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RIVER LIFE

A Sip of Science: Indigenous People and Plant Genetics

February 4, 2015Patrick NunnallyEvents, Former Featured PostsComments Off on A Sip of Science: Indigenous People and Plant Genetics

We tend to have many prejudices and assumptions about both parts of next week’s talk, that is, indigenous people and genetically modified plants.  Come to A Sip of Science at the Aster Cafe on Thursday February 12 (note changed date) to hear Prof. Clint Carroll, American Indian Studies, University of Minnesota, on these subjects.  Full announcement follows below:

A SIP OF SCIENCE – PLEASE NOTE CHANGED DATE!
From Mother Corn to GMO: Indigenous Peoples and Plant Genetics
Clint Carroll, American Indian Studies, University of Minnesota

THURSDAY, February 12th, 2015  5:30p.m.  
Aster Cafe125 SE Main Street, St. Anthony Main, Minneapolis
No cover, Please RSVP!

 

A SIP OF SCIENCE bridges the gap between science and culture in a setting that bridges the gap between brain and belly.  Food, beer, and learning are on the menu in a happy hour forum that puts science in context through storytelling.

February 12th Event –

Humans have modified food crops to produce desirable traits since the birth of agriculture, but today this modification mainly occurs at a plant’s genetic level. The ever-growing prominence of genetically modified (GM) foods, and the debates they have sparked, are an unavoidable part of our lives today. But what are the implications of this increasing amount of technology involved in food production—including the patenting and commodification of genetically modified crops—for, specifically, American Indian peoples? How do biopatenting standards privilege certain forms of modification over others? How might a concept like “food sovereignty” work to heal American Indian communities and decrease colonial dependency? Join us as Dr. Clint Carroll addresses these questions and more through indigenous perspectives on intellectual and cultural property, and the recent indigenous traditional food movement.

 

The talk takes place during happy hour at the Aster Cafe || Food and Drink Available for Purchase

ABOUT THIS MONTH’S SPEAKER

Clint Carroll is an assistant professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. He holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Science, Policy and Management from the University of California-Berkeley and a B.A. in Anthropology and American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona. Clint is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation and works closely with his tribal community on issues of environmental policy and cultural revitalization. His forthcoming book, Roots of Our Renewal: Ethnobotany and Cherokee Environmental Governance (University of Minnesota Press, Spring 2015), situates this work in the context of broader discussions of tribal governance and political ecology. He teaches courses on American Indian ecological perspectives and environmental issues.

 

ABOUT A SIP OF SCIENCE

A SIP OF SCIENCE is a science happy hour sponsored by the National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics (NCED). It is a chance to hear about new and exciting research over beer, in a cool bar.  Come talk with the experts about their efforts to address some of the Earth’s most pressing problems. NCED’s A SIP OF SCIENCE brings the wonder of science to happy hour.

Get more information at: http://www.nced.umn.edu/content/sip-of-science

 

 

This is How Change Begins: Forum on Closure of St. Anthony Lock

January 30, 2015Patrick NunnallyFormer Featured PostsComments Off on This is How Change Begins: Forum on Closure of St. Anthony Lock

A week ago, the Minneapolis Riverfront Partnership held a forum on the future of the Minneapolis Central Riverfront after the closing of the Upper St. Anthony Lock.  Dave Tinjum, publisher of the Mill City Times, filmed the session and has made it available.  Dave does yeoman work for the communities around the Minneapolis riverfront and we want to thank him publicly for the dedicated community service he performs.

The video is conveniently divided so that viewers can skip to any of the particular speakers, go straight to the questions, which were highly interesting and well-informed, or simply view the entire program.  A quick summary of some of the key points each speaker made:

