Field Trip to the Twin Cities, Minneapolis/St. Paul (1997)

On October 17-18, 1997, 13 students, two professors (Peter Fisher and Cheryl Contant), and I traveled to the Twin Cities for what proved to be the first of a series of field trips to major cities. (See the Field Trips category, especially the entry titled “Reading the City.)

As I write this entry in 2011, I have been surprised to discover that my notes from this first trip are quite thin.

On the 17th we visited with people in three public agencies: the Metro Council, the St. Paul Department of Planning and Economic Development, and the Minneapolis City Planning Department. While in the Metro Council’s offices (which are located in downtown St. Paul just across the street from Mears Park) we heard presentations from Paul Colton (an alumnus of Iowa’s Planning Program) and several other staff officials. At the St. Paul Department of Planning we benefited from a presentation by Ken Ford. In Minneapolis we held conversations with several members of Paul Farmer’s staff. (At the time Farmer was director of that agency. For the past few years he has been serving as Executive Director of the American Planning Association.) While in the Minneapolis Planning Department’s offices, we had a chance to take a look at a 3-dimensional model of a proposed development. I asked the students to pose as if they were the famous modernist planner-architect Le Corbusier in one of the iconic photos I had showed them in our History and Theories of Planning course. The result appears below.

Students at a 3-D model in the Twin Cities, 1997

The design of this trip had greatly benefited from a scoping visit I had made to the city in mid-August. In addition to meeting with Colton, Ford, and Farmer, I had learned that there seemed to be a broad consensus in the region that suburban sprawl was proving too costly and inefficient and hence that there was great interest in having more of the regional growth take place within the city limits of St. Paul and Minneapolis. This, of course, translated politically into neighborhood fears of increased density. There was considerable talk about improving transit corridors. At that time Ken Ford also gave me some insight into the new science museum, the St. Paul on the River Development Framework, and the new Waubesha Street Bridge. Likewise, Paul Farmer gave me insight into Minneapolis’ new Neighborhood Revitalization Program and a Citizens Workbook relating to a new comprehensive plan they were preparing. I found myself asking, does the Twin Cities metropolitan region constitute “a good city”?

On the following day we toured the city by van. We began our tour by driving and walking through the Gateway District in downtown Minneapolis. From there we drove through a lower income neighborhood on the near west side, some wealthier neighborhoods adjacent to the west side lakes, the Phillips neighborhood on the near south side, the Cedar-Riverside area just south of downtown, and the Phalen Street corridor on the near east side of St. Paul.

On our way back to Iowa City two of our Chinese students (Ying and Min) sang a Chinese folk song about relationships being like a leaf on a pond. I returned the favor, if one can call it that, by singing “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” Surprisingly enough, no one leaped out of the van.

The trip would not have been possible without the assistance of Paul Colton, Ken Ford, and Paul Farmer, and I want to thank them for their help.

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