is one of the best things to do in New York City, and Union Square is my favorite place for that. You’ve got street performers, students, shoppers, a farmer’s market, a park…the list goes on. There’s always something happening here and it’s a fitting example of the melting pot that truly is New York City. See for yourself.

Union Square

Best Cheap Eat: A Bagel from Absolute Bagels

In New York, you have two classic choices for cheap, prepared food: pizza and bagels. My go-to preference is for the latter. Continue reading


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Around the Block – Links from the Week, 7/18/14

Around the Block - Links from the Week

Relevant stories in the world of cities and their residents.

  • If you’ve ever set foot in a library, it’s likely that you’ve come across a homeless person using the bathroom or the computer. This Reuters article talks about how libraries are on the “front line” in the fight against homelessness, offering services, meals and safety. But they also have their not-in-my-backyard critics. Read about it here.
  • You may have read about how the Detroit government shut off water to 100,000 of its residents. This story in The Atlantic covers the details of how that’s impacting day to day life in Detroit. My own posts about Detroit can be found here and here.
  • In the midst of unceasing violence that makes me question when peace will ever truly exist in the Israeli-Palestinian region, I found this NPR story about Israelis and Palestinians breaking fast together after their respective religious observances particularly significant and moving.
  • Speaking of religion, a “dinner church” is blurring boundaries between rich and poor, religious and non-religious in Brooklyn, NY. Read the story here.
  • I discovered a blog called Pattern Cities yesterday and I’m finding it the perfect place to learn about how cities’ ideas spread around the world. You might be interested if you like geography or politics.
  • Finally, a New York story that made national headlines: The Long Island Rail Road workers, who operate the most trafficked commuter rail in the nation, ferrying some 300,000 people back and forth every day, almost went on strike. Things were looking pretty grim for all parties until an eleventh hour deal was solidified between the unions and the government.

And here’s a quick tip, I usually post these links to Facebook or Twitter as they happen.


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Cafe Maude, My Neighborhood Bar

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If you wanted to walk from your house to a bar on a given Thursday night, would you be able to do it? Unless you live in an extremely dense urban area, you, like most of us, are out of luck on the neighborhood bar front. You’d have to find a bus route or pay for a taxi or get in the car (always risky when drinking) and drive somewhere just to enjoy an evening beverage. But if you allow yourself a little creativity and leeway, you might just find the neighborhood spot you’re looking for. In my case, it came in the form of a classy restaurant that moved in a few years ago near my parent’s house. It’s called Cafe Maude and I have made it my neighborhood bar,

Café Maude in Minneapolis, MN is the sort of place where you can bring your friends for brunch, your family for dinner, and your date for a late night cocktail. It can be all things to all people. I make sure to stop in each time I’m home in Minneapolis visiting my parents as it’s just a five minute walk from their house. Perfect. The décor is dark, with warm purple, red and gold accents—enough to feel luxurious but not so fancy that you can’t enjoy a California burger in your jeans on a Saturday afternoon, too. Guests find seats at the bar (always my preference), at a table, or in a cozy booth/couch combo that invites relaxation and intimacy. There’s also a breezy patio out front, although the view from those seats is just a gas station and a hardware store. That’s alright with me though, because it’s a neighborhood bar and it doesn’t require anything more than a drink served by a friendly bartender.

The drinks are an art-form here, and as cliché as that might sound, I mean it. I have never seen someone make a drink with such care, style and creativity as I have at Maude (besides my bartender boyfriend, of course). For example, last summer I ordered my first gin gimlet and watched in awe as the bartender pulled out a homemade, infused simple syrup (can’t remember what it was infused with now), fresh lime juice and top quality gin. He proceeded to shake these simple, but select ingredients with ice, double strain for smoothness, then pour into a chilled coupe, with a tiny bottle of the remaining liquid that wouldn’t fit in the glass on the side. Anyone who’s going to pour me a cocktail in a coupe, and set that little glass bottle of just-a-bit-of-extra-drink-to-top-me-off-later next to it, knows the way to my heart.

