The conversation has grown (up)

In 2006 I was part of a small group that started something new and exciting called “Walking Minneapolis.” We advocated for thinking differently about downtown. We focused on the physical, operational and magical elements that are common to all great cities in the world. It was about the places and spaces, the care and attention taken in presenting the city, the big and small programs and activities, and the need to be intentional in communicating the buzz. It was about the way we experience cities while walking through them and being a part of them.

We joined in discussions with the public, private and not-for-profit sectors. Support was overwhelming. After all, who would be opposed to making the city more compelling and vibrant? We asked how and where do we start? Can big ideas happen? Will the broad support waiver if ideas require policy changes or financial support?

Our community has not only embraced the idea of “experience,” they are taking action. In late 2008, the private sector launched the Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District (DID) — agreeing to tax themselves more than $6 million per year to make the downtown experience cleaner, greener, safer and better. The public sector met this challenge by enabling DID to manage enhanced services in the public realm. In 2010, Target Field opened with an emphasis on the connections to this urban ballpark. Palpable energy is felt throughout downtown as energized fans participate in activities before and after a game.

Under the leadership of Tom Hoch (Hennepin Theatres), Kelley Lindquist (Artspace) and Olga Viso (Walker Art Center), a broad community has begun to plan Hennepin Avenue as a corridor of arts, culture and education. Some 50-plus organizations and institutions along Hennepin already fit that bill. Imagine more of these uses with artists also living along the avenue. What about using sculptural elements together with interactive and performance art to tie together the corridor’s currently disjointed walking experience? The NEA thought this was an idea worth investing in and provided an “Our Town” grant to fund the plan.  

These ideas are capturing the momentum of changes happening locally and around the world. The need for social gathering spaces is on the up-tick as technology and globalization change how and when we interact with one another. No longer does work require being in a specific place during specific times. Distinctions between work, socializing and other aspects of one’s life are blurred. A 24/7/365 life is the new normal, and thus the need to offer an appealing 24/7/365 experience is crucial to being the place where people want to locate. As the crossroads of work, entertainment, culture, public spaces, tourism, retail, education, worship and housing, downtown is poised to capture this new energy.

The improved public realm that DID provides, the excitement of a collective experience, the artistic activation of an avenue — these are just a few examples of how focusing on “experience” matters. The Downtown Council’s recently released Intersections 2025 plan underscores how “experience” will help our downtown remain relevant, competitive and grow.  The conversation about ‘experience’ is sparking great things to happen in our city. Be part of this great future by going to to submit your ideas, comments and requests to be engaged in the conversation.

Sarah Harris is the chief operating officer of the Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making Downtown a clean, safe, green, and vibrant place to be. Follow the (DID) on Twitter @MinneapolisDID. She lives in Southwest and will be writing a monthly column for the Journals.