The Life of Plazas

After recently starting a new job in downtown Minneapolis I noticed the plethora of public plazas available to residents, visitors, and employees. Almost every major tower has an inviting public realm leading to its primary entrance. I see a cleverly landscaped space daily from my office or when eating lunch out on the rooftop terrace. No two plazas are exactly the same, however each one has a standard set of basic amenities.

Plaza space behind the Hennepin County Courthouse that hosts a weekly farmers market.

Plaza space behind the Hennepin County Courthouse that hosts a weekly farmers market.

Plazas located in downtown Minneapolis, as well as many other major cities throughout the United States, include seating, paved surfaces, greenery, and some artwork. Investigation into some of the more popular spots include water features, such as reflection pools or small ponds. When the weather is nice, these plazas fill up during the lunch hour with crowds of people, looking to soak up a little sun during their break.

Federal Courthouse Plaza, Minneapolis, MN.

Federal Courthouse Plaza, Minneapolis, MN.

The popular plazas will appear successful to the visitor during lunch Monday through Friday, however, stop by on a weekend or evening and you will see little more than the commuter taking a shortcut through these spaces on their way out of downtown. While visiting Lincoln a few months ago I observed the same phenomenon at a new plaza downtown. We were eating dinner on a Saturday next to the empty space which served primarily as a shortcut for patrons exiting the parking garage on the other side. 

What we can gather from these examples is the use of the plaza is highly dependent on the adjacent uses. In Lincoln, the plaza was fenced off from the restaurant, prohibiting diners from expanding into the plaza to further conversations or engage with people passing through. The plaza was also fronted by a large parking garage, a use that will hardly activate the space.

Civic Plaza in downtown Lincoln, Nebraska.

Civic Plaza in downtown Lincoln, Nebraska.

In Minneapolis, as with many downtown's, the problem is not the plaza design or the kinds of uses adjacent to it, but the hours of the uses. Plenty of people fill up these spaces during the noon hour carrying meals from food trucks and nearby restaurants, but the trucks only visit during the work week and many shops are closed at night and on the weekends. Another problem is the high concentration of office spaces in the vicinity. Residential towers are located blocks away, leading to use only when the adjacent buildings are filled with employees.

Plaza in Minneapolis with seating, artwork, trees, and hardscape, but no visitors.

Plaza in Minneapolis with seating, artwork, trees, and hardscape, but no visitors.

Better location of the plazas and consideration for the uses where they are will lead to better use and productivity of the space. More mixed use towers with office and residential will lead to around the clock patrons. The lunchtime plaza can be transformed into a meeting space, hangout space, or gathering space. They can do more than provide a quick place to eat lunch or a shortcut to the next destination. They can become the destination. 

Little Mekong Night Market

Little Mekong Night Market

The fourth annual Little Mekong Night Market was held this past weekend. The market is a mix of food, art, music, and cultural performances located in the heart of the Little Mekong District at Western Avenue and University Avenue in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Last year an estimated 18,000 people attended which appeared to have been surpassed this year. The market collaborated their event with Northern Spark, an all-night art event with the theme “Climate Chaos People Rising.” While Northern Spark runs from 9 pm until 5 am, the Little Mekong Night Market is a two-day event, starting at 5 pm and ending at midnight on Saturday and 10 pm on Sunday.

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Trees and the Dust Bowl

Trees and the Dust Bowl

There is still a generation living that can recall the hard times brought on by the Dust Bowl. I think about how my grandparents, in their late 90's now, would have been just teenagers at that time. I recall reading Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck trying to imagine a different Nebraska than the one I had grown up in. I cannot imagine hanging wet sheets over the windows to keep the dust out or wearing a mask every time I went outside. Even worse would be watching thousands of acres of crops dry up before my eyes.

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Complete Streets in Action

Complete Streets in Action

We have all driven, biked, or walked down a street that appeared wider than the traffic it served. Extra space proliferates within the area for vehicles while the pedestrian and bicyclist are forced onto a small, cracked sidewalk or into the street dodging parked cars. We constantly wonder why the road could not be redesigned to accommodate a better distribution of users. Some cities have begun to make a commitment to changing these conditions through a program called Complete Streets.

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Lake Life

Lake Life

Growing up, my family and I made three nine hour trips each year to Perham, Minnesota. The first trip was always Memorial Weekend, followed by a week in June when Walleye fishing was good, then a two week family trip that included excursions to nearby attractions. I was the only one in my class that would vacation in the same place multiple times each year. Most of my friends when more normal vacation spots like visiting a grandparent in Texas or Mount Rushmore. 

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Destination Jamaica

Destination Jamaica

I recently returned from a five day trip to Jamaica for my little sisters wedding. We had incredible weather with only one day of rain, which we ignored and swam anyways. The locals said this was their normal weather most of the year-warm, sunny, and somewhat humid when the wind is not blowing. The resort we stayed at was secluded from the world, nestled into a beach two hours from Montego Bay. It is probably good I am still training for my marathon in June because the all inclusive buffet and unlimited sugary drinks would probably have added a few more pounds.

