Plazas for Safe Protest

Since the 2016 elections, I have followed the news chronicling the latest demonstrations and protests on a wide range of issues — including immigration, inequality, and women's rights — and felt inspired by the people who are no longer content with waiting for someone else to make change happen.

At the same time, I am alarmed by the violence and destruction at some events, like when counter-protester Heather Heyer was murdered and 19 others injured during the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August. As a city planner, I believe we have a responsibility to protect the right to peaceably assemble and encourage civic engagement by designing safe public places for protests and other free-speech demonstrations.

But while planning has the ability to foster productive protests, it can also have the opposite effect. Take for example the historic town square, which once functioned as a central meeting place where residents could gather, debate politics, and hold demonstrations. Many modern American cities have removed those spaces in favor of new development. Places like Gateway Park in my own city of Minneapolis were essentially reduced to large sidewalks to make way for vehicles, leaving little room for assembly and forcing demonstrators into roads. Other outdated planning principles have become obstacles to safe assembly, too, including disjointed public spaces, physical barriers like large water features or fixed seating that prohibit large crowds, and a lack of adherence to crime prevention through environmental design principles, reducing natural surveillance and lighting.

Instead of turning to planners to help solve this issue, Minnesota and other states are looking to legislation to fine protesters for blocking traffic. This is counterproductive to encouraging an engaged citizen base — and it treats people unequally. Many citizens are frequently without free, unrestricted access to spaces to assemble. Minneapolis, for example, does not have a public space owned by the city to hold demonstrations; property is held by the park board, regional government agencies, or private companies.

Planners must preserve and provide more spaces that can hold large public demonstrations. We can look to old and new examples across the U.S. for guidance. In San Francisco, the large Civic Center Plaza has been home to countless demonstrations throughout its long history, from the civil rights movement to the recent March for Our Lives protests. In the Midwest, Cleveland Public Square was redesigned after a $50 million-dollar project coinciding with the 2016 Republican National Convention. It now serves as a hub for political and social activities, including protests against elected leaders.

Creating places to accommodate these activities is not difficult, but it requires intentional design. Spaces in high-traffic areas with residential and commercial uses create more eyes on the space, while simple design decisions like retractable bollards can provide flexibility and increase safety. Materials like paving systems can delineate different zones of activity to help organize pedestrian traffic during a protest. Established cities might think they don't have the space for this, but look at what New York City did in 2009: It reclaimed Times Square from vehicles and gave the space back to pedestrians, and since, it's been the home of dozens of activist demonstrations.

As planners, we spend so much time trying to figure out why we cannot get residents involved in municipal plans, projects, and politics, but at the same time, we fail to provide space for civic engagement to naturally occur. Planners are uniquely situated to help design these spaces to ensure they are equitable and open to all citizens. It is our job to provide spaces and opportunities for residents to get involved and participate in their cities without fear for their safety or threat of legal repercussions.

This article was originally published in the July issue of Planning Magazine.

An Exposition for the Ages

An Exposition for the Ages

In today's world we race to build enough structures to accommodate the Olympic Games every four years, but back in the 1800's, cities raced to build buildings for the World's Fair. The first World's Fair on record took place in 1851 at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London. Subsequent cities to host the fair included Paris, Vienna, Melbourne, and Barcelona prior to one of the most renowned fairs which took place in Chicago. These fairs were and still are designed to showcase the greatest achievements of society and push the limits of construction and design. Each fair influenced some aspect of society, leaving their mark for generations to come.

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Greening Our Cities

Greening Our Cities

There were numerous ways to learn about how planners can have a positive effect on water at NPC18. One session in particular highlighted how Prince George County used a public private partnership to retrofit their community with green infrastructure. Presenters covered the history of the program from inception through completion of Phase I and adjustments made prior to launching Phase II.

