Top Albums Of 2018

I listened to more than 70,000 minutes of music on Spotify this year to bring you this list of my favorite albums of 2018. It truly was my pleasure.

10. Colter Wall – Songs of the Plains

I spent a lot of 2018 reading about Dakota Territory and the Old West. So when I came across Colter Wall’s “Songs of the Plains,” it was perfect timing. Wall is from Saskatchewan and takes a lot of inspiration from traditional country music (a genre for which I admittedly have a limited palate). That being the case, I was surprised to love this collection as much as I do. Part of it is due to Wall’s deep, rich voice. Bonus: It tells a Dakota Territory tale.

Check out: “Wild Bill Hickok,” “Saskatchewan in 1881”

9. Marlon Williams – Make Way for Love

This New Zealand native has a voice that’s reminiscent of Roy Orbison (which is why it was no surprise to see him singing an Orbison tribute in “A Star is Born”). He combines indie pop with classic pop rock and spins sometimes dark yarns. But it’s that voice that really shines. I first heard him during an All Songs Considered Tiny Desk Concert where he did a spellbinding version of “When I Was A Young Girl.” Simply incredible.

Check out: “Come to Me,” “What’s Chasing You”

8. Tracyanne & Danny

Tracyanne Campbell was for years the singular voice of orchestral pop band Camera Obscura. After the death of band member Carey Lander due to cancer in 2015, Camera Obscura went on hiatus. This album features an ode to Lander called “Alabama.” To hear Tracyanne’s voice again is to experience the return of an old friend and to feel your heart swell. And Danny Caughlan is a perfect foil. Their songs are sensitive, beautiful and have a way of putting you at ease. It’s a sound rich with nostalgia in a good way.

Check out: “It Can’t Be Love Unless It Hurts,” “Jacqueline”

7. Cursive – Vitriola

Omaha band Cursive returned in 2018 with their first album in six years, and it was inspired by the state of the country today. Lead singer Tim Kasher has a lot on his mind, and it’s becoming more prophetic by the day: “There’s no scruples, only money, money/Dollars or rubles, it’s all money, money/Money buys you clemency/In a clandestine economy, money, money/Bagged and price tagged, dangling off your feet.” Bringing a cello back into the mix of their heavy rock sound, Cursive create a huge, angry dystopian soundscape. I’ve dearly missed them. And this vital album is therapy for our times.

Check out: “Life Savings,” “Ouroboros”

6. Robyn — Honey

Since putting out her pop music monument “Body Talk” in 2010, Robyn has appeared on some great collaborations but has issued no solo music. Fans eagerly awaited the release of “Honey,” and it didn’t disappoint. After some major losses and life changes, Robyn took a more exploratory approach to her songs, and you can feel the breathing room in this album. Its pleasures are less direct. You need to live with many of these songs before they start having a dialogue with you — and when that happens, you will be talking and dancing — deep into the night.

Check out: “Honey,” “Because It’s in the Music”

5. Khruangbin – Con Todo El Mundo

You probably wouldn’t guess on your first try that this trio mixing R&B, classic soul and Eastern music is from Texas. Their sound is so smooth and cool, it’s like drinking scotch on a warm summer evening. All you have to do is open your ears and listen, and you’ll find yourself drifting through time and space.

Check out: “Como Me Quieres,” Maria También”

4. Erland Cooper – Solan Goose

I didn’t expect to fall in love with an instrumental album with each song inspired by a different bird but, alas, I did. Scottish multi-instrumentalist Erland Cooper weaves together music, nature and the human voice into an awe-inspiring tapestry.

Check out: “Solan Goose,” “Whitemaa”

3. Mitski – Be the Cowboy

This album was one that really opened up to me after seeing Mitski perform it live. During the tour, she set her guitar aside and did a mix of interpretive dance and yoga to convey the spirit of the songs — and it really added another dimension to them. After that, I heard this album in a different way, and it soaked into me. She takes on many characters in these songs, and the melodies are inescapable.

