Return of the Buffalo?

As is the theme with anything related to reading or writing lately, I’m a little behind on my Planning Magazine subscriptions. Its the beginning of December and I’m just getting to the heart of the October issue. Nonetheless, when I came to the article titled “After the Dust Settles: Revisiting the Buffalo Commons 30 Year Later” it brought back memories of practice exams to prepare me for the AICP exam. I recalled reading a question asking what the Buffalo Commons was with a multiple choice response. With hundreds of other facts and theories to learn, I quickly moved on to memorizing the next statistic.

But now with years between me and the exam and time to delve into interesting topics I was happy to read on, hearing from the authors of the article which was originally published in Planning Magazine in 1987. While interesting, the article didn’t give much background on the actual article written 30 years ago so I clicked the link to read the “story that started it all.” As a girl that grew up of on the eastern edge of the Great Plains (Nebraska to be specific), I thought it would be an interesting read. I made it about four paragraphs in before I was already questioning the changing circumstances from 30 years ago to today.

Great Plains Map (unl.edu).gif

The article points out that the Great Plains have the “hottest summers and coldest winters, greatest temperature swings, worst hail and locus and range fires, fiercest droughts and blizzards.” I’m not so sure that is the case anymore. Check the news any day of the week and your likely to read or hear about the latest fire destroying entire communities in California or another catastrophic hurricane making landfall. They continue to say that this region is becoming “almost totally depopulated” and suggest we return the region to its “pre-white state” with just the prairie and buffalo.

I would argue that while that may have been true 30 years ago, our communities here in the Great Plains are seeing a revival. Residents are returning to the towns they grew up in and repopulating the Great Plains. Sure there are small towns peppered throughout that will probably never recover from the downfall of trains, but that doesn’t mean we are returning to the desolate prairie that once dotted the horizon.

The authors suggest two options for how to handle a potential depopulation of the Plains. One is for the federal government to pay farmers the same rate they would get planting crops, but instead they would plant native grasses. The end goal would be for the government to buy the land from the farmers, leaving them with a small homestead. The whole in this idea is what the farmer does after he no longer has fields to work. Without a town to buy goods from or a job to purchase the goods, he may as well leave. The authors note that a 1930’s era program of job assistance and retraining may be necessary.

As a preservationist I think giving up on all these small towns is a bad decision. So much infrastructure is in place, with decades of history imbued within their buildings. Small towns are bringing in new businesses, like Friend, Nebraska where the old opera house is being renovated, for a local winery, shops, and potentially housing. There are ways to keep these towns alive that do not depend on agriculture. New industries and technology make it easier to do business in almost any community.

 Warren Opera House in Friend, Nebraska. A small farming community that is working to revive their city through projects like the opera house restoration.

Warren Opera House in Friend, Nebraska. A small farming community that is working to revive their city through projects like the opera house restoration.

So instead of returning the Plains to their pre-white condition, I think we should reinvest in the Plains communities to bring people back, a phenomenon that is already occurring. Small towns offer affordable housing options, connections to family and support networks, and the ability to be part of a community. We as planners need to help these cities plan for their future and grow in a sustainable way.

Rocky Mountain Adventure

Rocky Mountain Adventure

Its been almost three months since I camped in Rocky Mountain National Park, but I’m finally getting around to writing about the trip. I’ve been camping before, but never in a national forest like Rocky Mountain. It was amazing to see a moose, elk, deer, and other animals going about their business unaffected set against a backdrop of massive mountains and dense forest. I was really glad not to have come across any bears, given our tent situation, but that didn’t stop me from being nervous the entire time hiking.

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What I Learned From Minneapolis

What I Learned From Minneapolis

I have lived in several cities in the past five years including Lubbock, Texas, Rochester and Columbia Heights, Minnesota, and most recently Minneapolis. Each city has imparted some lasting impressions and I taught me invaluable lessons about how cities function. But of all the cities, Minneapolis has taught me the most. Before I moved to the Twin Cities metro, I had never taken public transit as a commuter, biked to work regardless of the weather, composted, or installed a rain barrel.

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The Bird Is The Word

The Bird Is The Word

Everybody’s heard the Bird if you live in one of the major metro areas that are fortunate, or unfortunate depending on who you ask, to have these electric scooters. The Bird company started in California in 2017, but since its March test run in San Francisco has grown exponentially to include several dozen cities throughout the U.S. But the Bird is just one of several scooter companies capitalizing on the new trend. There are scooter companies operating in 65 cities throughout the country.

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Carry On Homes in the Commons

Carry On Homes in the Commons

It was almost a year ago that I wrote about an interesting piece of artwork installed at the Commons Park in downtown Minneapolis. This year I watched during my lunches as a new educational piece of art was assembled in the same location. The winner of the 2018 Creative City Challenge was Carry On Homes, a way to tell the stories of immigrants to Minnesota. The five artists responsible for the display are Peng Wu, Shunjie Yong, Aki Shibata, Preston Drum, and Zoe Cinel. The idea for the project came from the Carry On Homes documentary photography project.

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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

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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