When I got fully engaged with Mississippi River work, in the mid-90s, there was a lot of talk about public-private partnerships. That has ebbed and flowed and morphed over the years, but the idea of partnership has remained. Pretty much anyone in any sector—public, nonprofit, or corporate—understands that work beyond a small one-time project rarely happens through just one entity.
The features in this issue celebrate partnership and collaboration. Taken separately or together, this issue’s articles focus on community work as opposed to scholarship. They will, we hope, show community folks the work of others that they can learn from. We hope also that campus people can see the range of community partners and what they do, and see possibilities for expanding their engagement in particular ways they hadn’t thought of. These articles illustrate a range of ways to engage in collaboration; if you know of a great collaboration that is not mentioned here, let us know and maybe we can get that case written up for a future issue.
Our Minneapolis campus is almost completely within the boundaries of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, a unit of the National Park System that is known as a “partnership park.” The feature by Superintendent John Anfinson (A U of M graduate, by the way) examines a number of the formal partnerships that enable the park to do the work that makes it successful. Our River Life program, as well as any number of individual researchers and instructors, has worked with park staff on a variety of projects over the years; we will have to figure out how all of that work can be rolled into a more formal agreement. That agreement would be a significant asset for the University and we trust it would be valuable for the park as well.
The work of the Healing Place Collaborative shares a geography with the local national park unit, but operates quite differently. The series of interviews offered here reflect the decentralized nature of the Collaborative’s work, and the myriad ways that significant work is taking place by partners either individually or in various combinations, but all working under the aegis of “healing,” “place,” and “water.” The Collaborative’s November meeting perhaps exemplified the mutual strength members give each other; “How We Are Caring,” a collection of reflections from that meeting, is included as a sidebar to the multiple voices in the article authored by Martin Case.
The river in our community is, of course, connected to the broader Mississippi River and, through the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. Two additional features in this issue trace collaborative efforts that work toward the overall health of these waters. Kelly McGinnis articulates a number of the key principles underlying the collaborations among 50+ organizations of the Mississippi River Network. America’s Wetland Foundation, as described in the article by Valsin Marmillion, works differently, by convening groups that don’t normally work together into efforts that find innovative responses to seemingly intractable solutions.
Collaborations among multiple partners can achieve great things, but there will always be a need for good, old-fashioned river advocacy. John Helland describes the general perspectives offered by some of the most prominent national river advocacy groups; nearly all of them can be followed through social media if any in particular pique your interest. On the subject of national perspectives on rivers, Joanne Richardson reviews the current touring exhibit, “Water/Ways,” which is anchored by the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street show on the importance of water in our lives.
Our final three columns bring us back to the campus of the University of Minnesota and its vicinity. Laura Matson offers an examination of the treaty provisions that underlie much of the conflict over the Dakota Access Pipeline and its crossing of the Missouri River near the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s reservation. The conflicts over water and the pipeline itself are fairly well known, but the treaty provisions are not. Hilary Holmes describes for us a quite different geography, Bridal Veil Falls, which formerly fell untrammeled into the Mississippi River near Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis. Finally, Monica McKay gives us hope for the continuation of partnerships like those covered in this issue. Her account of various programs in the University of Minnesota’s Center for Community-Engaged Learning indicates that collaboration can, perhaps, be taught.
It is appropriate in these times that we write intentionally about “hope” and teaching early career people about patterns of collaboration. As I discuss more fully here these are challenging times for people committed to issues of water, sustainability, place, and equity. I welcome your comments.
That is indeed a hopeful lesson for us all. Happy reading, everyone!
Follow this link for Open Rivers, Issue Five : Networks and Collaboration.
Over the past few months, River Life has found its focus shifting a bit. Since 2005, we have worked to raise the visibility of the Mississippi River, particularly on the campus of the University of Minnesota, which is bisected by the river in Minneapolis. We have written about the river, essentially, as a physical spatial phenomenon, raising and exploring issues arising from its “materiality” as our scholarly colleagues put it. People, programs, projects; if they were about the Mississippi, we included them.
