The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 16, 2013

Krohn: Area has a good start on urban must-haves

By Tim Krohn
Free Press Staff Writer

— As Mankato civic, business and government leaders purposely guide Mankato’s transition from big town on the prairie to real metropolitan area, it’s useful to step back and take a look at what we have to work with.

There are all sorts of ways to take the measure of a city. A Seattle land-use lawyer, who writes extensively about urban landscapes in The Atlantic Cities (TheAtlanticCities.com), has some interesting takes on what he thinks are the top 10 things that make an urban area a rich place to live and work in.

Wolfe can get a bit esoteric, but his list is more interesting than the normal lists of “safest cities” or “best places to raise a family.”  

Here’s a few of his urban must-haves.

Wood-framed storefronts and proud displays

It conjures an image of the dark-wood, warmly lit storefronts displaying top hats in old English cities.

Mankato doesn’t have a lot of wood storefronts, but there are plenty of brick and stone storefronts, which are natural materials and should count the same.

As for proud displays, the Old Town stretch has the most. The dramatic effect of lights in the Denco Lighting storefront, Nicollet South Bike Shop and others on the Old Town stretch qualify as proud displays.

The new Tandem Bagels on Second Street downtown creates a quaint storefront,  and the new ballet school in the old Earthly Remains building on Front Street, with its large windows, fits the bill.

The city has a decent start on the storefront front with the most potential along Riverfront Drive, Front Street downtown and Belgrade Avenue in North Mankato.

Water features that emulate nature, in context

On the plus side, we don’t need to emulate water features — we have a big river rolling right through town. And we have Hiniker Pond and Spring Lake.

But, to not be under water every few years, we have a concrete flood wall that makes the main natural water feature a bit less natural — or enjoyable.

We’ve made it better with a bike/walking path inside the wall and the new Riverfront Park where people can enjoy the river.

Still, for a river town, we could do better. A good river overlook for starters. Some fountains would be nice. Maybe a small, re-created stream wending through part of downtown, emptying into the river?  

Children in public squares

This is, of course, the safety issue. We got this one down cold. Kids can romp anywhere they want here without any real fear — other than the fear conjured in helicopter parents’ minds.

Other than domestic abuse and date rape, which is no worse here than anywhere, 90 percent of the people who get beat up, robbed or otherwise harmed in Mankato are: A) drunk, B) out somewhere way too late where they should know better than to be, C) up to something illegal themselves, or, all of the above.

Spectacular examples of shopping tradition

Not sure about this one. We have a nice mall, plenty of stores to go to, some nice independent shops, but “spectacular” isn’t exactly the word that comes to mind. The last great shopping spectacle was Brett’s Department Store.

Classy blokes in front of classy places

Wolfe suggests allowing open-air seating areas in front of bars and restaurants, where having a drink is allowed, provides “ambiance and interface with daily life.”

Mankato has more of this than in the past and Wolfe is right, it adds a communal atmosphere when people drink and dine outside — even if all the blokes aren’t classy. 

Commercial porches, with color and vantage points to the street

Wolfe calls them “Architectural styles that mix commercial and residential uses, and offer ‘eyes on the street’ from open verandas above.”

Great concept.

We don’t have any.

Culturally indigenous engravings in the built environment

Wolfe says designs should reflect important cultural aspects of its builders. He points to Portugal where a common feature of public squares reflects the ocean.

We lack the engravings, but we have plenty of beautiful Kasota stone in our buildings, a nod to the oldest business in Mankato — quarrying of the unique limestone that lies buried in the area.

We could do a lot more to incorporate the milling, farming and river cultures into our architecture and public spaces.

 

Tim Krohn is a Free Press staff writer. He can be contacted at 344-6383 or tkrohn@ mankatofreepress.com.