  • Council Member Jacob Frey welcomed the group and offered his sense that the Central Riverfront holds tremendous potential as part of the economic revitalization of this part of the city,
  • Architect Tom Meyer, who has been part of the St. Anthony Falls riverfront for better than 40 years, described how the lock at Upper St. Anthony was completed in the early 1960s, just as the great age of industrial milling was coming to a close.  After a period where the area lagged behind investments in the rest of the city, a number of key events took place in the late 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s that set the stage for the historic transformation that will happen when the lock closes.
  • Nan Bischoff is the project manager for the lock transition effort at the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers.  She too has deep experience in the area, which forms part of her perspective as she organizes the studies and analyses that will lead the agency to recommend whether to keep the facility although it is essentially nonfunctional, or transfer all or part of the facility to another public entity.  The processes are driven by federal rules and regulations, and she assured the crowd that there would be plenty of opportunities for public comment.
  • Janna King, President of Economic Development Services, Inc. completed a study of the economic impact of closing the Upper St. Anthony lock.  While the general impact, in terms of more trucks on local highways, a loss of jobs, and potential economic increase from recreational river use is fairly well known, her studies provide a large number of important details.  Nevertheless, measured at a broad level, the impact to the region is estimated at a $22 million dollar loss, measured out over some 25 years.
  • The last panelist to speak was John Anfinson, Superintendent of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, the local unit of the National Park Service that covers the Mississippi River in this area.  A professional historian, Anfinson pointed out that the lock’s construction was the result of long-running competition between Minneapolis and St. Paul, and that it was barely economically feasible when it opened.  It never achieved the hoped-for role as a nationally-significant component of the inland waterway system that stretches from Minnesota to New Orleans.

The closure of the lock is relatively imminent, slated to take place on or before June 15, 2015.  The decisions about what happens to the facility, and by extension how this part of the city is affected by this momentous occasion, has just begun.

 

Living with the Mississippi: Swede Hollow

Living with the Mississippi is a blog series that examines the history of the river flats communities and what it means to almost literally live on the Mississippi River. Follow along to learn more about life on the Mississippi prior to luxury condos and clean river water, before the riverfront was considered a desirable place to live. The entire series is downloadable in PDF format here.

Though Swede Hollow is named for its Scandinavian residents, it was home to settlers from a number of countries. Swedish and Norwegian immigrants were the first to the area, but the successive Italian population inhabited the land just as long, the neighborhood sometimes referred to as “Little Italy.”[i] Despite the sustained Italian presence for almost thirty years, Swede Hollow only served as a stopping point for these recent immigrants. It was extremely rare that a family would live at Swede Hollow for more than a decade, usually moving to a nicer neighborhood once financially possible. Many moved into nearby Railroad Island, where institutions such as Yarusso Brothers Italian Restaurant, founded by former Swede Hollow residents and decorated with photos and artwork commemorating the community, continue to survive today.[ii]

“Swede Hollow.” Print by Jacob Theodore Sohner, 1928. Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

“Swede Hollow.” Print by Jacob Theodore Sohner, 1928. Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Residents were eager to leave Swede Hollow due to the poor quality of life; Phalen Creek, which ran through the middle of the community, was extremely polluted, causing rampant disease. The houses were shacks, lacking running water and electricity,[iii] and the railroad ran above the ravine, rocking the homes and even causing avalanches at times.[iv] In 1956, when the population of the settlement was largely Hispanic, the city of St. Paul condemned the entire community for public health risks.[v] The residents had long been using Phalen Creek as their sewer by constructing outhouses on stilts above the water[vi], a practice that was very unsanitary, especially during spring floods. The homes were burned down, the community dispersed, and the land later converted to a public park in the 1970s.[vii]

“Burning of Swede Hollow.” St. Paul Dispatch and Pioneer Press, 12/11/56. Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

“Burning of Swede Hollow.” St. Paul Dispatch and Pioneer Press, 12/11/56. Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

“When it comes to helping they come through…It was a community like a community should be.” – Michelina Frascone, former Railroad Island resident, on Swede Hollow in her 2001 Oral History (page 11) Though the living conditions at Swede Hollow were hazardous and the homes little more than shanties, the community is only remembered fondly by its former residents. Many lived there as children and remember the years they spent there through rose-colored glasses, making Swede Hollow one of St. Paul’s most celebrated stories. Gentille Yarusso remembers the idyll of the community in his memoirs: “Each home had then a little garden; a little shed attached to the home had an outside oven in which to bake bread. Some houses had a water hand-pump close to the kitchen sink… Each home had its own outside “bifee” on stilts overhanging the little creek that flowed through the hollow, and had its own plank bridge for crossing the creek. All the houses had little rustic fences around them, covered usually with grapevines that failed to grow. Grapes needed plenty of sun, and the Hollow was heavily forested with trees and other vegetation.”[viii] He goes on to add that though the community may not have been the nicest place to live, most were not “ashamed to say or let it be known that his or her folks came from the Hollow or Railroad Island.”[ix]

