Slow-Like it never happened (Good Design as if it was always there)

(By Mike Hale. SFL' co-founder.)

Since there doesn
't appear to be a substantive paper, blog or other web site dedicated to Slow methodology or addressed on any internet search I have attempted, I propose this paper which will present the basic characteristics available in the Slow approach to community development and Urban Design , two aspects of building design which have been left out of our region's recent development efforts.

The research for this approach has already been compiled. The repository for this research can be witnessed in the community referred to as the "Near Northside Minneapolis, MN." An urban area located between Glenwood Avenue to the south, forty second street to the north, Theodore Worth Parkway to the west and Interstate 94 to the east.

This paper will attempt to fashion an inventory of some that is positive, contained within this community, because that's what Slow does best: identifies the opportunities and  the numerous developments which bring us to the table in a discussion of community development.


Slow is currently a fashionable term, which can be interchanged with a lesser used designation: good design. Good Design is anything that, once the work is completed, looks like it was always there. Good Design was practiced, for decades, in abundance prior to the computer age or age of information. We find ways of accelerating our development process in the current age of information via email and portable device, taking the place of reason, observation and the open forum. Even the Architect has changed her ways by providing computer illustrations far advanced of traditional preliminary sketches, adding to an illusion that community issues have been adequately covered via closed and open discussions, when in reality the project pedigree is of a rather recent vintage.


(Building models within the computer tend to isolate the project and sacrifice serendipitous happenstance, which would otherwise naturally address local community issues and local esthetic concerns.)

This is a good word: Aesthetic, which hopes to include all ramifications of a project. Aesthetic is every bit about use and the community culture as it is about color and materials. What makes this community unique? And how do things work here?


North Minneapolis, MN


Why establish a beautiful yard, gardens and other amenities in the vicinity?


What vicinity? North Minneapolis gets tons of negative coverage from the local news media. It is a blessing that keeps non-believers away in droves. So, where did all those voluptuous, lush and every-bit-a-fitting yard and gardens originate? What was the thinking behind their creation and endless care and attention?

Key properties in North Minneapolis are indeed a grand and secret treasure trove intended for the delight of it's community members. Not a reaction to all the bad press, but a delight in the knowledge that here things last generations, ownership is structured in generations, confident with the knowledge that urban development is not the brash, arrogant, selfish, cheap inevitability within their community. They are confident that their surroundings are exempt from fast food and fast “improvements”, which commonly stagnate the real beauty of the more trafficked areas within the city.


A majority of properties are kept in near original condition, partly due to the property ownership being multi-generational and partly due to a culture of being out in the yard and a preference for walking. (Vehicular traffic is reduced to the main roadways thru the area, on West Broadway, the equivalent of "20th Street North".)

An amazing sense of variety is the dominant texture found in the neighborhoods of North Minneapolis, due largely to the adherence of the homes' original scale and surface. (Nothing is harder on an urban neighborhood than excessive, relentless car traffic. North Minneapolis is quiet and peaceful. Even the airliners are absent overhead.)


One aspect of North Minneapolis, which contributes to it's success is in it's history. The properties were built in a hay-day of the region. The majority of buildings are unique and detailed, having been built with care and pride-worth saving, in our present age of cost conscious builders and a significant loss of skilled tradesmen.

Olympic Café, located on West Broadway, offers the best chicken and rice lunch dish in town. Again, this is a product of Slow (Good Design only goes so far).

One of the main streets, West Broadway, is thought to be an environment for crime and criminal elements, when in fact, discounting the popular opinions, the businesses there are family owned and operated and last for decades. Not subject to the mainstream market trends and national brands, it’s genuine and modest establishments really do need your business to survive. Unlike the dozen or so shopping malls in other parts of town, this collection of businesses offers local, unique goods and services in an honest setting, not the "Leisure Village" shopping experience which relies on the creative thinking of a dozen design professionals or more to "create" a favorable, fake architectural community setting.


Accommodating community members' entrepreneurial aspirations is a unique esthetic of North Minneapolis. The place has a variety of affordable storefront locations. Again, most of the City retail inventory hosts dozens of failed businesses elsewhere annually. It's too expensive to maintain a family business. In North Minneapolis you have a chance.


And so it goes.


If it's located in North Minneapolis, it is because Slow was the engine providing the methodology.

The City of Minneapolis has taken an interest in North Minneapolis in recent years. And the Minneapolis School District is making an effort to support this community.

The future is bright for Slow, because it offers a design mechanism which gets back to the issues not covered by simple "bricks and mortar" design services.


If you want to make a difference in your community, you must realize a fit for the generations, not a quick deal with the developer. Skip the current trends and give time a chance to expose the real opportunities.

Start by holding discussions within your community. Several design options may present themselves in the process. Give your local design professionals an opportunity to address those options. Work thru, with the available brain power of your neighborhood/urban setting, some really great possibilities. If you must build, Slow can show a way forward and to what extent each phase will bring prosperity beyond the quick convenience.

Is opportunity really here today and gone tomorrow or is a deeper truth waiting undiscovered? 

Mike E. Hale            





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