Archive for the ‘PLAN IT HENNEPIN’ Category



June 10, 2012

It was our final workshop for Plan-It Hennepin, the city-making initiative primarily funded by the National Endowment of the Arts.  Since March, we have Talked It, Planned It, Tracked It, and yesterday, in the workshop at New Century Theatre we did our best at “Putting it All Together-Naming and Claiming”.

Drawing on a past workshop in which we went out on the street with our photographers from FAIR School to record the YES and NO elements currently found along the avenue from the river to the Walker, yesterday we addressed the NOs in the four defined districts. 

As we gathered around our large working model of Hennepin Avenue, we viewed the major zones we have become so familiar with, now marked with pictures and explanations of the NOs we identified in May.  Then, led in song by Mankwe  Ndosi , we returned to the theatre for a final planning exercise that  was designed to address the activity and dynamic mix of people in public space.  Networking to share educational experiences, and vital businesses represented in each group, we then turned to our task – to identify design and development initiatives (stressing function before form) and finally, to define public policies that support a vibrant, equitable public realm in a city.

This week, we were allowed to choose our area of interest, so my May comrades and I gathered around our work table with the dynamic Harry Waters  to start the discussion of HOW we might get rid of the NOs from river’s edge to the LRT; captured our thoughts on flags which were stuck in  small green balls if they pertained to architectural changes, places or ideas and in yellow cones if they pertained to people or events,  Once these visual symbols were complete and placed on the model of the entire street, we  joined together with the other teams to share  results.

 Aside from all the individual projects and thoughts, two things stand out about the day…the link of the three “sisters” – Nicollet for commerce, Hennepin for arts, and First Avenue for dining and entertainment – which all can come together at the Gateway and the river….and at the other end, the ideas we heard to conquer the “divider” of the freeway with remarkable creativity including the vision of disguising it with an amphitheater that turns the vision back upon the city.  Woven through-out was a concern for interculturalism as well as a feeling that a new “community” had been formed- driven first by our own personal interest, and then strengthened by the collaborative process to which we had been exposed.

Gathered together in a closing Declaration Circle, we each were asked what one thing we would commit to do on our own   (and be held accountable for by our co-participants) to keep what we have begun in these last four months  continuing to move forward as the project  moves into final three months of planning.

Talk about engaging…interacting…and being held accountable for our actions!

Again, this has been the most amazing event experience I have ever participated in.  A world of thanks to Tom Borrup and his hometown team of Ta-coumba Aiken, Mankwe  Ndosi, Leah Nelson, and Harry Waters, JR – all  supported by a talented cast of international and local experts  from Seitu Jones, Chancee Martoreli, Don Mitchell this past Thursday  to  Candy Chang, Charles Landry,  and a great group of locals who kicked the initiative off last March and of course, the inspiring  FAIR School students  and the several other youth groups in the city that participated separately and shared their visions.

Borrowing on some thoughts from Landry, we are on our way  to becoming a  world-class city based on cultural literacy, healthy (physically and mentally) urban planning, eco consciousness, and creative city making that empowers people to use their imagination and to rethink  planning not just in terms of hardware, but in terms of facilitation interaction and interculturalism.

Many of us expressed the same thought. We are sorry to see this phase of the year-long project end.  But judging on our Declarations, I am sure I have not see the last of the many new friends I have made as we share our passion for  MSP and its future!



June 6, 2012

DISCLAIMER:  I am not a Wal-Mart fan.  Originally, the look and feel of the shopping experience kept me away. Then rumblings from vendors of business practices not to be emulated or encouraged reinforced my opinion.  But it was “Nickeled and Dimed” and its story of attitude and treatment towards employees that moved me to commit to singularly supporting its main competitor and a “home town” business rather than ever contribute even a dollar to the support the Wal-Mart practice I view as practice of profit over principles.  I simply cannot place the value of a “deal” over the value good business ethics. So I boycott the place.

Yes, I know, that’s business.  Yes, even today I remain a bit of a Pollyanna about values and ethics in the business world, and so I still believe one can make money without sacrificing the “soul” of the seller and the buyer.  And yes, I know, that the spin at least, touts a new Wal-Mart philosophy– one that recognized the error of its ways (or the pain of business lost) and initiated a renaissance within their organization.  It included an initiative to make them “hip”; a PR campaign to dispel the rumors of poor treatment of vendors and employees; and the implementation of a practice of routinely doing select item cost comparisons between its #1 competitor and Wal-Mart to point out to a naïve public that Walmart is more cost effective.  But still, I hold to my commitment to boycott.

And so, of course you can imagine the glee with which I read about their recent Shareholders Meeting.  