“I was too young to think of it as poor. It was the only home I had known.” –Morrey on his childhood in Swede Hollow, in I Drank Life to the Foam. (page 5)As former resident Joseph Morrey states in his memoir, “Swede Hollow occupies a nook in St. Paul lore.”[x] Swede Hollow has been memorialized in paintings and photographs, theater productions and art festivals, and publications and walking tours, much of which has been facilitated by the Friends of Swede Hollow, a community group founded in 1994.[xi] It is obvious that the members of the surrounding community, whether they are descendants of former residents, historical buffs, community organizers, or artists, have maintained the legend of Swede Hollow, enabling the story and the landscape to continue intriguing and inspiring audiences.

Further Reading: 

YouTube Clips:

Footnotes:

[i] Yekaldo, Ralph. This is about life in Swede Hallow [sic]: things I remember and the people I grew up with. Photocopy of Handwritten Autobiography kept at the Minnesota Historical Society, 1987.
[ii] “About Us.” Yarusso-Bros Italian Restaurant. http://www.yarussos.com/about.html
[iii] Aronovici, Carol. Housing Conditions in the City of Saint Paul. Saint Paul, MN: The Wilder Foundation, 1917.
[iv] “Two Houses Wrecked.” St. Paul Globe 20 April 1891.
[v]Wurzer, Cathy. “Burning Swede Hollow: Why an immigrant community deliberately went up in flames.” Minnesota Public Radio News, December 9, 2011. http://www.mprnews.org/story/2011/12/08/burning-swede-hollow
[vi] Aronovici, Carol. Housing Conditions in the City of Saint Paul. Saint Paul, MN: The Wilder Foundation, 1917.
[vii] “About Us.” Friends of Swede Hollow Website. http://www.swedehollow.org/About_Us.html
[viii] Yarusso, Gentille. Yarusso, Gentille. Swede Hollow, then up on the street: A documentary. Published by Mueller Mortuary, Carlson Funeral Home, and Phalen Park Funeral Home, September 1968.
[ix] Ibid.
[x] Morrey, Joseph. I Drank Life to the Foam. Reno, NV: Sheridan Books, 2002.
[xi] “About Us.” Friends of Swede Hollow Website. http://www.swedehollow.org/About_Us.html

Tonight-Sip of Science-Volcanoes, Anyone?

January 14, 2015Patrick NunnallyEvents, Former Featured PostsComments Off on Tonight-Sip of Science-Volcanoes, Anyone?

Our friends at the National Center for Earth Surface Dynamics are at it again–another semester of Sip of Science begins tonight.  Read below for more details:

A SIP OF SCIENCE – the 2nd Wednesday of every month
Volcanoes and Our Past
Kent Kirkby, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Minnesota
Wednesday January 14th, 2015 5:30p.m.
Aster Cafe, 125 SE Main Street, St. Anthony Main, Minneapolis

A SIP OF SCIENCE bridges the gap between science and culture in a setting that bridges the gap between brain and belly. Food, beer, and learning are on the menu in a happy hour forum that puts science in context through storytelling.

January 14th Event

Volcanic eruptions are among some of the most spectacular events in our shared human experience. All too often though, eruptions are treated as historic oddities – unusual events of limited importance in the greater scheme of things. When typically volcanism does make it into history books, the mention is brief, focusing on the eruption and its immediate death toll. This myopic approach grossly underestimates the long term impacts volcanism has played in human history and how it has shaped our society. Join us for the January Sip of Science as geology professor Kent Kirkby presents the opportunity to acknowledge, perhaps even celebrate, the roles volcanism has played in human history.
The talk takes place during happy hour at the Aster Cafe || Food and Drink Available for Purchase
ABOUT THIS MONTH’S SPEAKER

