NorthFirst: River Connect Highlights Aspirations for Mississippi Riverfront

How would you like to see the Upper Mississippi River in North Minneapolis redeveloped over the next two decades?

That question was at the forefront of NorthFirst: River Connect, an event on September 29, hosted by the Northside Neighborhoods Council.

Residents arrived at the Capri Theater (2027 Broadway Avenue) to hear plans for redeveloping riverfront sites like the Upper Harbor Terminal as well as offer their ideas to better connect North Minneapolis with our city’s most valuable natural resource.

Conversations took place in the greater context of RiverFirst, a 20-year vision for Minneapolis’ riverfront that is meant to reconnect residents with the Mississippi while fostering economic development. Northside improvements are planned within the framework of this larger RiverFirst plan.

Representatives from 10 organizations made presentations at River Connect. They came from diverse groups, offering perspective on how to make the riverfront more accessible to Northsiders while protecting the environment.

Irene Jones of the Friends of the Mississippi River made the point that the riverfront is a national park, but that reaching its natural areas can be difficult for residents.

“The Friends have been working for better access and continuous trails along the river for 15 years,” Jones said. “We are really excited that some parks have been built or improved and that we’re trying to bring some of the natural habitat back.”

Kathleen Boe of the Minneapolis Riverfront Partnership indicated that many Northsiders are simply unaware of the natural wonder in their backyard.

“The more we can make people aware of special places along the river,” Boe said, “the more people will be interested in what happens to it and the resource it can be within our community.”

Many presenters addressed the need to involve youth in riverfront planning, noting the long-term impact of redevelopment.

Sam Ero-Phillips of Juxtaposition Arts explained how students worked with the University of Minnesota’s Department of Landscape Architecture to create a model of a riverfront truly connected with the community.

To scout the area, young people biked along the banks of the Mississippi and kayaked on its waters. Students observed landmarks that helped reinforce the river’s importance – such as the city plant that treats our tap water.

The Minneapolis Bike Coalition's Alexis Pennie discusses the 26th Avenue North Greenway.

The Minneapolis Bike Coalition’s Alexis Pennie discusses the 26th Avenue North Greenway.

“There are many great assets that people don’t know come from the river,” said Ero-Phillips. “Making people aware of them is important for its protection.”

Michael Chaney and Jim Lovestar of Green with Envy also made the connection between human behavior and the protection of resources. Their organization aims to reduce waste by providing information on community gardens and composting.

“The more community gardens we have,” Jim said, “the less runoff we have. When we use compost and avoid using poison…like herbicides and pesticides, we have cleaner water running into river.”

Bruce Chamberlain of the Minneapolis Parks Foundation applauded the efforts of the diverse collection of community and environmental advocates. “All of us have decided that the Mississippi has to be a public amenity in North Minneapolis,” he said, “just like it is in the rest of the city.”

Chamberlain pointed to the 26th Avenue North Greenway project as a major opportunity to increase Northsiders’ access. He noted that the current street is “essentially a dead end. You have no idea you’re at the Mississippi riverfront, and that is going to change.”

In addition to making presentations, representatives from organizations spoke with event attendees in an exhibition area. Questions about various redevelopment projects were answered, and input from residents was sought.

Pat Nunnally from the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Advanced Study collected feedback on how to make the river a stronger resource for everyone.

Nunnally encouraged people to write down stories about the river on a piece of paper so that their experiences might help shape redevelopment. “We feel that everyone should recognize their stories and experience in the riverfront,” he said.