Monday, September 25, 2023

The unconscious takes over


After a series of dense, complicated pictures (see previous "New Urbanist" columns), I wanted to take advantage of my new skills/technology by making quicker, more uncomplicated pictures down by the river.

These would simply have a boat added, an old fashion Galleon, and nothing else!

I would put a nice boat on the river and simply move on!

But they didn't look right without a volcano.

And it seemed churlish not to add a train to any empty train tracks.

A fox in the foreground? A sleeping lion? Yes please.

Birds, big black birds! Turtle! New graffiti! Another boat! 

Remove a boat. More lava! Why is the lava blue? New volcano. Get rid of the fox's fifth leg!


Who's in charge here?

Good question.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Making picture taking over-complicated


Spending all day trying to create a few simple pictures, it does occur to me: 

I can just go outside and take pictures of things, leave them as they are, and it's way faster.

But I already did that.

It's not reality that's so difficult, the difficulty is in how much we want to change it.

Here's a re-working of the Prospect Park neighborhood to make it more suit me. I do see turkeys in this neighborhood a lot, but I think they'd manage the world of my alterations okay.

This is a little wood bridge that has oft featured in clerkmanifesto in various ways as it is in a picturesque location at the top of Shadow Falls, and it's fun to put all manner of cartoon characters on it. It's always lovely at this spot, but that doesn't mean I can't spend hours wildly altering it anyway. 

Lastly, this is a heavily altered patio on the St. Thomas Campus. The way I picture it here is as a kind of terminus for three of my favorite forms of transportation. This branch of the canal starts up here at a local train stop, and in through the ticketing area one can climb up to the tower where there is a cable car station. So come in on the train and carry on walking, by boat, or by cable car. 

One can get a pastis or espresso here at a small cafe while waiting for a train.

Saturday, September 23, 2023



I believe there is a psychology to drivers, me included, that is different than normal human psychology. Like, people's brains work differently when travelling on roads over 30 mph. I'm quite eager to theorize on the meaning of individual's actions in so many situations, but when it comes to driving and drivers I come up with insane theories, probably because I myself am driving at the time. And in the cold light of reflection these theories make no sense, but neither does any other explanation.

I mostly commute on four-lane highways, so here is a classic example I regularly run into, in some variation, so often that it has compelled me to laboriously write it all out for you in this usually cheerful, often fully coherent space. It goes like this:

I end up in the right lane behind car "A" going, say, 50, in a 55 mph speed limit zone. I move left to pass. So far so good. But as I begin to pass, coming up on the back right of the other car, I soon find I am making no headway despite going 62 or 63 mph. Car A has dramatically speeded up! 

I feel this all is a bit fast. So I slow down a bit, thinking maybe I'll slot back in where I was. However, car A is slowing, and now a new car, known as car "B", going 80 mph, races up behind me. 

I am pinned! 

Feeling it might be rude to slow down even more, I accelerate to pass the original car, car A, on my right. They, as they have been, match me, but at 80 their spirit breaks and I can move right in front of them. The fast car B that was coming up behind me roars by me now travelling at breathtaking speeds. Now in the slower lane I can drop my speed. The driver behind me, car A, pulls out to pass. They race past only to come upon the super fast car B that has become trapped behind two slow cars, cars C and D, going side by side. The car on the right, car D, is going slightly faster than car C though, so as I catch up to this grouping from the right lane, I slowly pass speedster B and the original car A that I passed and that had just passed me as they back up in the left lane. Those two cars, A and B, now fall behind me to pass car C going slowly in the left lane. We all in the right lane, D, followed by me, then B, then A, now all pass the slow car to the left of us, C, and leave it behind. The original slow car A pulls out of the back of our pack into the left lane to race off at 75 mph now. But the car that was going 80, car B, decides to just chill out now safely behind me. Until I decide the car now in front of me, car D, is going too slow and I pull out to pass them, and the cycle renews.

And in conclusion, this is why I think we should all travel only in gondolas.