A gift of three plastic dinosaurs at the age of seven sparked a career path for Kent Kirkby — and graduate research undertaken while living in a mountain lion’s cave in the southwest confirmed it. Kirkby, now a teaching professor at the University of Minnesota, worked for more than a decade in the oil fields of Colorado and Alberta, Canada before returning to academia. Since coming to the university twenty years ago, he’s focused on developing more effective teaching methods often interwoven with storytelling. While his courses have touched on topics ranging from natural disasters and dinosaurs to the geology behind landscape paintings at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, all have focused on the intersection of human history and Earth processes. A native Wisconsinite, who has yet to develop a taste for Minnesota hot dishes, Kent has two sons who have fled the nest, and currently lives with his wife (also his best friend), three cats and a decent-sized green aluminum Brontosaur.
ABOUT A SIP OF SCIENCE
A SIP OF SCIENCE is a science happy hour sponsored by the National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics (NCED). It is a chance to hear about new and exciting research over beer, in a cool bar. Come talk with the experts about their efforts to address some of the Earth’s most pressing problems. NCED’s A SIP OF SCIENCE brings the wonder of science to happy hour.

Get more information at: http://www.nced.umn.edu/content/sip-of-science

Living with the Mississippi: Life on a Floodplain

January 8, 2015Rachel HinesFormer Featured Posts, Guest PostsComments Off on Living with the Mississippi: Life on a Floodplain

Living with the Mississippi is a blog series that examines the history of the river flats communities and what it means to almost literally live on the Mississippi River. Follow along to learn more about life on the Mississippi prior to luxury condos and clean river water, before the riverfront was considered a desirable place to live. The entire series is downloadable in PDF format here.

In 1931, after the Bohemian Flats community was removed from the river bank to make room for a barge terminal, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredged the river to allow large barges to pass through. The dredged material was placed atop the flats, raising the grade, and a sea wall was erected to ensure the new terminal would not experience flooding.[i] The city had learned to take these precautions after observing the traumatic experiences of the residents at the Bohemian Flats, as well as those at the flats communities in St. Paul, brought by the river each spring.

“Flooded upper levee area of St. Paul.” Photographer Unknown, taken in 1952. Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

“Flooded upper levee area of St. Paul.” Photographer Unknown, taken in 1952. Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

“View of flooding on West side of Wabasha Street Bridge, St. Paul.” Photographer unknown, taken in 1952. Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

“View of flooding on West side of Wabasha Street Bridge, St. Paul.” Photographer unknown, taken in 1952. Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Image created by the National Park Service for website “Twin Cities Geology,” updated in 2014. http://www.nps.gov/miss/naturescience/twingeol.htm

Image created by the National Park Service for website “Twin Cities Geology,” updated in 2014. http://www.nps.gov/miss/naturescience/twingeol.htm

These floods occur due to the unique position of the Twin Cities: the Mississippi River Gorge. The gorge was created by the retreat of the St. Anthony Falls; as the river eroded the soft St. Peter Sandstone, it caused the top layers of limestone and shale to break off, moving the waterfall from St. Paul to its current location. This process left behind the gorge’s steep bluffs and a limited floodplain, the river flats. When snow and ice melt upstream during the spring, or when the Mississippi River Basin receives large amounts of rain, the river becomes too large for its banks and empties onto the floodplain.

This process remains a concern today, its effects felt when the river flooded this past June (2014). For those at the Bohemian Flats, spring floods often meant packing up your belongings and temporarily living with friends or family; there were even reports of the residents camping out in the Noerenberg Brewery until the water subsided.[ii] One Minneapolis Tribune article noted that some families had to remain in their inundated homes: “Though one house is floating and the kitchen is flooded, the family is still cooking and living there. No one would take them in, said Susie [Sustiak], because the are seven children and they would make the house so dirty.”[iii]

“View of upper levee residents during flood, St. Paul.” Photographer and date unknown, courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society. (Pictured: members of the Todora family, Ann and Leonard.)

“View of upper levee residents during flood, St. Paul.” Photographer and date unknown, courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society. (Pictured: members of the Todora family, Ann and Leonard.)

