Becoming a yes city

Bridges, roads, buildings, stadiums, skyways, sidewalks, streets — traditional city planning has historically focused on the hardware of urban engineering versus the software of a passion-driven, personal, “What do I want in my city?” approach. But there is a global movement afoot which now has a toehold in the Twin Cities, reflecting a paradigm shift in how communities can come together and build creative cities.

Among the challenges for Minneapolis-St. Paul is responding to the question of how we can harness our much ballyhooed creative impulses to drive healthful, intercultural, sustainable urban planning. In April and May, two innovative city visionaries visited our Twin Towns, pointing the way to revisiting changing our thinking, discovering connections and negotiating solutions for the public good.  

In May, Charles Landry, who travels internationally as a “critical friend” to cities, was invited for a weeklong residency dubbed Creating 21st Century Intercultural and Creative Cities. He was hosted by a community coalition including the partners of Plan-It Hennepin and a broader consortium of organizations with interests ranging from ethnic tourism to the Central Corridor light rail development and the Saint Paul Riverfront. The big picture goal was to understand how art, culture, creativity and diversity can accelerate both economic and social growth — critical elements in strengthening the Twin Cities as a world-class region.

What does a “Yes” city look like? According to Landry, it is a creative, open-minded place where people of all kinds can express their talents and are motivated to get things done. The physical environment functions well, it’s livable and promotes an ease of movement. It’s a natural marketplace for the exchange of ideas. Industry in these locales is innovative, encouraging cross fertilization and offering rich vibrant experiences from the arts to food, heritage and natural surroundings. The political and public framework have a sense of purpose and a hefty civic component. Its dynamism makes it a magnet. “You can feel and sense the buzz; it is obvious to residents and visitors alike.” 

Where Landry taps the global perspective, New Orleans-based artist Candy Chang, known for combining street art and social activism, encourages small, bottom-up ideas and offered individual street level tools. Chang spoke at the Walker Art Center in April as part of our Talk-It Hennepin series and has personally spearheaded city projects that foster individual expressions of  hopes and desires. 

While both Landry and Chang understand the challenges of navigating between the very rational traditional process of city planning and the subjectivity of their methods, both are driving momentum to challenge existing assumptions while also facilitating conversations about possibilities. The question Landry says, is not whether there is value in creativity, culture, heritage and the arts, but what is the cost and consequences of not valuing these elements.  

How do you think we can make Minneapolis  more of a “Yes!” city?  

Tom Hoch is President and CEO of  the Hennepin Theatre Trust.