Current Size: 100%

City Shaping IV: Can Target Right What Minneapolis Is About to Ruin?

Excitement has turned to disappointment in Minneapolis, and what's happening there should be a warning about safeguarding transparency in public process and civic debate. Right now, Minneapolis has a golden opportunity to revitalize Peavey Plaza, an award-winning modernist masterwork recently determined eligible to the National Register of Historic Places, but instead it's poised to replace Peavey with what some critics have already labeled a really watered down version of Chicago's Millennium Park. That does not have to happen and Minneapolis-based Target Corporation might be the key to solving this problem. [Full disclosure, I was a member of the team originally selected last November to develop proposals for Peavey's future, but more on that and Target in a moment.]

On Wednesday, October 19, 2011, a news conference was held to unveil the Peavey Plaza redesign. The result, we were told, followed a very public design process complete with a Community Engagement Committee to provide input and guidance. After considering numerous options, a Selection Committee narrowed the options down to either restoration or a new design. The new design finally won.

High Line

High Line
The High Line, New York, NY
There are a lot of problems here and chief among them is this either/or scenario, either restoration or design - that's a false divide suggesting the two are adversarial and incompatible. Why is this false? Two words. High Line!

New York City's High Line is a brilliant synthesis of design and restoration that forcefully demonstrates what can be accomplished when the two are paired. There are many other examples: Bryant Park, Columbus Circle, and Madison Green in New York City; Daley Plaza, Federal Center Plaza and the Lily Pool in Chicago; Logan Square and the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia (as I recently wrote); and, Mellon Square and Allegheny Commons in Pittsburgh.

First, a quick background on Peavey Plaza, which was designed by the pioneering and inventive landscape architect M. Paul Friedberg and opened in the mid-1970's. Friedberg says it combines "American green space and European hard space," and the design vocabulary is similar to other Friedberg projects in New York (Riis Park Plaza, demolished in 2000) and Washington, DC (Pershing Park): amphitheater- style seating oriented around the sunken plaza/pool basin (filled with water during the summer or frozen in winter for skating), cascading and spraying fountains to animate the space, lawn terraces, many sculptural objects, and ample opportunities for large- and small-scale gatherings.

Peavey Plaza Fountain
The cascading fountain, Peavey Plaza's most iconic
element, as featured on the cover of "Shaping the
American Landscape: New Profiles from the Pioneers of
American Landscape Design Project." This was selected
as the signature image to represent 250 years of American
landscape design.
The cascading fountain at the corner of Nicollet and Twelfth Street, the most iconic element in the plaza's design, feeds the sunken pool while creating an inviting visual link to Nicollet Mall. As with the High Line, Bryant Park, etc., Peavey's infrastructure has suffered due in part to lack of maintenance. Repairs are needed, but the underlying bone structure is intact and can accommodate an intelligent revitalization. This obviously was recognized in Minneapolis's recent and sympathetic treatment of another Friedberg project less than half a block away, Loring Greenway, so the same was expected with Peavey.

Indeed, last November, at a very public meeting chaired by Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak and held at the city's convention center, a team was selected to revitalize the Plaza. The lead was Tom Oslund, a talented Minneapolis-based landscape architect, Friedberg, the original landscape architect, and me, because of my expertise in modernist landscape architecture. In our cover letter accompanying our winning proposal, we said: "The team collectively believes this project should and will become a model for how modern works of landscape architecture are reconfigured."

We had faith in the City, in part because in 2006, when the American Society of Landscape Architects held their annual conference in Minneapolis, the Mayor issued a proclamation lauding landscape architects as they seek "to see the design of conserved, renewed, and new parks and other public spaces as part of an integrated approach to the challenges of the new century."

Influential City Councilmember Lisa Goodman gave us more reassurance when she noted of our team's selection in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio: "Oslund is committed to preserving historical aspects of Peavey Plaza, particularly through his decision to include on his design team Paul Friedberg, the original designer of the plaza."

Boy were we naïve ... We actually took them at their word.

Peavey Plaza
Peavey Plaza, Minneapolis, MN
Here's what happened. The Minnesota Orchestra hall that faces Peavey is undergoing a $45 million renovation and the Orchestra wants a new design. So, despite two public meetings and the public feedback the City says it received, the process was really steered behind the scenes by the Orchestra in tandem with the City. What about that very democratic sounding Community Engagement Committee? Well, the Orchestra created it and membership was by invitation only! Rather than "all are welcome," it was "not you, not you and definitely not you." Those numerous aforementioned other designs considered were never shown to the public, nor subject to public debate or dialogue. This is not to advocate, "design by committee," but the public has a right to know what's going on, to comment, and to have those comments thoughtfully considered.

