Best Of :: People & Places
If there's one thing Twin Cities residents like to brag about to out-of-towners, it's our parks. We have sprawling acres in the suburbs with miles of paths for hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing. We have small green spaces dotting every city neighborhood, complete with swings, slides, and kiddie pools. We have parks that include stunning scenery such as Minnehaha Falls. Many have traits that stand out among the crowd, but this year we honor the best truly urban park around, and that's Loring. Its location on the southwestern edge of downtown Minneapolis means it's right there in the hustle and bustle, neighbor to shops, restaurants, a college, and an art museum. And while downtown St. Paul has two parks even more centrally located (Mears and Rice), they are smaller and don't offer the amenities that Loring does: tennis and basketball courts, biking paths, a pond, and all-important restrooms. And Loring has many charms: the "Garden of the Seasons" with benches where you can sit and enjoy the blooms, the pedestrian bridge over Hennepin Avenue to the Walker's sculpture garden, mature trees including a bur oak estimated at 300 years old, and the beloved Dandelion Fountain. On any given day (at least in pleasant weather) the park hosts a cross-section of humanity, and special events such as the Pride Festival, a major art fair, and the Walker-sponsored music and movies series bring even more crowds and big-city feel to this urban oasis, which is also the oldest Minneapolis-owned park.
If you're a sex offender who lives in north Minneapolis, Johnny Northside is on to you. If you're a slumlord who owns properties there, Johnny will track your every move. Same goes for drug dealers, shoddy storefront renovators, and proprietors of crime-ridden strip malls. The old "Neighborhood Watch" signs that went up a few decades back might as well have stickers with the Adventures of Johnny Northside's URL pasted over them, because John Hoff's single-minded dedication to shedding light on NoMi blight is matched only by his irreverence for the people causing it. (One memorable headline: "Whorehouse Mattresses Hit the Dumpster at 2700 Morgan Ave. N.") Part police blotter, part political gossip sheet, and part community bulletin, Johnny's blog is widely read among community members and Minneapolis cops alike. And while it's been a lightning rod for controversy—its targets have a habit of trying to get his site pulled off Blogspot—it's also beaten many other publications to the punch in unearthing crimes and clarifying the details that traditional journalism doesn't always follow up on.
He tweets about eats, family, and friends. He invites followers to his "Jasoncam" for live newsroom video chats. He pokes fun at his co-workers in public. For sheer speed in achieving social-media critical mass, it's hard to beat WCCO's "Good Question" man. On August 6, National Cheesecake Day, he tried a little crowd-sourcing for his nightly segment when he tweeted, "How do you get a 'day' anyway? Good Question at 10. (Anyone have power to declare DeRusha Day?)" Within a few days, people who followed him on Twitter (@DeRushaJ), and who had never met him, propelled that idea forward. Minneapolis graphic designer Dusty Fields created a DeRusha Day website. Editor and writer Max Sparber launched an online petition. By late afternoon on August 6, DeRusha was down at the mayor's office, tongue planted firmly in cheek, seeking paperwork to get his day. On September 16, he got the news: Mayor Rybak had declared September 21 Jason DeRusha Day.
It's quite the fashion these days to be angry with government. But, citizens, there's a far more productive (and less annoying) way to channel your frustrations than impotent fuming: get involved. Minnesotans have no excuse for pointless griping, because the state Legislature's website is a marvel of simplicity, ease, and information. Want to know who your elected representatives are? Just type in your address on the home page and a handy list pops up of your state and national reps, with links to their web pages showing their email address, phone number, committee assignments, and bills they've authored. Have a hot-button issue that drives you crazy? You can search pending legislation by topic, from abortion to zoos. You can follow the progress of specific bills and even personalize the site by signing up for alerts anytime action is taken on your pet legislation. It's clean, efficient, and intuitive. So quit your bitching—here's at least one thing government is doing right.
The bike-and-coffee combo is nothing new in Minneapolis (think One-on-One and Cars-R-Coffins), but Minneapolis managed to squeeze another one into the city limits, and it's just begging for you to ride your fixed-gear over for a hot cup of joe. Angry Catfish opened in late 2009 and is still developing its cycle inventory, but it already has a couple of things going for it: a nice bike-repair station and amazing coffee. Minneapolis is finally embracing high-quality java, and Angry Catfish uses Chicago-based Intelligentsia Coffee beans to up the hipster factor. Grab a spot at one of the tables overlooking the traffic on 28th Avenue, and don't forget to look over the selection of bikes on display. The $5,000 rides might put your junker to shame, but at least potholes won't put a dent in your pocketbook when you cruise home.
Well, the secret is out. As Uptown hopelessly gentrifies and St. Paul remains a great place to get some sleeping done, Northeast is emerging as the new spot for good beer, good music, good art, and good living. Once a place best known for its townie bars and roughneck atmosphere, the area has undergone a revision that manages to, for the time being, retain its staunchly residential attitude while getting spiked in all the right places with top-flight bars, art galleries, scenic walks, and eateries. The downside? No Eden goes unspoiled. And while it's hard to imagine good ol' Nordeast ripping out Jimmy's and putting in a Victoria's Secret, close your eyes and remember what Lyndale Avenue looked like two years ago. The moral? Get it while the gettin's good.