Floods not only brought water into the homes, but debris, logs, and ice as well, which could cause irreparable damage.[iv] The river would also carry belongings away, including sheds and wood piles, and chickens would be found drowned after the water receded.[v] Though a flood wall was erected at the Bohemian Flats in the early 20th century, it did not do much to prevent flooding. Rather, it often trapped much of the water and silt behind it once the flooding subsided. One of the most devastating floods in the Twin Cities area took place in April 1952, leading to the evacuation of the entire Upper Levee community and portions of the West Side Flats.[vi] The rise in water level led to extreme property loss for both communities and prompted the city of St. Paul to consider new plans for the flats. This eventually led to the demolition of the homes on the flats and the repurposing of the land for industrial uses.

Further Reading:

Footnotes:

[i] Minneapolis City Engineer’s Records about the Municipal Barge Terminal. Minneapolis City Archives, 1926-1932.
[ii] “Critical!” Minneapolis Tribune 2 April 1897.
[iii] “Venice Again Appears on Flats Under Washington Avenue Bridge.” Minneapolis Tribune 12 April 1922.
[iv] “Anxiety! Dwellers on the Bohemian Flats Filled With Alarm.” Minneapolis Tribune 3 April 1897
[v] “Venice Again Appears on Flats Under Washington Avenue Bridge.” Minneapolis Tribune 12 April 1922
[vi] “The Flood of 1952.” National Park Service. http://www.nps.gov/miss/historyculture/1952timeline.htm

Living with the Mississippi: The Bohemian Flats

Living with the Mississippi is a blog series that examines the history of the river flats communities and what it means to almost literally live on the Mississippi River. Follow along to learn more about life on the Mississippi prior to luxury condos and clean river water, before the riverfront was considered a desirable place to live. The entire series is downloadable in PDF format here.

In 1869, Minneapolis had been a city for only two years, and the first settlers had just arrived at the Bohemian Flats- a Danish couple.[1] The community’s population grew to include over 1,000 residents, until it began to dwindle around 1900 due to commercial development at the riverfront. In 1923, many of the residents were evicted from their homes to make way for a Municipal Barge Terminal, and in 1931, most of the remaining community was asked to leave as well, leaving only fourteen homes. Just ten years later, in 1941, the Writer’s Project of the Works Progress Administration published a book about the Bohemian Flats which painted a picture of an idyllic, Old World community. The flats appeared diverse and inclusive, a place for residents of all ethnic origins to escape the busy life of the city, a retreat where traditional customs were maintained. This book has fostered an air of nostalgia and romance around the settlement.

“Boys Rowing Boat Down Street in Bohemian Flats, Minneapolis.” Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society, Taken in 1898, Photographer Unknown.

“Boys Rowing Boat Down Street in Bohemian Flats, Minneapolis.” Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society, Taken in 1898, Photographer Unknown.

“Cut off from the city by the river at its doorstep and the steep bluffs behind, the settlement of the Bohemian Flats was born and grew up in a unique geographic and cultural isolation…Life in this little pocket had something of a pastoral quality that contrasted sharply with the city traffic humming and roaring across the bridge above it. For more than half a century a picturesque and hardworking colony of men and women from the Old World clung tenaciously to their tiny plots of ground beneath the cliffs. Their manners and customs, and indeed the very atmosphere of the place, had a foreign flavor, indestructibly appealing.” –The Bohemian Flats, page 2.  The WPA guide, and the plays, publications, and artwork inspired by the story, have perpetuated a few myths about the Bohemian Flats. Despite the romantic legacy, as well as the fond memories of many former residents, the Bohemian Flats was not necessarily the utopia it is often portrayed as. Living at the flats had a number of setbacks, from the heavy flooding endured by the residents each spring to the rampant poverty, disease, and crime that permeated the community[2]. Additionally, though depicted as a melting pot, the Bohemian Flats was one of the most homogenous communities on the river, as most of its inhabitants were immigrants from modern Slovakia escaping the persecution of the Austria-Hungary Empire[3].

There was also a notion that the flats community was distant from the city and the residents free from the influence of Americanization; in actuality, there were a number of reasons to venture off the flats. Aside from a grocery store and a Lutheran church, most services were only available in the surrounding city. The residents of the flats were responsible for establishing churches in Northeast Minneapolis, Cedar-Riverside, and Prospect Park[4], and traveled to the city center and beyond for their jobs. Members of the community likely attended Americanization classes at nearby centers, such as the Pillsbury House in Cedar-Riverside or the Seven Corners Library.