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If fancy cocktails aren’t you’re thing though, let me address your concerns. First, these bartenders execute their craft with zero pretension. They won’t talk to you about the ingredients unless you ask, and they definitely only shake the cocktail enough to meld the ingredients—no gimmicky shaker-tossing here. Second, they have draft PBR for $4 that comes out of a tap covered with dancing pink elephants. (It looks like this.) So everyone can truly be happy.

That’s probably what I like most about Café Maude. The crowd is casual, low-key, and no one’s putting on a show for anyone else, but rather, enjoying a pleasant evening with a drink or two to accompany it. This is definitely a neighborhood bar—not a sports bar, or a club, or a hipster bar. A neighborhood bar, where even the kids and non-drinkers can find a beverage they’ll enjoy and some olives or mac & cheese to go with it. You can stroll down the block from your house, get a seat easily and hang out for a few hours any night of the week.

Cafe Maude is definitely not cheap, with cocktails in the $10-15 range and entrees around $20. But for an evening out, especially if you’re just grabbing drinks and snacks, it’s well worth it. (And if you’re determined to get a good deal, the afternoon happy hour prices are completely reasonable; $2.75 tap beer, $5 house cocktail, oh yes.)

It’s hard to properly convey the distinct pleasure of walking to down the street to a local joint, except to say point out that one couldn’t possibly find a better evening activity than taking a stroll through one’s own neighborhood (getting to know it a little better) and enjoying a crisp beverage now and again. Please do give it a try.

Photo credits: Heavy Table, Cafe Maude


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Revisiting the City Run

Central Park in spring

One of my very first posts (over a year ago!) was about running through city streets and how it’s a way to become familiar with a new place. Today, I’m even more in favor of this practice after spending the last month with doctor’s orders not to run due to an injury (which I, coincidentally, received while running). I miss my running routine dearly, and that’s something new for me, as I’m definitely not one of those marathoners who relishes the 5am sweat of a jog more than her morning coffee. Running isn’t often something I look forward to; it’s just a part of my life, like showering or taking out the trash. However, being cut off from this practice for the last four weeks has given me a fresh craving for it. As they say, you never value good health until you lose it. I certainly have a whole new reverence for the cadence, the pavement, the breeze and the city that I get to experience when I run. Honestly, there are whole sections of this city that I never see unless I’m running. Either they’re too far to get to on foot, or they’re not destinations in themselves; rather, they are the places I love to move through. If you step outside with your sneakers on, you might just discover some of these places yourself. I challenge you to give it a shot.

I was surprised to find that the city has changed since the last time I ran. Back in June, the tourists were less present on the parks and trails where I usually jog, and even the residents were slow to make their way back outside after a long, hard winter. It was as if we all discovered the city anew—the flowers that bloomed where snow banks once resided, the birds pulling fresh worms out of green grass, the street-stands shifting to advertise ice cream and popsicles. I ran all the way through the winter, but most of my runs were solitary, broken only by the occasional die-hard biker or insistent nanny with a bundled up child burrowed inside a stroller. In June, folks reappeared and found their favorite park benches all over again.

Coming out a month later now, the parks and trails are utterly alive. For those of us without air conditioning, these may be some of the coolest spaces in an otherwise 90 degree city, so we make them ours. On my first run since my injury, I skipped down to Riverside Park, a trail that runs along the waterfront of the Hudson River and found it boisterous and jubilant. Children raced each other on scooters while their parents roasted meat over portable grills, coolers and picnic tables overflowing with potluck-style dinners nearby, delicious smells wafting across the water. Music blared from all manner of speakers and vehicles. Young couples lazed on blankets in the grass or strolled down the sidewalk. Residents carried the day’s produce and staples back home from a nearby grocery store along the pleasant path. As I moved south and the path narrowed, the demographics changed to runners of all ages—some alone and others joined by friends—jogging uptown, downtown; bikers too, commuting or enjoying an evening ride with their families.

Without my running shoes, I might never have set foot on this trail. I find myself privileged to take it in, especially after a month without it. So all that is to say, if you’re curious about running as a way to get to know a city, I urge you to give it a try, particularly if you haven’t done so in a while. I assure you it’s not that hard. Just start with a walk. Bring a friend or your iPod along. Let the path unfold in front of you and I bet you’ll discover something new.

Photo taken in Central Park.

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