Two cities, six sites.
Welcome, once again, to MinnPost's examination of the most conspicuously underused parcels of land in the Twin Cities: sites located along well-traveled streets or that make appearances in the news but that have, so far, not attracted development plans.
The sites on the this year's list are now either underused, unused or in uses that might not make sense anymore. Some hold parked cars or plowed snow, storage containers or discount stores. We'll look at why they've proven immune to development so far, and what lies ahead for each.
The property: West Side Flats
The location: just east of Harriet Island
In his architectural guide to St. Paul, Larry Millett recalls the history of the riverfront area known as the West Side Flats. It was, he writes, a floodplain that faced frequent inundation from the Mississippi. “For this reason, the flats attracted mostly poor immigrants — Germans and Irish, followed by East European Jews and Mexicans,” Millett wrote. “There was once a complete urban world here that included homes, apartments, churches and synagogues, schools, stores, restaurants and saloons.”
All that disappeared after an especially devastating flood in 1952, after which it was replaced with a handful of commercial and industrial buildings behind a new levy in what was dubbed the Riverview Industrial Park.
But now, city planners are hoping an updated master plan and a push by the Housing and Redevelopment Authority might create a 21st Century version of that historic urban world.
The master plan, which calls for the breaking up of large superblocks and a return of the historic street grid, also foresees a greenway running from near Plato Boulevard to the river that will provide both open space and a system for centralized stormwater collection and filtration. While still a few years away, the greenway has already received an $800,000 grant from the Met Council.
“The West Side Flats is one of the most exciting potential development sites in the entire city right now,” said Council Member Rebecca Noecker, who has been involved in planning for the area even before she took office in 2016. She cited its proximity to downtown and the river, the large amount of undeveloped and underdeveloped land and it’s history.
“Frankly, I think it is one of the most-shameful periods in our city’s history, when we decided to completely destroy the rich neighborhood fabric that had been there for so long,” Noecker said.
The core of the planning area is 40 acres bordered by the river, Wabasha Street, Plato Boulevard and Robert Street, though the broader master plan covers 120 acres and extends to Lafayette Road (Highway 52). A mixed-use neighborhood is envisioned, and Noecker compared the locale to the St. Anthony Main neighborhood in Minneapolis.
A new apartment building opened along Wabasha in 2014 and the city is partnering with the developer of that building, Sherman Associates, on another housing project closer to the river. That two-building project, with 264 units of both market rate and affordable housing — will include commercial spaces including a restaurant with views of the river and downtown St. Paul, and the project received an affordable housing grant from the Met Council last month.
Another project, this one by Weidner Apartment Homes, would create 700 units on land between Fillmore Avenue and Plato Boulevard, where State and Met Council environmental grants are helping clean up what is a brownfield.
That recent history shouldn’t define the value of the land and its potential, Noecker said. “I’m forward looking about the potential for the land, not backward looking,” she said. “So the fact that nothing has happened here to date, for example, is not a compelling reason to assume that nothing is going to happen in the future. I really want to make sure we are not undervaluing that piece of HRA-owned riverfront property.”
The property: Central Station
The location: 5th Street and Cedar Avenue, downtownWhen preparing for construction of the Green Line through downtown St. Paul, the preferred alignment required tracks to get from Cedar Street to 4th Street East. To make that angle easier to negotiate and to make room for the primary downtown station, Met Council and the state Department of Transportation bought up most of the block, including what had been a bank building at Cedar and 5th Street East.
Including a lot owned by the St. Paul Housing and Redevelopment Authority, various government entities now own everything on the block but the St. Paul Athletic Club building. And now that the Green Line has been completed and running for more than two years, the property has moved to the top of the list of transit-oriented-development sites controlled by the Met Council. Both the council and the city want the property developed commercially.
“That block is the critical piece of our central business district,” said Council Member Noecker. “The fact that it’s currently sitting there as a muddy triangular field is not acceptable to me.”
Jon Commers, a Met Council member from St. Paul, said despite the location, it often gets overshadowed by the activity in Lowertown and near Rice Park. But, he said, “there is conversation and interest in the development community,” notwithstanding what he calls “a short list of issues.”
Like what? Three different public entities own pieces of the block. There’s also an agreement dating back to when the land was purchased for light rail that gives the previous owner the right of first refusal if the land is used for anything other than transit.