Friday, September 22, 2023

More car culture


My impassioned crusade against cars continues! I mean, except for how I drive one. I am bitterly opposed to cars and to a car centric world, but until I can properly get around on canals and using cable cars running on wires in the sky, what am I supposed to do?

Plus I really love the air conditioning in my car. It's been a hot summer and it has conditioned (no pun intended, but, um, pun taken?) me to love the very smell of our car's air conditioner. On the way to work this morning it was no more than 70 degrees and I still turned on the air for that deliciously chilly scent and the icy thrill of it all numbing my hands and face.

Of course, the sheer, random mobility of cars is pretty amazing too. We'll cross half a dozen cities around here on some odd errand I can't remember two days later. I'm not sure it's a capability I really need, but I have it. And so does nearly everyone else. I see this bizarre power at play, with a touch of horrified fascination, nearly every day working at the library. People randomly drive 40 miles from their homes to come to me at the front desk at the library and get a library card.

"Do you have a library card from your home library system?" I ask. "I can register that card into our system so you can use it here."

"No, I've never been to a library before."

"But for some reason today you decided to get up, drive 40 miles, passing 11 different libraries in three different library systems, to come here to my desk and apply for a new library card?"

"Yes." They answer, unruffled.

So I do it. I get them a card. We're set up for this kind of thing and always have been because this mobility has always been the way of life here. I get them a temporary card, and their home system, located a seven minute walk from their front door, will send them a new, proper library card in the mail.

"You can get anything you want with this card." I inform them, handing over the temp card.

"Thanks." They say, pocketing it and walking out the door. 

They don't have time to actually get anything. 

They have places to drive.


Thursday, September 21, 2023

At the desk, part 298


I'm back at the front desk of the library for the millionth time in my life. But don't worry, there's plenty to talk about. For instance, an elderly couple came down the stairs and the man was wearing a t-shirt that said "I'm retired. This is as dressed up as I'm going to get". And the woman behind him had a shirt that simply read "meh". 

I was strangely impressed by them. They seemed to have it all together.

A long-retired, and famously terrible co-worker was in as well. I haven't seen her in ages. I asked her how she was.

"Mom died." She said sadly. But she has always said everything sadly.

"Oh, I'm so sorry." I said.

"My aunt died too." She added.

At that, I guess we were all caught up. She didn't ask anything about me. 

Probably because of the grief and everything.

A woman lost her sunglasses and wondered if we had them in our lost and found. We did have a pair, but they weren't hers. She decided that someone must have stolen her sunglasses upstairs. She was pretty mad. Then she asked if she could have the sunglasses that weren't hers in the lost and found.

I said no.

This just made her madder about the thieves upstairs.

A man borrowed our stapler. It is very decorated with stripes and has "Library" written all over it so people won't wander off with it. "You all must have a lot of free time." The man said, referring to the elaborate decoration that I had once patterned onto it.

"No, thank god." I thought. "All my time here is compensated."

I checked a book out to a singing woman. She's a regular. I gave her the book and she started singing. She's still in the lobby now, singing. This is usually a sign that we are about to close. So I'll leave you here.

It's been a pleasure.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Breaking in the new guy


After a long hiatus, we are training some new library circulation workers, these to work as substitutes because for mysterious reasons we no longer hire any new, regularly scheduled staff no matter how desperately anyone needs them. I was introduced to the first one of these trainees this morning. We'll call him Cody. A manager said "Feldenstein, this is Cody, he's going to be a circ sub."

I shook Cody's hand and said to him "It's a great job because you get to operate under water."

I think it's best the new people get used to me as soon as possible.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

My reputation precedes me


A regular longtime library patron I have known for ages came in. Once, many years ago, I believe she was even on our library board. She was with her mother. They looked at a picture of a lion in the library that is sitting at our main desk, and they made some joking/admiring comment of the picture. I can't remember what it was.

Then they greeted me and admired my t-shirt, featuring a picture of a cute, cartoon Bob Dylan.

Then they asked "Are you still making any art?"

"Well," I replied. "I made this." Pointing to my shirt. "And I made the picture of the lion in the library." Rarely is there such an easy, readily available answer to that question.