More recently, we have found ourselves concentrating on matters affecting the river’s future, particularly how that future can be driven by more sustainable and inclusive planning. Examples that our community partners could learn from are all over the country; our role is to bring those to light and make them available to our collaborators, who are too busy doing their primary jobs to have time for this kind of broad-field research. We want to contribute perspectives and news that our partners haven’t got time or space for.
Our program hasn’t got resource management responsibilities, nor are we charged with public programming. Instead, we work with people in organizations such as the National Park Service, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, the Minnesota Humanities Center, and Minnesota Historical Society, who do have statutory responsibilities for public space and public programs. Together with community-based partners such as Works Progress, the Healing Place Collaborative, and the Mississippi River Network, we provide new ideas, access to innovative insights, and perspectives that are grounded in the immediate and also reach forward into the possible. We want our readers and participants to come away from our work thinking “I had not thought of that before. Will have to consider that more.”
Our job got a lot harder Friday.
Unless you have just returned from Mars or some place, you know that the United States has a new President, one who seemingly is focused on undoing much of the work of the previous Administration. Together with our community partners and campus collaborators, we work on matters of water, place, and community, with an emphasis on efforts that increase inclusion, equity, and sustainability. The inauguration marks a clear change for all of us, particularly our federal colleagues. We will have to address this change, respond to it, but make our comments as little about partisanship and individual people as possible. Here are our thoughts, offered as a series of comments, each of which merits further research and elaboration, beyond the limits of this one post.
We are concerned by the new administration’s celebration of the private sphere over the public, seemingly in all areas of our society. The infrastructures of water—everything from drinking water pipes to inland waterway navigation structures, to sewer systems and everything else we have engineered to move water—is aging rapidly and nearing the end of its functional life in many respects. The new administration touts plans for infrastructure investment; we must be vigilant that these plans do not rely on private investment only, and the handing over of control and pricing of water to the highest private sector bidder. Privatization of urban water systems is still relatively rare in this country; further moves in this direction are to be viewed with caution.
The administration’s potential to erode the public sphere of our society shows itself also in immediate threats to programs such as the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. These programs in particular, which don’t cost much as federal programs go, provide an essential function of “jump starting” new ideas and innovations, the fruits of which come to light in succeeding years and decades.
As our friends at the Penn Environmental Humanities Lab have demonstrated so dramatically, the new administration poses a direct threat to the importance of science in the public sphere. “Data rescue” operations are vital, but the ongoing de-emphasis of science in agencies such as the EPA, NOAA, and the National Park Service poses a broad-based threat to our ability to combat climate change, develop responses to water pollution, or devise innovative ways to increase agricultural yields.
Our work at River Life is grounded in a conviction that public space has to be public for all, and that the right of all of the people to peaceably assemble and address their grievances (to use Constitution-era language for “gather and protest”) is fundamental. Many of our iconic public spaces, in the Twin Cities and beyond, are associated with water; think of the Mississippi Riverfront and the pathways around the various lakes and creeks in the cities. Now imagine those spaces privatized, sold to the highest bidder and restricted to public use, or on days when the public can use them, seeing restricted uses. The new “park” around the Vikings stadium in Minneapolis already points in this direction, of “privatized public space.” We fear that more of this is coming. We are further concerned that discussions about the importance of the river, or parks, lakes and creeks, just involve the “usual suspects,” namely, generally affluent, readily self-identified “environmentalists.” Public spaces are often fraught for communities of color and Indigenous people, and the “meaning” of water has many dimensions that go beyond our usual reckoning. These concepts must be part of our ongoing considerations.
Our work on questions at the nexus of place, water, and community means we will continue to attend to issues and matters that may not appear directly to be associated with the Mississippi River. The river, though, is a system that reflects our human systems in many ways, some of which are less evident than others. We know that the Mississippi is a “river of history,” and a “river of nature.” Shall it be seen as a “river of money”? A “river of colonization”? Other people have addressed these complexities; we need to find them and learn from their experiences.
