Saturday, November 17, 2007

An ode to University Avenue-Part 1

I like to think of University Avenue as the Twin Cities own "El Camino Real." Rather than linking missions, presidios, and peublos, it connects Hmong and Somali neighbors; African-Americans and old school St. Paul Irish; the State Capitol and the Turf Club; the U of M and the Love Doctor.

At first glance there's not a lot to love about University Avenue. It's a wide city street, there's lots of surface parking, a fair amount of vacant or underutilized buildings, big box retail, and no street trees. But looking closer, this workhorse of an arterial is full of gems. Making its way west from the State Capitol, University Avenue is the backbone of Frogtown complete with the best Asian food in the city. Saigon, Little Szechuan, Trung Nam bakery...who needs San Francisco?!?

Into the Midway, you're confronted with the corridor's past as an auto sales haven--lots of emply car lots and showrooms just screaming to be converted into some kind of arts space. University also takes you past some honest-to-goodness, still functioning, industrial areas--a rare commodity in so many cities--that manages to fit in well even as it abuts the Carleton Artist Lofts. The street and its environs aren't pretending to be something that they're not --they're an eclectic, messy, adaptive, hodgepodge of old and new, smelly and shiny, tacky and lovely.

Since this is the first of what will be many odes to University Avenue, I'll stop here. Go out and have a bahn mi sandwich and a Summit ale somewhere on the corridor and tell me that this isn't the King's Highway.

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