2009 National Planning Conference: AICP Community Planning Workshop

Chicago Avenue Lifesciences Corridor

By John Reinhardt
APA Professional Development Associate

Striking a balance. That theme surfaced again and again at the 2009 AICP Community Planning workshop. The all-day Saturday workshop, which focused on the "Chicago Avenue Lifesciences Corridor," attracted 25 planners from around the country who partnered with more than 20 community residents to develop a vision for the neighborhood.

APA participants quickly learned that the idea of a Lifesciences Corridor was directed from the state level in an effort to create incentives for development in the area. This concept, neighborhood residents explained, did not always align with the local community's vision for the corridor. The planners and neighborhood residents set to work untangling these sometimes divergent priorities — of government and community members; between established communities and emerging immigrant populations; of institutions seeking to grow; and among those who seek to preserve historic buildings and those who advocate for new construction. The workshop was the beginning of striking a balance, determining priorities, and ensuring community voices are heard as the city begins a planning process focused on this corridor.

The day began with a tour of the study area led by Bill Vanderwall of Vanderwall Associates, who has more that 10 years of experience working in the neighborhood. The buses rolled past retail and housing stock along the corridor and in surrounding neighborhoods. After disembarking the buses, planners and community members walked along the Midtown Greenway and learned about the planning process for the biking and pedestrian trail from Midtown Greenway Coalition's Executive Director Tim Springer. Dave Burelli of Ryan Companies gave a quick tour of the Midtown Exchange Building, a converted Sears warehouse that now houses office, retail, and residential uses. Participants reboarded buses for a tour of neighborhood institutions, then headed back to the Hans Christian Andersen School for a work session.

After a brief introduction from Paul Mogush, principal planner with the City of Minneapolis, and Phil Carlson from Bonestroo, participants divided into five groups to discuss issues and develop priorities around:

  • Transportation/Transit
  • Livability
  • Urban Design/Land Use
  • Housing
  • Economic Development

It was a large task.

"While there is no way to address all of the concerns of the neighborhood in six hours," observed Phil Carlson, one of the workshop co-chairs, "you can generate a lot of good ideas that feed into further efforts." Suzanne Rhees, workshop co-chair, added, "It's exciting to see the variety of perspectives represented in the room. A fresh set of eyes opens up many ideas and possibilities."

Kim Radel, an employee at the Abbott Northwestern Hospital, one of the neighborhood's main anchor institutions, agreed: "It's a great opportunity for residents and employers to hear the variety of perspectives that planners who are not so close to the issues can bring."

After each of two working sessions, a spokesperson from the groups reported back their proposals. Often, linkages between the tables were discovered, and knowledge was exchanged. Chaka Mkali, youth/adult organizer for Hope Community, thought that the process of discussion and open sharing of ideas was incredibly valuable: "This type of workshop has the potential for citizens to be engaged in the issues that will influence them directly." He hopes for additional opportunities to bring more voices to the table on the continuing policy and design discussions.

A neighborhood resident for 38 years, Joanne Micensky noted that this was the first event of this kind that she had attended. "This was a great workshop," she said. "I see a lot of connections being made. It was very well focused and organized, and I especially liked the different breakout groups."

In his closing remarks, City Councilman Robert Lilligren noted that he hopes the workshop is just the start of the discussions that will be taking place regarding the future of the neighborhood — his words again eliciting the goal of finding balance and prioritizing inclusiveness in the planning process.

Following the final briefbacks, information from each group, including conceptual maps, policy guidance, and questions for follow up, was collected and recorded. The information will be compiled into a report.

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