Minneapolis’ Bold New Riverfront

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and the Minneapolis Parks Foundation, working with creative partners Walker Art Center and University of Minnesota College of Design, announced Tom Leader, ASLA, owner of a Berkeley-based landscape architecture firm, and Kennedy & Violich Architects won a competition to design 5.5 miles of the Upper Mississippi Riverfront, beating out major firms like Ken Smith Workship, Stoss Landscape Urbanism, and Yu Kongjian’s Turenscape. More than 44 teams from 14 countries submitted design proposals.

The 14-person jury evaluated the finalists’ proposals against a set of criteria, including how well the project “establish parks as the economic engine for development along the river; knit communities on both sides of the riverfront to and across the river; and re-­focus Minneapolis and the region toward one of the three great rivers of the world.”

The winning “Riverfirst” proposal, with its focus on water, health, mobility, and the “green economy,” was deemed the best at meeting these goals. David Fisher, Superintendent Emeritus of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, said: “The team grounded their proposal in proactive outreach to the community, demonstrated extensive research, and posited several multi-­‐layered solutions unique to these 11 miles of riverfront and the habitat, communities, businesses, infrastructure, and culture intrinsic to our region.”

Riverfirst will use “landscape design, green products, and public education initiatives” to complete a “gradual transformation” of a U.S. army-run pool into a “more natural, living river.” In addition to restoring the river, the new landscape will incorporate green infrastructure technologies to improve local stormwater management. In fact, the designers argue their project will offer a “comprehensive remediation of the city’s storm water management system and its conceptual transformation into a system of ‘tributaries’ that are naturally cleaned with planted bio-filtration landscapes.”


Getting a bit technical, the team says the landscape design will actually support the rebirth of the river, and, in turn, be shaped by the water’s flow. “Where water carves and erodes, subtractive design principles are used to create water remediation ravines and terrace overlooks. Where the river deposits new material, accretive principles of design are used to mold and shape land berms for the new park.” In other words, they are leveraging natural processes in their design.

To maximize the benefits of the environmental restoration, there will be a focus on improving the health of the surrounding neighborhoods. Those man-made green infrastructure systems will feature wetlands that provide recreational opportunities. The new park will get into urban agriculture. “New opportunities are created to increase urban agriculture, provide food security and expand neighborhood access to healthy foods in ways that build community and local businesses.” To increase access for those neighboring communities, a “multi-modal, sustainable public transportation system” will be created, featuring “continuous pedestrian and bike/ski riverfront trails” and a new bus shuttle. Also, parks will be Wi-Fi enabled and there will be a “River Talk” mobile phone app explaining all the new features.

Lastly, there is some innovative reuse of materials that we’d like to see more of. “Floating Biohaven Islands made of recycled water bottles anchored to existing bridge piers provide seven acres of protected riparian habitat for migrating birds and endangered wildlife.”


Learn more about the winning design and watch a video.

Image credits: TLS / KVA via Bustler

One thought on “Minneapolis’ Bold New Riverfront

  1. Nissan 09/20/2011 / 11:59 am

    Sounds like a great fusion between modern technology and preserving the government. The wifi is a nice touch while many citizens will undoubtedly enjoy the gorgeous rivers.

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