The start of a greener Camden

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“Think of the possibilities and what would make this space awesome, what kind of artwork do you want to be seen, [and] really use your imagination to dream big,” urged Alicia Uzarek, Policy Advocate for the Friends of the Mississippi River team.

On Tuesday, September 12, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and Friends of the Mississippi hosted the first ever collaborative event asking community members to walk to the riverfront stretching on Dowling Avenue from Lyndale to the edge of the river.

Aiming to provide local community members the opportunity to see the space themselves, and share their ideas to create the perfect look for the Upper Harbor Terminal, which would become the entrance of the Above the Falls Regional Park.

In the 1990s, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB), put in place the Above the Falls Master Plan, which includes acquiring land, and creatively turning it into an accessible and greener space.

“I think everyone sees [kind of] the value of finishing this job because then everyone has access to it,” Kate Lamers, the Project Manager for the MPRB said during the walk, “there’s still value in it being a park and a river, not just useless space.”

The MPRB began to purchase pieces of land in the late 1990’s from private owners when they became available and affordable. After years of planning and strategically acquiring land, the City of Minneapolis now owns about 48 acres and seven parcels, stretching one mile from the edge of the Lowry bridge to the edge of the Camden Bridge.

To plan for such a project with a large piece of land that was currently being taken up by old industrial buildings and structures, a team led by United Properties, including THOR Development, First Avenue Productions and other local startups such as Juxtaposition Arts, began to plan for the space.

In early 2017, the team was finally able to formulate their ideas into a visionary concept which includes creating a first-class regional park that is accessible to community members who come as both pedestrians and bicyclists.

Naturally, Friends of the Mississippi River (FMR) came in as a collaborative partner to the MPRB as part of advocating for the healthy use of the river. However, as FMR soon realized, all their plans would go to waste, if they could not figure out how to overcome the stigma of crossing the I-94 freeway.

The FMR team members strongly believe that the best way to redevelop the space and access points to the park is by including members in the nearby neighborhoods in the planning process, resulting in the collaborative event.

All of the attendees were from very diverse backgrounds, and ranged from community members as young as elementary students from the edge of Minneapolis, to elderly neighbors from down the block.

Once the event started and everyone had made their way to the designated location on the Upper Harbor Terminal, the team’s initial vision was introduced and the plan was finally taking shape.

“Now is the time when you can dream big and think of ideally what you would like to see improve,” Uzarek said as the attendees warmed up to the site.

Groups simultaneously recorded ideas as they walked several blocks from the edge of the riverfront to the corner of Lyndale and Dowling Avenue.

Some ideas that were shared include the broadening of curbs, creation of bridges and even regulating pedestrian crossing points by using the streetlights throughout the Upper Harbor Terminal location.

Ideas for the park itself got creative, such as opening an amphitheater for live performances from local bands, to establishing a business park for families to venture. Ideas were highlighting not only the natural surroundings of the Mississippi River, but also the local art and creativity that is hidden by buildings and structures throughout the Northside.

Facilitators in each group not only recorded the ideas, but helped to form them into a relatively realistic visual of what could come of the combined efforts of each attendee. According to Uzarek, participants should leave the event feeling many different types of ways, from excitement to anxiety, and even the feeling of accomplishment.

This event is the start of a bright future for the Above the Falls Regional Park, and is something unique to the neighborhoods that surround the area.

Community members can continue to stay updated with the redevelopment of the Upper Harbor Terminal and park by visiting upperharbormpls.org, and can sign up for email updates and learn about upcoming meetings with the collaborative team.

This article was written by Beth Vang