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Minneapolis MayDay Parade

Minneapolis MayDay Parade

Every year, more than 50,000 people are drawn to the Powderhorn neighborhood in south Minneapolis to participate in the festivities of the MayDay Parade. This is not your typical parade which is demonstrated in the mission statement of the event "to bring people together for the common good through the power of puppet and mask performance." The event uses theater and performance to draw together a diverse crowd. The different puppets, masks, and costumes tell stories of current issues and past struggles. They seek to start a dialogue on a range of subjects such as politics and the environment. In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre (HOBT) has been managing the events since the first MayDay Parade & Festival in 1975.

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Anoka's Trail System

Anoka's Trail System

Last weekend I went up to the family cabin to help my dad open it up as we do every spring. Knowing Saturday was going to be filled with raking leaves and moving the dock and boatlift, I decided to bump up my long run to Friday after work. Since I was already in Anoka, I took the opportunity to explore some of the trails and parks that I have only seen on maps. My original intent was to make it up to the Anoka Nature Preserve, a large swathe of land held in a natural state. Unfortunately, a few wrong turns in the southwestern neighborhoods kept me just short of reaching it.

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Fixing Water Problems One Yard at a Time

Fixing Water Problems One Yard at a Time

If you asked me a year ago what a rain garden was I would not have been able to explain it correctly. I believed one of the many misconceptions, that rain gardens are filled with water. A properly designed rain garden infiltrates the water into the ground within 24 hours. That is their primary purpose, absorb water. The majority of the time, the rain garden is bone dry. They do not breed mosquitoes, again because water does not pool long enough to hatch their eggs. They are low maintenance if you take the time in the spring and fall to tend to them. All these myths keep homeowners from solving their water problems with an aesthetic and effective system.

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A Journey to the Underrated Neighborhood: North Minneapolis

A Journey to the Underrated Neighborhood: North Minneapolis

An increase in my weekend long run mileage meant I could journey farther into Minneapolis yesterday and take advantage of the gorgeous spring weather. I decided to use my 20 mile journey to venture into North Minneapolis, a neighborhood that has so much to offer, but is commonly disregarded because of high crime rates.

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The Incremental Developer

The Incremental Developer

I recently read an article by Robert Steuteville titled "Great Idea:Incremental Developers". The incremental developer is someone who creates meaningful change in their own communities through small scale building projects. When I thought about this for a moment, I realized I was an incremental developer when I lived in Lubbock, Texas. My husband and I purchased a rundown old bungalow, spent months renovating it through window restoration, refinishing the hardwood floors, installing dry wall on the ceilings, new central heating and air, painting, and exposing the original brick fireplace.

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The Resurgence of Trains

The Resurgence of Trains

Today has been an interesting weather day. I watched the forecast go from rain all day, to a brief respite in the morning, to sitting on my deck in the sunshine writing this post. Not knowing we would luck out with this beautiful weather, I spent the first 9 miles of my 18 mile run on the treadmill reading a planning magazine. Most people might dread the thought of 9 miles on a treadmill (I listened to a podcast where an inmate ran a marathon on a treadmill to emulate the Boston Marathon, now that's dreadful), but I was distracted by the transportation articles which fueled today's post.

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Heading Out West on I-80

Heading Out West on I-80

From my last post you saw I went home last weekend to visit family. My husband and I make the six hour drive five to six times a year and have the route memorized down to which towns we stop in. We were able to leave by 10 am, after Minneapolis morning rush hours and before Omaha's evening rush hours. I say hours because it is no longer one annoying hour but about three. Leaving during these times can add almost forty-five minutes to our already long drive.

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Running Down Memories: a Return to Lincoln, NE

Running Down Memories: a Return to Lincoln, NE

This past weekend I drove home to Lincoln, Nebraska to host my little sisters bridal shower and bachelorette party. I spent weeks planning the events to make sure they went off without a hitch and for the most part they did. I even managed to bake themed cookies that turned out mostly like the Pinterest post I saw. 

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Boom Island or Bust

Boom Island or Bust

This week's training plan outlined my first sixteen mile long run which meant I could take the girls for their run to Silver Lake Beach and have enough training miles left to make it to the southern portion of the Mississippi River. Most people might look at a sixteen mile run and think its crazy, but I saw the opportunity. It has been a long winter and I was ready for a nice long run on a beautiful Saturday spring morning.

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Life as a Water Steward in Training

For the past six months I have been attending Tuesday night classes to learn about water. Organized by the Freshwater Society, the coursework is designed to equip each new wave of students with the tools and skills necessary to create positive change in their neighborhoods. We began with the basics, starting with the water cycle, moving into more advanced ideas of hydrology and the treatment train. All the learning and exploring physical installations will culminate in a final capstone project at the end of the summer at which point I can officially call myself a Master Water Steward.

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If You Plan It They Will Come

If You Plan It They Will Come

Minneapolis, like many other urban cities with a long history, has numerous commercial hubs scattered throughout residential districts. These hubs are the remnants of the original city function providing neighborhood grocery stores and retail businesses within walking distances of a sizable population of households. Most of these areas were located along the street car lines and often times hosted a small movie theater to provide local entertainment.

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