Check out: “Lonesome Love,” “Two Slow Dancers”

2. Tropical F*ck Storm – A Laughing Death in Meat Space

I initially read a review praising this album, and decided I had to give it a chance based solely on the catchy band name. I’m glad I did. The music definitely lives up to the name. This Australian outfit creates off-kilter rock music with the madman poetry-lyrics of front man Gareth Liddiard. Example: “Yeah hold your fire, man, don’t shoot/Here comes the umpa lumpa with the nukes/Riding his fly blown drone, like there ain’t no one home/With no particular cause except what’s here now is his/Comin’ like a T-rex with all the confederates.” Mind blowing.

Check out: “Soft Power,” “You Let My Tyres Down”

1. Suede – The Blue Hour

Suede are a household name in England known for a string of huge hits throughout the 90s. However, in the United States they never made much of a dent in the popular culture. They have crafted some of the most wonderful, cinematic pop music of the last three decades, and this album is perhaps their best yet. It peers into the darkness lurking in rural England and explores issues of abandonment and domestic strife for inspiration. It’s at times heavy, riff-driven guitar pop and at other times employs breathtaking strings to devastating effect. “Beyond the outskirts, come with us. We’ll jump out of the paint and into the fire …” It’s an album experience – and was by far my favorite of 2018.

Check out: “Wastelands,” “All the Wild Places”

Favorite Music Of 2016

Below, you will find my favorite albums of 2016.
If I can help you find one new song that makes an impact on you, I will consider my work here done. It’s my small hope for this new year. If something does resonate with you, let me know. Or if you want to share some of your favorites, leave a comment.
10. Still Corners – Dead Blue

9. Troller – Graphic

8. Nothing – Tired of Tomorrow

7. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

6. The Avalanches – Wildflower

5. Cat’s Eyes – Treasure House

4. Crystal Castles – Amnesty (I)

3. David Bowie – Blackstar

2. Suede – Night Thoughts

1. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree

Other albums I enjoyed a lot this year:
Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam – I Had A Dream That You Were Mine
Mitski – Puberty 2
Weyes Blood – Front Row Seat To Earth
Angel Olsen – MY WOMAN
Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
Har Mar Superstar – Best Summer Ever
Junior Boys – Big Black Coat
Yumi Zouma – Yoncalla
Conor Oberst – Ruminations
Solange – Seat at the Table
Preoccupations – Preoccupations
Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate
Whitney – Light Upon The Lake
case/lang/veirs – case/lang/veirs
School of Seven Bells — SVIIB
Tegan and Sara – Love You to Death

Favorite Soundtracks:
The Neon Demon

Sing Street

Favorite Country Song:
Luke Bell – Sometimes

Favorite Hip Hop Song:
DJ Shadow feat. Run The Jewels – Nobody Speak

Favorite Albums From Women Looking Out For Us If We Would Only Listen:
Kate Tempest – Let Them Eat Chaos

Tanya Tagaq – Retribution

Band That Makes Me Smile Every Time:

Favorite Pop Diva:
Charli XCX

Favorite Pop Song:
The Weeknd w/ Daft Punk – Starboy

Favorite New Band With A Name I Can’t Say In Polite Company:
Mannequin Pussy

Favorite Band From The Past That I Really Came To Appreciate This Year (And Who Is As Relevant As Ever):
The The

Yankton’s Last Historic Marne Creek Bridge Faces Demolition

The Pine Street bridge is the last historic structure of its kind to cross Marne Creek, and it is likely to be replaced within the next few years.

Pine Street Bridge July 2016 3

The Pine Street bridge in July 2016. The 1912 structure is the last of its era to cross Marne Creek in Yankton.

Pine Street Bridge July 2016

A very similar bridge along Walnut Street — dating from 1911 — was demolished in 1999. Other historic bridges met their fate earlier, such as the Capital Street bridge.

