Friday, June 6, 2014

Small town coffee

This month we've begun writing more regularly about a sustainable future for the St. Croix River Valley. By coincidence, just yesterday the Center for Small Towns, at the U of M's Morris campus, just wrapped up this year's symposium on small towns. MPR picked up one of the significant threads that needs to be woven into conversations about a sustainable future for the St. Croix River Valley. Dave Peters reports "Rural communities trying to thrive should think about three ways to do it: attracting immigrants, hanging on to retiring baby boomers and appealing to millenials in need of affordable housing." We may have some interesting insights on the latter two topics, since we're a household comprised of one boomer couple and one millenial couple who are trying to work out a beneficial, non-tradition, or, perhaps better described as an old-fashioned, extended-family traditional way to address affordable housing for both couples. This relates to the nationwide issue flagged as student loan debt is hindering the recovery of the housing market. It also helps explain why the boomer couple can no longer be considered empty nesters. Conversely, extended families helps reduce the "drive 'til you qualify" market, which, if we take into account transportation costs, may never have actually existed. One threat to the St. Croix Valley we presently enjoy stems from a need to recognize that inexpensive housing being built outside existing community centers isn't necessarily "more affordable" when housing plus transportation are added together. The Center for Neighborhood Technology has some worthwhile insights into that topic. My Minnesota will continue to to argue that jobs versus the environment is a false choice and that housing costs can't be considered in a vacuum. Even global warming gets dragged into this conversation. The University of Minnesota's current issue of their Alumni Magazine has a number of articles on what we can do about global warming (although they refer to it as "climate change"). One, Imagine New Ways To Live, by Thomas Fisher, Dean of the College of Design, proposes that "This new economy will encourage us to make things in new ways and to live in much closer proximity to each other, so we can more easily share equipment, ideas and innovations." My Minnesota believes that such a prospect can offer as much benefit to rural centers and communities as to larger urban cores if most of us get over thinking that living in "the country" means something like this:

"country living" or rural sprawl?
"country living" or rural sprawl?                   © harrington

When I worked for the City of Minneapolis, each neighborhood I worked in wanted lots of coffee shops of their own. According to this source, the ideal ratio of population to coffee shops is 10,000:1. More coffee shops meant more people in the neighborhood or community. Being accessible by foot and bike plus cars reduces the need for parking spaces. All the pieces need to work together for success of most small businesses. A similar statement can be made about the St. Croix River Valley's future and it's ability to thrive. Coffee shops and characters often go together, as Kiki Petrosino writes.

Mustang Bagel

By Kiki Petrosino 
Even at my favorite coffeeshop downtown, Redford
is a hard man to feed. This morning, he picks
at his Grilled Asiago Mastercrust with a slow, disdainful frown.
Could they spare the fromage on this so-called "treat?"

He takes a sip of hazelnut coffee, then winces delicately
into the neck of his sweater vest. I bite powerfully
through my Cinnamon Frenchroll: Well, if you really don't think

you got enough—"fromage"—you should just go back up there
& tell the girl. I start on Redford's coffee while he looks glumly
at the metal napkin dispenser. Just then, the electric chime
above the door sounds. A man sweeps in & rests
his guitar case on one of the slim       café chairs.
His dark hair is arranged in a series of perpetually
break wavefronts. A small muscle jumps in his jaw
as he orders a Cinnamon Frenchroll, toasted, with cream cheese.
I lean foward, jabbing Redford with my plastic coffee wand.
Check out that guy over there I say. Intense.
Redford shrugs. I think he's Irish I say, watching the man bite
into his bagel. The instrument case hovers on the chair edge.
He could have a guitar in there, or else—a sword from the Crusades.
I press my tongue into the square-shaped hole in the lid
of my coffee cup. Listen Redford says. If we're going to be together

you have to take this. He pushes a small velvet box across the table.
What are you doing? I ask, but Redford doesn't answer.
He just looks down at the table, one hand pressed
to each of his temples. In the box is a square of chocolate
like the top of a signet ring, smooth, but edged
in something bright. It's smoked salt from Wales, Redford says.
Handmade in limited quantities. I turn the little box
in my hands. The salt sparkles like an arctic church.
I have to blink against it all.

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