The City in Winter

I first posted this piece in February of 2019 during the coldest point in the winter season. Now that COVID-19 has us contemplating socializing outside in the depth of winter, we should to look to the Norwegian concept of Friluftsliv or “free outdoor life.” No city has embraced this concept better than Winnipeg.  


In what’s shaping up to be a miserable winter, a bright spot appeared in the form of a tweet from Mike Griggs, Director of Parks and Recreation: The ice at Stephens Lake was now thick enough for skating.

Parks and Rec is certainly doing yeoman’s work keeping us busy this winter from the ROC 7K Run at Cosmo Park (bonfires and hot breakfast!) to classes in making your own maple syrup. Still, once the holidays are over we lean more towards hibernation than activity. The wind and ice make typically busy sidewalks and public plazas unwelcoming. Residents discover the joy of hygee—the Danish word that reflects the coziness of staying home on a cold night. Even here on The Loop, as we gather in -2 temperatures to plan a pop-up park, we yield to the seasonal nature of our efforts.

On a recent trip to Winnipeg, I learned first hand how they take a very different approach to the depths of winter—they embrace it.

The Forks in Winnipeg is a historic park located in an abandoned railroad terminal at the juncture of the Red and the Assiniboine Rivers. The city transformed the rail yard into a public space with museums, art, restaurants, festivals, market, and riverwalk. Like most public areas, they began with a commitment to creating a rich pedestrian environment with people-scaled amenities and popular gathering spaces.

It wasn’t enough though to create a welcoming pedestrian space, it was also important to create a year-round facility for Winnipeggers, fully embracing the belief that winter is coming and you may as well enjoy it. Walkways, event spaces, and public art are all located with wind, temperature, and sunlight in mind to ensure that even in the dead of winter, the experience can be pleasant.

During winter months, the river freezes and becomes the longest ice skating “trail” in Canada.

Not to be outdone, cyclists hold a week-long Big Bike Chill with rides along the Red River Mutual Trail and a Winter Bike to Work Day.

And to keep everyone as warm as possible, they host a warming hut design competition every year with the winners demonstrating an exceptional mix of art, architecture, and sheer fun.

They even have a pop-up restaurant, Raw: Almond, that sets up on the ice every January and February and wows diners with dishes from top local chefs.

We don’t have the snow that Winnipeg sees but there are any number of ways to transform a city during the dead of winter through smart urban planning. Bryant Park in NYC, for instance, transforms into a Winter Village that extends well past the holidays with pop-up boutiques, food vendors, and heated igloos for outdoor seating. Forward-thinking cities make sure to plow pedestrian walkways and bike lanes after a snow. In other areas, restaurant owners invest in gas heaters and warm blankets to extend the usefulness of their sidewalk cafes and patios. And since the nights are longer, adding decorative lighting throughout the winter season helps the city feel warmer and more welcoming.

During the last big snow kids and adults alike headed to our parks for an afternoon of sledding and maybe that’s another secret to surviving the cold in the city—remembering just how fun winter was when you where young.

This article originally appeared in the Columbia Business Times.

What Cities Gain When They Embrace the Artisans

The multi-year process of rewriting the city’s development code caused a significant amount of sturm und drang, especially among the downtown folks, but here on Business Loop, we saw some new avenues open up. Under the new codes, activities on mixed-use corridors such as ours have been expanded to include uses previously prohibited but now recognized as creative ways to spark vitality and economic development. One category that caught our eye was something called “artisan industries.”

What are Artisan Industries?

Artisan industry is defined as small-scale fabrication, preparation, or production of arts, crafts, foods, and beverages. This can include welding, sculpting, arts and crafts, pottery, and carpentry as well as local, small-batch bakeries, candy shops, cheese shops, craft breweries, and micro-distilleries. Sounds pretty good, right?

Cities Across the Country are Embracing Artisans

As the “shop local” and maker’s movements gain steam, cities across the country are opening their doors to small-scale artisans and their production facilities. I’ve toured many artisan shops and have never failed to be impressed — from Shark Tank” contestants Mango Mango cooking up preserves in downtown Hampton, Virginia, to Old California Lighting handcrafting fixtures for historic buildings in my home town of Orange, California.

