On an 82-degree day, I parked myself in the shade of one of the few grassy areas in St. Paul to munch down a sandwich while listening to an audio book. Shortly thereafter, a security guard appeared in front of me, chatting.
“Excuse me?” I said, pulling out my headphones to hear him.
“Hi, ma’am. I just wanted to let you know that the owner has a strict ‘No Loitering’ policy on this lawn. You can stay for 5 to 10 minutes no problem, but then you have to move on.”
This is the problem with St. Paul.
This Minneapolis girl previously was a St. Paul gal. I attended the University of St. Thomas — the St. Paul campus for undergrad and the Minneapolis campus for law school. I lived in St. Paul neighborhoods during six of my seven years in school. Like any good St. Paul team member, I hardly crossed the river. Who needed Minneapolis when you had Tea Garden (now Sencha), Blue Door, the Nook, Groveland Tap, and more? Not this girl, until I was given a 60-day notice to move out of my month-to-month lease. I scrambled to find a roommate because I was broke in law school. I ended up turning to Craigslist and found an amazing woman. The catch: She wanted to live in Minneapolis, specifically near the lakes.
I, like many other college students, had my fair share of nights out in Uptown. I had just recently bought a paddleboard and explored the lakes with it a couple times. With the trails and water in Minneapolis, I was willing to get over myself and cross the river from St. Paul. After all, I was desperate. But for the first six months, and when I was not at my downtown Minneapolis campus, I went back to St. Paul for everything but groceries and paddleboarding. When my roommate gave me flak for not visiting the area around our new West Calhoun place more, I caved. I tried Wakame down the street and soon the Harriet Brassiere. I then discovered my greatest love, Five Watt. Minneapolis hooked me with the food, the parks and the people. It was amazing, open and warm.
After passing the bar, I landed a gig in downtown Minneapolis. When I went to buy a house, I passed on Highland Park homes in St. Paul that I had once dreamed of owning, and instead focused on being as close as possible to the Kingfield neighborhood of southwest Minneapolis — home to Five Watt and Hola Arepa, among other fantastic gems.
But after I had begun settling into a permanent Minneapolis life, a dream opportunity opened up at Securian Financial in downtown St. Paul, and I jumped. It was a downtown environment in a town I used to love. How different could it be?
In Minneapolis, there are numerous parks and places for you to lounge. Trash and recycling cans are found about every 20 feet. Sure, there are beggars and loiterers, but people seem happy to enjoy the community. St. Paul, on the other hand, smells of fried food. The only people you ever see outside in the few parks are beggars, cat-callers and loiterers. Trash cans are nearly impossible to find — I walked two blocks holding my sandwich bag — and good luck finding a public recycling receptacle. With its limited areas for lounging outside, which often smell in any case, and park benches already filled with individuals who will be parked there all day, the city discourages its downtown workers from enjoying fresh air and the built landscape. The moment a person steps into unoccupied grass, that person is asked to leave. I was likely given more courtesy due to my business-casual appearance.
St. Paul is currently looking to revitalize its downtown area. Sure, there are people there on nights and weekends, but the city has a long way to go. Encourage business owners to share their open spaces — subsidies or tax breaks are a great way to offer this. Put out more benches. Spark a sense of community between the corporate 9-to-5 individuals and those not working during the day. Add additional trash cans, and maybe even a recycling or compost bin.
As of now, St. Paul is a job. I’m still a Minneapolis girl.
Sara Greethurst is a compliance analyst.