City planners in town to give us the once-over

  • Article by: DAVID PETERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 26, 2009 - 10:41 PM

Planners from around the country are in town checking out the Twin Cities' successes, from the Chain of Lakes to Summit Avenue.

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About 4,500 planners from around the nation will be in town until Wednesday for their annual convention at the Minneapolis Convention Center, examining the Twin Cities and either learning lessons from it or disliking what they see. Fewer cities are attending events like this because of economic woes.

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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If you've been feeling weirdly self-conscious the past couple of days without understanding why, this might explain it:

Thousands of experts on what cities should look like are in town right now, examining us. Dozens of tour groups are scouring the area on buses, on bikes, on foot, even in running shoes in the early morning.

Here are the details:

"Ay-Pea-Ay"

Last Saturday through Wednesday, it's the 101st annual convention of the American Planning Association, bringing to town what was originally predicted to be 6,000 city planners, consultants and the like who concern themselves with what places should look like.

Er, make that ...

... more like 4,500, once the economic downdraft struck and cities began putting the kibosh on out-of-state travel to save jobs. "But it's still the largest planning conference in the world by far," insists the group's director of outreach, Jeff Soule. "The British version is thrilled to get 1,000."

Why us?

Planning successes are one important factor, though it doesn't hurt that the group's CEO is a former Minneapolis planner. "I teach planning to people from other countries," Soule said, "and I always use your 'Grand Rounds' (Minneapolis' linked parks, lakes and parkways) as a case of far-sighted planning. There aren't many better examples of people thinking ahead. And what a difference to quality of life!" More recent draws, he added: bike paths, Warehouse District re-use, new museums, riverfront revival.

On planner's view

Darby Watson, of the Seattle planning office, arrived on Thursday on a first-ever visit. She loved light rail (which Seattle doesn't quite yet have), finding the train easier to locate at the airport than it is in Paris. She struck out at once on foot to check us out. She was disappointed about how empty of people many downtown streets are. But she loved housing-ringed Loring Park ("we can't bring people back in from suburbs unless we give them 'green,'"), the Nicollet Mall ("so impressive compared to even Denver's, where only a block and a half is really a happenin' place"), the reuse of massive Warehouse District edifices, and the riverfront ("a bit like Rome, high above sheer walls.") Most other folks took till the weekend to filter into town, but we can learn something at least from a list of what tours they most chose, and most spurned.

Sold-out tours:

Emerging neighborhoods of the Minneapolis Warehouse District; the Midtown Greenway; Parkways by Bike; Suburban Redevelopment Projects such as St. Louis Park's Euro-style Excelsior & Grand; 18 Great Streets, such as Summit Avenue; Urban Mountain Biking; Downtown St. Paul; Target's 750-person Property Development team.

Cancelled tours:

Skyways (who can avoid them anyway?); Chaska, Minnesota's Brick City; Historic Shakopee; Burnsville's Heart of the City; Redeveloping a Former Army Ammunition Plant; City of Hopkins on Bike; Uptown Minneapolis; and -- who would have guessed? -- Twin Cities Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant.

David Peterson • 952-882-9023

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