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Broad Recognition: the Mississippi River IS Crucial to Our Regional Future

February 5, 2014Patrick NunnallyFormer Featured PostsComments Off on Broad Recognition: the Mississippi River IS Crucial to Our Regional Future

It is extremely gratifying when broader media outlets and other writers with bigger audiences pick up on things that have been our own obsession for so long.  Jay Walljasper, a well known local author, speaker, and consultant who focuses particularly on issues relating to “the commons” as a community ethos, last week published a series of articles on the Mississippi River and the future of the Twin Cities.

Walljasper’s articles appeared in the online source, and were drawn from a recent report completed for the McKnight Foundation, which has a longstanding commitment both to the Mississippi River and to the future of our particular region.

The three articles that appeared last week are all eminently worth scrutiny, but here’s a “cheat sheet” for those who are short on time:

The opening story points out that the Mississippi River is central to the region’s international recognition.  People may not know Minneapolis or St. Paul, or Minnesota, but across the world people have heard of the Mississippi River.  For decades, even generations in some instances, community leaders have woven the Mississippi River into the fabric of the cities, first through renowned systems of parks and trails, and later as a more explicit community development strategy.

The proliferation of ideas about how to make the downtown riverfronts more attractive, and create more access to the Mississippi itself are the subjects of the second article.

Finally, Walljasper’s vision travels down river, pointing out the many many places down into southeastern Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa where riverfront revitalization has become key to community redevelopment.  Dozens of small river towns are enjoying revivals as their restored historic structures, newly developed cafes and the like provide destinations for visitors, many of whom come from the Twin Cities and just follow the river.

As with any good body of work, there are always subjects left to explore in later efforts.  In the future, it will be great to see similar explorations of how the river is increasingly functioning as a connected ecological system, with aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems increasingly important as the water becomes cleaner and park vegetation matures.  We also are increasingly mindful of the regional benefits brought by the river as the visible part of a freshwater system that our communities absolutely rely on for drinking water, for industry and many other reasons.

Taken together, the river as freshwater system and as habitat system point us toward understanding the “ecosystem services” of the Mississippi River to the Twin Cities.  This is the next, more complex, (and harder to describe gracefully in prose) connection of the river to the future of the region.

Anyone up for tackling that writing project?  Jay Walljasper’s work is a great model!


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Open Rivers: Rethinking the Mississippi
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.