Built in 1912, the Pine Street bridge is a 41-foot, single-span, deck, concrete arch structure with classical revival detailing that crosses Marne Creek in a residential neighborhood. The railings consist of spindle-shaped balusters set off by concrete posts ornamented with recessed panels.

For several years, The Pine Street bridge has had load limits so restrictive that school buses, snow plows, garbage trucks and even lighter trucks cannot cross the structure. Brosz Engineering of Sioux Falls has studied the bridge for the City of Yankton and deemed it structurally deficient and in need of replacement.


The Pine Street bridge last underwent a major renovation in 1986. This clipping is from the Yankton Press & Dakotan.

Recently, the South Dakota Transportation Commission awarded an $854,904.60 Bridge Improvement Grant to the City of Yankton to be used toward the anticipated $1,424,842 replacement of the Pine Street bridge.

The structure has been on my mind recently because I met with a group of people representing various historic organizations seeking to have a voice in the bridge’s future as part of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit process. They had good questions, reasonable expectations and together represented a passionate voice that has spearheaded many decades worth of preservation efforts within our community. Of course, if possible, they would like to see the bridge renovated. At the very least, they are requesting that the City of Yankton provide acknowledgement of the current bridge’s historic legacy in a new project design.

Because of the condition of the bridge, I am doubtful that renovation is possible. As someone who has a deep appreciation for history and has enjoyed delving into Yankton’s rich past, that’s painful for me to say. However, I am hopeful that we can work some nice features into a new bridge project that are befitting of the current Pine Street crossing. At least a couple of my peers on the Yankton City Commission expressed the same desire during a recent capital improvement project budget session.

We’ll see what the future holds. The City of Yankton plans to seek input from the aforementioned historic groups as the engineering process continues.

All that being said, I thought you might enjoy this excerpt from the Pine Street bridge nomination for the National Register of Historic Places:

By the early 1910s, reinforced concrete came into use in South Dakota for the construction of bridges. The earliest concrete bridges in South Dakota were built in the southeastern portion of the state, and many, if not all of these structures were professionally designed. However, while the construction of steel bridges had been monopolized by out-of-state firms. These same out-of-state steel bridge companies never seemed to monopolize the concrete bridge building market. Instead, many local contractors successfully competed in this aspect of the bridge building business.

In February 1912, the Yankton City Council condemned a deteriorating bridge over Rhine Creek (soon to be renamed Marne Creek) at Pine Street, “declaring the necessity for the construction of a new bridge at said place and directing the Mayor to borrow funds with which to defray the cost of making such improvement.” That same month, the council approved for the site a concrete-arch plan prepared by city engineer Hugh C. Liebe, who had essentially the same design a year earlier at Walnut Street. Two months later, the council awarded a $3,700 construction contract to low bidders Arthur Ellerman and Dan McLain, local contractors who had built the Walnut Street Bridge. Ellerman and McLain completed the project in September 1912.


The Meridian Bridge Is Alive (And Growing As An Attraction)

The Meridian Bridge is alive.

It is growing, evolving — becoming more and more of a gathering place and attraction.

The latest evidence of that was the successful first installment of the City of Yankton’s “Music at the Meridian” series last week.


In the distance, you can see Omaha Street Percussion performing. More importantly, notice all the people gathered in the Meridian Plaza!

As a Yankton City Commissioner and Yankton citizen, I was beaming with pride at the work our Parks and Recreation Department did to bring more than 200 people to the foot of the Meridian Bridge to enjoy music and food, as well as awe at the wonderful natural view. If you didn’t make it to the first concert, plan to attend one of the shows from 6-8 p.m. on Thursdays throughout July.

The bridge has also grown in other small but fascinating ways.

People continue to adorn the bridge with locks of love, a custom that interweaves humanity into the very fabric of the steel and concrete structure and becomes an attraction all its own.

The National Park Service has developed educational displays that provide people with background on the natural and historical elements of the area.

