Before April showers and May flowers come March potholes. But in my neighborhood, potholes aren’t just a seasonal inconvenience, they’re also a history lesson. Just take a look at what lies beneath the veneer of modernity that is two inches of asphalt:
That is a streetcar rail set in amid granite street pavers at an intersection near my house. The asphalt usually flakes off a bit at this spot over the winter, but this year the exposed area is enormous. And beautiful.
This is one of those “they just don’t build them like that anymore” things that accompanies living in an older neighborhood. But even more mindblowing than the idea that nearby streets were paved with hand-laid granite blocks is that this was how suburbs were built 100 years ago. Of course, in those days the only cul-de-sacs around were u-turns for the streetcars.
Minneapolis is gradually erasing scenes like this. When a local street gets rebuilt, any old rails and pavers are torn up and replaced with modern concrete or asphalt. Plenty of Minneapolitans recognize this buried treasure for what it is , however, and descend with wheelbarrows and pickups to street construction sites after the work crews have departed for the day to pick pavers for their backyard patios or garden edges. I hope to be one of them someday.
But what I’d like even more than my own private street paver patio is to have some places around town and in my neighborhood where the charm and history of streets like this is preserved for all of us to enjoy. I’m convinced these streets can be functional, too. Look at how level those pavers are and consider that the only maintenance anyone has done on them for 60 years is cover them with asphalt. People 100 years ago couldn’t afford to rebuild their streets every few years any more easily than we can now. (Though they probably didn’t anticipate commercial deliveries by semi trailer in the Model T-era.) If we can see the value in maintaining older houses and neighborhoods, why not also the value of the historic streets that served them?