Despite the accolades of an interested few, the new Nicollet Mall is a cold, gray, stark, sterile, ugly travesty of design, lacking any warmth or appeal. The once premier retail street of Minneapolis has once again been pillaged. Yes, there are a few trees, but they have to compete with inverted "L" shaped monstrosities running from 6th Street to 8th. But I guess the new mall is a fitting walkway into the cheap, stripped-down, bare-walled, gutted-of-any-architectural-charm, warehouselike stores now filling old spaces: the Rack, Walgreens, Saks Off Fifth. At least Marshall's is hidden from view in a basement. My taxes were used for this?

Jerry Schmuki, Minneapolis

A needed shift? Or one that squelches opportunity, joy?

Sometimes I wonder if we have lost our way in this country. The issues are so daunting we can almost despair. But sometimes we can see clearer if we stand back for a moment. Such is the issue of school sports.

We seem to have lost our way (and certainly our balance). John C. "Chuck" Chalberg's Dec. 9 commentary ("Let clock run down on organized school sports") could not have been plainer: School sports cost "too much time, money and attention." I have watched this obsession grow in my years as an educator, a parent and church youth worker — "Sorry, we have a tournament this weekend."

To paraphrase Emerson, "Sports are in the saddle and riding our kids." Let's relax and play more sandlot volleyball and pickup basketball. Let's use the funds for those three-hour away games to take educational field trips. Let schools be schools. Let's let kids be home for a little downtime at dinner, and, for heaven's sake, let's keep Sunday for worship and family.

Mary Wetmore, Redwood Falls, Minn.

• • •

There can be little doubt about the "observation" made by Chalberg that "organized sport in our high schools and colleges has come to occupy too much of our time, money and attention." However, that his commentary fails to even consider the disproportionate impact of his proposal on young people from lower-income communities and communities of color is less than a surprise, given he is a senior fellow with the Center of the American Experiment. Anybody who participated in school-sponsored organized sports can speak to the potential (sometimes realized, sometimes not) they have to promote important social-emotional skills, opportunities that should be available to all. By all means, let's consider reasonable and equitable proposals to bring a healthy balance to school-sponsored sports. Chalberg's proposal is neither of those.

Kara Beckman, South St. Paul

• • •

I would like to ask Chalberg a few questions whose answers he failed to address in his commentary. Has he checked the cost of club sports? In doing so, he would see that children from homes where club membership is economically impossible would be eliminated from participating in their chosen activity. Has he been in a high school lately to observe the joy found in the halls where both athletes and student spectators enjoy the fun created by school teams? Has he considered the positive influence that participation on a school team plays in both the present and future lives of those participating? Has he thought about the school team coaches who, as educators, work to teach their athletes not only athletic skills but life skills because they care so much about all their athletes?

Does he consider that young man or woman who is on the school team but would never get near the roster of a club team because his or her skills don't match those needed? No pun intended, but Chalberg is way off-base when he writes about moving high school athletics out of the schools. Handled correctly by schools, parents and coaches, high school teams are a part of the educational experience that students have during their time in school.

As a former coach and educator, I can personally attest to the value of school-sponsored athletic programs. I suggest that Chalberg take in a few games or matches this winter so he can see firsthand the value and importance of school athletic teams and then ask himself if such a positive experience could be garnered from a club team.

George Larson, Brooklyn Park

One solution is to start electing the right people to public office

Sara Freeman of Minneapolis, a survivor of gun violence, is running for a seat in the Minnesota House. We need people like Sara in our government, especially at a time when nationally, laws like concealed-carry reciprocity are being proposed that would lower each state's gun laws to the lowest common denominator. Important to me, personally, is that she has a forward-looking gun policy that could significantly reduce suicide in Minnesota. I have lost two friends to suicide by gun.

Her priorities are universal background checks, disarming men who abuse their girlfriends and implementing the "gun violence restraining order" policy to allow family members to temporarily remove firearms from loved ones in crisis. It's a dream of mine to see Minneapolis and Minnesota become a leader in preserving human lives by reducing preventable tragedies with firearms. Those of us in District 61B would be lucky to have her as our representative.

Heidi Brenegan, Minneapolis

As superintendent departs, consider spending patterns

Much ado has been made over the departure of Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board Superintendent Jayne Miller. I'm baffled by the extreme concern. In a Dec. 10 letter to the editor, former City Council Member Joan Niemiec writes that her "worst fears about the November election arrived with the resignation of Jayne Miller" and that she is concerned the Park Board will be unable to attract a replacement for the $167,000 salary plus free residence at the Theodore Wirth stately home.

In a memo to Park Board staff, Miller stated, "Know that the MPRB is in a strong position." Is it? Recently, in a plea for money, Mark Andrew, president of a lobbying organization, "Save Our Parks," stated, "Our neighborhood parks face a backlog of deferred maintenance that already exceeds $110 million. Our recreation centers roofs leak; our playgrounds are rusting. In virtually every neighborhood park the need for repairs is evident." This doesn't sound like a "strong position." In fact, it sounds like a dire position.

It's not that Minneapolis residents are pikers when it comes to Park Board funding. According to Trust for Public Land, the organization that rates parks nationwide and declared Minneapolis as having the No. 1 urban park system in our country, during the run-up of $110 million in deferred maintenance, Minneapolis parks ranked third in the nation for per capita spending. Starting in 2018, as a result of Save Our Parks lobbying efforts and the "professionalism" of Superintendent Miller, the system will be No. 1 in per capita spending.

The failure of Miller to steer the ship with a No. 3 ranking in per capita spending should spark some concern. The fact that her "professionalism" helped garner another $300 million of taxpayer money to hopefully stem the maintenance issues doesn't support the position of "strong management." Rather, it points to woefully inept spending decisions within the boundaries of a generous budget. I'm looking forward to the newly elected board.

Jake Werner, St. Louis Park