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Urbanist Penalosa: 'Plan for those 200 wonderful days'

  • Blog Post by: Eric Roper
  • May 8, 2014 - 10:26 AM

Urbanism expert Gil Penalosa says the Twin Cities should spend more time planning for the 200 nice days a year than focusing on the 15 worst days of winter.

In a presentation city officials at Hennepin Avenue's Brave New Workshop Wednesday, Penalosa said the region needs to do a better job retaining millenials and should build its cities so they are ideal for both 8 and 80-year-olds -- a mantra of his 8-80 Cities organization.

Penalosa was formerly the park and recreation commissioner of Bogota, Colombia and is now renowned as an expert on cities. He is visiting the Twin Cities as part of a "Placemaking Residency" produced by the St. Paul Riverfront Corporation and funded by organizations including the Knight Foundation.

He twice criticized downtown's skyways, which he said "work like a gigantic vacuum that sucks the life out of the city." Downtown business leaders expressed similar skyway concerns several years ago with the release of their 2025 plan.

"You’ve got 15 horrible days," said Penalosa, who is based in Toronto. "But sometimes they affect you so much that you design the city around those 15 horrible days."

He added: "Plan for those 200 wonderful days. And when you plan around those 200 nice days, then even the snow days are not going to be that bad.”

Penalosa said the Twin Cities must also tackle its net deficit of Millenials.

"You get all these millennials coming to these wonderful Universities and colleges that you have in Minneapolis and St. Paul, you have them here for four years, and then they leave," Penalosa said. "You’ve got to create fantastic cities so that after those four years they say I want to stay.”

Attracting and retaining talent is only becoming more important in an ever globalized world, he said, where "the best people can live where they want."

He praised the linear park that has been created around the Mississippi River. "But now it has to be interwoven into the city so that it is walkable and it is bikeable [from] downtown, the city center," Penalosa said.

Regarding cycling, Penalosa said that being named the second-best city in the country by a magazine could be a curse if the city rests on its laurels.

"I wish they had told you you were 87th," Penalosa said. "Don’t benchmark yourself with your cycling to Dallas or Houston or Atlanta. … You’ve got to benchmark yourself to the Copenhagens of the world, with Copenhagen and Paris and Berlin and Vancouver and Portland."

He urged city leaders to design a city that does not need to be traveled by car, noting that many families spend a large chunk of their incomes on automobiles.

"Historians 50 years from now are going to think that we were crazy," Penalosa said. "We were spending 1 out of 4 dollars for something that we use half an hour in the morning, half an hour in the evening and it’s parked for 23 hours."

He said allowing people to give up their cars -- or downsize from two to one -- is the most impactful thing government can do for a community. "“If we design a city around cars, what do we get? We just get more cars," Penalosa said.

Turning to the theme of his organization, Penalosa said the area should consider the needs of children and the elderly when it plans its public spaces.

"If it’s great for an 8 [year old] and great for an 80 [year old] then its going to be great for everyone, from zero to 100," Penalosa said. "We’ve got to stop building cities as if everyone was 30 years old and athletic.”

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