Then there’s issues of getting preliminary engineering, environmental work and appraisals done before all those governments can agree to push the site out to the market. And because some federal transit money was used for site acquisition, whatever is built on the site needs federal approval and must increase ridership on adjacent rail and bus lines.
Despite all of the moving pieces, Lucy Galbraith, director of transit oriented development for the Met Council, said she is hoping to have the site ready to offer to developers sometime during 2017.
“I always lay out a timeline, even if it’s aspirational. It helps me focus and push on all the things I actually control, as opposed to all the pieces I can’t,” Galbraith said. The council staff has done preliminary engineering sketches to determine how a building could exploit the entire site.
“If you go up far enough to clear the trackway, incorporate the skyway, and make sure you have fire stairs and all the other fun stuff, then you get a pretty big floorplate. Assuming the market still supports it, you could go 10-to-20 stories. That’s our pretty ambitious goal.”
In the meantime, the Musicant Group is working on ways to help “activate” the area along with the skyways that lead to it. Between now and the end of summer, there will be both active and passive activities to bring more people outside and into the skyways above. The work is paid for with a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
To read the full article, go here.
By Peter Callaghan, MinnPost
Tiffany Kong who works nearby browned a smore, says "a garden would be beautiful. More greenery downtown would be nice."]Over the next several months, the area near the Green Line's Central Station in St. Paul will host a series of pop-up events designed to make this vacant space at the center of downtown more inviting and vibrant for transit riders, employees, residents and visitors. Richard Tsong-Taatariifirstname.lastname@example.org
The smell of wood smoke wafted skyward Wednesday as downtown passersby sipped hot chocolate, roasted marshmallows and played Kubb, a Swedish lawn game, on the snow.
It was part of a winter solstice celebration that had an ulterior motive: Bring some life and vitality to a vacant lot near the Green Line Central Station in St. Paul.
"This is the kickoff event for a yearlong effort to add vitality and safety to the Central Station area, outside and in the skyway," said Max Musicant, whose Musicant Group was among a consortium to win a $75,000 grant from the Knight Foundation. "Now, the ground cover is wood chips and dirt, but later there will potentially be a wood deck, gravel, places for food trucks to pull up and park, seating. At some point, the property will be developed with a building. Until then, we want some life."
Over the next several months, the area near Fifth and Minnesota streets will host a series of pop-up events designed to make the vacant space more appealing to transit riders, downtown workers, area residents and visitors. On Wednesday, Melissa Cortez and her 7-year-old brother Gabe, rode the train downtown to be among the first to partake.
"Events like this allow people to gather and share spaces in a variety of different ways," she said, as Gabe tossed a small wooden club at wooden blocks set up in the snow.
"Often, you don't have space like this in the middle of the city, where you can do activities in the winter."
As several Metro Transit police officers moved about, roasting a marshmallow here, talking to an area resident there, they said this area often draws juveniles who hop off the train and then, bored, get into trouble.
They said Musicant's plan to fill the next several months with lawn games and food trucks — community interaction — will not only help chase away crime with more eyes in the area, it will give those young people something positive to do.
Activities for all ages
Margaret Jones, St. Paul's 8-80 Vitality Fellow, said this project is one of many meant to bring life to otherwise underused areas.
"The idea behind 8-80 is to have activities that are welcoming for an 8-year-old and an 80-year-old," Jones said. "How do we make spaces more welcoming and feel safer?"
Jazz Molina, who moved to St. Paul from Mexico City more than a decade ago, comes through downtown often. There is a new vibe here, he said, a feeling of bustle that was the norm in Mexico City. Having an inviting plaza at the center of downtown, even if it only lasts a year or so, is a welcome addition, he said.
"It's hard to find a good open space downtown, any downtown" he said. "Downtown St. Paul is adding life, activity. This is part of a positive trend."
To Samuel McCormick, who lives in St. Paul and said he's familiar with trouble downtown and has even broken up fights near the Central Station, having games and activities there this spring and summer is welcome news.
"That would be good for the community. You have a lot of people who come down here, mostly young kids, who have nothing to do," he said, sipping a hot cocoa and eating a fresh s'more. "We need more positive things out here, especially downtown."
By James Walsh, Star Tribune
To read full article, go here.
