Neal Baxter’s pedestrianism runs deep.
His mother, who was “short on attention” but long on neighborliness, walked everywhere in the 1960’s and 70’s in the south Minneapolis neighborhood where Neal and his siblings grew up. “I have always loved walking,” he says. Thrift and purpose drive him: “That comes from my Scotch-Irish ancestry. Walking is cheap as hell!” he laughs. “You get outside, you get to know people, you get where you are going.”
And go, Neal does.
He estimates that he walks about 5 miles a day in Minneapolis, every day. He doesn’t own a car, and on the days he doesn’t walk, he takes the bus. Neal tallies more than 1800 miles a year on foot, hoofing it to his job at Lund’s in Uptown, to the library, or to get a breakfast burrito (or lunch or afternoon snack) at Tiny Diner. Many people know Neal by sight, tracking a long-legged gait, his characteristic trench coat, and a willingness to stop and trade stories with locals.
Neal offers destinations best for a good walk:
Longfellow neighborhood is good, mostly because of the trees.
Walking at the U is a hoot. The students!
Near North is transitioning, becoming more lively with coffee shops and such. Commerce makes it interesting, and the people always do.
Northeast? I love industrial walking, it’s fascinating and can be kind of lonely, but it shows you how the city works.
In his home neighborhood of Bancroft, the view is most impressive along 38th Street, near the community garden Neal helped found and tends. “Heading east, the view toward the river corridor is nice. That’s why I like walking, because I can see a long way, down and along the street grid. In the city, walking is a joy; in the country you see the same thing for 3 hours! In the city, every block is something new.”
Neal’s activity fuels his activism. He serves as secretary for the Bancroft Neighborhood Association and is a member of the Pedestrian Advisory Committee of Minneapolis. He attends design charretttes, and was last seen at a citizen-led pre-design/pre-development “visioning session” for a Lyn-Lake surface parking lot. “The City Council doesn’t always listen or do what we say, but [as a committee member] they expect us to be loud and cranky and advocate for pedestrians.”
Neal supports increasing density in Minneapolis and enacting policies to protect against gentrification and rising rents for immigrant businesses. He suggests: “I vote for grit. It’s OK for the locals, and while it might be troublesome to visitors, the more people on the street, the more eyes and ears on a place, the safer it really is.”
When not walking, Neal sits on the front porch of his 38th Street home and directs attention to a public garden on the vacant, city-owned lot next door. “Gardens create community. Urban permaculture is a great trend for our city. We have juneberries, flowers, an orchard. Last summer, we had an enormous yield of cherries and apples. The plums and pears are slow, but they are coming. Folks from the Dairy Queen [across 38th Street] come over with their cones and sit on the benches.”
Neal talks about the garden enthusiastically. Visitors to his porch get excited to help out in the garden he helps manage. He is the “unofficial mayor” of the Bancroft neighborhood, and envisions a city where our car culture gives way to more walking. “Better for our social lives,” he says, “better for our health.”
In 2013, Neal ran for mayor of Minneapolis. Despite a low profile campaign, his name recognition was high. “I got 1000 votes; votes from every precinct in Minneapolis except one.”
For more information:
Neal Baxter: firstname.lastname@example.org