I used to adventure in the city and I wonder if I should get back to it, maybe rediscover parts of it — but I am fearful that the spaces I loved are long gone and replaced by tempered glass and muted, yet bold, panels of color — all shiny and polished so as to not offend the sensibilities of the nouveau riche millennials. Something happened, I’m not sure, but everything after GenX seemed to require a new coat of paint or polished steel. Maybe it isn’t a generational thing. Maybe it’s just me aging and being cantankerous. But everything in the city seems to have had a broad brush slapped across it since 2000 that I can’t think anyone in my generation or earlier ever was asked if we liked, and yet it seems to appeal to a great number of people, born in the 90s (old friends consulted find this new architecture as vomit-inducing as I do; literally: no one 40+ seems to like it in my unscientific survey). Anything that might offend someone’s sensibilities has been chucked out along with the fairy tales we grew up with where the Big Bad Wolf was not just misunderstood.
Part of the charm of the city was the grime and grit, the bum’s turd in an alcove. Much of it was filthy and well-lived in, not these sterile constructions blocking everyone’s view of everything. It is all about symmetry now, there is no room for aging character that breaks the symmetry. No room for alcoves. No room for life.
I used to roam the skyways, the elevated walkways that made downtown livable in the coldest months of the year — no stopping for traffic, no snow in the face, no bitter cold. A few homeless, perhaps, those who had yet to be gently moved along as they slept out of the line of foot traffic, but it was a wonderland in of itself. I used to follow the labyrinthine twists and turns of ad-hoc skyways that linked one building to another, sometimes nominally “privately owned” segments of the upper city, not on any official map put out by the authorities. Sometimes I’d end up at a dead end, other times, I’d discover a whole new way to get across the vastness of downtown to places I had no idea you could reach without going to the street level. I could traverse the full breadth of the downtown area, from Loring Park to the Mississippi, without once going to the first floor of a building. I used to take skeptical friends, ones who doubted my claims, on “tours” to prove my claims. They were always left a little shocked at the extent of the ways to travel above ground floor.
But even the streets had their own charms. I liked the dirt, the decrepitude; I would often slip into old, abandoned buildings both on the outskirts of downtown, and the occasional one waiting demolition within the heart of the city. There were always treasures to be found within: an invoice from the 60s, an old ledger, graffiti by someone with the tag of “Jopy” who seemed to have found every secret before I did.
Having driven through the city before the pandemic, however, I am skeptical that any of that charm still exists — even the skyways have been unified and moved and cleaned up to be more utilitarian.
And yet… my mind keeps wondering if maybe there was a path I hadn’t discovered, or a new sidewalk through the sky built that I need to add to my collection. Maybe…