The Yankton Parks and Recreation Department collaborated with the Yankton Community Library (and a variety of sponsors) to create Story Walk, a series of children’s book panels that encourage children and adults to exercise while also enjoying a story.


The new campground on the Nebraska side of the river has also changed the Meridian Bridge experience. While I sometimes miss the serene environment that portion of the walk once represented, I now can also find charm in the human activity that takes place there. People sing songs, enjoy the beach and cook over campfires. These are activities that represent a joyous part of the human experience and, even being on the periphery of those activities, I find the joy contagious.

All of this is a long way of saying how fortunate I feel to have such an amenity in my back yard. The experience of walking the Meridian Bridge and taking in the vistas of the Missouri River never fails to inspire introspection and gratefulness. The act of making that voyage on a regular basis is, I think, a prescription for becoming a better human being. And I’m glad so many people from near and far are partaking in it.

Why I Will Vote In Favor Of Single-Stream Recycling For Yankton

Single-stream recycling could be making its way to Yankton in the next year.
Tomorrow (Monday), the Yankton City Commission will consider whether it wants to direct staff to implement a plan to have single-stream recycling up and running by spring 2017.
singlestreamrecyclingMy intention is to vote in favor of proceeding.
Single-stream recycling is one of the most common requests I hear from people of all ages in our community. And, while I will concede that various studies of recycling have shown that single-stream may not provide all the benefits we would hope for, I believe it will have a net benefit for our community.
1) Many City of Yankton residents I’ve spoken with want the simplicity of single-stream recycling.
2) It will help with community aesthetics, because each City of Yankton residence that is on the solid waste curbside collection list would receive a black 95-gallon garbage roll cart and a red 95-gallon single-stream recycle roll cart. (Black and red equals the Yankton High School colors, which is pretty cool!) Plus, the lids are attached to the carts – so they won’t blow away!
3) Because of the standardized roll carts for garbage and recycling, our collection trucks will be outfitted with automated tippers. Our employees will simply roll the carts up to the tipper, and it will lift and dump the contents. This will reduce the chance of injury to our staff.
4) We are doing our best to keep the added cost of this service to a minimum. For example, we hope that a South Dakota Solid Waste Management Program grant will cover part of the cost of purchasing the new roll carts. At most, we are estimating a $2.54 monthly rate increase. But we may be able to get it as low as $1.52 per month.
5) Some of our neighbors in the state already have single-stream recycling, such as Brookings, Watertown and Pierre. Those services aren’t necessarily the same as what we’re proposing. For example, Pierre residents pay a commercial collector $8 per month for single-stream recycling.
The City of Watertown converted from dual-stream recycling to single-stream recycling between 2012 and 2013. The City’s 2013 single stream recycle collection of 645 tons was 59 percent higher than the dual stream recycle tonnage collected in 2012. Tan 95-gallon recycle carts are available for residents to use.
Here is an excerpt from a July 2015 Brookings Register story about single-stream recycling in that community:

Key to gaining more participants has been the iconic blue recycling bins beside the regular garbage bins [according to Todd Langland, the director of solid waste management at the Brookings Regional Landfill]. The recycling bins were introduced in 2013 and helped the landfill automate the collection process, reducing time and labor requirements. “At that time, before the carts started, we figure we had 65 percent of our residential customers recycling, which is a very good number. The national average right now is anywhere from 45 to 65 as we speak,” Langland said. “We implemented the carts and after one full year on that cart system, we went from 52 tons a month to 68. We saw a big increase and a big increase in participation.”

I happened to blog about the possibility of Brookings being a model for Yankton in 2012. Read here.
Our staff, including City Manager Amy Nelson and Public Works Director Adam Haberman, have put a lot of thought and effort into developing a proposal. In addition, they have gone to great lengths to address the concerns of our partners in the Vermillion/Yankton Joint Powers Solid Waste Management System (through which we not only own and manage a landfill but also currently do our recycling). Granted, Vermillion is still worried about the impact a Yankton move to single-stream recycling could have upon the Joint Powers, as expressed in a recent discussion and resolution. However, they have said they will not prevent us from implementing this new program. I appreciate that and respect their perspective on the matter.
But, when it comes down to it, the more we can recycle, the better. That will almost certainly be the result for Yankton, so let’s do this!
If you’d like to read more about the recycling proposal, click here and scroll to page 99.
If you want to voice your support for or against the proposal, the City Commission meets at 7 p.m. tomorrow at the Technical Education Center.