Few Distillery

Few Spirits in Evanston, Illinois, is another prime example of how artisan industry can find success. The small shop has barrels stacked to the rafters and a gleaming copper still standing in the middle of the chaos. Located at the end of an alley, visitors to Few spill outside as they listen to music and sample the gins and whiskeys. It’s abundantly clear these small-bore industries bring more than just tax revenue to a city; they bring the flavor.

How Columbia is Embracing Artisans

Although this category is new to the city’s code, it actually reflects activity already happening here in Columbia. From cabinet makers and metalworkers to small-batch coffee roasters and chocolatiers, our city is home to many of these artisans. We have our own growing ranks of brewers and distilleries well. The success of Few Spirits is mirrored by the growth of our very own DogMaster Distillery, Logboat Brewing, and Bur Oak Brewing Companies.

One change we did advocate for during the rezoning process was ensuring that retail sales would be allowed within this category. This was largely inspired by a Chamber of Commerce trip to Ft. Collins where we visited New Belgium Brewing and saw almost as many people buying T-shirts, pint glasses, and bike accessories as buying beer. It makes perfect sense — who could visit a brewery, chocolatier, or bakery and leave empty handed?

Artisan Industry on The Loop

As we move forward with our corridor plan—beautifying the street, improving infrastructure, and creating a welcoming entrance into Columbia—we’ll also be focusing on how to best encourage these types of uses on private property. We’ve already got a strong DIY attitude on the street and we’re ready to open our doors to even more of the doers, builders, and makers out there just waiting to show off their craft.

This article originally appeared in the Columbia Business Times.

Shared Kitchens and Food Incubators

It was a foodie heaven. A large commercial kitchen full of chefs bottling sauces and packaging meals. Across the way was a row of small restaurant spaces with local offerings ranging from vegetarian to Asian fusion to Mexican. People were eating lunch at shared tables or grabbing a cup of coffee at the adjacent coffee roaster. Around the corner was a local food retailer and, best of all, a butcher shop.

This was the 4th Street Market and East End Incubator Kitchen in Santa Ana, CA.

It’s a for-profit space designed specifically as an incubator for food startups—restaurants, meal services, food trucks, popups, farmers market vendors, or food production. The shared commercial kitchen rents space to startups who can’t afford full scale kitchen equipment or who need a health department certified kitchen. The small, individual kitchens with counters serve as second-stage spaces for businesses who have outgrown the shared kitchen but still can’t afford the square footage of a sit-down restaurant.

Overall, the 4th Street Market is a space with a lot of things working together—they even have a room for cooking classes that’s camera ready for the chefs who produce demonstration videos for YouTube.

Even better, this space provides a needed gathering space for people who work or live in the area—and it’s not just for lunch. Live music plays on the weekends, an outdoor patio is strung with lights, and there’s a crate full of tabletop games to encourage patrons to linger.

As part of our small-scale manufacturing grant I’ve been out talking to local makers and producers to find out what resources they need to expand their business and locate on The Loop. Columbia has experts in textiles, printing, woodworking and more but by far the most common is people in food production. Whether it’s roasting coffee, fermenting kimchee, bottling BBQ sauce, or making tortillas, it seems everyone has a favorite recipe they’d love to share with others.

The Columbia Farmers Market supports local value-added products—after all, a farmer makes more on a jar of kimchee than a head of cabbage—and the planned farmers market pavilion will eventually have a first-stage commercial kitchen. However, we may need to start thinking about ways to provide more space for these startups, including affordable second-stage space where some costs are still shared and we can help mentor and market their businesses.

The Loop CID is still in the middle of a 9-month planning process so it will be interesting to see what recommendations our consultants may have regarding food production but just imagine what a difference it could mean to the Business Loop. If we could help incubate food startups we could increase the number of local restaurants on the corridor, offer talented people a path to business ownership, create new jobs within walking distance of neighborhoods, and solidify Columbia’s growing reputation as a local food mecca.

