“A Whole Squad of Smashing”: River Link Design Team Connects With JXTA

January 17, 2019 by Janette Law

“There’s access to the Mississippi River – just not in North Minneapolis. We want this park for our community,” said Lanijah, a Juxtaposition Arts apprentice in the Environmental Design program. This winter, Lanijah and about 10 of her peers were gathered at JXTA’s North Minneapolis “annex” studio for a design charrette about the Great Northern Greenway River Link, a RiverFirst signature project also known as the 26th Ave N Overlook.

Also in the room: Representatives from the Minneapolis Parks Foundation, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, and the newly-retained River Link design team leads – TEN x TEN landscape architecture and 4RM+ULA architecture, together with team member Schuler Shook lighting design. The design team was retained last fall to bring us to construction of the River Link, which is expected to break ground in 2019.

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Beginning in 2016, the Parks Foundation began partnering with JXTA on community engagement and design visioning for future riverfront parks in North Minneapolis. The goal was to give JXTA apprentices a real-world urban planning project to dig into, while bringing youth voices – especially youth of color – to the parks planning process in a meaningful way.

Each summer, about 15 apprentices were guided by lead instructor Sam Ero-Phillips to explore the project area by land (biking and walking) and water (kayaking and canoeing). In turn, the apprentices guided Northside community members and peers from partner organizations, including Asian Media Access, Project Sweetie Pie, Urban Strategies, Mpls Slow Roll, and Minneapolis Parks YouthLine at Farview Park.

JXTA apprentices also engaged the community in design thinking around the River Link site, inviting them to share their ideas about why it’s important to be connected to the river, what would make them want to visit a riverfront park, and how these spaces could be especially welcoming to the Northside communities that surround them.

This exploration came full-circle this winter when the apprentices connected with the design team and shared with them powerful ideas for bringing the River Link and overlook to life. Among the apprentices’ concepts is creating transition zones that physically and psychologically guide visitors from land to water; imbuing physical features like stairs, walls, and benches with Northside-inspired art and history; and finding ways to bring water to the upland plaza to echo the river down the slope.

The design team’s response to the apprentices’ ideas: They smashed it. Looking around at his kids with pride, Enviro studio lead Sam said, “We got a whole squad of smashing.”

Our partnership with JXTA will continue this spring.

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