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100 Years of History

100 Years of History

I have always wanted to live in a house that was over 100 years old. In many cities, that’s hard to come by because they have either demolished all the old homes, lost them to natural disasters, or the cities themselves are just not that old. When I bought my first home it was a bungalow built in 1930, but now, about 10 years later, there are a plethora of homes over 100 years old available. All the bungalows that were built during the 1920's and 1930's are now coming of age and about to celebrate their 100th birthday.

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300 Years of NOLA

I do not travel nearly as much as I would like, so when the opportunity arose to visit New Orleans for the National Planning Conference I jumped on it. I was only in the city for about four days, but I covered quite a bit of ground, while still attending sessions during the day. The two things that helped me accomplish both was waking up at 6 am every day and running through the neighborhoods.

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The Bars of Northeast Minneapolis

The Bars of Northeast Minneapolis

I'm fascinated by the way cities used to look, with the corner grocery store, hardware store, restaurant, and of course bar, tucked into neighborhoods, spaced  about a mile apart. The resident of the 1920's city could walk to get everything they needed or take a trolley if they needed something just a little bit further. Peppered throughout my neighborhood in Northeast, Minneapolis are dozens of small two story buildings, but most have been converted into apartments. There are several though that have maintained their original use, the buildings with first floor bars.

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The Experimental City

The Experimental City

A few weeks ago I took advantage of living in a city that has a population to support the routine showing of documentary films. I went to see The Experimental City presented by the Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul that featured a Q&A with director Chad Freidrichs and Todd Lefko, member of the Minnesota Experimental City Authority afterwards. The documentary revived the story of the Minnesota Experimental City project from the 1970's, a project intended to solve issues of population growth with futuristic ideas.

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Maribou Water Gardens

Maribou Water Gardens

Over 10 years later, New Orleans is still recovering from Hurricane Katrina and the devastating effects of the Levee failures. That disaster proved to the world that building walls and pumping out water is not a long term or permanent solution. Water must be managed on site, with features such as permeable pavement, rain gardens, cisterns, and underground storage tanks. It takes projects installed throughout the city to protect it when a large storm hits. One of the projects New Orleans is working on to help low lying neighborhoods is the Maribou Water Garden.

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Saint Paul Winter Carnival: Another Distraction to the Fact that its Winter

Saint Paul Winter Carnival: Another Distraction to the Fact that its Winter

As I have mentioned in past posts, Minnesota is a state that does not let winter affect their ability to have fun outside. A recent example of this is the Saint Paul Winter Festival, which wrapped up its 132nd season yesterday. I attended my first (and only) Winter Carnival two years ago, right after moving to the Twin Cities. I tried to attend twice this year, but the traffic jams created by the Dave Matthews Band Concert and a Wild Hockey game deterred me (next year I will map out a better transit route to avoid the parking situation altogether).

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Life in the Super Bowl 52 City

Life in the Super Bowl 52 City

Hearing about Super Bowl 52 began months ago for me because I both live and work in the host city. As a city planner the phrase, "it has to be done by the Super Bowl" was heard more times that anyone could count. I luckily had less to do with the planning than some of my colleagues that deal with permits and licensing, but it was easy to see the city gearing up faster and faster as the event neared.

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Breweries Are Taking Over

Breweries Are Taking Over

Whenever the topic of breweries is brought up, I always hear "when are we going to finally over saturate the market with breweries?" While it may seem like there are a lot, the market share of local craft beer sold pales in comparison to national conglomerates. Only 12 percent of the market is craft beer with two companies holding 50% of the total beer market. There are two factors that have spurred the rise in local breweries over the last decade though: consumer taste and government regulation.

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Festivals on Lake Harriet

Festivals on Lake Harriet

During the winter, we get an extra 1,439 acres of land in Minneapolis that is less accessible in the summer months. When our 13 lakes freeze they can be used as extra space to walk your dogs, cross country ski, and fly a kite. The last activity probably seems a little odd, but the Minneapolis Park Board has been sponsoring the Kite Festival on Lake Harriet for the past 17 years. 