Projects to encourage economic growth in St. Paul neighborhoods, beautify a vacant lot in the downtown core and even explore bridging a freeway to heal a bisected community were awarded funding by the Knight Foundation in St. Paul on Monday.
The nine projects received more than $640,000 to help create a vibrant, inclusive St. Paul and reflect "a growing recognition that a thriving city is defined and led by its community," foundation officials said.
The idea is to give creative and talented people an incentive to stay in the city and encourage residents to participate in civic life, said Jai Winston, the new Knight Foundation program director in St. Paul.
"The creative energy and appetite for positive change in St. Paul is palpable," Winston said. "These projects aim to tap into this momentum, engaging the community in innovative projects that aim to connect diverse residents and seek their input into programs that will make the city an even better place to live and work."
The projects were announced Monday afternoon during a ceremony to introduce and welcome Winston at the James J. Hill Center near Rice Park. They include:
Other projects receiving funds are intended to keep innovators and entrepreneurs in St. Paul's Creative Enterprise Zone, as well as attract new ones, and connect new residents to local events and programming through an interactive online forum. Another is working to promote the development of a new park in the Hamline Midway neighborhood.
The $642,500 from Knight is part of more than $64 million given to St. Paul community initiatives since 1977.
The James S. and James L. Knight Foundation is a national foundation that invests in journalism, the arts and in the success of cities where the Knight brothers once published newspapers.
For more information, go to knightfoundation.org.
By James Walsh, Star Tribune
To read full article, go here.
The owner of the dark and vacant TCF Bank Building in downtown Minneapolis is taking a page from the North Loop playbook in its quest to lure creative office users to the city’s core.
Franklin Street Properties has completely gutted the four-level brick building at 801 Marquette Ave., exposing interior brick, concrete, steel and timber, some of which dates back to 1923, when the first level of the structure went up.
The building was previously home to TCF Financial Corp., which moved its headquarters to Plymouth last year and prompted Wakefield, Mass.-based Franklin Street and its architect, Perkins + Will, to dream up a new use for the building, which had a 1980s feel.
Franklin Street Properties (NYSE: FSP) and its leasing agent, CBRE Minneapolis, unveiled to the Business Journal its plans for the 120,000-square-foot building, as well as the underutilized — and frankly, cold and dark — atrium that links the Bank Building to the former TCF Tower, which has also been renovated by Minneapolis-based Ryan Cos. US Inc. Ryan also is the builder on the bank building renovation.
“This is like taking a North Loop vintage building and dropping it into the heart of the city, with a skyway connection and all the amenities of the core,” said Mark McCary, senior vice president for CBRE, who is marketing the property with Larissa Champeau and Paddy Clancy.
The North Loop neighborhood is one of the hottest in the Twin Cities because developers have repurposed old warehouses into creative office spaces that attract ad agencies, architects and tech companies.
It’s not the 50-story mixed-use skyscraper that Franklin Street had originally planned for the bank building, but it’s still a $15 million to $20 million investment that should alter the feel of a block that has felt dead.
“We went through the process of going vertical first,” said Will Friend, regional director for Franklin Street. “But when we moved on from that, we saw the bones of what we had.”
The large, open-air arches on the third and fourth floor of the bank building will become windows, and the floor on the third level will be expanded, creating a balcony on the fourth floor that looks down on the third floor.
CBRE is targeting a single user for the third and forth floors, which total 65,000 square feet. Office or retail/restaurants are being targeted for the first and second floors.
The atrium will be “one of the must dynamic spaces in the downtown skyway system” following its renovation, Friend said.
Ryan Cos. will remove the escalators from the skyway level to the first floor and replace them with a grand staircase. A large screen will stretch four floors and play movies and slideshows. A catwalk will connect the bank building to the 17-story TCF tower building, which is now called the 121 South Eight Street.
A retail partner will sell coffee, sandwiches and even happy hour drinks in the atrium. The Musicant Group of Minneapolis will create programming to get people into the 4,000-square-foot space.
A rooftop amenity deck also will be added in between the two buildings.
The renovation will be complete next spring.
By Nick Halter, Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal
To read full article, go here.
McNamara Alumni Center, for all of its architectural beauty and emerald green space, is just far enough removed from the main part of campus to get relatively small foot traffic. The School Yard is an annual program that hopes to change that underutilization by turning the space into a place of community through a bit of placemaking—the specialty of the Musicant Group that runs the program.
