Hundreds of thousands will come here for the Super Bowl; millions more will see us on TV. It’s a rare opportunity to make a good impression. If all goes well, Minneapolis will be touted as a well run, civilized city — and then we’ll be even more self-satisfied, if possible.
But what could we change to make a better impression?
People remember the character of a place, the particular combination of elements that make it distinct. Amsterdam: lots of bikes and canals. Paris: broad boulevards with monumental statuary. New York: blocks and blocks of tall buildings.
What makes us special? Skyways and politeness.
That might be enough to leave a lasting impression. The skyways will be a novelty; the politeness, a confirmation of our vague reputation as a nice place.
But let’s imagine that we could make some improvements to make the city even better for the Super Bowl — and, incidentally, better for those of us who’ll be here after the partying crowds have staggered off to the next Big Game.
In the interests of having fun, boring things like “cost” and “practicality” won’t be an issue here. We’d like your suggestions, as well. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll print the best ones.
Here are a few of my ideas to get you started:
1. An explanation for the “1947” block of black granite. It’s in the park by U.S. Bank Stadium — a polished hunk that says “1947” and nothing else. People might wonder what it commemorates. The answer isn’t thrilling. The block was from the Star Tribune building, which concluded a substantial remodeling in ’47, but a plaque with a photo might help folks imagine the space as it once was.
Either that, or just put granite blocks marked with random years all over downtown, and when people ask, look away and say, “We don’t talk about this to outsiders.”
2. Rerecord the messages on the crosswalk assistants. Right now the voice barks “WAIT!” with curt urgency. It makes you think you’ve already walked into traffic, and it’s trying to haul you back.
Change the voice so it says, “Hold your horses there” when you’re supposed to wait, and says, “OK, then” when you can go.
3. Add an iconic welcoming sign for downtown. It’s not like people don’t know they’re downtown, but think of Las Vegas or Reno — each has a sign that defines the place. Imagine a metal arch that says MINNEAPOLIS in blue letters, with a motto like “Blue Water, Blue Lips” or something.
The arch would be placed by the I-35W ramp on Washington Avenue S., making a clear demarcation. Even though the area has a newish name — East Town — its boundaries feel indistinct, and a big bright arch would say, “You’re downtown now.”
4. Brightly painted curbs. Why not? Blue for east-west streets and red for north-south. As long as we’re at it, paint the street names in big letters on the road, like Google Maps come to life.
5. A large art object. Every city wants a fanciful object that defines it in the minds of tourists — something they can use as a background for Instagrams and selfies. We have “Spoonbridge and Cherry,” but it’s on the edge of downtown, cut off from Loring Park by a great chasm of highway.
We need something in the Commons park. Perhaps an enormous fondue fork as a companion piece to “Spoonbridge.” Or a statue of Paul Bunyan with a plaque that says, “If you rub his ankle, you will have luck for a year.” A nearby kiosk could sell T-shirts that said “I rubbed Paul Bunyan’s ankle,” and lo, a tradition is born.
Or we could get a statue of Paul with his Blue Ox, except it’s really the Pillsbury Doughboy in cerulean hue, down on all fours. OK, maybe not.
6. Consistent trash cans. Not the most vital and important part of a city’s image, you’d think — but you’d be wrong. Neat, strong, trash cans with a hint of elegant design say, “We thought about the little things.” It shows that this is a city that wants to make the necessary stuff attractive. The downtown trash cans by bus shelters look nice; elsewhere you’ll find dismal black plastic bins that look like out-of-work robots.
A city can boast beautiful bridges and magnificent fountains, but if the trash bins are overflowing and there’s garbage in the parks, people think your glories are past, and your present is a mess.
Got other ideas? Share them with us.