‘What About Being In Love?’

With Tristan around, the sad I felt changed from sad like watching a balloon drift out of sight to sad in an it’s-good-to-know-your-soul-works way.


“River of Dreams” by Dana Fortune. See more of the artist’s work here.

“How are you doing, Buttercup?” he asked.


“All right.” I shrugged. “I guess.” And then I asked him, because for some reason it’s easy to talk to him, “When you first thought you were falling in love with Kristen, did you ever get scared? Because I get that way with Sky, and I think that I might have sort of screwed stuff up.”

Tristan looked at me, and he said something I’ll always remember. “Let me tell you something, Buttercup,” he said. “There are two most important things in the world — being in danger, and being saved.”

I thought for a moment of May. I asked him, “Do you think we go into danger on purpose, so we can get saved?”

“Yes, sometimes. But sometimes the wolf comes down out of the mountains, and you didn’t ask for it. You were just trying to take a nap in the foothills.”

Then I asked him, “But if those are the two most important things, what about being in love?”

“Why do you think that’s the most profound thing for a person? It’s both at once. When we are in love, we are both completely in danger and completely saved.”

(An excerpt from one of my favorite books, “Love Letters To The Dead,” by Ava Dellaira. I was recently reminded of it by a friend who read the book for the first time — and loved it as much as I did.)

What If We Lowered Yankton’s Voting Age?

“Good habits formed at youth make all the difference.” – Aristotle

What if Yankton wanted to help its teens develop the good habit of voting?

Well, we wouldn’t be alone.


Supporters of lowering the voting age in San Francisco at an advocacy day in 2015. (Courtesy of CityLab).

Two Maryland communities have, in recent years, decided to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote.
And, yes, those two communities — Takoma Park and Hyattsville — are still with us.


The issue of allowing teens to vote has been brought forward in a variety of municipalities, school districts and states in recent years. See here and here and here.
Several organizations, including the National Youth Rights Association, FairVote and Generation Citizen, have been advocating to lower the voting age.

I am excited about exploring the possibility of allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in Yankton’s municipal elections, because I think they have an important and legitimate voice that we need to hear. As we know, many of Yankton’s youth — and the youth of this region in general — leave after high school graduation and never return (at least not permanently).

What happens when we do listen to our youth?

This recent article from Dakotafire gives us insight. Take a look at this excerpt:

(Craig) Schroeder (a senior fellow of New Generation Partnerships at the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship) thinks there’s been a shift in mindset to believe that if you grew up in a small community you might want to continue living in one. Some rural communities have seen a 25 percent increase in population.
It’s important for rural leaders to figure out what students want.
“What would make them want to stay?” Schroeder asked.
From his perspective, allowing students to have an impact on community decisions is an important step.
Youth need to tell the adult leaders in their hometowns what they want that community to be, Schroeder said.
“It’s important to make youth aware of these opportunities and train them in leadership and entrepreneurship, to give them an opportunity to direct the course of their communities,” he said.
His research developed three key interlocking concepts community members can use to develop youth:
1.    Entrepreneurial education and career development
2.    Youth involvement and leadership in the community
3.    Community support of youth enterprise.
“If young people are involved in improving their community it causes them to have a greater investment in their community,” Schroeder said.

As we have more talk of entrepreneurship in Yankton and efforts are undertaken to involve youth in those conversations, what if we also gave them the power to vote in municipal elections? (Maybe the school district would also want to expand its voting parameters …)

I know you have many questions.