“View of Bohemian Flats from Across the River.” Courtesy of Hennepin County Library, Date and Photographer Unknown.

“View of Bohemian Flats from Across the River.” Courtesy of Hennepin County Library, Date and Photographer Unknown.

Somewhere along the way, the story of the Bohemian Flats lost these less savory details and assumed an almost legendary status, likely due to the inherently romantic nature of the story, as well as the nostalgia that followed the evictions of the residents and the demolition of the homes. Though the St. Paul river flats communities would soon succumb to the same fate as the Bohemian Flats, the evictions were relatively early in Minneapolis history and preceded a long phase of urban renewal in the Twin Cities. The feeling of loss were compounded by the publication of the WPA Guide, which was written during the inter-war era, known as a short period of celebration for America’s ethnic groups.[5] Former flats residents and others in Minneapolis were able to reflect on their fond memories of the community, immortalizing the Bohemian Flats as a legend, a pre-modern utopia lost to progress.

For more on the Bohemian Flats, visit the University of Minnesota Heritage Collaborative website. This site features research about the Bohemian Flats, including student projects from an Archival Analysis class in Spring 2014. http://ias.umn.edu/programs/collaboratives/heritage/projects/boho/

Further Reading:

Footnotes:

[1] Works Progress Administration. The Bohemian Flats. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1986, 8-9.
[2] Remembered in newspaper articles such as “Life at the Dump.” Minneapolis Tribune 26 April 1892. “It Was Manslaughter.” Minneapolis Tribune 21 December 1893. “War on the Diptheria.” St. Paul Globe 27 November 1900. “Slovaks Brave Floods.” Minneapolis Tribune 5 September 1909. “Flood Drives 200 Families from homes.” Minneapolis Tribune 26 March 1920.
[3] See the Bohemian Flats population maps to learn more about the ethnic composition of the Bohemian Flats community. The information was obtained from U.S. Census Records, available online at www.archive.org
[4] For more about these churches, see Emmanuel Lutheran Church’s 75 Years of Grace (1883-1963). Minneapolis, MN: Holy Emmanuel Lutheran Church, 1963 and St. Cyril Catholic Church’s 100th Anniversary: the Church of S.S. Cyril and Methodius, Minneapolis, Minnesota: 1891-1991. Minneapolis, MN: Church of SS Cyril and Methodius, 1991, as well as Vaclav Vojta’s Czechoslovak Baptists. Minneapolis, MN: Czechoslovak Baptist Convention in America and Canada, 1941 to learn more about the history of Immanuel Slovak Baptist Church in Cedar-Riverside.
[5] Works Progress Administration. The Bohemian Flats. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1986, xiii-xiv.

On Black Lives and the “Green Movement”

It seems that if you are living in the United States you have to be making a conscious effort not to know about the events that have been transpiring in Ferguson, MO, or who Eric Garner is.  If you’re not on social media much, or at all, you may not have heard of the #blacklivesmatter trope that is sweeping the country, both in physical as well as digital space.

#blacklivesmatter for those of us concerned with rivers, place-based thinking, and our shared environmental future.  I won’t make the case fully or extensively today in this post, in part because I haven’t fully sorted it out myself and in part because there are many, many complicated threads involved.  For some, the question of African-Americans and “the environment” is a question of raising environmental justice issues to the top of our agenda.  For others, the primary concern is including African-American populations in the communities that we seek to engage with our programming.  The Twitter account @Outdoorafro is part of some of the conversations, as is the planner Kristen Jeffers, who tweets at @blackurbanist. Serious inquiry into the issue has to take into account the work of Dr. Robert Bullard, the “father of environmental justice.”

Two recent blog posts highlight the fraught and complex relationships between African-Americans and the environmental community.  Michael Brune, the Executive Director of the Sierra Club, writes of his recent experience when the Sierra Club spoke out in solidarity with groups protesting the deaths of Eric Garner and others.  Some commenters wrote back that the Sierra Club had no business becoming involved in these issues; Brune argues cogently that it does.

