Riverfront Reboot


New riverfront plan includes artificialislands on the Mississippi.
Courtesy TLK/KVA

With active and abandoned industrial sites, rail lines, a commercial port, and a highway, the Minneapolis riverfront is physically and psychologically separated from the lives of most residents. That is changing thanks to a recent competition conducted by the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board and other partners. On February 10, they named Berkeley, California-based landscape architects Tom Leader Studio and Boston-based Kennedy & Violich Architects (TLS/KVA) as the team charged with masterplanning and redesigning 5.5 miles of the Mississippi riverfront.

The team’s RiverFirst concept prevailed over proposals by Ken Smith, Stoss Landscape Urbanism, and Turenscape. Leader and Kennedy Violich have also collaborated on the recently opened 19-acre Railroad Park in Birmingham, Alabama. While the proposal is full of specific plans and detailed analysis, Kennedy Violich Architects principal Sheila Kennedy emphasizes that the plan is about a series of systems, not about specific sites. This approach reflects the organizers’ projected 30-40 year build-out for the entire riverfront. “We organized the proposal around the themes of Water, Health, Mobility, and Green Economy,” Kennedy said. “We aim to improve water quality, the health of the ecosystem as well as that of nearby residents, and improve connections to and across the river.”

The waterfront plan mixes industrial and park uses.

Among the team’s ideas: creating artificial wetlands at key run-off points to filter and remediate stormwater, and constructing floating islands built on rafts of recycled water bottles with the excavated fill, which would serve as wildlife refuges. “The Mississippi River is the superhighway for migratory birds in North America,” Kennedy said. “So we think we could create habitats and greatly increase opportunities for bird watching.” The proposal also aims to maintain existing industries, encourage new green industries, and increase public access in and around industrial sites. The principals are looking at precedents, such as the port in Rotterdam, where industrial and park uses coexist. The idea of relocating industries in favor of a sanitized riverfront seems, to Kennedy, unnecessarily expensive and disruptive.“ You’re just moving the issue somewhere else,” she said.

For a full gallery of the planned Minneapolis waterfront design, click here.

A series of “knot bridges”—parasitic pedestrian and cyclist paths suspended from existing concrete bridges—would bring people closer to the water and the river’s edge.

The team is also looking at innovative revenue generating schemes like opportunities to pick fruit at orchards along the highway or downloadable smart phone applications with detailed analyses of wildlife and water conditions. Another possible scenario would extend the historic Fairview Park down to the river via a cap over the highway, converting it into a green space for urban agriculture projects.

The design team expects to refine their proposal and zero in on specific sites, funding plans, and phasing strategies over the next four to six months.

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