A Tale of Two Cities Revisited: Minneapolis, St. Paul offer more diverse and connected visions
It would be interesting to go back through the past 20+ years of riverfront redevelopment in St. Paul and Minneapolis and chart the changing rationales and public benefits that were ascribed to particular projects. “Back in the day,” that is, the 20th century, it might have been enough to repeat that the Mississippi River is a really cool place, one of the greatest rivers in the world, so everyone ought to support the project. That would probably have worked, regardless of the project.
Things have changed, I think. A recent article describing the early visions for the redevelopment of the Ford plant site in St. Paul goes into much more specifics of what community task forces are looking for. The range is greater, and the bar is higher. After all, this is 130 acres +/- on the river, near established commercial districts, in the geographic heart of the metropolitan region. Community expectations ought to be higher. The city staff members involved with the project have not got a lot to offer, since any discussion is still at very early stages. But what they do say sounds as if they have learned a lot from some of the bruising battles from the past decade or so.
Upstream some 15 miles, Minneapolis’ riverfront is likewise in a state of transition, per a recent article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. The area above St. Anthony Falls is undergoing the same conversion from industrial and commercial use to recreation and park land that the Central Riverfront began in the 1970s. We can hope that the conversion above the falls will take less than 40 years, a hope that seems likely since better than half the land is now in public ownership. Progress is steady.
Progress of another sort is shown in the article’s discussion of how trail projects that cross North Minneapolis and Northeast are being connected to riverfront efforts. This connectivity has been sadly lacking in previous decades, which continues a century-long pattern of exclusion of those neighborhoods from many of the large park amenities in the city.
Connective projects are more important than ever, since the people living a mile or so away from the riverfront must have access that is clear and easy to navigate. Only when the amenities of the riverfronts are broadly accessible to all the neighborhoods in the city will we have the fully inclusive relationship with the Mississippi that we need.