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Gruen's Grand Plan

Gruen's Grand Plan

A recent newspaper article about the ABC parking ramps in downtown Minneapolis made reference to the Gruen Plan in Fort Worth, Texas. The brief description outlined Gruen's proposed ban on all cars from downtown Fort Worth to provide a better pedestrian experience and revitalize the area. Having lived in Texas for a few years, I found this a radical idea for the city, especially because it was a plan derived in 1959, a time when the car was king. Intrigued by this reference, I decided to delve deeper.

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Building Nordeast

Building Nordeast

The area of Northeast Minneapolis, commonly referred to as Nordeast, comprises 4,564 acres and 12,197 buildings. It has been surveyed a number of times by the City of Minneapolis, the first of which was back in 1981. Within this area, 204 properties are considered to have potential as a local historic landmark. Despite the number of eligible properties, this area of the city has the fewest designated properties. What we do have up here is a lot of buildings significant for their religious and social organization as well as the famous Grain Belt Brewery (originally Minneapolis Brewing Company). This area is also host to a number of residential developments from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

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Victorian Christmas at the Ramsey House

Victorian Christmas at the Ramsey House

The best time to go on a historic house tour is around the holidays because they are filled with elegant decorations common among the time period the house was first occupied. Not having had the chance to visit the Alexander Ramsey House in Saint Paul yet, I decided to book a Victorian Christmas tour of the house. 

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Hollidazzle and the Winter Open Streets

Hollidazzle and the Winter Open Streets

I attended Holidazzle for the first time last winter, but missed the excitement and activity because it was early on a Saturday afternoon. This year I went on the Saturday that coincided with the first Winter Open Streets event, drawing quite a large crowd and making the event more active. It was fun walking around Loring Park, where Holidazzle has been held for the past several years during construction on Nicollet Mall, to experience all the sites, sounds, and smells. 

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The Holiday Train

The Holiday Train

One of the benefits of living in a Midwest city that still operates a thriving rail system is the Holiday Train. While not quite the Polar Express, the Holiday Train still draws a large crowd at each stop it makes as it travels across North America. Despite the freezing cold temperatures last year, I was able to attend the event as the train rolled through Minneapolis. The stop is located in Lions Park, dividing the cities of Minneapolis and Columbia Heights. I had no idea that it was an actual park until this event. It is more a leftover patch of grass in-between the street and railroad tracks.

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What is a Well Building?

What is a Well Building?

Most people have worked in an office with poorly regulated temperature, where it seems that whatever the weather is outside, its the same inside. The office also probably had terrible fluorescent lighting, a severe lack of windows, and the ability to waft the terrible smelling tuna someone brought as their lunch throughout the building. These buildings were all designed to cram as many people into a building as possible without regard for how the office environment would turn out. For some design professionals, this does not make sense which is why they are turning towards WELL Building certification.

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Bird Art for my Yard

Bird Art for my Yard

A few months back I was in the Commons (a new downtown Minneapolis park) having coffee with some friends when I noticed an interesting sculpture. I glanced at it briefly, long enough to find it unique, but then we continued walking. It wasn't until this weekend that I finally realized what that sculpture was and its intended message. Those same friends told me about an event at the University of Minnesota campus where they were giving out pieces of a dismantled sculpture. After stopping by and grabbing two (a bird house and feeder) it finally dawned on me that the pieces they were giving away were part of that sculpture I had seen in the Commons.

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Passive House: an economic and environmental solution to building

Passive House: an economic and environmental solution to building

Anyone that owns an old house knows that while they are charming and full of character, they are notoriously inefficient. I love my old bungalow, but it is nearly impossible to keep at a consistent temperature or save on energy costs. Despite being a solid structure that has lasted 100 years without major failures, there was no need to keep it sealed for efficiency. All summer long the windows would have been open because air conditioning was not available. 

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