Finally, the recent administrative changes at both the federal and state levels (Minnesota’s legislature saw partisan rearrangements as a result of November’s election as well) emphasize our roles and responsibilities as a public educational institution. To put matters simply: our “.edu” digital environment imposes on us the responsibility to “get it right,” to produce and share knowledge that is reliable and verifiable. Knowledge, we all know, is becoming increasingly contested. We owe our partners, and ourselves, our best efforts to share knowledge that solves problems, addresses community needs, and shapes the future that we envision.
There is a growing buzz about making the Mississippi River Gorge in Minneapolis more “natural.” It’s certainly a fine idea to talk about and plan for restoration of some features and dynamics that the river had at this place in the past. But we should not rely on a static concept of “nature,” in large part because “nature” simply isn’t static. So “restoration” of any dynamic system like a river requires close attention to the complex question: Restoration to what condition?
With these ideas in mind, here are some images from the gorge, each of which shows it before the installation of the Ford dam.
The Lake Street bridge is in the foreground of this image, which is oriented to look upstream. The metadata for the image lists it as being taken around 1888, although the inscription on the right above the bridge says “1883-4.” The very shallow water conditions, illustrated by expansive mud flats, indicate the time of year is probably autumn.
Image source Minnesota Historical Society.
If the metadata/caption for this 1900 photograph is correct, the orientation of the shot is downstream, with the Franklin Avenue Bridge in the foreground and Meeker Island in the middle distance. The rapids around the island, however, appear to indicate the water is flowing toward the camera. Any historically-minded river rats out there have a good read on this image and which way the river is flowing?
Image source Minnesota Historical Society.
The part of this postcard image that strikes me the most is the caption: “A view of the Mississippi River between the Twin Cities Minn.” At the time this card was made, around 1910, the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul had not yet physically grown into one contiguous urban space. The Mississippi River gorge served as a semi-wild “natural” space between the two urban industrial centers, each then at the height of its regional importance as milling and shipping centers.
Image source Minnesota Historical Society.
A persistent challenge to our River Life program have been the questions: what exactly do you folks DO? What questions do you ask? What impact do you have?
To some extent, the persistence of these questions is a good thing. At universities, we get to explore complex matters, and go where the shifts in conversations take us. By contrast, our partners off campus are limited by their organization’s mission, or by funding, or by expectations of the public. They can move around a little bit, but the Minnesota Historical Society ought to keep dealing with Minnesota’s past, and the National Park Service really needs to be focused on qualities that make this stretch of the river unique, and bringing those qualities to the public nationally as well as here at home.
Our job, on the other hand, is to think differently than our partners. Not having responsibility for public programs, or for stewardship of public lands, we can tend to our main businesses, which are educating the public, particularly young people, and developing new knowledge. In both of these areas–education and research–River Life takes very seriously our charge to conduct our work in collaboration with partners from off campus, as well as forging interdisciplinary relationships on campus.
So what is our area of study? We look at how we–the university, our partners, our communities–can build more inclusive and sustainable relationships with the Mississippi River. Our focus is necessarily somewhat parochial; our partners, after all, are responsible for lands and waters here, in the Twin Cities metro area. Furthermore, the Twin Cities region is a great “laboratory” to understand the development and function of complex urban water systems.
But our focus necessarily has to widen out to include the watershed of our “home river,” and a consideration of the river and its communities as they live downstream, absorbing what we have done to the river here. Moreover, we learn a lot about conditions and circumstances and possibilities here by understanding conditions, circumstances, and possibilities elsewhere, across the country and around the world.
Sounds simple: building sustainable and inclusive relationships with the Mississippi River. But I have a feeling this work will keep us busy for a while.