Entertainment included Celine Dion, Justin Timberlake, Zac Brown, Taylor Swift, Victoria Matlock and Juanes…a little something for everyone and some pretty incredible fees and production costs, including talent riders.  Yes, they all do it to some degree, and since I am often on the delivery side of this practice with other corporations, I had best not be too critical so I will leave it to the reader to form their own conclusions on that one.

“The Curse of Convenience

But it did remind me of something I stumbled across when reading the ART OF CITY-MAKING by Charles Landry.  Landry uses the big four supermarkets of Britain one of which is Wal-Mart, to demonstrate how their practices hurt cities…draining life out of the streets, cleansing a city of its diversity, and are “space eaters”.   He points out that looking at their activities through a broader food miles and sustainability perspective, they are pretty inefficient.  They use a wealth of expertise and resources at their fingertips to lobby, to change minds, and to get their way.  They exert immense power and “in sum, they pull the wool over our eyes so we do not understand the underlying dynamics of their operations and their impact on real life.”

And then he supports his comments with factoids (most date back to 2006 for Wal-Mart) as follows:

Not only do the big four including Walmart control 75% of food retailing in Britain, consumers spend  about 13% of net income in supermarkets.  But, a research experiment showed consumers spent the SAME AMOUNT whether they shopped at a big box or frequented and supported local stores!

The PERCEPTION that the big four are good value stems from a concept referred to as KVI   (comparison of known value items).  It relies on fact that we, the consumer, know the cost of only a small number of goods and these are the very items the big four price check against their competitors and keep as low as possible… then are frequently higher than local stores on other items to make up the difference.

Wal-Mart is the world’s largest retailer and the world’s largest corporation, employing 1.4 million workers worldwide and with over 1 million employees in the US, it is the largest private employer here. And yet:

  • More than half of Wal-Mart US employees leave the company each year
  • Average earnings of $19,000 are well-below poverty level for average family of four
  •  There is no defined benefit pensions and still has inadequate healthcare
  •  660,000 employees  are without company-provided health insurance, forcing workers to  seek taxpayer-funded public assistance
  •  A US Congressional study found Wal-Mart costs the Am. taxpayer up to $2.5 billion in public assistance to subsidize its $10 billion in profits
  •  Wal-Mart is sued once every two hours, every day of the year and consistently list 9400 of those cases as “open”


But change may be coming.  Despite their early 21century “re-invention” a film you may recall entitled “Wal-Mart:  The High Price of Low Cost” seems to disprove the PR campaign.   It focused on and reflected those same old issues….”conditions of workers, the company’s intimidation of employees, its power over supply chains and the culture of fear it induces”.  In addition, it showed with clarity what the coming of Wal-Mart to local towns does to the community…with great footage of deserted towns and main streets all across America – much of which can be linked to the arrival Wal-Mart.   Slowly, we are seeing Wal-Mart building proposals carefully reviewed and debated  before permits are approved, or as in Chicago and Vancouver, denied.

We can only hope it is the beginning of a new trend.





May 31, 2012

Yesterday, as I walked the three blocks toward the Hennepin County Library to a seminar by MPRB, DID and the Downtown Council entitled “What’s Up with the Downtown Parks”, I realized I LIVE in a downtown park.  Fortunately, I had planned some extra time at the library to check out a couple books, because I started taking pictures-40 of them before I returned home!

Just outside my door, I enter the pedestrian /bike only portion of 2nd Street and walk under a canopy of trees that stretches from Marquette to Hennepin Avenue.  On either side, I am surrounded by well-kept wrought iron fences – which reveal the grand “backyard” of the Towers Condominium on one side, and their tennis courts on the other.   

At the other end, I emerge from the trees into the small Gateway Park –it’s dancing fountain  awakened from its winter sleep, and ready for its light show when the sun goes down.  Across the street, is a little-known and well-hidden great park at the Federal Reserve that connects to the Central Riverfront, but no time for that today. To the left, I pass the Nice Ride Station and head up the steps that lead me through the ING portico and down again to Nicollet Avenue. 

Across the street, is the Cancer Survivor Park. Of course, I pass it often, but have never explored it, so with time to spare, I walked through the grounds.  WOW!  I sat a few minutes on a bench tucked among the dense white birch trees, and watched the guys tossing footballs on the groomed lawn, then returned to the sidewalk along Nicollet to travel between the waterfall and the MPRB boulevard parks filled with poetry that reflected Nicollet Ave memories and dreams for the future-written by poets 3  to over 65 years old.  Yes, I have often walked by; but no, I have never taken the time to read the inspiring messages before yesterday. 