We’re still in the planning process so we encourage any makers out there—whether it’s food, furniture, or felting—to visit our website, learn about the program, and sign up on our Makers Registry. We’d love to have you making things right here on The Loop.

This article originally appeared in the Columbia Business Times.

Turning Smokestacks into Artistic Icons

At a recent conference in Winnipeg I had the pleasure of visiting The Forks, an area located at the junction of two large rivers. The Forks has served as a gathering place for thousands of years and it’s now an active community space with parks, museums, restaurants, and, despite months of sub-zero temperatures, lots of outdoor activity spaces. One Winnipeg artist, aware of how compelling the first glimpses of spring are to a snow-bound city, wants to install a cluster of crocuses blooming from the top of an unused smokestack. This public art project would add a touch of whimsy to the area and remind visitors that spring was on its way.

Smokestacks dot our landscape, and while some still serve a purpose, many have long since been abandoned. Most are also far too expensive to dismantle. Not surprisingly, artists are beginning to take notice of these vertical canvasses. Some envision colorful additions to the stacks like purple crocuses, flying pigs, or pink hearts. Others take a more traditional approach and paint them as they would a mural with scenes that reflect the history of the town.

Smokestack, Milan

Smokestack, Milan

Perhaps the most stunning are the ones that play with light and projection. Spartanburg, South Carolina—a historic mill town—lit up not one but two old smokestacks as part of a city-wide celebration of lights. The City of Spartanburg was one of four communities nationwide awarded $1 million for temporary public art installations as part of the Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge. The smokestacks were wrapped in reflective fabric and flood lights were programmed to project changing patterns of color onto them.

Glow in Spartanburg, South Carolina

Glow in Spartanburg, South Carolina

In New York City, a candle flickers on the side of a 50-foot brick smokestack on the banks of the East River. Funded by a local company, this permanent exhibit is a video projection visible every evening. And in Finland, the Turku Power Station displays a playful series of numbers in bright neon. The “Fibonacci Chimney” isn’t only a striking landmark — it invites people to stop and puzzle out its meaning.

Candela, New York

Candela, New York

 Fibonacci Chimney, Finland's Turku Power Station

Fibonacci Chimney, Finland’s Turku Power Station

We have a smokestack on the Business Loop too, and these artists inspire us to see it not as an unused eyesore, but as an opportunity for creativity and artistry. When Water and Light wound festive lights around our smokestack this past holiday season, we realized its potential.

As part of our Loop Corridor Plan, we’re looking at ways to beautify the street, add public art, and create iconic landmarks. Instead of trying to create a landmark from scratch, why not simply embrace the most visible piece of architecture on the Business Loop? The smokestack at the city’s power plant has long served as a midtown landmark — maybe it’s time we all started exploring the artistic possibilities.

This article originally appeared in the Columbia Business Times.

Here comes the Bike Boulevard.

You may have noticed construction on some of Columbia’s central city streets lately. It’s likely you’re seeing the work being completed on the new MKT-Parkade Bike Boulevard.

What is a bike boulevard you ask? Good question!

According to the National Association of City Transportation Officials, “bicycle boulevards are streets with low motorized traffic volumes and speeds, designated and designed to give bicycles travel priority. Bicycle boulevards use signs, pavement markings, and speed and volume management measures to discourage through trips by motor vehicles and create safe, convenient bicycle crossings of busy arterial streets.”

You may already be familiar with the bike boulevard that runs from the downtown area to Stephens Lake Park, going through the Stephens College campus. The boulevard provides a safe travel route for commuters, students, and families as they attempt to negotiate the narrow, crowded streets on their bikes.

Residential car traffic can still travel along the street and people can still park by the curb, but the pavement markings, signage, and other infrastructure changes make it a more bike-friendly route than other streets.

The current project under construction creates a new north to south bike boulevard that will connect Parkade Boulevard to the MKT Nature and Fitness Trail on Lathrop Road. The project also includes a spur down East Forest Avenue to Hickman High School, adding some needed safety measures for students crossing Providence.

The new bike boulevard will have numerous benefits, the most important of which being the increased safety for cyclists.

