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RiverFirst May be Opportunity for North Minneapolis?

June 1, 2011Patrick NunnallyUncategorizedComments Off on RiverFirst May be Opportunity for North Minneapolis?

By now many of you know that the north side of Minneapolis suffered a direct hit from a tornado on the afternoon of Sunday, May 22.  Hundreds of homes were damaged, thousands of trees were uprooted, Wirth Park suffered hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage, and a heron rookery on a Mississippi River island was destroyed.  Although there have been hundreds of volunteers pouring into the community to help, and the response from public and private emergency management and disaster relief organizations has been strong, this community will be decades recovering from that short storm interval.

RiverFirst, the design chosen last winter by the jury for the Minneapolis Riverfront Design Competition, has always had a very strong component that connected the North Side to the river.  Currently the North Side, which is among the lowest income sections of the city, is separated from the river by Interstate 94 and several miles of industrial waterfront land use.  RiverFirst’s plan has been bold:  to create a land bridge with community gardens, paths, and other landscape amenities from Farview Park in Near North, to the river.

I would suggest that the recent disaster on the North Side should push the Farview Park proposal up the queue for consideration.  Currently, the RiverFirst team is developing a strategy about which are the highest priority places and systems within the 5.5 mile stretch of the riverfront that they are examining.  Certainly, not everything can be built at once.  The Riverfirst wisely recognizes this and has established four “Site Prioritization Criteria”

  • Community Benefits
  • Municipal Needs
  • Timing and Land Ownership
  • Demonstration Capacity

Go here to see these criteria in more detail.  I have to note, though, that the blog link, and my own notes, are unclear on the distinction between “community benefits” and “municipal needs.”

It may seem out of touch to recommend a “Big Design’ solution to the North Side when so many people are still struggling for basic shelter.  But here’s my thinking:  the Farview Park connection, as a system of open space, “urban agriculture,” and trail connections that have a regional context, is a set of projects that won’t probably be realized until 5-10 years from now.  Why not create the space for this, get this visionary thinking in people’s minds now, and keep it there while more immediate needs are being met?

It wouldn’t be the first time that a community has been “saved by its river.”  Majora Carter‘s transformative work in the Bronx began with river clean ups.

It could happen here also.

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