They laughed and the mother said, like I had been making a crazy joke, "You're a good liar."

Actually I'm a pretty bad liar, but I'm clearly way worse at telling the truth.

exhibits (though you've seen them before):

Monday, September 18, 2023

The struggle to make things better


I like computer games. A new one is coming out in the next month where one can build cities. It is called Cities Skyline 2. This is the premier city-builder game. It looks pretty amazing. The gameplay is carefully constructed, and it will provide hundreds of hours of entertainment for thousands of people. Using almost all the tools and features of modern cities, one constructs a working city with plumbing, electricity, zoning, waste management, commerce, housing, and transportation.

But I probably won't be playing it. 

It doesn't appear that a person can make canals in it! So what, I ask you, is the point?

In fact, from what I can tell when a person starts a new city in the game they start with one, basic thing: A road connection.


My disappointment is immeasurable.

I have been playing a great deal of a sprawling, clever, and character driven role playing computer game called Baldur's Gate 3. It's pretty great. 

Though it takes place in a kind of crazy Medievalist fantasy realm full of chaos and danger, I can't resist pointing out: 

It doesn't have any cars.

Of course the other game I'm playing, if it can be called that, and it probably shouldn't, is the one where I take pictures of my neighborhood and then obsessively alter them into what I'd like my city to be. A land of tree lined canals, cafes, shops, trains, midrise apartments, rowhouses, gondolas, cable cars, and of course, cats.

This is a lot to pack into pictures of late summer alleyways in the wastefully zoned, sleepy neighborhoods of Saint Minneapolis! So I have most recently found myself going back into the first pictures I showed you, those of dream canals in Saint Minneapolis, and working on them some more. I am trying to make them into not just pretty visions but also places that actually make sense in terms of getting around. I seek pictures that maybe one can imagine oneself walking in and exploring. 

As in most things, the improvements get more and more minute the more I make of them. But it's hard to stop.

Also, it's hard to say what is even left of our original pictures at this point, maybe the cement, which is hard to shake with my photoshop tools, the DNA of the construction and color, and our particular regional foliage.

Here's where we are now: 

Sunday, September 17, 2023

The perfect city


Yesterday in this very space I had some pictures showing my "Venicification" of my city, Saint Minneapolis. I altered the sleepy streets and alleys of my neighborhood to put in calm canals and an occasional gondola, plus maybe a cat, or a parrot, or a decorative bit.

And then I talked about getting rid of cars, and the Internet went mad!

Well, they would have gone mad if any of them came here. But clerkmanifesto is read strictly by 3-14 entirely sensible people so instead everyone remained calm and sane.

So in your face car lovers! Ha!

I accidentally wrote "cat lovers" instead of car lovers at first. But think of that! What if every car were replaced with a cat? Every second, out my window, instead of a loud, world ending car roaring by, a cat would saunter along. That would be kind of lovely. But muse on this sensible person: There are so many cars thundering along relentlessly out my window, on a fairly average American street, that if we replaced them all with cats, a delightful non global warming inducing creature, there might actually be too many cats! It might be a little disconcerting to see so damn many of them marching along the streets.

But, and songbirds may disagree, it surely couldn't be worse than the current situation.

So, you see, I have not stopped thinking of my ideal city. I have not stopped my dissatisfaction with living in a car crazy city, or with having any cars at all, and I have not stopped altering pictures of my city to make them show a world that is more what I'd like to live in.

Yesterday I made my pictures first, and as I wrote the accompanying "war on cars" text of my column, I could see it would be nice if those pictures illustrated a little more of my ideal city. So when I went out and took new pictures, and when I spent the day manipulating them, that's what I had in mind.

The first point I'd like to address is the one of canals. In my pictures yesterday my canals had a tendency to make the neighborhoods look flooded, and maybe even a little post apocalyptic. And as the global climate disaster slowly ushers in the end of the world as we know it, we will regularly be treated to similar, but actual, pictures of cities like Miami, where the streets will have become waterways to disastrous effect. 

