Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

Public Gathering Places

Dateline: 3:20 pm October 14, 2009 Filed under:

Public gathering spaces are fundamental to a city, and Minneapolis needs one. For everyday use, a meeting place, informal strolls, just sitting around and even spontaneous celebrating, every city should have a place that pops in to the collective mind of the populus.

London has Trafalgar Square, New York City has Times Square (one could argue New York has several), Chicago has Millennium Park (“meet me at ‘the Bean'”), Cincinnati has Fountain Square, Madison has Library Mall, and the list goes on. My hometown needs one.

Just how badly we need a public gathering place became evident last week following the Minnesota Twins riveting 12th inning victory over the Detroit Tigers in a one-game playoff that decided the division championship. Following the game, my friend Mike and I didn’t feel like calling it a night, and we sure didn’t want to board a crowded train to head home. Not yet. For lack of a better alternative, as there was no natural place to go hang out and celebrate, we walked several blocks to the nearest decent bar for a drink. (At least when the new Target Field opens next year, one will no longer have to walk several blocks just to find a variety of good bars.)

Another friend of mine watched the game at work. When it was over, she pondered heading downtown to celebrate with fellow revelers. However, when she considered where that single gathering place might be, nothing came to mind. That is because we don’t have one, and that is a shame. Instead, she went shopping at Target.

Don’t get me wrong, Minneapolis has an exceptional amount of public space. Our parks system is world-renowned, but except for the lakes they encircle, they are mostly linear and not centrally-located. We have miles of trails and countless locations for outdoor recreation and events, but a spontaneous celebration at 10PM doesn’t make sense at the Lake Harriet Bandshell.

Cities need a public place for gatherings, formal and informal, inlcuding celebrations and protests (don’t get me wrong, the irony of witnessing a “tea party” being held in Millennium Park in Chicago, one of the city’s biggest investments of public money, is not lost on me). It needs to be that one place that is attractive and well-managed and naturally pops in to everyones mind as a gathering place.

Downtown Minneapolis has made some great strides in the past few years, building attractive new buildings, improving street frontage, starting light rail service, adding residences, and most recently converting one-way streets to two-way and starting the Downtown Improvement District. But we still need a gathering place, a park or square, a natural place for the public to meet. It will take political courage and money, but the payoff is a place we can all share.

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