ADVERTISEMENT

View of Nicollet Mall's north end. The Minneapolis Downtown Council released an ambitious plan for the city's central core that involves the area.

Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

You can plan and build, but they won't necessarily come

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS
  • Star Tribune
  • December 17, 2011 - 7:54 PM

The Downtown Council has a new $2 billion plan for spiffing up the heart of Minneapolis. It's called "Downtown 2025" and aims to double the number of people living downtown to 70,000, including children.

How? By adding a prison and an orphanage?

Actually, no. They want to level the Metrodome and build a new urban village from scratch.

Good luck; hope it works.

See also, Cedar Square West. Granted, we've learned not to stack people sky-high in a concrete desert, and if they can avoid the quasi-historical prefab instant-city feel these developments can have, wonderful.

The plan also foresees a "bustling, walkable streetscape" that takes people from the old Guthrie site to the new one. Well, you can walk from the Walker to the river today; there aren't any great chasms with creaky rope bridges guarded by trolls.

It's good someone's thinking ahead, though. The last plan called for a Twins stadium downtown: check. It also called for Block E (insert buzzer sound used on game shows to indicate wrong answer and forfeiture of all winnings). But the plans cannot help but look backward, since they project into the future what we think we want today.

There was once a magnificent plan for Minneapolis that foresaw our future as a glorious embrace of the past: wide diagonal boulevards, just like 19th-century Paris, civic monuments dripping with classical details. If they'd remade the Mill City according to this plan, everything would have looked out-of-date by the '30s, derided by modernists in the '50s, dismantled in the '60s with federal urban-renewal money, and then mourned in the '90s when KTCA did a documentary on it and everyone realized we were idiots to tear it down.

Ditto with the skyways. Once the system was considered a miracle, a boon, an ingenious adaptation to a climate that swings between malarial-swamp and penguin-friendly. (One critic praised them as the city's version of the canals of Venice, which sounds lovely until you think: if Venice's canals are their skyways, why is no one swimming in them?)

But now the skyways are accused of robbing the streets of pedestrians. Makes you suspect the 2050 plan will call for their demolition, and the 2075 plan will restore them as part of a "bold new idea" for northern cities.

Plans are good, but the broader and bigger they get, the more they bump up against a pesky intangible: people, and what they really want.

I was in Puerto Rico last month, wandering around the old part of San Juan. The streets are as narrow as a carnivore's arteries, the sidewalks too skinny. Yet traffic was constant and fast, and you looked both ways before crossing a one-way street lest you get creamed by a scooter going the wrong way.

It was great.

Down by the harbor, there was a long, gorgeous promenade, shaded by trees, marching for half a mile to the sea, culminating in an enormous fountain: Just the sort of photogenic urban showplace that civic planners love.

And it was absolutely deserted.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 More daily at www.startribune.com/popcrush.

© 2014 Star Tribune