I can't speak for when Mitch Pearlstein's experiences on Hennepin Avenue, but his offices at the Center of the American Experiment place him at the scene. Consequently, it seems odd he can't summon personal experience to illustrate Hennepin Avenue: One Mean Street. Instead, he makes generic references to vaguely specificied past horrors.
Of course, it's possible he doesn't have any good stories about how bad it is downtown. Neither do I, despite working downtown for 15 years, walking to lunches and client meetings, attending Timberwolves games as a season ticket holder, and passing through as a runner, cyclist and transit rider.
I won't say there aren't issues downtown, but a lot of discomfort is designed in.
First of all, the skyways siphon off most of the street life. When streets are for traffic, people lose. Lack of a diverse human presence on the street creates unease — especially if the only people left on the street are the poor, the destitute and the criminal.
Second, street level facades without windows or regular foot traffic are forbidding. Block E and City Center, the two suburban-style downtown developments closest to Mitch's office, turn their backs to the street. Many businesses along Hennepin are only alive at night, including bars and theaters. Add to that entrances that only lead to elevator banks or parking ramps, and you have Gaza-in-the-making — where streets feel like blast wall-lined gauntlets instead of places where it's safe or enjoyable to stop.
And a lot more is in the eye of the beholder.
Ride an inner city bus once and it might be scary. Ride it more often and it's routine. Drive through the North Side once, and you'll have shields up the whole way. Bike through it daily and you'll say hi to people.
If you live in a city, accept responsibility for your fears. Respect the people you meet. And don't be stupid. Otherwise, you'll be like my commenter of the day.
posted by dgb049
Of course, Discordian Stooge has total dispensation to disagree on this.
And Norwegianity points out the Robocop subtext of Mitch's meanderings.
UPDATE: And I neglected one other obvious design factor related to discomfort downtown. Don't be female.