What makes great cities great

Earlier this month, the Downtown Improvement District hosted its second annual Greening and Public Realm Awards at an event titled “What Makes Great Cities Great (and Why it Matters).”

We celebrated the Downtown companies, public sector partners, property owners and planners who have made the public realm more beautiful, interesting and engaging to pedestrians as they stroll through Downtown. Whether displaying unique planters in the summer, pine boughs and ribbon to warm our spirits in the winter, demonstrating that edges of parking lots can be beautifully treated with sustainable plants or creating a welcoming park space in which to gather, these enlightened approaches make the properties better and more appealing while also making Downtown more attractive and compelling, overall.

Alexander Garvin, CEO of AGA Public Realm Strategists in New York City, author, Yale University professor in urban planning, and former New York City planner was the keynote speaker at the event. Garvin has spent more than 40 years focusing on how the public realm should integrate with private spaces in order to build great cities.

Too often the development of public spaces is an afterthought and does not maximize the potential for the City. But, when great planning considers the public realm as a key element, it leverages the best possible outcomes.

A perfect example is the catalytic impact of Minneapolis’ Grand Rounds park system. Think about how our neighborhoods and city have been formed by embracing this amazing amenity. Imagine how different our community and our outdoor-rooted culture would be if this early dedication to public space had not shaped the development of our city.

Only recently has the conversation about Downtown Minneapolis shifted to ask the very same questions already answered for the broader city, such as: What experience will compel people to want to live, work and socialize in Downtown? How can our outdoor spaces bring the community together in the same social, recreational and inspirational ways that our city’s neighborhoods enjoy? How can we make Downtown greener and more engaging?

Downtown is one of the largest residential neighborhoods, employment areas and entertainment districts in the city and region. Downtown also has the fewest trees and available open spaces, and pedestrians encounter an inconsistent sidewalk experience.

The Downtown Improvement District is always looking for ways to green and activate the public sidewalk environment, but the constraints are significant and require significant resources of time and funding. That is why it is so important to consider the impact private property greening has on the collective environment.

When private spaces adjacent to or part of the public right of way are transformed with greening, seating, art and interesting, transparent storefronts, the effect is transformative, and greater than the sum of its parts. When working together, whether on existing properties or in planning for new developments, the public realm experience should be at the forefront of our thinking and advocacy.

Everyone has a role to play in making this great city great. The public sector can incentivize and lead good public-realm planning and stewardship. The private sector can build and program great spaces. The general public can support efforts that positively impact the community by demanding a high level of quality from public and private sector leaders and each other.

Please join us in congratulating and supporting the following group of award recipients who have demonstrated that what is good for their property can be great for the community:

Best Park Large Scale: Hennepin County Government Center South Plaza  (Hennepin County)

Best Parking Lot Greening: 205 Park Avenue Parking Lot (City of Minneapolis, Council Member Lisa Goodman, Oslund & Associates and ESG Design)

Best Plaza: Plaza at Loring Ramp (Alatus)

Best Residential Greening Large Scale: The Carlyle (Alatus)

Best Residential Greening Small Scale: The Francis Drake Hotel

Best Restoration: MCTC Plaza Restoration 

Best Sidewalk Café: Brits Pub and Vincent a Restaurant (combined implementation)

Best Storefront Greening Large Scale: Seven Steakhouse

Best Storefront Greening Small Scale: JB Hudson

Best Streetscape Greening: 200 Park Avenue Lofts (Brighton Development, Oslund & Associates, Julie Snow Design)

Best Urban Agriculture: The Gethsemane Garden (Episcopal Church of Gethsemane)

Winter Greening: The Normandy Inn & Suites

Winter Greening: Lyon’s Pub (Lyons Pub, Hearts & Flowers)

Community Involvement: Friends of Triangle Park

Most Engaging Storefront: Jeromeo