(Finance & Commerce, March 15, 2012)—A full slate of high-profile, ambitious plans are on the horizon for downtown Minneapolis parks and public spaces, from a Sculpture Garden expansion and Nicollet Mall renovation to the proposed Gateway and Water Works parks that would better connect the city to its riverfront.
All of those projects won’t be enough to satisfy David Wilson.
“We will not be successful if we only achieve those big goals,” said Wilson, chairman of the Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District’s greening and public realm committee. (His day job is managing partner at one of downtown’s largest employers, Accenture.)
As Wilson and his committee see it, making downtown as green, pleasant and inviting as possible will also require countless smaller efforts from businesses and individuals — from sidewalk planters to urban gardens.
That’s why the improvement district honored the best of these unsung efforts Tuesday at its second annual Greening and Public Realm Awards, which were presented at the Minneapolis Central Library. The awards recognize residents, businesses, associations and community members who enhance downtown by creating and maintaining greenery in public spaces.
A renowned urban planner, Alexander Garvin of the New York-based AGA Public Realm Strategists, set the stage for the awards with a speech on why all of these efforts, large and small, matter.
“When people think of a city, they think of — and they remember — the public realm of that city,” Garvin said. “A city’s public realm is, in essence, its living room.”
Among the award winners were restaurants, shop owners, even parking lot operators who have added eye-catching natural color to the city’s core. Take, for example, the gift shop Jeromeo, winner of this year’s “most engaging storefront” award.
“This is where passersby stop and linger to look at not only the beautiful merchandise but also the beautiful greening,” Wilson said, noting the potted plants, vegetable and herb garden, and tomato plants that grow almost up to the second floor during the summer.
The committee added a winter greening category this year, recognizing both the Normandy Inn and Suites and Lyon’s Pub for their evergreen window boxes and entryway plantings.
The Downtown Improvement District started the awards last year in part because downtown lacks the level of parks and greenery found elsewhere in the city.
The Minneapolis park system is like none other in the world, Garvin said, and is a key reason that suburban flight was less severe than in places like Detroit or St. Louis. In downtown, the city has made strides but still lacks “connectivity” between its public spaces.
“The Walker and the Guthrie are not connected by anything,” he said, explaining that there should be a clear, easy way for people to get from one end of downtown (by the Walker) to the other end (by the Guthrie).
Garvin cited Denver’s 16th Street Mall as an example of great connectivity. Nearly all of the city’s major destinations are within a few blocks of its vibrant transit and pedestrian mall.
When done right, public spaces become magnets for private investment. The ultimate prize, said Garvin, is a public investment that “generates a widespread and sustained private market reaction.”
He described the mix of patience and persistence involved in transforming Chicago’s lakeshore from a gritty industrial area 150 years ago to the string of parks and attractions it is today.
“It took years. It requires nurturing and lots and lots of time,” Garvin said.
Wilson said he hopes spotlighting downtown Minneapolis community members who take their own initiative to “green” the city will inspire others to follow their lead in incorporating greenery into their public spaces.
The 2012 winners are:
- Best Park, Large Scale: Hennepin County for its Government Center South Plaza
- Best Parking Lot Greening: Tom Oslund Associates, Elness Swenson Graham, the City of Minneapolis and Council Member Lisa Goodman for the 205 Park Ave. Parking Lot
- Best Plaza: Alatus LLC for the Plaza at the Loring Ramp
- Best Residential Greening, Large Scale: The Carlyle Residents Association with Eufloria for the entry planters at the Carlyle
- Best Residential Greening, Small Scale: The Francis Drake Hotel for the window boxes and entryway
- Best Restoration: Minneapolis Community and Technical College for its plaza restoration
- Best Sidewalk Café: Vincent, A Restaurant, and Brits Pub for their coordinated sidewalk planters and boxes
- Best Storefront Greening, Large Scale: Seven Steakhouse for the storefront urns and pots
- Best Storefront Greening, Small Scale: JB Hudson for its Nicollet Mall entry pots
- Best Streetscape Greening: Brighton Development, Julie Snow Design and Tom Oslund Associates for the sidewalk tree pits at 200 Park Avenue Lofts
- Best Urban Agriculture: The Episcopal Church of Gethsemane for the Gethsemane Garden
- Most Engaging Storefront: Jeromeo for the sidewalk pots, vegetable/herb garden and unique merchandise
- Community Involvement Award: Friends of Triangle Park for reclaiming and stewarding the long neglected Triangle Park
- Best Winter Greening: The Normandy Inn and Suites, with Bachmans, for its window boxes and entryway, and Lyon’s Pub with Hearts and Flowers for its window boxes and entryway at Lyon’s Pub
- Encore Awards (for “consistently exemplary contributions to downtown greening”): The Local, Target Corp., the Loring Greenways Association, St. Olaf Catholic Church, WCCO-TV and FRM Associates for Cancer Survivor’s Park.