Writing in LA Observed, Jon Christensen summarizes Brune’s argument and extends it, pointing out the need for the “big green organizations” to diversify their membership, their employee ranks, and their boards of directors.  To date, many but by no means all of them have.  Christensen argues that when they do, and when the environmental movement looks a lot more like the population of the United States, that development will be very good for the environment, as well as for the people who care about that environment.

Living with the Mississippi

December 4, 2014Rachel HinesFormer Featured Posts, Guest PostsComments Off on Living with the Mississippi

Living with the Mississippi is a blog series that examines the history of the river flats communities and what it means to almost literally live on the Mississippi River. Follow along to learn more about life on the Mississippi prior to luxury condos and clean river water, before the riverfront was considered a desirable place to live. The entire series is downloadable in PDF format here.

Flooding at the Bohemian Flats in 1898. Courtesy of the Hennepin County Library. Photographer Unknown.The Mississippi’s role in shaping the industrial history of Minneapolis is well known. However, the banks of the Mississippi provided more than a workplace for the early residents of Minneapolis and St. Paul- they also served as a home. Between 1860 and 1960, the Mississippi River floodplain hosted a half-dozen ethnic enclaves in St. Paul and Minneapolis. These communities were often seen as their own separate settlements, distant from the city located above. The residents of these areas bore a number of labels, ranging from penniless criminals to hard-working new Americans. Today, the communities are often remembered as cultural havens, places where recent immigrant families could practice their traditional customs and beliefs, separated from the city both physically and culturally.

“It was a neighborhood that experienced more change, hardship, and conflict than most places but that yet could be looked upon with nostalgia by many who lived there.” –Lorraine Esterly Pierce in her 1971 Master’s Thesis on the history of the West Side Flats, a quote that could easily be applied to any of the river flats communities.  Three of these communities were located near downtown St. Paul. The West Side Flats occupied the large flat area located adjacent to Harriet Island and across the river from downtown St. Paul, the Upper Levee, or Upper Landing, was an Italian community located just across from the West Side Flats below Irvine Park, and Swede Hollow ran along Phalen Creek, the southern end of which was known as the Connemara Patch. Minneapolis was home to three settlements of its own as well. Two of these were known as the East Side Flats; one at the site of the East River Flats Park below the University of Minnesota campus and the other beneath the 35-W and 10th Ave Bridges. The other was the Bohemian Flats, located just across the river underneath the Washington Avenue Bridge.

Home to various immigrant groups upon their immediate arrival in the Twin Cities, the river flats communities were in undesirable locations; the homes, even into the mid-20th century, lacked modern conveniences like running water and sewer systems, and the residents, victim to the flooding of the river each spring, were often forced to take shelter elsewhere when their homes became inundated. Despite these unfavorable conditions, however, thousands of immigrants called these communities home, whether for only a year or most of their lives, and many recall fond memories of life alongside the river. After decades of immigrant settlement, the residents of each community were removed from the land for various reasons, whether it due to the health risks associated with living near a polluted river or the attractive quality of the real estate.

For the next few months, this series will examine the history of the river flats communities and what it means to almost literally live on the Mississippi River. Continue to follow along to learn more about life on the Mississippi prior to luxury condos and clean river water, before the riverfront was considered a desirable place to live.

“Swede Hollow, St. Paul.” Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society. Taken by Albert Charles Munson in approximately 1910.

“Swede Hollow, St. Paul.” Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society. Taken by Albert Charles Munson in approximately 1910.

Flooding at the Bohemian Flats in 1898. Courtesy of the Hennepin County Library. Photographer Unknown.

Flooding at the Bohemian Flats in 1898. Courtesy of the Hennepin County Library. Photographer Unknown.

River Flats Communities Map, Created by Rachel Hines using Historic Plat Maps and Bing Maps, June 2014.

River Flats Communities Map, Created by Rachel Hines using Historic Plat Maps and Bing Maps, June 2014.

Riverside Communities: Overlooked Hinges Between Past and Future

December 2, 2014Patrick NunnallyFormer Featured PostsComments Off on Riverside Communities: Overlooked Hinges Between Past and Future

The Mississippi River corridor contains many places that are widely recognized as having national or international significance.  But the stories of places where “ordinary” people have made their homes in proximity to the river are, often literally, overlooked.