Placemaking, as the Project for Public Spaces puts it, “capitalizes on a local community’s assets, inspiration, and potential, and it results in the creation of quality public spaces.” With its emphasis on interactive activities and local contribution, The School Yard is working on just that.
Since June, The School Yard has brought lawn games and chairs to McNamara’s grounds for anyone to come and enjoy, and in July, a weekly schedule of events began. Farmers markets and concerts by University musicians are on Wednesdays, free fitness classes are on Thursdays, and, since mid-August, student groups host an hour of activities on Fridays.
The Musicant Group and sponsors such as the University of Minnesota Foundation, University of Minnesota Alumni Association, and University Gateway Corporation are even helping to pay up to $100 for a group’s event costs, allowing student groups on a budget to be more creative with their activities. The fencing club and marine biology club are just two of the groups coming up; the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers already had a rousing Friday helping people build and launch water rockets.
“The purpose of The School Yard is to actually open up the space to be something where people want to be,” Maygen Keller, a community manager of The School Yard, said. “Look at all of these people. Without the chairs and the tables, and when you remove the music and the food, it’s a vacant green space where people walk by.”
A Place of Connection
During Welcome Week, the Minnesota Student Association (MSA) kicked off their Friday time slot with a flash mob and brought bins of food and plenty of music to accompany the yard games already in place.
“I think that lots of student groups have the classic engagement methods,” Abeer Syedah, president of MSA, said. “They have a table where they give their elevator pitch and have people sign up on their email list, which is cool, but it can be easily lost, so new types of systems can attract students. Like here, we’re just playing games and hanging out."
Although the passerby quantities didn’t compare to activities fairs, placemaking isn’t about quotas and driving numbers. It’s about participation, inclusion, and collaboration.
Syedah was still able to connect with some freshmen about some of MSA’s passions such as medical amnesty and affirmative consent, but this conversation had a backdrop of people reading underneath the trees and children playing with hula hoops, not a swirl of people rushing about.
For student groups interested in the The School Yard’s Friday opportunity, McNamara may not be the place to get fast and hard results for the student group email list. However, it can be a place of connection that reaches more than just students and where you can go deeper than the typical 30-second spiel.
Hang out with The Wake at The School Yard on Oct. 7, noon-1 p.m.
By Lianna Matt, The Wake
To read the full article, go here.
It was simple, and on the surface, easy to scoff at — another “Kumbaya” community-engagement idea seemingly created out of warm fuzzies.
“Transforming front lawns from empty expanses of grass to vibrant places full of life through the development of a toolkit that encourages residents to create community hubs on their doorsteps,” the pitch read.
But a surprising response made one of the city’s biggest grant organizations take notice.
Out of the dozen or so finalists for the Knight Foundation’s largest annual contest, the “friendly front lawns” project generated — by far — the most local buzz, foundation officials said in April.
The pitch: Get people out of their back yards and into their front lawns — seen as “dead spaces,” where nobody hangs out.
“It’s all about having a place to sit,” said Max Musicant, whose Musicant Group headed the pitch, partnering with an aptly named St. Paul nonprofit called the Friendly Streets Initiative.
The reception was big. Apparently, living in the middle of a 3 million-strong metro area, isolation can be a concern. The task of a simple conversation with a neighbor — breaching the façade city dwellers erect for social or even physical protection — can be daunting.
The project landed $82,400 in foundation funding and months later workshops began. Twenty-two families from the city’s old Rondo neighborhood and others from Frogtown and Hamline-Midway met in a library basement.
There, a pair of perky, smiling millennials pitched ways for people to sit in their front yards and meet their neighbors.
They had a system: Ways to arrange chairs, grills and plants in your yard so you could sit there and not seem like you were accosting every passer-by. But also seem approachable, or at least worthy of a friendly wave of the hand.
Vivian Mims, who’s lived in the city’s historically black Rondo neighborhood for decades — and already sits on her front steps — threw some shade at the idea.
“People walk by, you say ‘hi’ and they don’t say anything. It’s like, ‘Who are you?’ ”
“It’s almost like it’s taboo to get to know people,” Frogtown resident Tasha Rose said.
