Citizen-Designed Communities

Davis bike lane & parking.jpgA friend of mine suggested that I read the July/August Architecture MN magazine. My “To-Read” list grows ever longer. Although I obtained a copy back in July, I only recently got around to reading it. It was certainly a worthwhile use of my time.

The featured stories are about Liveable Communities. No, it’s not the Met Council concept skeptically reviewed by Chamber President David Ludescher, it’s the AIA’s 10 Principles for Liveable Communities.

The first article in the series focused on Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak’s efforts to restore greatness to Washington Avenue, the city’s principal east-west corridor that connects the University of Minnesota , the Guthrie Theater, the Mill City Museum, the Downtown Library, and the city’s new downtown residential neighborhood in the warehouse district. The vision is to make it vibrant and pedestrian-friendly (much like Mayor Gary Nickels’ Seattle) through greening the sidewalks, quality street lighting, way-finding signage, public art, benches, and waste receptacles. Seems like a good idea to me, except they left out the bike racks.

Another article looks at a project in Duluth. Development pressure threatened the Upper Amity Creek, a popular trout stream. Citizens helped turn scenarios into a plan to be presented to the city council. The final plan preserved the most sensitive areas, reduced impervious surfaces, offered a variety of housing types, and preserved access to the natural amenities. The citizens, the city, the county, and the developers are now talking about making the plan a reality.

Finally, there was an article about Wilmar. The citizens of that town are working to revitalize their historic downtown. Interestingly, they view the real challenge for downtown renewal not being design and preservation but long-term political support. They also need to counter the perception that there’s quicker profits through opening a business in a pole barn than in downtown. The approach that the planning team is taking is to enhance downtown’s role as the central gathering place while assuring a variety of transportation choices and connections to other parts of the town.

There was also an article about the AIA’s 10 Principles for Liveable Communities with each principle illustrated by an example from a famous or almost-famous person. They include: Design on a Human Scale, Provide Choices (in housing, shopping, recreation, transportation and employment), Encourage Mixed-Use Development, Build Vibrant Public Spaces, and Protect Environmental Resources.

I was struck with the similarities between the AIA’s Principles and the Values expressed by Northfield’s citizens in the Comprehensive Plan Revision Process. The case studies reminded me of the NDDC’s efforts to gather stakeholder input for the Downtown Streetscape process. Based on the articles in this issue of Architecture MN, it would appear that including citizens’ values as development principles through early involvement increases the potential for a project’s success.

2 thoughts on “Citizen-Designed Communities

  1. Ross, Thanks for addressing these issues. I’m rather in awe of how Washington St. in Minneapolis has changed over the years. It gives me hope for the future of our society!

    I liked the AIA’s 10 Principles for Livable Communities, particularly # 1 Design on a Human Scale and #5 Vary Transportation Options. The public spaces of our communities are so often defined by streets designed largely to accommodate large machines, not people. We need places where people can gather between buildings too, not just inside them. This is an idea long ago championed by Jan Gehl, the Danish urbanist, someone I hope to learn more about.

    I noted that the picture for principle #1 was taken from Nicollet Mall, the pedestrian mall in Minneapolis.

  2. Ross: I was also struck at the similarities between the AIA principles and the proposed Comp Plan.


    P.S. I prefer to think of the review as “critical”, not skeptical.

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