I was so engrossed, I almost missed the eyesore parking lot /bus terminal just north of the library building.  Perhaps because I know it is being considered as a site for the new expanded GATEWAY, and is part of my own Plan-it Hennepin vision, it no longer bothers me quite so much….instead when I look at it, I see my dream of an inter-cultural green gathering place that welcomes  residents, business, visitors and new immigrant populations. 

So with that, I walked into the Library, dropped off a couple books I just finished and then headed upstairs to hear about the greening of downtown Minneapolis and the planned updates and enhancements to Nicollet Mall, Loring Park, and other downtown parks along the way, as well as the status of the WaterWorks Park that will close the West River Road gap on the Central River Front.

Yes, as citizens of Mpls, we should be ashamed of the brown donut hole of downtown that is seen in aerial views of the city-surrounded by the green of a world-class park system focused on the lakes.  And for me personally, after rediscovering the Central River Front 25 years ago, it was encouraging to hear that the city has grown to understand that indeed, “ a RIVER runs through us”.

Returning home after the meeting, I came down Marquette between the towering skyscrapers, but even then, I detoured through the well-kept  grounds of 100 Washington Avenue that borders on my own “yard” at the Churchill. 

As I walked, I realized I had a pretty impressive FRONT YARD, but goodness, think of my BACKYARD!  I border on a 72-mile long National Park – the Mississippi River!

The river has been throwing a delayed “spring tantrum” this week.  The locks have even been closed to all traffic because of the turbulence. With little snow melt in April, we didn’t get quite the show we usually do, but this week, with all the May rain, it has been spectacular! Instead of budding trees and brown grass of past April shows, this year, the scene of the rough, constantly rolling river carpeted with whitecaps is framed by fully-leafed trees and a blanket of green on the ground.   No April walkers wrapped in coats and scarves shiver on the Stone Arch Bridge; instead smiling folks- occasionally feeling the cloud of spray hovering over the raging waters below-are enjoying the Power of the Falls! 

And the best-kept secret of the Central Riverfront and its Heritage Trail –the falls on the East Channel, peaking out among the greenery at the down river side of the Power Plant- is just amazing! In fact, I think it warrants my occasional use of the lower trail through Pillsbury Park to get a closer view– maybe an early morning walk tomorrow.

How fortunate I am to live where I do!

(The picture below is the “gentle” spillway, north of the Third Avenue Bridge-incredible!)




May 14, 2012

Little did I know when-as part of my commitment to Plan It Hennepin-I confirmed my participation in half of the available opportunities to interact with Charles Landry, that I’d be sitting here this morning wishing I would have done MORE!

To prepare, I ordered “The Art of City-Making” and immediately found myself immersed in a whole new “Landry” world…a 21st century viewpoint of cities that melds my UM days of history and city planning – not only with my passion for the river, but also with idea after idea for my world of event-making in terms of collaborative thinking AND wonderful fun ways of creative engagement and interaction that balance the hard edges of social media and the narrower window of just interactive media applications to achieve those goals, create community, and facilitate adult learning and change.  YES!!!

So excited to learn more, off I went last Monday to the Cowles for “Connecting Cities, Connecting Cultures”; Tuesday we were at the Capri for “North Minneapolis: Arts, Culture and Community Development:, missed an important “Intercultureal City-Making Workshop” on Thursday; but rejoined the group on Friday for the Close on Harriet Island where Landry shared his observations, made recommendations and call to action for our own MSP city-making.

WIth my head full of ideas and action steps, I was charged up when I went to FAIR School on Saturday for the Talk-It Hennepin workshop “Coming, Going, and Staying on Hennepin” – a three hour exercise that took us to the streets.

Broken into five groups, each group set out for their assigned area, and using Landry’s system of YES and NO, we acknowledged the Yes things; and  took pictures of the five “nos” that need to be altered.

Our group, led by Harry Waters and supported by some great FAIR students were assigned the stretch from Hennepin Avenue Bridge to Washington Avenue. We quickly rallied, hopped on a bus and we were off!

Our first NO was the non-pedestrian/bike friendly bridge itself; then on to the Post Office or at least its “weedy knoll” leading down to the river walk, a third NO at the sad little Gateway Park of concrete and a dead fountain, and finally to the four corners of Hennepin and Washington…with a thought or two to the side streetscapes intersecting Hennepin and to the Public Housing High Rise seen a block away.

Along the way, we staged a mini-“Occupy” event as we reminisced about a once-welcoming NWNL campus that now under the ING regime was posted “No Trespassing”.  So of course, the rebel in us called for a picture of the team relaxing on the grass – “OCCUPY-ING”. The police that drove by during our “sit-in” did not move to arrest us, so I would like to think perhaps they agreed with our statement.

