I discovered Barbara in the basement.
As a young reporter covering Minneapolis, I visited the bowels of our old Portland Avenue building to dig through old articles sorted into thousands of little envelopes. Before long, I was face-to-face with Barbara Flanagan — or at least her columnist mug shot.
What followed was often urban wisdom decades ahead of its time.
“I’ve always wondered why Minneapolis rarely refurbishes its grand old buildings,” she wrote in 1967. “They do it in other big cities.”
“What bus riders and bike riders need is a break from traffic engineers,” she wrote in a 1972 column on parked cars slowing buses. “Should we ride on City Hall and demand equal space on our streets and roadways for buses and bikes?”
Who was this woman pushing pedestrian-friendly design and preservation in the 1960s and 70s, when city dwellers were fleeing for the suburbs and wrecking balls were claiming historic buildings?
Ask someone about Barbara and you’ll likely hear about her signature legacy: persuading city leaders to legalize sidewalk cafes. But some might wish we had listened to her other pleas sooner.
She warned that the Kmart parking lot blocking Nicollet Avenue would create “instant blight.” She urged a light rail line to the airport — in 1976!
By the time I called her a few years ago for a Q&A on downtown development trends, I was utterly smitten with her old columns. She did not disappoint in person — thrilled to chat and eager to weigh in on the Nicollet Mall and more. When the story ran, my voice mail flooded with calls from readers who missed her.
Barbara was well known for lighter columns about visiting celebrities. But her uncannily prescient takes on urban life are the legacy we should cherish.