To date, no one has clearly articulated the design decision-making criteria that yielded the one and only option now on the table. In fact, since this spring, Friedberg and I have been excluded from the design process and only saw the proposed redesign the same day as the general public. In an open letter October 17, 2011 to the citizens of the City of Minneapolis, Friedberg and I wrote: "We agree that Peavey requires revitalization, however we do not advocate or support any scheme that destroys signature and key defining elements of the original design - such an approach would be irresponsible. Where is the revitalization solution that builds on the creative and inventive aspects of the original?" [My personal involvement may make this sound like "sour grapes," but the reality is I would have written this post even if I hadn't been involved because Peavey is that important.]

So, with Peavey Plaza about to effectively be bulldozed, what should be done? The City needs to reopen the design decision-making and insure transparency in the process. About 80% of the funds for the redesign will have to come from private sources and the most logical donor is Peavey's other neighbor, Target. Yes, that "big box" retailer.

Peavey Plaza and Target
Why should they care? Well, Target is opening more urban stores according to the local Finance & Commerce and "in Chicago, the company is opening a CityTarget store in a historic building designed by noted architect Louis Sullivan. Target is moving into space that has been empty since 2007 when Carson Prairie Scott closed a department store there. The building, now known as Sullivan Center, dates to 1899 and is a landmark in Chicago." Also, since 2000, Target has been a generous sponsor of National Design Week and the Cooper Hewitt Design Awards. And, in the same week that Peavey figuratively started walking the plank, the new Target Studio for Creative Collaboration opened at the Weisman Art Museum "devoted to stimulating creativity through visionary Collaboration among artists of all disciplines and between artists and scientists, engineers, and practitioners of other disciplines."

According to a statement about the Target Studio:

"Creative collaboration means that collectively we can be more insightful, more intelligent than we can possibly be individually. . . Businesses on the leading edge understand that creative collaboration is vitally important--that true innovation takes all kinds of minds working together. It requires operating on the knife-edge. It requires suspending assumptions and abandoning non-negotiable and rigid positions to achieve true innovation. It means that the accomplishments of "team intelligence" can be greater than the intelligence of individual members if they are able to take innovative, but coordinated, actions. Great jazz ensembles provide metaphors for acting spontaneous in coordinated ways."

To the City of Minneapolis and the Minnesota Orchestra, it's time to face the music. You blew it on the process and you're preparing to needlessly ruin an important and much beloved landscape. Now is the time to change course and reinforce Minneapolis's well-deserved reputation as creative and above-board. And, to the citizens of Minneapolis and elsewhere, we all share a responsibility for safeguarding transparency in public process and civic debate. Don't abdicate that!

Comments (1)