Then back on the bus and back to FAIR School where with the help of our talented students, we developed our PPT of significant Nos and wonderful images of what some of those Nos could become in the future.

This morning, thinking about that day, I am still charged up and looking forward to June workshops at the New Century Theatre in City Center.

This is just an AMAZING process!  And once again, I say Thank You to Hennepin Theatre Trust, Walker Art Center, Artspace, and the City of Minneapolis funded by the National Endowment of the Arts for inviting me to be a part of it!



April 28, 2012

Yesterday, Plan-It Hennepin truly went public…via the interactive billboards on Hennepin Avenue.  Did you notice them?  Do you have suggestions for preservation, improvements, additions, or revitalization along Hennepin Avenue from the Mississippi River to the Walker Art Center?

This is your opportunity to help visualize what could be.  Take advantage of it!


Early this spring, the history/city planning interests of my youth that have kept me an active volunteer for over fifteen years in the revitalization of the Central Riverfront, led me in a slightly different direction.

The Downtown Council’s 25 year plan piqued my interest, with the vision of Hennepin Avenue as a renewed gateway to the river.  And even more important, their revision of the downtown boundaries to now include the University campus now makes Minneapolis a city where “a river funs through it” rather than just a city of lakes.  What a wonderful positive example of rethinking!

And so, when I heard about “Plan-It Hennepin”, I knew I had to participate.  Little did I know I would become part of an engaging, interactive experience that surpasses what our own collaborative team has been doing over the past five years in the corporate world, but they are doing it NOT only with technology and social media, but with an emphasis on the arts!

In fact, you may hgave heard that the National Endowment for the Arts awarded the Hennepin Theatre Trust a $200,000 grant (supplemented by an additional $50,000 from the City of Minneapolis) to transform Hennepin Avenue into a “cultural corridor” that stretches from the Walker to the riverfront.

Plan-It Hennepin is the result.  It is a year-long project which began last September; then added public conversations and workshops stretcvhing over March-June this year as part of the overall process for re-imagining Hennepin Avenue.


The first public meeting of Talk-It Hennepin began with apanel review of Hennepin Avenue history-tracing back to a Navtive American footpath and ending with the late 1950s “urban renewal” that saw the demolition of the Gateway District.  Two days later, we met again for an amazing two-hour workshop entitled “putting Our Storeis on the Street”.

Four Minnesota aartists – Ta-coumba Aiken, Mankwe Ndosi, Leah Nelson and Harry Waters – each led a breakout.  Each used their art form to engage their team.  From a unique exercise to create each team to the close, this event taught me two hours of new wyas to start dialogues, collaborate, and share stories and dreams.  A different approach than I am used to, but with marvelous results.


Thursday evening we gathered at the Walker for a dialogue with Candy Chang, a TED Senior Fellow, an Urban Innovation Fellow, and a “Live Your Best Life” Local Hero by Oprah MagazineThis was another amazing experience – this time not in style of presentation (very traditional) but her sharing of what she has done amazed and inspired us all.  I Wish This Was stickers allow people to share what they want in place of vacant storefronts around the world; with Before I Die, she transformed an abandoned house in New Orleans into an interactive wall where residents could share their dreams.

Her automated system,, helps communities shape their cities…and yesterday, in conjunction with Forecast Public Art and Chear Channel, it was launched as a public art experiment on Hennepin Avenue via nine interactive billborads flashing Neighborland messages.  Street Art in today’s world.

Before I Die was also launched Thursday as part of “Artists in Storefronts” in the WHittier neighborhood.  You will find it at the Fallout Gallery at 2609 Stevens Avenue. The WHittier project hopes to reanimate the streets, spur the economy, and have fun.  The Opening Night Party yesterday kicked off the project which will close on June 9.


Saturday’s workshop, Creative Urban Visions, again using words, drawings, sculptures, theatre and dance is sold out but there are still opportunities to get involved in several activities the week of May 7, and in the closing sessions at the New Century Theatre in June.

Check it all out at

Meanwhile, I am off to start “The Art of City Making” by Charles Landry, international authority on the use of imagination and creativity in urban change.  He is featured at engagements through-out the Twin Cities the week of May 7.

I am not sure if Dr. Borchert would be pleased or distressed to see that I am returning to my roots after all these years, but I am sure he will be listening in to the “Connecting Cities, Connecting Cultures” neighblorhoods dialogues about the Central Corridor Light Rail Line from Hennepin Avenue through the U’s East Bank to Lowertown, St Paul. And so of course, I’d best do my homework and Be Prepared by 10AM Monday, May 7 when I arrive at Cowles Center to hear what Landry has to say.