Well, “Throwback Thursday” doesn’t mean we have to go very far back, right? In the spirit of (hoped for) summer reading time, I offer the Introduction to Issue 2 of Open Rivers: Rethinking the Mississippi, which went live last month:
We commonly think of rivers as, for the most part, staying where they belong, in the river bed, occasionally coming out into the floodplain under fairly predictable conditions conducive to high water that we call “floods.”
The writing in this issue of Open Rivers belies this notion of predictability, to a large degree. In disparate ways our authors write as if rivers should be understood as fundamentally restless, existing under conditions that are dramatically changing. The terms we use to describe these changes matter a great deal; is a flood a “disturbance” or part of the river’s inherent dynamic? Christopher Morris asks us to reflect on this distinction. More pointedly, Richard M. Mizelle Jr. reminds us that periods of high water are commonly understood to be shaped by a combination of “natural” and “intentional” factors; what is consistent is that the people suffering the worst impacts are communities of color and the poor.
Much of the work in this issue of Open Rivers is derived from the spring 2015 symposium, “The Once and Future River: Imagining the Mississippi in an Era of Climate Change,” which was funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation through a John E. Sawyer Seminar grant. The essays by Patrick Hamilton and Lark Weller, plus Phyllis Mauch Messenger’s interview with meteorologist Paul Huttner all speak directly to the impacts a changing climate may have on rivers. If rivers have an inherent (and cultural) instability, and are manifestly affected by a changing climate, then how can we “know” the rivers in our landscape?
Other writers represented here have answers, to one degree or another. Kirk MacKinnon Morrow offers us a pathway to learn about the Mississippi by listening to the Dakota, the people who have lived in this place for the longest time. Kate Brauman suggests that “big data” can help us understand worldwide water issues, but only to a degree. Simi Kang recommends learning from one of the preeminent historical geographers in the country. And Len Kne reminds us that mapping is always a valuable way to understand what’s around us.
If you have noted a great deal of equivocation in this introduction, that is because equivocation may be an apt rhetorical stance for addressing a changeable subject such as rivers. Our knowledge must, to a large degree, be understood as contingent rather than definitive. Toward that end, we expect that the writing and images offered here will be the first word in provocative discourses, rather than the last word that settles things “once and for all.”
and Happy Summer!
Around universities, summers can be pretty slow. Faculty and students are mostly away, recharging their batteries between school year urgencies. The relatively few people around for summer school seem to be working at a slower pace. It’s a good time for reflection and getting “brain work” done.
One of our big tasks this summer is to plan the reconfiguration of the River Life web site, so it can become a better gateway between the world of the river (and rivers/urban water systems more broadly) and the world of the campus. Be patient, since we probably won’t have the revamp finished until November. When we do get it done, though, we expect it will better reflect the lively dynamics of both river corridor and campus.
In the meantime, just let us know if there’s anything in particular you’d like for us to include!
This Wednesday May 11, A Sip of Science will feature a University of Minnesota graduate student reporting on a nearly-complete “literature review” and baseline assessment of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. We know the Corps of Engineers will not be dredging the former navigation channel, but how will the river’s water quality, aquatic ecology, and sediment systems respond? We have to know where we are now to understand future changes, so the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources awarded a grant to the Minneapolis Riverfront Partnership to examine existing data on this stretch of the Mississippi and conduct very limited new studies.
Come to the Aster Cafe at 5:30 on Wednesday to hear Jane Mazack, a Ph.D. candidate in Water Resource Science at the U of M, report on the study.
More details below:
A SIP OF SCIENCE –
The lock is closed: what are the keys to river health?
Jane Mazack, PhD Candidate in Water Resources Science, University of Minnesota
Wednesday, May 11th, 2016 5:30p.m.
Aster Cafe, 125 SE Main Street, St. Anthony Main, Minneapolis
No cover, Please RSVP!
A SIP OF SCIENCE bridges the gap between science and culture in a setting that bridges the gap between brain and belly. Food, beer, and learning are on the menu in a happy hour forum that puts science in context through storytelling.
