March 4, 2014

Ten design charettes covering five sections of the Central Riverfront are now complete.

I was encouraged that on the last evening, we had discussions referencing other overlapping “creative city-making” projects- from Plan-It/Talk-It Hennepin to Washington Avenue to Downtown East to Nicollet Mall and the expanding cultural corridor, as well as on-going development and design studies happening in the North Loop.

It does appear that the MPRB/MPF and the design team do indeed have awareness of these efforts  – but not necessarily the details.  That is certainly more encouraging than last week’s  Nicollet Mall update, where the designer is intent on blocking through traffic on 7th Street (yes, the most-used cross street in the pairs of one-ways) in order to create a new area called “Nicollet Island” in the middle of downtown.

Don’t get me wrong…I liked the Nicollet Mall ideas, I liked the connections from skyways to street, I liked the dream of a downtown gathering place, and honestly, I was less concerned about traffic flow across Nicollet than I am about their lack of understanding that a mere seven blocks away we have a natural Nicollet Island that has a history that dates hundreds of years before the arrival of the white man to Minneapolis.  I fully expect when this all rolls up and finally is presented for review by the Met Council, the traffic issues will be addressed and okayed or changed, and SOMEONE on the Met Council will have heard about an island in the middle of the Mississippi River called Nicollet!

But I digress…so back to the Master Plan itself.  Generally, it’s been a good process and I recognize I am seeing input from a CAC perspective, not a TAC perspective.

In general, it’s a good new vision and starting point for a Regional Park set within a National Park that also includes a lot of neighborhood parks and city parks as CACs up and down East and West Bank have listened, reviewed and provided input.

I have been so concerned about the native story getting lost throughout the process that I was taken aback that in the CAC gathering last Thursday night, I was the ONLY person there that has actually been inside the arcades on the riverside of the Post Office…or on that balcony 25-30 ft above …and yet, we had a lot of very opinionated ideas for its use.

Not to mention, I was the only person present including the design team that has actually been out on the lock wall at the USACE upper lock and dam at the Falls. Yikes!  How difficult is it to ask the Lockmaster for a tour?   (I know, it’s winter now…but!  To talk about reuse seems strange if you don’t exactly know what’s there now!)

In spite of all the good work, good ideas, and good participation, I still have concerns.  Several times over the process, David Wiggins has presented historical perspectives that include the native story….including the native ferry crossing BEFORE First Bridge, and he frequently has shared the old photos of the tipi encampment on the hill between the parking ramp and river at the Post Office.  The Hennepin Avenue Bridge intersects Nicollet Island and despite all of that, what does the design team call the West Bank area between Washington Avenue and the Bridge?  THE FLAGPOLE AREA!  Much as that is an area I am familiar with because of old Mississippi Mile involvement and the fact that I live one block away from it, I had no idea what they were referencing when they talked “The Flagpole”.   Indeed, it is there, but is that what YOU consider a familiar nomenclature for Hennepin and First on West Bank?

 Yes, they sort of understand this space was the first northern crossing of the Mississippi from eastern US to the west. Yes, they compare it to the arch in St. Louis that commemorates a historical crossing point to our south.   Yes, they sort of understand that is why the area has long been called the Gateway.  But for them, the “Gateway” is only what we had let it become post world war two, with little understanding of its magnificent welcome in a time gone by as you stepped from the train station or crossed over the bridge – on foot, in a carriage, or in car.

Yes, they acknowledge the site of the Native ferry crossing at the Federal Reserve; they kind of know that it is the site of First Bridge – but they never mentioned pieces of First Bridge are indeed preserved and displayed  under the current Hennepin Avenue Bridge.  They talked of plans to open up access to the river using the Post Office hill; and how to improve access to the water at the original ferry crossing, but to me it felt like they turned their backs on sacred spaces in favor of a green white man’s playground.

That tells me we are not on the right track yet.   I can only hope this is the face they are showing to the CAC ; that they really do have a better understanding than that from TAC meetings; and between the two groups, we will get the story right.  

With the native peoples that came before us, and the predictions of a population shift that will put whites in the minority and multicultural populations in the majority by 2040, I still feel  we are focusing a bit too much on  the 1850s – 2000s and not nearly enough on what we know is evolving  in the 21st century.  Even the Power of Falls plan identified this in 2009; so I am disappointed that it has not surfaced in all the meetings I have attended this time around – just five years later.  

Nevertheless, the plan has “good bones” and I am glad I have been a part of the process thus far.


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