Minneapolis leaders are eager to do a makeover of the tattered Nicollet Mall, and they announced last week they are tapping four consultants to offer their visions of the city’s most important street.
Returning Nicollet to its 1960s glory has been outgoing Mayor R.T. Rybak’s dream, so even though the state has not yet promised to kick in to the $30 million project, the city launched a competition among four firms.
I couldn’t wait until August, so I contacted a diverse group of creative types for their ideas.
Start with the skyways, says public artist Andrew Leicester, a nationally recognized public artist who created the arch by the Metrodome.
“[Forget] public art,” he said. “People go downtown to shop and people-watch.”
He envisions cantilevered decks jutting out from skyways, with tables and coffee carts on them.
“They [skyways] are such wonderful focal points,” Leicester said. “But you need access to them from the street,” so outside stairs are in order.
New lighting is also needed, he said. “At night it’s dark and gray; it looks like a colonoscopy,” he said.
He says too many urban plans are BRW, “boring, rolling and worthless.” What’s needed are more unique shops and restaurants.
Philip Blackburn, Innova director of the Minnesota Composers Forum, would, of course, incorporate music.
“Listening to our environment and paying attention to our soundscape leads to making better choices about urban design and reducing noise pollution,” he said.
As a composer and environmental sound artist, Blackburn suggested open pipes of various lengths to transform traffic noise into melodies. He also likes rumble strips in the sidewalk calculated to make sounds as you drag a wheeled case over the surface, “whisper dishes” embedded in walls or seating areas that create acoustic focal points.
Blackburn also likes wind harps and wind flutes at street level or rooftops that resonate, allowing us to hear the weather. And my favorite idea: marimba benches and musical furniture.
Zeus Jones, a Minneapolis branding agency, would make Nicollet look a lot like their company. At their Lyndale office, everyone works together at one giant table. They brainstormed for me and came up with this vision:
“We think it would be pretty amazing to transform Nicollet Mall into a huge public commons for collaboration and co-working (call it ‘Nicollet Commons’) that would grow our local economy and culture by helping to spark all kinds of innovative, entrepreneurial projects here,” the staff sent in an e-mail.
“There would be enclosed, modular meeting spaces where people from various industries could convene year-round, Wi-Fi enabled pods where individuals could work outdoors during warm-weather months, a ‘Speaker’s Corner’ at each end of the strip where professionals and citizens could give talks on topics they’re passionate about. Also, one entire block of the Commons would be given over to a scientist, artist, athlete or inventor on a monthly rotation, as a testing ground for new ideas.”
Todd Boss, a poet who has also collaborated on public art, would move away from big retail, and get rid of the buses.
“The buses are loud, disruptive and grimy, they belch on my food, and they hog too much streetscape,” said Boss.
He’d prefer free cable cars and using the extra space for trees and permanent vendor booths for entrepreneurs, farmers, chefs and artisans.
“In winter I’d flood the whole street, put the cable cars on sleigh runners, and let people skate,” Boss wrote. Also, “We should combine our love of music and skyways, and build a floating skyway-level bandshell that showers free music on the streets below.”
Now, back to Leicester. When pressed to conceive of a piece of public art, he suggested one he once offered to put on the NSP Plaza, but with a twist: a solar-powered piece of wind art, positioned behind a sculpture of Mary Tyler Moore so that it would appear to blow her skirt up.
Top that, mayor.