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. The fairs have been simplified into three categories:

  1. Industrialization (1851-1938)
  2. Cultural Exchange (1939-1987)
  3. National Branding (1988-present)
 Electrical Building  (Image from the Library of Congress)

Electrical Building  (Image from the Library of Congress)

The Chicago World's Fair, more famously known as the Columbian Exposition, was held in 1893 at Jefferson Park. The fair took up 690 acres of land, cost $30 million, and drew 27,300,000 visitors in the six months it was open. The fair celebrated the 400th anniversary of Columbus discovering America which is why the dedication ceremony took place on October 21, 1892, months before the fair was actually ready to open. Even on opening day, May 1, 1893, the fair was far from complete. The famous Ferris Wheel was still in pieces, the grounds were torn apart, and exhibits were not all complete. Despite the disorganized situation the fair drew thousands on opening day.

 Interior of the Manufactures and Arts Building (Image from the Library of Congress)

Interior of the Manufactures and Arts Building (Image from the Library of Congress)

Rumblings of an economic crash were beginning as the fair opened and kept attendance rates far below the projected and needed numbers to make the fair profitable. The panic of 1893 created high unemployment and rapidly increased poverty. The fair itself however was unique as it created jobs and provided housing for workers. It wasn't until the end of the fair when everyone was out of a job that the effects of the panic were felt by everyone. 

 Goddess of Liberty Statue  (Image from the Library of Congress)

Goddess of Liberty Statue  (Image from the Library of Congress)

Daniel Burnham, the fairs Director of Works fought from beginning to end to make sure the fair drew crowds greater than those seen at the previous fair in Paris. His decision to keep all seven of the great buildings in the Neoclassical style at the same height painted white drew awe and wonder from attendees, but also saved the builders time and money. He employed a skilled workforce that included Frederick Law Olmsted as the landscape architect in charge of completely altering Jefferson Park from a sad swamp land to the beautiful park it became.

 Mines Building under construction  (Image from the Library of Congress)

Mines Building under construction  (Image from the Library of Congress)

What the Columbian Exposition gave to the world was the first ever Ferris Wheel, shredded wheat cereal, incandescent bulbs, and PBR beer, among many other advancements in technology and culture. What it gave us that was not as welcome was exclusion of blacks, portrayals of minorities as cannibals and barbarians, and poorly underpaid women. The fair was only great in its advancement of societies consumerism, but fell far short of any social advancement. 

 The first Ferris Wheel  (Image from the Library of Congress)

The first Ferris Wheel  (Image from the Library of Congress)

Despite the shortcomings of the fair, it was sad to see years of labor and work literally go up in flames. The first fires took out smaller buildings on January 8, 1894, but the real loss was felt when protests due to labor unrest resulted in the arson of the seven great palaces on July 5, 1894. The only building to survive to this day is the Palace of Fine Arts, which now houses the Museum of Science and Industry.

 Grounds of the Columbia Exposition  (Image from the Library of Congress)

Grounds of the Columbia Exposition  (Image from the Library of Congress)

The World's Fair, while still taking place every several years has lost prominence in today's society (the U.S. was not even a contender for 2020). What does get attention are sporting events like the World Cup and Olympic Games. We spend millions to build structures to house all the athletes and attendees only to walk away at the end leaving vacant buildings. After seeing the waste created by these events and the destruction to local economies leaders are finally seeing the need to design for more than a stand alone event. These buildings should stand for centuries to come, providing a second use beyond a sporting event or exhibition. A quick google search turns up numerous examples of the second life given to these giant sports facilities.

It is interesting to see how far we have come from the Columbia Exposition 125 years ago. We build with machines instead of horse power, we can phone or text contractors, we have unions for all the trades and set work hours, but there are too many aspects that have not changed. Women are still paid less than men, minority populations are still devalued, and we still spend millions of dollars on events with a very short existence. I hope that in less than another 125 years we have moved past these social problems.

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

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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The World of Clocks

The World of Clocks

Growing up, we had a grandfather clock that sat in our dining room. I was so fascinated with it, making up stories in my head that it was a magical portal to another world. I would make sure to keep it wound up to chime on time. My best friend and I even kept our super secret friendship pact hidden at the base of it. We thought it would be safe, hidden where no one would look for it. 

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