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Water, Place, and Community

River Life is a program of the Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Minnesota that creates new knowledge about the relationships between water, place, and community by connecting campus to community work and needs.

See more information about We Are Water, an exhibit and event series this fall including weekly River Walks on Wednesdays at noon, leaving from the Northrop plaza. We Are Water is a partnership that was formed to tell Minnesota’s water stories collaboratively, bringing together personal narratives, historical materials, and scientific information. 

The Challenge and Opportunity

Located on the banks of one of the world’s great rivers, the University of Minnesota, through its teaching, research, and campus practices, is a model for developing future-oriented, resilient relationships between communities and water.  Water is essential to humanity's well-being, and is also threatened in myriad ways.  Working with communities of scholars and professionals on and off campus, River Life creates knowledge-sharing programs including the digital journal Open Rivers, a spatial platform that maps "water stories," and a series of public events around the twin themes "We Are Water" and "The River at Our Doorstep." River Life also maintains a blog and a vibrant social media presence.  River Life uses these activities to increase interdisciplinary and cross-sector capacity to address the related issues of water and justice, two of society's greatest challenges. 

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Latest from River Talk

We Are Water, Indeed : On the We Are Water MN Opening at the Institute on the Environment

There has always been a nice play on words within the We Are Water MN project—we are, in fact, largely water, as many people learn in biology class at some point.  But we are also, in important respects, the sum of our engagements with water.  Nearly everyone has a “water story,” or is attached to a particular body of water that is part of their core sense of themselves. The traveling exhibit We Are Water MN opened last Friday in the public space at the Institute on the Environment, and it is truly a landmark work. 

River Walks, We Are Water, and the University

One of the nice things about working on a campus that overlooks the Mississippi River is that it’s a very short walk to an overlook where the river is visible.  In our case, the whole trek to an overlook is about 100 yards, a block or so.  From there, it’s possible to walk either upstream or downstream (right or left) for changing river vistas, overlooks, or descents onto the flats at the water’s edge. We have used this location frequently over the years as a space from which to initiate programs, class trips, and the like.

“One Water” Framework, Integrating Water Work Across Sectors

River Life has long had an interest and focus on the Mississippi River, particularly that stretch of the river in the Twin Cities that serves as our “home river.”  For many and varied reasons, too long to go into in this post, we have recently begun seeing the Mississippi, both here and for its full length, as the heart of a water system that is central to the lives of everyone around it.  Seeing the “river” as “water,” while self-evident to many, has pointed our work in new directions, with new inquiries, sources, and conceptual frames for analysis and learning.

If the Water Debate is “the lake or the lawn?” can Science Provide an Answer?

In Minnesota, water is practically the “state element.”  Going “up to the lake” is a much-cherished tradition for many people who have lived here for generations.  The park systems in Minneapolis and St. Paul focus on lakes, creeks, and the Mississippi River. The state’s (official?) tagline is “Land of 10,000 Lakes.”  There are many more parts to this phenomenon, but you get the idea.