Stubble: How did you get started leading walking tours around the Twin Cities?
Bill: I like to call them psychic geography tours. I started actually with the Soap Factory Common Room tours. They do this thing every August where they have four people who are sort of into public space or art projects lead tours. So Andy (Sturdevant) got me into the first couple tours that I did, and then just keeping it up sort of sporadically. I’m trying to get better at it and also publish them into little tour guides. Hopefully the first few of those will be coming out in a week or two on my own website.
Stubble: How did you organize the skyway tour that we’re on today?
Bill: Well, I try not to advertise these tours because they might go crazy. This tour was about the most I’d ever want – 30 or 40 folks – and luckily the skyways are pretty wide and it’s Saturday and not a weekday. That’d be impossible on a weekday.
Stubble: Why do you think people here are so particularly interested in urban geography and tours like yours? Seems like the problem of having too many people interested in learning about architecture intersectionality and all of that is a good problem to have.
Bill: I think that there’s a history in Minneapolis and St. Paul of being a very working class historical area. We didn’t have the same amount of white flight that they had in other cities. There was some, but in general we have more embedded communities and neighborhoods in that community and for better or worse a lot of those people are really invested and interested in urban design issues. Also, when you have pretty highly educated and smart people in a sort of crappy urban infrastructure – compared to places like Boston or New York – there’s a lot to talk about and think about. A lot of changes you can see being made right now are about the priorities of the city. Actually downtown and this tour of the skyways is a good example of that.
Stubble: That’s right, you were mentioning how the different layers of the skyway reflected social thinking at the time.
Bill: Absolutely. And there’s also structural racism, which is a term we use to talk about things that are beyond individual racism or prejudice, when you embed those politics into the built environments and policies. And that’s definitely one thing that’s happening here. There’s also, I call it, a literal stratification of class and social status. If you look, all of the people with jobs are on the second floor and all of the people that don’t have jobs or are working odd hours or taking the bus are on the first floor, so there’s a real polarized dynamic that’s a real burden for Minneapolis’s future.
Stubble: Tell me about the next walking tour you’re planning!
Bill: It’ll be the dive bars of Payne and Arcade Streets on the East Side of St. Paul. I try to alternate the cities and a dive bar tour with something else, so we did the noteworthy parking lots of downtown Minneapolis last summer which was really fun. We are going to do a parking lot tour of St. Paul coming up also, the historically interesting parking lots that is. I don’t know, I find it really interesting.
Stubble: Last question, despite the criticism of the skyway, what’s your favorite place inside of the system?
Bill: Well, I like this part in the IDS Center. I also like where we walked through the Crossings Building which is sort of the low rent skyway with the metal roof that looks like Penn Station in New York. That building I used to walk through a lot when I was working here 10 or 12 years ago. Just the way it worked, the architecture I always thought was very neat. It’s not the polished, corporate feel – it’s kind of like a strip mall, just regular shops and people living there.
Stubble: Yeah, maybe sort of like what downtown Minneapolis was when Block E was still around.
Bill: Oh, I’m obsessed with old Block E, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.