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Seems the public has been shut out from meaningful input on the changes

  • Article by: M. PAUL FRIEDBERG and CHARLES A. BIRNBAUM
  • October 27, 2011 - 6:56 PM

We are two of the three members of the team originally selected at a very public meeting chaired by Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak last November to develop proposals for Peavey Plaza's revitalization. As you might know, that didn't work out, and our later exclusion has become a sideshow. Our agenda in writing this article is to do what is right for Peavey Plaza. Our motives are not financial -- we support the plaza's revitalization, but not just mere lip service to its past.

So, let's move on and talk about the core issue -- process.

The city and the Minnesota Orchestra, we and others believe, have subverted the Peavey redesign process, effectively shutting out meaningful public discourse and debate, and they must be held accountable. Important to this discussion is the fact that early on, lead landscape architect Tom Oslund and we collectively decided that full restoration was not viable -- got that? -- and we embarked on developing new options. The city felt similarly, as evidenced by a staff presentation Oct. 25 before joint committees of the City Council. Yet that option never went away.

The city's Krista Bergert sent bullet points Oct. 18 to Minnesota Public Radio's Marianne Combs, among them this revealing one:

"The City and Orchestra have held two open houses to date to ask for public comments on the design of the plaza, and we received many. In June the CEC [Community Engagement Committee] was shown four design schemes, a preservation scheme, a hybrid option and two new schemes. We received comments on all the schemes. Subsequent to that meeting, the Review Committee limited the options to preservation or new design. On August 23, the Review Committee voted to go with a new design option."

That statement prompts the following observations and questions:

•The public is essentially being told that restoration and design are adversarial and incompatible. But they aren't. New York City's High Line is a brilliant example of design and restoration.

•The Orchestral Association organized that democratic-sounding Community Engagement Committee and decided who was invited to participate and who was excluded.

•Those four designs that Bergert mentions -- who selected them, and what were the selection criteria?

•Why has the public never been shown these options? (We're not advocating design by committee, but public funds are involved.)

•CEC members were told not to publicly discuss the options, so who was allowed to comment on them?

•What criteria did the review committee use when narrowing the choices to two options?

•Why was full restoration -- which, as noted above, had been ruled out early on -- one of the final two options?

As Bergert wrote: "On August 23, the Review Committee voted to go with a new design option." Well, of course. The only other option, full restoration, was dead on arrival.

Next, the actual plan -- not those renderings publicly unveiled Oct. 19 -- first appeared on the city's website Oct. 24, and public comments were due that same day. The City Council's Community Development and Transportation and Public Works committees jointly met Oct. 25 and unanimously approved the scheme. The public gets only one day to comment on the actual plan before this important vote? Really? That's not open and transparent. That's fast and loose.

The outcome appears predetermined -- a case of "winners make the rules." We didn't coin that; it's a casino's slogan from an online ad that was ironically located above the Star Tribune's initial online Oct. 19 coverage of the Peavey Plaza redesign news conference, and it seems to be the city's and the orchestra's motto here.

Keep the questions raised above in mind as you listen to the rhetoric about the proposed new Peavey design. The City Council should raise them Nov. 4 when it meets about the design.

Finally, about 80 percent of Peavey's $8 million to $10 million price tag will come from private sources. Target is probably being courted, and Richard Varda, the corporation's architecture and design vice president, was on the CEC. Now, Target sponsored the Weisman Art Museum's newly unveiled "Studio of Creative Collaboration" -- where "creative collaboration means that collectively we can be more insightful, more intelligent than we can possibly be individually." Does it really want to get mixed up with the Peavey collaboration? We hope not.

M. Paul Friedberg is the landscape architect who designed Peavey Plaza. Charles A. Birnbaum is founder and president of the Cultural Landscape Foundation.

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