One of the first ones I get from people I’ve discussed this with is, “Have you spent time with many 16-year-olds? Do you really want them voting?”

Research has shown that the political contributions of 16- and 17-year-olds are on equal footing with other age groups. Here is an excerpt from the 2012 study, “Voting At 16: Turnout And The Quality Of Vote Choice”:

Critics of lowering the voting age to 16 have argued that such teenage citizens are not able or motivated to participate effectively in politics and that this both drives their turnout decisions and means that their electoral choices are of lower quality. We have tested whether these criticisms have an empirical basis using evidence from Austria, the one European country where the voting age has already been lowered for nation-wide elections.
Our findings prove the critics wrong. First, we do not find that citizens under 18 are particularly unable or unwilling to participate effectively in politics. Second, while turnout among this group is relatively low, we find no evidence that this is driven by a lacking ability or motivation to participate. Instead, 18- to 21-year-olds are if anything the more problematic group. Finally, we do not find that the vote choices of citizens under 18 reflect their preferences less well than those of older voters do. In sum, lowering the voting age does not appear to have a negative impact on input legitimacy and the quality of democratic decisions. This means that the potential positive consequences of this reform merit particular consideration and should also be empirically studied.

So what would it take to allow 16- and 17-year-olds the to vote in Yankton’s municipal elections?

Well, I’ve not had a lawyer familiar with South Dakota state law offer an opinion, but Generation Citizen completed a legal feasibility study of all 50 states. It found that cities in South Dakota can likely lower the voting age without any resistance from the state legislature:

Cities and counties can lower the voting age for their local elections through charter amendments.
The South Dakota state Constitution and election code both grant the right to vote to those 18 and older, and do not specifically prohibit those under 18 from voting (Const. Art. 7 § 2 and SDCL 12-3-1). Any county or city in South Dakota can adopt a charter, and “A chartered governmental unit may exercise any legislative power or perform any function not denied by its charter, the Constitution or the general laws of the state” (Const. Art. 9 § 2). A state statute lists the restrictions on power of home rule units, and this list does not include elections. Therefore, it seems that home rule units (cities or counties) in South Dakota can lower the voting age for their local elections through charter amendments. Charter amendments must be approved by voters.
One problem: Yankton is not a home rule unit. However, many other communities our size in the state are, and it is a subject that is currently being researched by the city’s legal council. (To be clear, that research is not being done due to this topic.)
So it appears that if the citizenry of Yankton were interested in expanding our voting age, it would not be an overnight process. But it could be done if the will were present.
What do you think? Is it time to allow 16- and 17-year-olds the ability to vote and have a voice in Yankton?
If any Yankton youth — or adults — want to explore this issue further, let’s talk!
If you’d like to read more, check out these links:

“Why We Should Lower the Voting Age To 16”

“Lowering the Voting Age To 16”

“Top 10 Reasons To Lower The Voting Age”

(This is where I’m obligated to mention that these views are entirely my own and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the Yankton City Commission or City of Yankton staff.)

The Best Music of 2015

The best music of 2015.

Because the first month of 2016 has nearly passed, I thought I should wrap up my thoughts on the past year. I’m usually running a bit behind, you know …

My top 10 films of 2015 were published Friday in the Press & Dakotan. You can find that story here.

And this, my friends, is my unadorned list of favorite albums of 2015:

10. Twin Shadow: Eclipse

9.  John Grant: Grey Tickles, Black Pressure

8. Icky Blossoms: Mask

7.  Dave Gahan/Soulsavers: Angels & Ghosts

6.  Susanne Sundfor: Ten Love Songs

5. The Soft Moon: Deeper

4. Post War Glamour Girls: Feeling Strange

3. Grimes: Art Angels

2. Chvrches: Every Open Eye

  1. Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell

Here are a few more highlights from the year:

Girl Band: Paul

Low: Lies

Deerhunter: Snakeskin

School of Seven Bells: Open Your Eyes

Carly Rae Jepsen: Your Type

LA Priest: Oino

Robin and La Bagatelle Magique: Love is Free

Brandon Flowers: Lonely Town

Sarah Bethe Nelson: Paying

Jamie xx: Loud Places


I could honestly keep going and going and going, so I’ll stop here.