And the idea of putting benches out front — or anything that could go missing overnight — struck some as naive.
“I got two benches in the back I could bring out. But I’m always afraid somebody will take it,” said Lori Mitchell, who’s lived in Rondo for 29 years. “I’d be really pissed if somebody took that, because it’s a really nice bench.”
A TALE OF TWO CHAIRS
Musicant’s smile didn’t falter. A couple of years ago, he’d debated that, too.
One night while living in a big brick building in Minneapolis’s Whittier neighborhood, he left his apartment for a fire alarm. Milling around on the street, waiting for the all-clear, he glanced around at his neighbors. He knew one, maybe two of them, after living there two years.
It was ironic, considering that his day job was to create “community spaces” for large office complexes.
“I’m doing this for money for other people; why am I not doing this in my own living situation?” Musicant said.
So he bought a pair of orange plastic chairs from Home Depot and put them in the front of the building – a tiny wedge of space between the brick wall and the sidewalk. He put a sign on them that said ‘Please sit here.’ And he followed suit: sitting there in the sun nearly every day.
Neighbor Andrea Gyenge remembers first seeing the chairs, empty at the time.
“My first thought was, ‘Somebody’s going to steal these chairs,’ ” she said. “I didn’t understand what they were at first. And then I saw the sign on it and I was like … ‘cool.’ ”
She walked by another time and met Max. Then she sat down, too.
“If you were sitting there and anybody was walking by, you’d have to have some kind of exchange. You wouldn’t be in their way, but it would be awkward if you didn’t.”
By the first week Max knew half the building’s residents by name. And other people on the street began to sit in the chairs, too.
“It really became this community hub, just from the simple act of putting two chairs out by the door,” he said, before repeating, “It’s all about having a good place to sit.”
Still, Gyenge remembers, the chairs couldn’t perform miracles.
“It didn’t solve the problem of meeting your building weirdos. When I say hello to them they kind of look at me askance. And some people didn’t care at all.”
The building’s management frowned on the idea — first saying the chairs were an eyesore, then citing clearance issues in case of a fire.
The chairs were moved inside the foyer, then to a cramped space under some stairs, Gyenge said. Then into the bike room, where nobody went.
Musicant circulated a petition — “Save the Chairs!” — to no avail.
Still, no hard feelings.
“They weren’t bad people. Property managers are incentivized to not have bad things happen, and not necessarily to have good things happen. It’s about minimizing the strike-outs.”
Gyenge, who still lives in the building, said once the chairs were gone, her connections dried up too.
“There’s nobody I met new that I still talk to. The only person I still talked to was Max. But now, I don’t talk to anybody.”
TEARING DOWN BORDERS
Musicant’s theory has a lot to do with borders: tearing down big ones, or putting one up, just small and permeable enough — a short row of potted plants, perhaps — to make other people comfortable.
In the city, that helps.
And seating’s a big thing. Never in the middle of the lawn — that’s just plain awkward.
“It’s like a junior high dance,” Musicant said. “The middle of the gym is really scary.”
A month after the kickoff, Rondo resident Mitchell brought her bench out to her front yard, and put some plants and lights around it. Then she went further: transforming a small space of grass to brick, and adding some plants, a table and two chairs.
“Nobody wants to come to a raggedy spot,” she says.
So far, her bench has stayed put.
“I look out here every day to see if it’s still here. I painted it, and I said, ‘I’m gonna take a chance.’ ”
She gets waves — but on the other hand, she knew a lot of people already. She just never got to see them as much.
She reminisces about the old Rondo. “I always liked sitting in front. Remember watching cars go by. Then all of a sudden, there was a drive-by (shooting), and I stopped.”
Carolyn Brown, another Frogtown resident, planted a cactus garden out front and sits there about once a week.
“More people stop now, just to ask more questions about what’s going on. The garden’s a big draw. Neighbors who have been here awhile, if they didn’t know me, they’d probably think somebody else is here.”
It’s true that most of the people attracted to the program weren’t exactly wallflowers. Mitchell, for instance, sat on two neighborhood councils and headed her block party. Many were attracted by the Knight Foundation’s proffered funding, though it wasn’t much: $300 to $500 a yard, at a cost of sitting through a couple meetings and following up.
But Amber Finke, in the 1400 block of Charles, didn’t know a soul when she moved there last July.
