Mayor R T Rybak describes the process of redeveloping parts of the city as "reweaving the urban fabric". He says he wants to see Minneapolis evolve into a city filled with distinct urban villages that are destinations, like Uptown and parts of Northeast.
His first target for redesign is Washington Avenue.
"I've said that Washington is a wonderful street, but I have never in my entire time as mayor said that if you want to experience the best of Minneapolis, go walk down Washington Avenue."
Rybak speaks while standing at the corner of Washington and 5th Avenue. Over the mayor's shoulder and southbound down the street are several blocks of new commercial, residential buildings and a parking ramp that connects to the new Guthrie, near the river. Aside from the group of architects and journalists near him, there's not a lot of foot traffic.
...If you go to Barcelona or Paris or Rio there's lots of cars, but there's also places for people.Architect David Graham
"This is not a pedestrian-friendly experience. It's not necessarily visually that exciting but it's amazing what Washington brings together now; the university, the Guthrie, the Center for Book Arts, MacPhail, the Depot..."
To develop a plan to make Washington Avenue into more of a destination, Rybak has enlisted the help of a team of architects. The Washington project is led by David Graham of Elness, Swenson, Graham Architects, Inc.
"We've had two design meetings and we're creating a series of sketches," says Graham, who's firm sits right on Washington Avenue.
He says there are several challenges to redesigning the street. They include working with other stake-holders that share the area, including Hennepin County, which has jurisdiction over the road. Washington is an outlet to 35W and during rush hour, or following an event at the Metrodome, it can get pretty backed up.
"But the traffic in and of itself isn't a barrier to making it a boulevard. Are you with me? If you go to Barcelona or Paris or Rio there's lots of cars but there's also places for people," he says.
Graham says people need wider sidewalks, greenspaces and store-front businesses and restaurants. He and other architects follow a set of 10 principles of livable communities, which include designing for human scale, preserving urban centers and providing transportation options.
Rybak says he wants neighborhood organizations or other groups of citizens to apply to be assigned a design team like the one working on Washington Avenue. The deadline for application is November 30th. A committee will select five projects.
The architects are members of the American Institute of Architects, who are not charging the city for their services. The group's involvement in the Great City Design project is meant to commemorate the AIA's 150th anniversary.