Until next time, keep the music alive. Most days, I’d be lost without it …

Does The Midwest – Including Yankton – Have An ‘Amazing Appetite For Immersive Ugliness?’

Architecture can be inspiration.


This is a view of downtown Yankton circa 1903.

If you’ve traveled to the great cities of Europe or the National Mall in Washington, D.C., for example, I’m sure you’ve experienced the power architecture can have on the human mind.

Now, think about the architecture of Yankton.

What architecture in our small rural city inspires you?

If you have any answer at all, I’m going to guess you said one of five places — downtown Yankton, the Meridian Bridge, the Yankton Federal Prison Camp (which, of course, was formerly Yankton College), the Mead Building and the Bishop Marty Chapel.

What do all of these places have in common? They were built well before World War II and the Modern architectural styles that became popular in the post-war period, when the focus turned to new building materials, mass production and rapid construction.

The problem with much of the architecture built in the last 70 years — at least in the Midwest — is that it is geared toward automobiles and doesn’t inspire much awe among its inhabitants. It is mostly bland, insular and does not create a sense of place. More importantly, it does not create a sense of community.

With all of that said, it’s probably easy to understand why my mind became electric while hearing the following discussion take place between author, social critic, public speaker and blogger James Howard Kunstler and Chuck Marohn, the founder and president of Strong Towns. This is not a complete transcription of the podcast but instead one that captures the points I found relevant.

James Howard Kunstler (JHK): I’m always amazed at the stupefying ugliness of Midwestern towns — especially as they have evolved after the second World War. You see remnants of some pretty good stuff at the old town centers. But, most of the time, it has been obliterated. It’s as though some of the worst tendencies of American culture are amplified in the Midwest — all the bad choices, all the short cuts, all the fakery. Especially the total absence of artistry in our surroundings. How do you account for that in the Midwest?

Chuck Marohn (CM): … I think the stunning thing about it is, we’re actually proud of it. … These are very good people, and they care about their places, but it’s a little bit bewildering.

JHK: It’s mystifying. Because I agree with you — I think, in many ways, they are good people. But they have this amazing appetite for that immersive ugliness that I tend to describe as entropy made visible.

CM: … We need people who travel more … Part of it is, you see the world around you. You compare — they’ve got a nicer Olive Garden than we do. Let’s put brick siding on the next one … You get that kind of introspection here.

JHK: That’s some pretty shallow introspection.

(James relates that the latest example of this Midwestern architectural malaise he witnessed was in Sioux Falls.)

JHK: It had about 1 1/2 blocks of old urban fabric surrounded by this gigantic supernova of crap. That’s normal.

(James goes on to say that, when he goes to Midwestern towns, he often searches for postcards with some sign of urban memory of what the town was originally. He notes that many communities were new after 1865 — Yankton was incorporated in 1861.)

JHK: You look at a historic photo of Sioux Falls in 1880, and you realize all of that stuff is less than 25 years old. Now it’s all gone, of course. Is there any cultural memory … of what was good?

Listen to the whole podcast here. Learn more about Strong Towns here.

Kunstler puts into words what I’ve felt about Sioux Falls and its charmless urban sprawl for a long time. (And considering all the advice Sioux Falls Mayor Mike Huether has had for Yankton of late — advice, for the record, with which I generally agree — I had to laugh at Kunstler pointing out that his adopted community also has plenty of work to do.)

I think we do have that cultural memory, though it grows more faint with every passing year. Unfortunately, we live in a state/region that does not put a lot of emphasis on preservation, so many of us have given up hope that these buildings can be preserved except in rare circumstances.