She did something a bit unorthodox: tearing up grass from the city boulevard, and putting in a bench bordered by a rocks and plants.
So far she’s gotten a couple of bites — a neighbor several doors down came by with her kids, offered some plants — and a dozen passing salutations.
“If they’re inside their house peeking out and not coming out, it’s almost like you’re surrounded by voyeurs,” Finke said.
Andrea Giles moved into her grandmother’s old home in the 900 block of Iglehart Avenue last October. She tore out the front bushes and replaced them with a table and a pair of chairs. A family member built some beanbag boards, which she leaves on her sidewalk.
Her two sons now have the most popular house on the block — a go-to spot for neighborhood kids.
“You’re welcome in my yard, as long as you play nice,” says Giles, who works the overnight shift and gets about four or five hours of sleep a day. She said her next-door neighbor comes over a lot more often, saying, “I’ve been fishing. Do you want some fish?”
“Was I social before? No, not like this,” Giles says. “I just wasn’t really outside. Or if I was outside, I was in back. I always thought like, it’s so hard to meet your neighbors, how do you do that? Now, sitting in front, you just say ‘hi’ and that’s how it starts.”
AN AVENUE EXPERIMENTS
Then there’s Charles Avenue, where in some ways, the “front lawn” theory has been going on for years. Only now, more so: Of all the people who responded to Musicant’s social call, at least a half-dozen came from within a few blocks where Charles meets Lexington Avenue.
Some ambitious projects there reflect it: One, a musician, tore down his front fence to put up a stage. One woman used the money to install a big movie screen on her front lawn once a week with a sign in the city boulevard broadcasting show times.
“It was really exciting to me to see so many new faces,” said Martha Burton Santibanez, the outdoor-theater owner.
But efforts at that corner of Charles started years ago — with many residents pointing to a single couple as the instigators. The Hunts.
“We’d lived there six or seven years, and we did a ‘time inventory.’ We realized that when we had free time, we left the neighborhood, went to see college friends in Roseville and White Bear Lake,” said Dan Hunt.
He was familiar with local block clubs, and found them ill-fitted for getting up close and personal with his neighbors.
“They were what most block clubs are, which is in my opinion about white home owners getting together and talking about all the ‘bad people.’ Talking about ‘what’s wrong and let’s fix it,’ not ‘what’s right and how do we improve it.’ ”
So he went to a neighbor he knew, and invited him to a potluck in his back yard. Then knocked on some more doors, introducing himself.
Every week, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, Hunt had a Monday night dinner in his yard. By the summer’s last meal, about eight families — 50 people — were participating.
“For me and my wife, we got what we wanted out of the deal. We know so many people that walk by now,” Hunt said.
A book club and knitting club sprung up — along with a Facebook group, of course.
But the neighbors decided to keep it closed, with 139 members, all of whom knew each other. Hunt compares open, thousands-strong neighborhood Facebook groups to block clubs with their worst aspects amplified, where “trolls and people take a rather benign topic and turn it into a big fight.”
And in the end, he prefers the meals for the same reason Musicant bought two orange plastic chairs, years ago.
“I’m a much bigger fan of the face-to-face.”
By Tad, Vezner, Pioneer Press
To read the full article, go here.
On a stretch of Logan Avenue between the Armatage and Kenny neighborhoods, 26 kids ages 15 and under run between the yards. The action is often out front. One front yard has a play set. Another front yard has a trampoline, which has become the hit of the summer.
“Chairs move around the neighborhood a lot. People come over with a drink and a chair,” said Beth Pfeifer. “It really builds a lot of camaraderie.”
Whittier resident Max Musicant hopes to build more community camaraderie by encouraging welcoming front yards. His consulting firm offers a draft Friendly Fronts Toolkit to generate ideas.
Musicant has already experimented with his own front yard. In the toolkit, he described exiting his apartment during a fire alarm and realizing he knew little about his neighbors beyond a few first names. The following weekend, he bought two bucket chairs from the hardware store and scrawled in permanent marker: “Please sit here!”
“And then I sat down,” he writes. “That evening, I returned with a book and read in those chairs for an hour. The next afternoon I did the same thing with the newspaper, and then decided to eat my dinner there as well.”
Musicant said he started meeting people immediately, and before long, residents had added a third chair, a Weber grill and community tongs.
