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River//Cities: Expressive Form Connecting People and Place

July 6, 2010Patrick NunnallyRivers, UncategorizedComments Off on River//Cities: Expressive Form Connecting People and Place

There seems to be a growing groundswell of interest in what might be called the “human dimension” of river management.  A recent article in the Corps of Engineers’ publication “Open Channels” quoted General Michael Walsh telling a group of St. Louis youth “I wish someone would have helped me understand the importance of the Hudson River when I was growing up.”  Helping people understand the importance of rivers is partly a matter of communicating their value in terms of health, both to us and to the broader environment.  Tried-and-true methods of persuasion can and are employed to bring the public’s attention to their rivers.


But there’s another, perhaps more complex, dimension at work also.  Artistic expressions, those compositions of words, images, built form, music, singly or in combination, that show us how things might be, are continuing to be a source of inspiration and reflection for water efforts generally and river efforts more specifically.  In St. Paul and the East Metro area in Minnesota, two watershed districts have hired an artist in residence to work for a year, developing programs that inspire people to see their watershed differently, and perhaps to act differently in it.  Work in landscape architecture, public art, and related fields is tying innovations in visualizing relationships to place with actions to preserve or sustain the systems that keep the place alive.


River//Cities is a European-based collaborative that works to strengthen these connections, concentrating on cultural, educational, social, and economic connections between cities and rivers.  As their Welcome page says,


can rivers make us more creative?
can we bring our creativity back to the rivers?
we believe we can

Want your river to be an exciting, inspiring, and unique experience? Well, that’s not necessarily easy, but possible.
You can change your river and let it change you.


The work shown on the site is interesting and exciting (although you will want to watch the video in “View on YouTube mode” for a smoother transmission.


What would it take to form a similar collaborative effort along the Mississippi?  Across other urban riverfronts?  Anyone else deliberately bringing creativity, in whatever form, to riverfronts?  Let us know!


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A joint project of River Life, the Institute for Advanced Study, and the University of Minnesota Libraries, Open Rivers is an interdisciplinary online journal that recognizes the Mississippi River as a space for timely and critical conversations about people, community, water, and place.