In the summer of 2005, I was hired by City of Minneapolis Ward 7 Council Member Lisa Goodman as a summer intern. Among the many tasks I was assigned was to coordinate an effort to work with area stakeholders to improve ‘Triangle Park,’ a once forgotten corner of the city ridden with homeless people and drug trafficking now gleaning with newly constructed luxury condos. At the time Council Member Goodman was receiving numerous calls from area residents, many of them recent transplants from the suburbs, complaining of nuisances associated with park and suggesting that she do something about it.
Over the course of the summer I pulled together a team of stakeholders including area business, residents, city staff, neighborhood staff, design professionals, and a local NGO that met regularly to define and address the issue. The greatest achievement over the course of the summer was to partner with Thrivent Financial for Lutherans and local residents in a community building event where we replanted wooden planters that were remnants of city beautification efforts for Mikhail Gorbachev’s historic visit to Minneapolis in 1990. Although we made progress toward bringing attention to the park, the summer passed quickly and our efforts proved to merely provide a band-aide remedy to what was a complex and chronic problem.
As I pondered the topic of my capstone thesis on in the fall of 2005, the challenges and opportunities associated with Triangle Park led me to decide to take it up as a thesis project. I developed a thesis question with my advisors Ann Forsyth and Carissa Schively and Triangle Park stakeholders: How can neglected public space be reprogrammed to promote social interaction, community building, public health and a gateway in a major American downtown core?
Over the course of the academic year I worked with community stakeholders, design professionals and University of Minnesota faculty to address this question. I intentionally decided to remain community and politically grounded and focused on a project that could actually be implemented with a ‘toolkit’ of deliverables that would provide useful for future implementers – most notably a video documentary created to clearly and effectively articulate project context, community goals and design possibilities.
The outcome of this work has been the development of two NGOs and major fundraising efforts to implement various goals addressed in the thesis – namely the creation of an urban dog park and non-profit devoted to the enhancement of Triangle Park.
I thank everyone who has participated in this effort for their invaluable contribution toward improving a once neglected corner of the world.