“The chairs transformed the social dynamics of our entire building and block,” he said. “… So, if you can do only one thing, get a few chairs, put them outside, sit down, and be present in your yard and in your community. Then you’re ready to start talking to people as they walk by.”
The community-building ideas go beyond single-family homes. The Whittier Alliance is reaching out to apartment properties along Blaisdell, Pillsbury and Pleasant avenues to find owners willing to try front yard improvements. The neighborhood group has set aside more than $3,000 for the pilot project.
Paul Shanafelt, Whittier Alliance community engagement manager, said many Whittier apartments do not have any community spaces for residents.
“You can walk a good eight to ten blocks without anywhere to sit,” he said. “Something as simple as placing tables and chairs goes a long way.”
Landlord Dale Howey said he’s interested in making changes. At 2440 Harriet Ave., he’s already created “foodscaping, instead of landscaping,” where residents can garden and pick fresh produce.
Pfeifer, the Logan Avenue resident, said her block could be a model case study for the front yard project.
Last summer, residents held a barbecue every Sunday night. A different host each week would provide the grill and paper products, and each family would bring something to grill and a side to share.
“Whoever is home can come and hang out,” Pfeifer said.
During the winter, Sunday night is soup night, where neighbors take turns cooking enough soup to feed the entire block.
One summer, residents put up a volleyball net between two yards. They occasionally hang a sheet with chip clips and project movies for the kids, while the parents have a bonfire. Or they make an omelet bar, cooking together on a camping grill.
If a house is listed for sale, Pfeifer said neighbors are sure to send the kids out to play during the Open House, so there are no surprises for new homeowners.
“We picked this neighborhood because we knew this neighborhood was like this,” she said.
For a friendlier front yard, the following suggestions are listed in the toolkit:
— Add movable seating.
— Eat outside. Keep the sun in mind when placing tables and chairs.
— Consider storing games and entertainment in the front yard. Ideas include a Little Free Library, a toy-sharing box, lawn games and sidewalk chalk. Provide many things to do.
— Create a workshop area to write on a laptop or perform construction projects.
— Set up dynamic and inviting edges to the yard, perhaps through plantings or low walls for seating. If an edge doesn’t feel inviting, people are less likely to venture further into a yard.
— Take advantage of large umbrellas, tree cover or porches so people don’t feel too exposed in the front yard. People enjoy semi-enclosure, similar to cozy booths at a restaurant.
The Knight Cities Challenge awarded an $82,000 grant to The Musicant Group for its Front Lawn Placemaking Platform. The foundation invests with the goal of helping cities attract talented people, expand economic opportunity and boost engagement. The pilot is done in partnership with the Friendly Streets Initiative in St. Paul.
The group is planning a Friendly Front Yard Festival on Sunday, Sept. 18,* featuring walking tours of welcoming front yards.
By Michelle Bruch, Southwest Journal
To read the full article, go here.
*Note: New festival date
Max Musicant wants to build stronger communities one front yard at a time. Starting Wednesday, St. Paul residents got their chance to join the effort.
Musicant has put together a downloadable tool kit meant to encourage people to turn their front yards into more welcoming places to congregate and, perhaps, meet their neighbors. Thanks to an $82,000 grant from the Knight Cities Challenge, Musicant put his ideas online as part of the Friendly Front Lawns Project. The tool kits are available at friendlyfronts.com.
The tool kit, he said, prompts people to look at their yards and think about what would make them more inviting — Chairs? Gathering places? Activities to draw people in?
Often, he said, those parts of a yard are behind the house. The idea is to move it all to the front, where neighbors can see you, stop and chat a bit. Suddenly, a neighborhood becomes more connected.
“Relationships are built and strengthened,” Musicant said. “There are more eyes on the street … and it becomes a safer place.”
Musicant’s project was one of two St. Paul winners of the Knight Cities Challenge, which split $5 million among 37 projects nationwide meant to help cities attract talented people and encourage civic engagement. The other St. Paul winner will send out “I’m going to vote today” stickers ahead of election day to get more people to the polls. The challenge asked the question: What’s your best idea to make cities more successful?
Musicant said he got his idea after a fire alarm sounded at his Minneapolis apartment building a few years ago. As his neighbors milled about, he realized he didn’t know them. So he went to Home Depot, bought some cheap chairs and started sitting in his front yard. Within the first week, he said, he got to know half his neighbors.