May 11th Event –
The Mississippi River has long been managed for navigation and transportation purposes. Last June, the St. Anthony Falls lock was closed to navigation and channel dredging was halted. These management actions are expected to change the physical, chemical, and biological condition of the river between the Coon Rapids and Ford Dams. Join us as Jane Mazack describes a current collaborative study between the Minneapolis Riverfront Partnership, Mississippi Watershed Management Organization, the University of Minnesota’s St. Anthony Falls Lab, and River Life program that investigates the keys to evaluating the impacts of the lock closure.
The talk takes place during happy hour at the Aster Cafe || Food and Drink Available for Purchase
ABOUT THIS MONTH’S SPEAKER
Jane Mazack is a PhD candidate in Water Resources Science at the University of Minnesota. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science from Calvin College in Michigan and a M.S. in Water Resources from the University of Minnesota. Her primary research interest is in aquatic ecology, and her dissertation research focuses on the winter dynamics of invertebrates in southeastern Minnesota trout streams.
ABOUT A SIP OF SCIENCE
A SIP OF SCIENCE is a science happy hour sponsored by the National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics (NCED). It is a chance to hear about new and exciting research over beer, in a cool bar. Come talk with the experts about their efforts to address some of the Earth’s most pressing problems. NCED’s A SIP OF SCIENCE brings the wonder of science to happy hour.
Interested in hearing about Sip of Science events? Join our mailing list.
Grazing on the West Side Flats. This herd of cattle is standing more or less where Holman Field airport is now located. Lily Lake was filled in early in the 20th century to create the land for the airport.
Image from the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society.
Boating on Upper Levee during a flood. The Upper Levee neighborhood near the present Science Museum of Minnesota location flooded regularly during the first half of the 20th century. Residents of the community, nearly all of whom were Italian immigrants, moved out after the flood of 1952. Many went to the Railroad Island/Payne Avenue neighborhood on the east side of St. Paul, while others started businesses such as Mancini’s Char House and Cossetta’s Grocery and Deli on nearby West Seventh Street.
Image from the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society.
Cutting away the bluff to make way for railroads. The center of downtown St. Paul, between the Science Museum and the Union Depot, is located on a high bluff overlooking the Mississippi. This photograph, probably from the 1870s or 1880s, shows the developing railroad beds below the bluff, where present Shepherd Road and current rail lines still run. The bluff appears to have been cut back through the soft St. Peter sandstone to make more room for the transportation network.
Image from the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society.
Filling the Mississippi shoreland to make room for new development. This image, looking upstream from the Upper Landing area toward Fort Snelling, illustrates how watery margins of the Mississippi were filled in to create more land for transportation and settlement. The photograph probably dates to the 1870s.
Image from the collections of the Minnesota Historical Society.
We announce today the inaugural issue of our digital journal, Open Rivers: Rethinking the Mississippi.
“Open” speaks to our commitment to multiple voices, perspectives and subjects. We will write about the public lands along our rivers, as well as about hydrology. We will have perspectives from science and policy, from community engagement efforts and from interesting people, places, and events from wherever we find them.
“Rivers” speaks to our primary concern, but we understand that waters are connected and that rivers have watersheds. So we will go beyond just the urban corridor of the Mississippi, although given our location, that’s probably our home territory and foundation for our inquiries.
Why rethink the Mississippi? We argue that there are a number of reasons. There are a bewildering number of people, agencies, organizations and resource and research efforts on the Mississippi. They don’t talk to each other. We don’t actually think they probably can; there are just too many differences. The river is too big to understand. But our effort is intended to bring together perspectives that don’t normally see or hear from each other, so that conversations might become more connected and integrated even if only a little.
We also feel that the stories we tell about the Mississippi, while important, should be reexamined. We talk about the dead zone, about the importance of flood ways and floodplains, about community redevelopment and navigation. We ritualistically talk about Mark Twain, perhaps even quote his work. Two factors, though, are only beginning to emerge as part of the story of the Great River.
