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RIVER LIFE

Greening the Urban Riverfront

June 8, 2010Patrick NunnallyRiversComments Off on Greening the Urban Riverfront

Even casual scans of the web show that there is a lot of “greening” on urban riverfronts.  Across the developed world, obsolete industrial and transportation facilities along urban rivers are being redeveloped, whether primarily as a park or in developments that maintain some highlighted open spaces.  More recently, with “sustainability” gaining traction as a buzz-word, there appear to be stronger efforts to incorporate “green design” elements such as green roofs, permeable surfaces, and rain gardens, along with the more traditional parks and trails.

In Minneapolis, the Minnesota Historical Society’s Mill City Museum is in some regards doing all of these efforts one better.  The Museum’s Greening the Riverfront series offers programs that explore the nexus of history and nature.  Many of these programs explore new developments in food production and distribution, as befits a museum located in the heart of what was once the world’s largest flour-producing complex.  But there are also important links to artistic expression and to indigenous perspectives here as well.

And this is where I think “Greening the Riverfront” really stands out.  Programmers know that events should have more than one dimension to really attract a crowd:  a family-oriented event that lets adults and kids work together to prepare their own food, for example, offers quality “family time” as well as “learning where food comes from” time.  But the incorporation of artworks, and the ways in which local indigenous people are involved in several of the events, highlight the idea that we all have to learn from each other, and to express ourselves in whatever way best suits, in order to bring about long term sustainability.  Dakota people have been spiritually connected to St. Anthony Falls since time immemorial; of course the rest of us should learn from them about how to live well with this place.  And artistic work can convey insights without argument, without smugness, without hectoring (and yes, I know that there is a lot of art that argues and is smug).

All riverfronts can be green, and all have stories and histories.  Highlighting the “green history” of the riverfront, and using that perspective as a light for the future is a distinctive, and welcome, development.

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