By quickeer
October 27, 2011

Following is my letter addressing the letter the Mayor of Minneapolis sent to the Citizens of Minneapolis: RE: Peavey Plaza Dear Mayor Rybak; Addressing your letter regarding Peavey Plaza: Most people are not buying what you are selling. The thousands of people who are present throughout the year in the Plaza do not believe Peavey Plaza falls short of their needs. 500 public responses in no way represent “droves”. Of the entire population of Minneapolis, 500 isn’t even a drove – nowhere close to it. This does not begin to include the many visitors to Our City that come to enjoy Peavey Plaza/Fountain. The majority of Minneapolis residents are still unaware of your plan to destroy this extraordinary city icon. Why wasn’t everyone aware and invited to the event that Council Member Goodman sponsored? I wasn’t invited and Council Member Goodman knows of my interest in the project. (I won’t mention what CM Goodman is being referred to, as it is just too disrespectful. However, I do not disagree.) People prefer that the Plaza/Fountain remains untouched until funding is available for a complete restoration. You can get the money. Council Member Goodman can sponsor more events. You know how to get necessary funding. I worked hard for Cultural Legacy Funds. That funding should be used for the restoration of this cultural heritage space. (It was never intended to fund new sports stadiums.) You would not have built Peavey Plaza today the way it is now because the genius is not available to do so. It is nationally recognized for its unique unparalleled magnificence – distinctly and signature Minneapolis. You intend to replace it with a generic, pedestrian, conventional space that could exist in any city in the Universe. Your plan is nothing special - certainly nowhere near the rare and remarkable Peavey Plaza/Fountain that exists today. On the surface, City Representatives seem to recognize the importance of preserving heritage and culture of certain of our citizens: African Americans, Somalis, Latino Persons, and Asians… What about my heritage? What about the importance of my Minneapolis, Minnesota American culture and heritage? Peavey Plaza is one of the few remainders of my cultural heritage, but you do not respect that. You are taking away my cultural heritage. · What antisocial and illegal activities take place there? We don’t hear of commonplace nuisance crimes or misconduct. Citizens all over our city are daily tolerating behaviors that “no one should have to tolerate”. · It is physically accessible to everyone. Everyone can access the top portions of Peavey Plaza and be a part. (I have photos to prove this – you have seen photos that prove this.) Citizens who are unable to access the lower recessed ice rink are most likely unable to skate anyway. Not everything everywhere is 100% physically accessible to everyone. (Not everything is accessible to me.) There is a shortage of handicapped-accessible housing in Minneapolis. People are struggling on a daily basis just to get into their homes. This is a non-issue. · You have the capability to address the storm water. Add proper filtration. · The concrete appears very solid. You have the capability to replace the pipes. · Thousands of people who attend events at Peavey Plaza agree that it accommodates performances very well. Whatever the original intention of design, it has been completely adaptable to serve as multipurpose public space. Who will be attending the public restrooms – layed-off firefighters? Public Restrooms in an urban space like that will need constant vigilance for sanitation and safely. We want to know what members of the City Council have “been very supportive”. Where can I access this information, please? It is great that you listed and thanked the involved persons. These are the people that we will blame (including a possible boycott of Orchestra Hall and the Minnesota Orchestra). You dropped the ball on this one, and it may not hit the ground for ages – if ever. Future generations (your grandchildren) will see Minneapolis’s superb, celebrated and famed Peavey Plaza in all its past glory on a future episode of “Lost Twin Cities”. They will shake their heads in disbelief and wonder how it could ever have been so carelessly dismissed. Your intentions are truly monstrous. I am so tired of the disingenuousness of leadership in my City of Minneapolis. Sincerely, Trish Brock (The Mayor's letter.) Dear Friend - I’m very excited that this week, I helped unveil the new design for a revitalized Peavey Plaza for the 21st century. Whether you visit, live or work in Minneapolis, people have loved Peavey Plaza for decades. For many people, it’s been a getaway from the hustle and bustle of the street where they can reconnect with the sights and sounds of flowing water. I’ve loved it for the same reasons. The revitalized Peavey Plaza retains the most beloved aspects of the current Peavey Plaza — the feeling of stepping down from the street, terraced seating, a central gathering and performance space, water — and dramatically improves upon it. Above all, the new design makes Peavey Plaza safe again, and finally makes it accessible to everyone. In addition, it builds in sustainability to the plaza, both environmental and economic. It creates a vibrant new interaction with Nicollet Mall. And it adds many other great features, including a performance wall, a sound garden and bathrooms (finally, bathrooms!), not to mention others that most of us wouldn’t notice, like power and data, that are required for putting on high-quality public events. There is a lot more information and terrific renderings of the new Peavey Plaza here: I hope you’ll check it out and spend some time looking at the dynamic and beautiful future of this Downtown icon. The revitalization is necessary because the Peavey Plaza that we have loved has fallen well short of our needs for some time now. It has been far less safe than it should be: its current design has allowed for antisocial and illegal behaviors that no one should have to tolerate. It has not been physically accessible to everyone. It does not meet contemporary standards for managing storm water: draining the fountain for events sends 120,000 gallons of water directly into the sanitary-sewer system each time. Its concrete and pipes are severely eroded — and concrete, widespread in public plazas at the time Peavey was built, is for good reason no longer commonly used for that purpose. It is not set up to accommodate performances: it was initially designed as only passive recreation space and it lacks too many of the features that are now essential, making it far too expensive to host performances there. In short, we could not — and would not — build Peavey Plaza today the way it is now. Simply fixing the many broken features of Peavey Plaza would still leave us with a space that is not safe, accessible and functional for everyone. And it would actually cost several million dollars more than revitalizing it with the plan that we’ve unveiled. Revitalizing Peavey Plaza fixes the problems that preserving it in its current state can’t fix — and gives us a plaza that is safe and accessible for everyone, builds in sustainability and conservation, and meets all the needs of it that we anticipate for the next several decades. Doing so will take time and cost money, but it won’t cost Minneapolis property-tax payers: we will pay for it with $2 million in State bonds and $6–8 million more in private donations that we have begun to raise. Many people deserve our thanks for helping to move Peavey Plaza firmly into the 21st century. Tom Oslund, whose firm Oslund and Associates was chosen through a competitive public process to design the revitalized Peavey Plaza, is one of the most progressive and visionary landscape architects anywhere in the world — and he’s based in Minneapolis. The Minnesota Orchestra, which is revitalizing and adding onto their own signature building next door, has been a great partner. We’re grateful to the State of Minnesota for the capital support and to Minneapolis’ legislative delegation for helping secure the funds. And the Minneapolis City Council has been very supportive — especially Council Member Lisa Goodman, who represent and lives in Downtown and has worked hard to moved the project forward. But above all, you — the public — deserve our thanks. Over the last six months, we have asked you for your input, criticism and ideas, and you have responded in droves: more than 500 of you have attended two town hall meetings, answered an online survey and came to an event that Council Member Goodman sponsored. Great cities are dynamic, not static: they change, and one of the reasons that Minneapolis is great is that we haven’t feared change, we’ve embraced it. In the past 40 years since Peavey first opened, we’ve learned a lot as a society about how to build great, safe and accessible public spaces, lessons that we hadn’t yet learned when Peavey first opened. Now we’re applying those lessons to re-create and revitalize one of Minneapolis’ signature public spaces for the 21st-century. Mayor R.T. Rybak City of Minneapolis P.S.: To learn more about how I’m working to address the issues affecting our cit