First is climate change. Simply put, the past is not any longer a good predictor for how systems will behave in the future. The winter flooding stories in the news now speak to this fact; look for more in upcoming issues of our journal.
The second factor is demographic. The populations in the cities and towns along the river and in the watershed are changing, becoming more diverse and are perhaps not as grounded historically and culturally in the history of the area over the past couple of centuries. Many communities that have been in this region for generations have a fraught, violent, or transitory relationship with the river or its tributaries. Mark Twain may not mean much to the regions newest residents. And his work may not mean much to the residents of longest duration either. We are committed to learning from and learning with native people, believing as we do that the perspectives of people who have been here the longest are vital to help us understand what we might do to live here sustainably for the long duration.
We hope you’ll read and enjoy the journal. Share it, tell us what you think and what we should write about. Write for us or contribute in some other way.
It’s a big river and we need to hear from everyone.
Living with the Mississippi is a blog series that examines the history of the river flats communities and what it means to almost literally live on the Mississippi River. Follow along to learn more about life on the Mississippi prior to luxury condos and clean river water, before the riverfront was considered a desirable place to live. The entire series is downloadable in PDF format here.
Our featured series “Living with the Mississippi” has gathered more readers than any other part of our work. Largely this is due to the stellar research and writing of the author, Rachel Hines. But it’s also a testament to the enduring hold that riverfront communities have on our imagination. There’s something about these places, whether Bohemian Flats or St. Paul’s West Side, that simply continues to interest people.
I think there are a couple of longer-term issues as well that the series and the places it describes bring to light. For one thing, the contrast between “then and now” in the physical environment is largely unstated, though ever-present. Living with the Mississippi a century ago meant living alongside what was often an open sewer and what was always an industrial waste dump. The river itself was different also. The construction of what we know now as the Ford Lock and Dam downstream of Bohemian Flats meant the water level is steadier now, with less of the seasonal rise and fall that marks a more natural river pattern. All of these factors meant that living in a space now reserved as a park was a completely different experience of land, of water, and of the sensory environment at the water’s edge. The corridor smelled different, looked different, sounded different, even felt different underfoot with a marshy uneven river bank in place of today’s mown grass field.
Our head note for the series alludes to another broad change when it refers to the time “before luxury condos and clean river water.” Although the clean river water is more important, it is now largely taken for granted, and Minneapolis and St. Paul have joined cities across the developed world in converting their riverfronts to something that is increasingly focused on luxury condos.
Simply put, we are in danger of privatizing our riverfronts to the point where the descendants of former residents won’t be able, or feel comfortable, walking where their grandfathers and grandmothers once lived. On St. Paul’s Upper Landing this has already happened; the narrow strip of public land and pathway outside residents’ front balconies feels more private than public. There’s room for debate on this of course; the debate would be a healthy next step in our riverfront planning and design.
The stories of places like Bohemian Flats and the Upper Landing are vitally important connections between past and present. They help us organize our thoughts about who we have been and who we are now. But we critically need new stories, stories of our relationship with the Mississippi in the 21st century. I would argue that the stories that drive our sense of the river’s meaning forward should focus more than we have on sustainability and inclusion. We have spent a lot of time working on access; we must pivot to a focus on equity, where the gift of access is felt by all.
I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way. Last week, an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune explored in some detail the efforts of the National Park Service to reach younger and more diverse audiences. One way to do this, and a way that our program can actively participate in, is to work to ensure that park visitors hear more diverse stories than we have been telling. Visitors to St. Anthony Falls should know who Eliza Winston was and what happened to Spirit Island. Upper Landing visitors (and residents) should know who lived in that spot a century ago, and what happened to that community. As the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary planning gathers steam, people will need to know who Bruce Vento was, but also the importance of this place to Dakota people.
We have done a lot to bring people back to the riverfront. But there is much yet to do if we are to make the riverfront a welcoming place to all of the people who live here.
If our riverfronts reflect who we are and aspire to be, then what do they say about us? Do they say what we want them to?