This week, we begin a series of blog posts written by recent graduate Rachel Hines, an archaeologist who has conducted extensive study on the various “flats” communities along the Mississippi in the Twin Cities.   These low-lying areas were subject to regular inundation by foul-smelling river water, and were sometimes threatened by bigger than usual floods.  The people who lived in “Bohemian Flats,” “Little Italy,” “Swede Hollow” and comparable sites were often new immigrants living where land was cheap.  In the mid part of the 20th century, these communities often were romanticized as they were destroyed, for various reasons.

But these communities bear closer examination, largely because they have been so easily romanticized and overlooked.  Rachel’s series explores the coping strategies that communities developed as they lived in this proximity to a large body of moving water, as well as investigates what happened to these communities and these landscapes after the people left.  By studying particular sites closely, and seeing their development through time in detail, we can gain a measure of insight into what the Mississippi has meant to the communities here.

The series “Living with the Mississippi” takes readers through Bohemian Flats, Little Italy/Upper Levee, West Side Flats, and Swede Hollow:   Who was there? How did the community change through time? Why did the people leave and where did they go?  What has the land become subsequently?

In some if not all cases, these places are central to the future riverfront planning in Minneapolis and St. Paul.  Our series explores themes of place and memory, the river in relation to the communities through which it flows, continuities and differences in ways people have lived in proximity to the Mississippi, and how the river has had variable meanings and uses to different communities through time.

The Mississippi is an iconic, mythic place, as well as a water system of almost incomprehensible complexity.  But it is also a location, a place that is central to understanding where we are and what we might imagine our future to be.

The blog series starts on December 4, and is available here and at the River Life blog.

Living With the River: It’s All in the Prepositions

November 24, 2014Patrick NunnallyFormer Featured PostsComments Off on Living With the River: It’s All in the Prepositions

Some of you may remember prepositions from, oh, say 7th grade grammar class.  Prepositions are the small words like “with” “to” or “in” that express relations between two things.  Little surprise, then, that last week’s John E. Sawyer discussion on “relational ontologies” ended up being a discussion about prepositions.

To over simplify, “relational ontologies” is a matter of arguing that the relationships between things are more important than the things themselves.  So for example, there is a river, and there is a community of people.  Both are definable in any number of ways.  But the important thing is the nature of the relationship between them.  Taken a bit further, the idea would extend to an argument that our best relationship with the river entails obligations on us and that the river has existence and merit and value on its own, whether we are here or not.

Important concepts, and, like many important ideas, sorta hard to get your mind around.

So let’s think about prepositions a bit.

Some advocacy groups say they “speak for the Mississippi River.”  I guess that’s better than speaking “at” the river or speaking “in” the river.  But does speaking for the river imply that it can’t speak for itself?  Maybe it “speaks” when it floods, reminding us where its proper domain is?

If we are going to develop a way of living “with” the river in an appropriate way, what does that ask of us?  Is living with the river like living with a person?  Aldo Leopold has argued that harmony with land is like harmony with a friend: you can’t cherish one hand while cutting the other one off.  Do we “love” the Mississippi by restricting it within levee floodwalls, bunching it up regularly behind dams, and dumping our trash into it?  Do we express our love for it by alternately stifling it and putting it on a pedestal to worship?

One of the important contributions of humanistic thinking in the academy is to ask us to question things that we commonly take for granted.  We might think more closely about our language for the river, and what that language expresses about what we think the river is, who we think “we” are, and what the right relationship is between us and the Mississippi.

I think we’d find that the relationships are more complicated than we think, and that despite easy derision (“of course the river doesn’t actually talk”) there’s more to our relationship with the Mississippi than meets the eye.

Contact Us!
Send us a note at rvrlife@umn.edu to make suggestions for other places we should look, media to track, and stories to tell!
River Life in Video
Come Along for a Water Walk with Kare11 and River Life, and see Gifts at Work: The Mississippi River by the University of Minnesota Foundation
Open Rivers: Rethinking the Mississippi
A joint project of River Life, the Institute for Advanced Study, and the University of Minnesota Libraries, Open Rivers is an interdisciplinary online journal that recognizes the Mississippi River as a space for timely and critical conversations about people, community, water, and place.