New film: How warring utopian visions shaped the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood

"Brutal Utopias" screens tonight at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival

The sun sets on the Riverside Plaza apartments.
The sun sets on the Riverside Plaza apartments in Minneapolis on March 6.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2019

You’ve probably driven by Riverside Plaza on Interstate 94 near downtown Minneapolis. They’re those concrete towers with primary colored flourishes reminiscent of a Mondrian painting.

They were part of a utopian vision for the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood only partially realized, and that story is told in a documentary called “Brutal Utopias” screening Wednesday night at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival.

Macalester College professor Morgan Adamson is the filmmaker. She used the University of Minnesota’s collection of architect Ralph Rapson’s papers to illuminate just how grand a vision he had for the neighborhood — complete with a monorail and closed circuit televisions for residents to access services remotely.

Adamson also interviews past and current residents of the neighborhood to learn how a competing utopian vision thwarted that plan, and gave rise to the refuge it is today for East African immigrants.

“There are two utopian visions that are really at war in this film. One is this kind of modernist, grand vision of what a city can be and the other is a more community control, mutual aid idea of what a city can be,” Adamson told All Things Considered host Tom Crann. “I think that we’ve lost both of these ideas. When we think about how we design cities today, we’ve lost that utopian thinking. So the film is really intended to just get people to reflect on how we design cities and what the alternatives are.”

Hear the full conversation using the audio player above. The film is screening at 7:10 p.m. Wednesday at The Film Society at St. Anthony Main Theatre in Minneapolis.

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR News is supported by Members. Gifts from individuals power everything you find here. Make a gift of any amount today to become a Member!

This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment‘s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.