(Remember all the buildings of historical significance the State of South Dakota destroyed on the South Dakota Human Services Center campus in the last couple years? To say the efforts to find uses for those buildings were half hearted is being generous, and it is only through the heroic efforts of the Mead Building Committee, the Yankton County Historical Society and the friends of those entities that the Mead Building still has a shot at a future as a cultural center and museum. The Yankton County taxpayers gave the project a huge boost in 2014 with approval of a levy that will raise money for the Mead restoration and other historical projects in the county.)

As Onward Yankton, the City of Yankton and Yankton residents plan for the downtown and community-wide development, I think it is important for us to keep in mind this “cultural memory of what was good” and fight to preserve and recreate it whenever possible.

Yankton has the benefit of natural beauty — the Missouri River and the rolling hills that surround it — which many of our peers do not.

Let’s build on that and the historic architectural foundation that remains and not give in to the ease of the “immersive ugliness” that already occupies too much of our surroundings.

What community landscape will inspire us, will encourage us to walk and to congregate, and will help ourselves and visitors see that, while we don’t have a California climate, we have the warmth and richness of community that weather cannot rival?

Why I Voted For The North Douglas Avenue Improvement Project

The Yankton City Commission voted to commence with an improvement project on the north end of Douglas Avenue this week.

It’s a decision that has been five or more years in the making.

Here is what the project entails (and more details can be found in this Press & Dakotan article):

Yankton City Manager Amy Nelson said the project is $1.6 million, with $100,800 to be assessed. The project will include rebuilding Douglas Ave. between Anna St. and 31st St. and adding curb, gutter and sidewalks along the stretch of roadway. Currently, the road beyond Anna St. has no sidewalk or shoulder.

Commissioner Charlie Gross opposed the resolution because he believes it sets a bad precedence. I respect his decision, as it is an element of the debate that I struggled with, too.

Ultimately, I came to support the project for the following reasons.

I’m the first to admit that this is not an ideal solution.

It does not adhere to our subdivision ordinance, and some will question the fairness of making an exception.

Instead of a clear black or white — or good or bad — decision, the commission is left with a deafening gray of competing considerations, values and goals. It is in this gray area that I have struggled to find clarity for the last several months, knowing that the time for a decision would arrive.

Questions that come to mind are:

1) Should an exception to our subdivision ordinance be made for these property owners? Are we creating a precedence that we may regret in the long term?

2) If the matter went to court, does the city have the weight of the law on its side?

3) With the development already in place along North Douglas, can we wait — possibly decades — for current or new property owners to change their minds on the matter and put off the installation of curb and gutter, storm sewer and sidewalk improvements?

4) As more development happens to the north, and pedestrian traffic increases, are we putting people at serious risk of injury or death by not having a sidewalk in place along that stretch?

5) Currently, a developer has indicated that it will not build homes on property it owns along North Douglas unless the city carries most of the financial burden of this infrastructure project. With the need for housing in the community now and in the future, is it worth more to Yankton to make this sacrifice in order to gain more homes? Thus, we create new opportunities for those wishing to live in our community while increasing our property tax revenues and, potentially, sales taxes revenues.

These questions and more have swirled around my head and led to many conversations with those who are for moving ahead with this proposal and those who are against it.

But now, as the question is asked, I must come to a decision.

And my decision is yes.

Yes, we need to set aside history and our normal requirements to address this specific circumstance.

Yes, we need to think about the long-term future of our city. Douglas Avenue has been, and will continue to be, a major north-south thoroughfare for our residents. We need the proper infrastructure in place — especially sidewalks — in order to ensure orderly development and improve safety.

Yes, we need to encourage the development of more housing that will contribute to the growth and prosperity of our community.

So while this resolution is not ideal, it is at the very least a compromise by which both the city and the property owners along North Douglas can live.

In the short term, the City Commission and our staff will, perhaps rightly, be questioned about the fairness of this agreement in comparison to what we ask of others in regards to our subdivision ordinance.

But I’m confident that, in the long term, history will judge the agreement favorably as one that made the best of a frustrating situation and did the greatest good for the community.