So this made me reflect: Maybe the canal isn't the ultimate agent of change we should apply to a city to improve its human scale and its transit effectiveness, even if it is the most entertaining one to add to photographs. 

But then I came to my senses. 

There is no engineering problem with adding canals to a city like Saint Minneapolis. Just as there is no fundamental problem with putting in gondola lifts running on cables above the city (another change I'd love to see occasionally in any city). Both of these things actually exist in minor ways already in my city. The new Highland Bridge development has what is more or less a short canal/stream system running picturesquely through the middle of it, and Centennial Lakes Park has an even better recreational canal system running through a rich area of dense housing and some shops, offices, and restaurants. Furthermore there are gondola cars that, though unfortunately used only during the state fair, exist at least as an operating example in our fairgrounds. So what seems as patently absurd in my pictures, already exists here and all over the world.

It is purely a matter of scale and will.

And while I'll concede that trains, trams, bike paths, trolleys, and trails are probably more efficient and cost effective than canals, the diversity of transit and its aesthetics matter profoundly. And as to cost, the amount of money we spend collectively on the car infrastructure and operation in my city could handle an absolutely profligate alternative. But that is a discussion for another time.

And so once again my build-up has likely overwhelmed my pictures. I have four today, with the images mostly originating on or near a local University campus. Canals predominate the changes, then, increasingly, density, until I work more practical pathways into the scenes. I found that the closer I got to the vision I was looking for, the more I was cutting away from what was actually in my original photographs. And so you will see a progression as you progress through the photographs to more and more changes. I have nevertheless eschewed adding people, which surely says something about me. There are cats though. If you like you can see them as replacements for cars.


Saturday, September 16, 2023

Canals of Saint Minneapolis revisited


Once upon a time here, in a Winter shortly before a trip with my dear wife to Venice, Italy, I made a little tour video of Venice. But the subject of this short film was the Venice hidden in Saint Minneapolis. 

I leave you this link here if you would like the full shaky-cam experience:

Of course the joke is, if you haven't watched it, and if you have, that while I am extolling the beauties of Venice, what we are really seeing is the fairly grim streetscapes of Saint Minneapolis in the ugliest time of year.

I think about Venice a lot. I have even articulated in this space my half-joking vision to solve the much touted problems of Venice (overrun with tourists, no longer a viable city with a local culture beyond pure tourism, sinking), by leaning in and turning it into a kind of Disneyland. And this attention I pay is because as a person profoundly interested in New Urbanism, or what the ideal city built for humans would look like, or perhaps most importantly, where my little family would ultimately like to live, Venice does offer something that no other notable city that I know of does. 

And it's not canals!

Well, it is canals a little bit. 

But what it really, really is, is a wholly car-free environment. 

Not a pedestrianized zone, not a "cars are guests" improvement, not a separate, quality, bike route system, not great transit, but simply and absolutely no cars. This alone to me puts Venice in every discussion I hear, or more rarely take part in, about how cities should be, even when, too often, it is not specifically spoken.

I'm not sure I can credit wonderful YouTube channels and Podcasts and books like Not Just Bikes, RM Transit, Strong Towns, and War on Cars with opening my eyes exactly. But they did help clarify what I already knew and felt. I don't like cars. I don't like living in a world where they are a necessity. And I don't think they should exist except in very unique and tailored, non private, special use scenarios. I find these videos and podcasts kind of shy away from the final extremities of such a view. Success takes the edge off of the strongest views, I suppose, maybe. But nevertheless that's what I want, and that's the world I am looking for, and it is also what I believe in; a world without cars.

I'm not sure I can do much about any of that. But it's all there. And I dream of something better. And when I walk around my neighborhood, longing, or planning our next move, I can almost taste the dream.

And so here are a few pictures today of my Saint Minneapolis. All this I've discussed above wasn't so specifically in my mind when I made these pictures. It is more what the pictures themselves made me think of. 

I improved the neighborhood as I could, but there are simpler ways than water. Nevertheless, as I said, Venice is always on my mind: