With the Midwest’s winter thaw underway, Minneapolis residents have an eye to the outside. But for the 40 percent of the city’s downtown workers that walk, bike, or ride transit to their jobs throughout the winter, public spaces play a year-round role. Downtown transit stops in particular see tens of thousands of Twin Cities denizens on any given weekday, yet their designs range from utilitarian to downright unwelcoming.
Writing for journalminneapolis.com, Max Musicant mulled how his city could turn transit stops into places where people want to be. He envisions a network of local groups taking ownership of their area transit stops, requesting money from the Twin Cities’ Metro Transit agency that would otherwise go to “off-the-shelf” bus shelters and their maintenance. They’d spend that money on place-based designs, their “own “branded” station, perfectly attuned to local custom, utility, and whimsy.” Muses Musicant, founder and principal of the Minneapolis-based placemaking and public space management firm The Musicant Group:
An ideal set up could have Metro Transit establish a handful of pilot project sites chosen based on the ability of capacities of local groups that came forward. For each site, Metro Transit would ensure quality control over the process: that riders, businesses and property owners drive the process, that each station meets minimum requirements (shelter, seating, structural integrity, etc.), and that there is an accredited entity with proper insurance and capacity (non-profit, adjacent small business, etc.) that commits to build and maintain the station up to an agreed upon standard.
Minneapolis is a good place for public space designers to dream—the city’s public review process and collaborative design culture make it especially attuned to public opinion. With the recent extension of the Metro Green Line, the Twin Cities reconnected their separate light rail systems after decades apart. One of the junctions, next to Target Field in downtown Minneapolis, was specifically envisioned as a celebrated public space, as much park and plaza as multimodal transit hub. Over the next two years, Metro Transit said it will deliver $7.36 million in upgrades, including 22 new bus shelters.
At $1.7 billion, however, the Green Line extension was not without its local critics—fairness and fiscal efficiency were at the heart of many complaints about the project. And in the sprawling midwest, many in the Twin Cities still depend on their cars. Much of the $6 billion Governor Mark Dayton is requesting to improve the state’s transportation system over the next 10 years will go to repair roads and highways.