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Student “River Futures” Offer Dynamic Riverfront Vision for 2064

April 17, 2014Patrick NunnallyEvents, Former Featured PostsComments Off on Student “River Futures” Offer Dynamic Riverfront Vision for 2064

Listening to undergraduate students present their visions of “River Futures” yesterday, I could not help but think that these folks just may achieve their (largely unstated) goal of “saving the world.”  They showed knowledge animated by passion, idealism tempered (somewhat) by a sense of circumstances, and, overall, a much better sense of what the river world is and how it works than a lot of people who have been working on the Mississippi their whole careers.

I should say at the outset that, as with so many other things, the very successful “River Futures” program yesterday was a collaborative effort.  The University Honors Program was with us throughout the planning and design of the project, and completed all of the necessary “day of” detail work, including figuring out how to work the technology in our brand new Northrop small theater space.  The projects that most of the students reported on were research internships that would not have been possible without the continued collaboration of our National Park Service partners.

The program itself was taped by staff from the Institute for Advanced Study; when that file is available I’ll blog again with more specifics of the program.  Until then, the summary view of what the Twin Cities stretch of the Mississippi River might look like in 2064, 50 years hence, might look something like this:

Existing gathering spaces on the river, such as St. Anthony Falls, will be more animated and more of a destination for much longer seasons than the current couple of festivals and regular bike path use.  Housing prices along the river will continue to rise, providing much of the population base for this extended attendance.  Riverfront users will learn and communicate through a wide variety of digitally based, location based media that make cell phone tours look like Model T cars.  Much of the information available on those media will be stories by American Indians about their past and continued presence in this place.  Additional subjects will be water quality and connections of our efforts on water quality downstream, as well as the results of scientific examinations of wildlife, climate change, and the fossil record of this place.  Once a year, people will congregate elsewhere on the river corridor for BioBlitz, which is a 24 hour festival of diversity based on counting and measuring the flora and fauna of that location.  Riverfront users will be much more representative of the regional population at large, which will be considerably more diverse than it is today.  The future is not all rosy: invasive carp are still a threat (but they have not yet “taken over” the river); the nuclear power plants above and below the cities continue to cause concern; people in the Twin Cities region but away from the river corridor still don’t understand their connection to the river through their watershed.  But river managers and the public have a much better understanding of the “ecosystem services” the river provides, and, together with continued vitality in the 200 year old building fabric of the Heritage Zone, people are much more directly engaged with the Mississippi River than they were “back in the day” in 2014.

Many thanks all around for those whose work created this “river future.”  All we have to do now is make it happen.

 

 

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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.