The online tool kit is actually the second phase of Musicant’s community engagement project. For the past month, he has been working with a group of about 20 Frogtown and Hamline-Midway residents to foster more welcoming front yards.
“We chose those neighborhoods because we wanted to show this project is approachable for anybody, no matter their income,” he said.
And on Sept. 11, residents will host “normal day” gatherings in front yards throughout the city to encourage others to join the effort. Musicant said he wants to take the online tool kits nationwide next spring.
By James Walsh, Star Tribune
To read the full article, go here.
Hyde Development and The Musicant Group have collaborated on a new parklet in the North Loop — a bench with a trellis lined with vines near the Velo apartments at 2nd Street North and 1st Avenue North.
Max Musicant of The Musicant Group said the space will make the street experience more vibrant.
“The parklet will make the experience of being in this corner of the North Loop even more dynamic and inviting for residents, office workers, and visitors alike,” he said. “A relatively small improvement like this parklet can make a dramatic difference in the life of a street and neighborhood.”
Paul Hyde, co-founder of Hyde Development, which owns the 116 1st Ave. building near the parklet, said he hopes the pop-up park attracts a mix of users, including Velo residents, Red Cow patrons and area office workers.
The new North Loop parklet.
Here’s the location of other parkets in the city this summer:
— 1603 Chicago Ave. S. by Twin Cities Coffee & Deli
— 3733 Chicago Ave. S. by Smoke in the Pit BBQ and CANDO
— 4208 28th Ave. S. hosted by Angry Catfish Bicycle + Coffee Bar
— 913 W. Lake St. hosted by CARAG near Morrissey’s Irish Bar.
By Sarah McKenzie, The Journal.
To read the full article, go here.
The Knight Cities Challenge just gave out $5 million to winning ideas from civic innovators to help 26 particular American cities, from Detroit to Macon, Georgia. But there's no reason these ideas can't be used elsewhere. Here are six of the 37 winning projects that other cities might want to steal.
Turning a highway into a bicycle park
In a couple of years, the last mile of the Innerbelt highway in Akron will be shut down. The road divided the city's downtown, and was unpopular almost as soon as construction started in 1970. When the cars are finally out of the way, one section of the former highway will be turned over to bikes, in a new mountain biking park connected both to the downtown and a nearby bike trail.
"It's a way for people who don't typically ride bikes to start doing it, and get excited about it," says Jonathan Morschl, who is leading the project.
Pop-up minimum grid
It isn't easy to bike around downtown Macon, Georgia, right now, but the city will soon get to experience what it's like to have better infrastructure. In a variation on Better Block—the project that temporarily turns a block into a walkable, bikeable, active place—a local nonprofit will be temporarily converting an entire neighborhood. "People will be able to come out and ride it, and see what it's actually like to ride on good infrastructure," says Josh Rogers, president and CEO of NewTown Macon, the organization leading the project.
Over a Friday and Saturday, neighbors will be able to try out protected bike lanes, bike boulevards, and new pedestrian infrastructure connecting the heart of downtown with surrounding neighborhoods, a university campus, and parks. "All that stuff's really close, but totally disconnected right now," he says. "That's the idea of this route." Some of the new infrastructure will stay in place, and Rogers is hoping that residents will like the rest so much that they demand that it become permanent.
Front lawn placemaking platform
"We're trying to transform the most ubiquitous and underused space in America—the front lawn," says Max Musicant, founder and principal of the Musicant Group, a placemaking firm based in Minneapolis. Inspired to do something about the fact that people keep becoming more isolated from their neighbors, the group is designing a toolkit that homeowners can use to make their front lawns social. That might mean moving furniture and a grill into the front lawn, planting a garden, or adding a Little Free Library.
"It's really about people getting in touch with the things that matter to them, and putting it on their front lawns," he says. "They're going to be present in their front lawns again, and by doing that—instead of being in the backyard, or just inside—they're going to have serendipitous interactions with neighbors in a way that was never possible." The designers plan to test the project with 15-20 people in a couple of typical neighborhoods in St. Paul, release a beta kit online, and build a final kit that will come out in 2017.
By Adele Peters, Fast Company
To read the full article, go here.