Mpls. Mississippi River design competition down to wire

Stoss Landscape Urbanism's fall plan
Stoss Landscape Urbanism's fall plan
Image courtesy of Stoss Landscape Urbanism

A 5.5-mile stretch of Mississippi riverfront in north Minneapolis moved a step closer to its new future Friday.

A jury met Friday afternoon to select a winning team in the Minneapolis Riverfront Design Competition. The winner will create a new vision for the riverfront stretching from the Stone Arch Bridge to the northern boundary of the city.

An organizer hopes the riverfront right outside the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board office in north Minneapolis will someday look very different.

"The Mississippi River has an industrial heritage since the European settlers came and I think the north river really reflects that," said Mary deLaittre, project manager of the Minneapolis Riverfront Design Competition.

A look out the window yields a bleak view in the middle of winter.

"Topographically, [it is] rather flat," she said. "Lots of industry along it ... when it doesn't have industry, [it is] vacant land."


Four design teams are in the sleep-deprived final day of a two-and-a-half-month-long competition.

Kongjian Yu heads the Turenscape team. Time Magazine called Yu "China's pre-eminant landscape architect." He teaches at Harvard now.

Yu sees the Mississippi river a trunk, and greenways will connect to the trunk, and extend even to residents backyards.

Turenscape's carbon-neutral neighborhood
Turenscape's carbon-neutral neighborhood
Image courtesy of Turenscape

"Because for a long time, the river been separated from community by highways or these industries," he said. "It's time for--it's [an] opportunity to connect the community, to go back to the river again and make it the City of the River, instead of the City of Lakes, City of the River!"

Yu said his vision is about ecological health, a habitat for birds and a productive landscape.

Steven Handel, lead ecologist for the Ken Smith Workshop, wants to draw people of all ages and interests to what he creates.

"We'd like to get people down to the river, this urban beach will have a beautiful view of downtown, schmooze, sunbathe, barge, clean water over the Mississippi," Handel said.

Some of the teams looked for ways to transform urban waste into assets.

Stoss Landscape Urbanism's summer plan
Stoss Landscape Urbanism's summer plan
Image courtesy of Stoss Landscape Urbanism

Chris Reed is principle of Stoss Landscape Urbanism out of Boston. His team uses water runoff from city streets to create botanical gardens.

"It also allows us to re-establish new freshwater mussel beds, which are a key indicator species for the health of the city," Reed said. "Those also provide an important source of food for various fish and animals that could come to occupy the space. So you're building a food chain, you're building a habitat, out of what most people would consider a sort of waste from the city."

Building a green economy is a strong theme for the fourth group -- the TLS/KVA team. Sheila Kennedy, an architect from Boston, champions her team's concept of "RiverFirst."

"We see this as a vista," she said. "A new vista that we're opening up, that will be a very important connection for northside residents to go down to the river."

Kennedy envisions a narrow strip of land by the freeway exit could someday be an apple orchard.

Each team received $30,000 from the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to create their design, but organizers say the city received more than $1 million in design expertise and a 50-year vision in return.

A jury decides Friday which team will move forward. That team will be publicly announced on February 10.

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