Studies have found that car/bike collisions are two to eight times lower on bike boulevards than on regular streets, making it a family-friendly option for getting to a school or park.

Anyone who has tried to cross West Broadway at Aldeah Avenue or watched Hickman students play frogger across Providence will realize that the new medians, painted crossings, and signage won’t just benefit cyclists, they’ll help pedestrians as well.

On the Business Loop, our crosswalks are few and far between, and it’s common to see cyclists, people on foot, or people in wheelchairs try to cross five lanes of speeding traffic to get to a lunch spot or grocery store.

The new bike boulevard will add a key crossing point at Madison Street by Parkade Center, which is home to several schools and hundreds of students who could be traveling to school via bike rather than by car or bus.

Kids living just south of the Business Loop may not know that the MKT Trail is only a mile and a half away—a quick bike ride to one of Columbia’s best recreational areas. Likewise, commuters may not realize how close the Business Loop is to them. If they knew, they could decide to forgo their car and opt instead to bike the short trip to work. And families will now also have a safe and pleasant route for Saturday bike rides to Cosmo Park or the MU museums on The Loop.

The bike boulevard is almost done and we hope to see you pedaling our way soon.

This article originally appeared in the Columbia Business Times.

Attack of the Birds

Last week, Jonathan Sessions and I were walking through the streets of Ann Arbor, Michigan with a group of other professionals from the Columbia Chamber of Commerce’s yearly Leadership Visit when Jonathan looked up from his phone and said, “There’s a nest nearby.” We dashed across the street and snagged the last two Birds.

Moments later, a college kid running late to work appeared looking for a quick ride. As we logged into our scooters, he ran off in search of another nest. We guided our Birds into the street, hit the throttle, and we were flying.

Well, maybe not flying. After all, Bird scooters only go about 15 miles an hour, but in contrast to the slow pace of walking, it sure felt like it.

Bird scooters first appeared in southern California — where the company is based — but their recent nationwide roll-out was aimed at college towns and timed to coincide with the start of classes.

The scooters are battery operated, app-driven, and cost $1 to unlock and about 15 cents a mile after that. They materialized overnight here in Columbia—downtown, on campus, and even on The Loop—all places with large student populations who are sure to be quick adopters.

I’m a big proponent of the park-once approach to cities. If you must take a car downtown, park it in a garage and then walk everywhere you have to be. But if your destination is a little out of the way—say Stephens College or down to Flat Branch Park—a Bird is more convenient. They’re designed for short trips, easier to park than cars, and more decorous than a bike (especially when one is wearing a dress). I love walking through cities but the Birds are a breezy alternative.

So what, then, is the problem? You may have heard that MU has banned them from campus. Cities across the country are up in arms over the infestation of Birds. In fact, just after our visit, Ann Arbor began confiscating the scooters.

It’s less about the scooters themselves and more about the commitment to disruption underpinning the business model of companies like Bird or Uber. The scooters appear in a city overnight without warning. They are parked in the middle of the sidewalk, no one is instructed on the rules of the road, and they use city infrastructure without contributing to its upkeep. Alternative modes of transportation are great; flaunting the rules we all live by is not.

So, what are the rules? First, don’t ride on the sidewalk—it’s far too dangerous for pedestrians. (Yes, I know I’m on a sidewalk in the picture, but we thought it advisable I didn’t try to pose for a photo in the middle of traffic!) Birds should be ridden like a bike, either in the bike lane or sharing the road if it’s narrow. Second, don’t leave the scooters parked in the middle of the sidewalk where they block pedestrians and people in wheelchairs.

And what about the larger question we should be asking of these new, disruptive forms of transportation like Bird, Uber, and Lyft? They use city infrastructure—streets, sidewalks, and valuable curbside space—but are they helping pay the bills? The city is in the process of negotiating a contract with Bird, but the fact that we had to reach out to them speaks volumes. So, let’s embrace these new forms of transportation but insist they embrace our community in return.

This article originally appeared in the Columbia Business Times.

City Shots

City Shots

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City Shots

Walking in a winter wonderland 🎶 📸: @ft_c_shooter #DowntownDenver

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