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The Minneapolis Waterfront Design Concept


Project Information

Project Location:
USA Minneapolis, Minnesota
Design Time:
November 2010

Project Profile

1. Project Statement

In a competition sponsored by The Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board and The Minneapolis Parks Foundation, Turenscape, teamed with six other firms, developed this proposal for 5.5 miles of waterfront redevelopment along the Mississippi River. The team proposed using landscape as ecological infrastructure and an integrative tool to address ecological, social, economic, and cultural challenges, and creating a 21st-century vision (to be implemented over decades) for a new landscape and urban fabric for this now neglected site.

Since Minneapolis’s founding, the Mississippi River has been the engine of its development. The city and its riverfront have a rich industrial past, starting with lumber mills and then flour mills. Whereas the city’s lower riverfront can boast tremendous success, the upper riverfront is waiting to be rediscovered and designed. Challenges facing this zone include a diminishing industrial base and large-scale infrastructure that divides the river from surrounding communities.

2. Objective and Challenge

The design team identified four primary challenges:

• Ecological renewal: what can be done on the upper riverfront and in surrounding communities to rebuild a healthy natural ecosystem and make best use of a park system for its productive potential? How can the site adapt to the coming effects of global climate change? How can we discover a new aesthetic that reflects and foresees a lifestyle in which cultural and human processes adapt to and mediate the changing natural environment?

• Social equity: The communities of the upper riverfront, especially North Minneapolis, have very little parkland and other amenities. This inequity compounds and exacerbates other social challenges. How can this project create a more equitable society in which North Minneapolis becomes as much of a destination for the whole city as its other areas?

• Vibrant economy: Commercial uses in the upper riverfront including many that don’t relate to the majestic river. How can we foster new better related industries in a resurgent river corridor? How can investments in the river catalyze broader economic activity and attract the businesses of the future?

• Authentic cultural identity: The site of Minneapolis was an important gathering spot for native peoples and for European settlements for fur trade, lumber milling, and grain storage. As Minneapolis has recently attracted a more diverse population, can the river also help gather its contemporary citizens?

3. Design Strategy

The design team proposed three strategies to address these challenges:

• Build an ecological infrastructure: A strong city park system is rooted in robust and resilient nature. We identify natural assets to design an ecological network that protects and enhances critical natural and cultural processes: sustainable transportation, natural stormwater management, urban agriculture, and other green infrastructures.

• Reorient urbanism to the river: As green infrastructure grows, the city can be reoriented around the river’s natural assets, juxtaposing with it schools and housing, jobs and research, art and commerce. All this will improve economic stability, social justice, and cultural identity.

• Curate the vision through time: The city’s civic leaders have understood that its land uses and architecture will change, but that its fundamental landscape elements will endure. Our planning and design approach explores ideal growth over a fifty-year period as grounded in those essentials.