This post first appeared as part of Reimagining the Civic Commons‘ series of 10 photo essays documenting how the twin pandemics of racism and COVID-19 affected each city’s effort to create a brighter future through civic investments. Visit RCC’s Medium blog to find more stories from around the U.S.
A Beacon of Hope
Amidst the pandemic, the first new connection to the Mississippi River for the city’s Northside residents in nearly a generation rose on its banks in 2020. Dubbed the Overlook, it’s the first phase of a planned three-phase project called the Great Northern Greenway River Link. Conceived through more than three years of engagement with the community, the Overlook features a youth-designed interpretive rail that tells the story of North Minneapolis from pre-colonization to an imagined future. The Overlook’s bird-safe beacon is a marker for residents of nearby North Minneapolis neighborhoods. Next up: Exploring phase 2 trail connections to the 52-mile Grand Rounds network with $3 million in state bond funding allocated in 2020, and planning for 2021 engagement as part of Reimagining the Civic Commons.
Drawn to the River
Normally, the Mississippi River is a gathering place in the summer, even along the 5.5 miles of still-largely industrial area known as the Upper Riverfront (come for the fun runs at Boom Island, stay for the Twin Cities River Rats water skiing show!). In 2020, people were still drawn to the Mississippi, coming together in twos or threes, or going solo, demonstrating that people still have a yearning for a relationship with the river.
Reconnecting the to the Heart of Community
One of the oldest and largest neighborhood parks in the Minneapolis system, Farview was created in 1883 and so named because it’s the highest point in the city, presenting views of “the Mississippi River for miles” (Minneapolis Park Board annual report, 1883). In the intervening 140 years, Farview’s role in the community has grown and remains vital, even during the pandemic. Meanwhile, the view of the river has shrunk, due in large part to inequitable planning policies that positioned I-94 and industrial development between the community and the river. Our work with Reimagining the Civic Commons seeks to reconnect these vital community parks — and the people who use them — to the Mississippi River just down the street.
Minneapolis is the epicenter of the global 2020 racial justice uprising following the killing of George Floyd here in May. Look closely at the Broadway Avenue image and you’ll see several buildings charred or boarded up, remnants of the rage and grief in the immediate aftermath. Broadway, along with Dowling, Lowry, and 26th avenues are all inhospitable — designed for traffic, not people — and the only paths from North Minneapolis communities across the I-94 trench to the Mississippi River. Reconnecting with the river means bridging divides physically and culturally, a kind of re-rooting with community at the center.
In 2020, the Minneapolis Parks Foundation and our community partners joined four other cities in the first expansion of Reimagining the Civic Commons, a national effort to prioritize public space as essential infrastructure for equitable and resilient communities. Our focus will be on reimagining the Upper Mississippi Riverfront as a physical, economic, and cultural asset for North Minneapolis.