Thursday, November 20, 2008

Midway Architecture Garden — Velodrome

What in the world is a "velodrome"? For those who don't follow the sport of cycling, that's a fancy name for a bicycle racing track. They're big. 250 meters. We have one in Blaine at the National Sports Center. The problem is that it's outdoors, so its wood surface gets exposed to the elements. It will need to be replaced soon.

The best place to put up  a replacement would be in the Midway area where it would have the easiest access to student athletes while also serving the recreational needs of bio-science workers.

Rather than putting up a simple replacement, we should build an indoor facility that can be used year-round. The infield is bigger than the floor area of the Target Center, so there's plenty of room for other events than cycling to be held there. The cost-efficiencies of a multi-use facility are part of what makes it an exciting opportunity. Programming and usage could readily be tied in with a multi-use facility for tennis, badminton, volleyball and other sports (See blog entry "Iconic Architecture"). Like everything else in our architecture garden, it needs to be designed with enough visual appeal to leave viewers out of breath before they've taken a lap on the track.

Midway Architecture Garden — Aquatics

It's the most underutilized geographic area in the Twin Cities. The Midway area is immediately adjacent to the bio-science zones of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, is situated within just a few miles of most of the major academic institutions in the Twin Cities and yet is populated with relatively low-value warehouses. An architecture garden would be a great way to serve the redevelopment interests of this area. So, what to put in it?

The Midway YMCA is looking for a new home. And the U of M's aquatic center is over booked. They'd like to see another competitive swim venue in the metro area for high school and other amateur meets. We need another aquatic center in the metro area.

The Water Cube in Beijing has demonstrated that a natatorium (a building dedicated to swimming) can be architecturally significant. While every college would like to have a swimming pool on campus, wouldn't the ability to use something of the calibre of the Water Cube draw more students from around the region and around the world to Twin Cities colleges, particularly if there were great transit access? 

The transit access is there or can be readily provided. What's needed is a cooperative effort to create a facility that can be shared by multiple schools and serve as a superior recruitment tool for all of them. Our focus shouldn't be on how one local school distinguishes itself from another local school, but in how all local colleges distinguish themselves from colleges around the world. Having an architecture garden whose facilities could serve the needs of area students would be a superior way to do that.

Different stakeholders will have different needs. Swim meets currently held at the U of M make use of the Olympic pool length. The smaller private colleges will generally only require a collegiate rather than Olympic-sized swimming pool. This could be readily accommodated with removable bulkheads. The YMCA doesn't want to pay to maintain a large Olympic pool. A new facility could still work for them. The aquatic centers built for the Sydney and Beijing Olympics and under construction for London's 2012 effort feature facilities that also include more recreationally oriented facilities as well as the competitive venues. Their revenue streams and usage generally complement one another.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Architecture Gardens

If you've been following along this blog, you know that I'm a big believer in iconic architecture. But iconic architecture only really works as a community development tool if it has scale, location and a surrounding area that can take advantage of the redevelopment opportunities created by the attraction.

Iconic architecture is typically located along a waterfront. But what if your location isn't all that hot? The answer is even more scale. This doesn't mean just a bigger building or monument, but more of them. Build a whole neighborhood of iconic architecture. That was the successful approach of Valencia, Spain.

Many years ago, Valencia rerouted a river that would regularly flood the middle of town. This was a great engineering feat. However, it left a dry riverbed in the middle of the city. This area was underdeveloped for years. Showing remarkable vision and daring, city leaders commissioned local son and star architect Santiago Calatrava to design a series of breathtaking structures that have become international attractions. This includes a science museum, planetarium, opera house and arboretum. Another architect contributed an aquatic exhibit, which is also architecturally beautiful. The entire development is referred to as the City of Arts and Sciences.

The result of this effort is a 58 percent increase in tourism, 5,000 new middle to upper bracket homes and 16 new hotels.

There are two great places to implement this approach in the greater Minneapolis-Saint Paul area. The first would be the Midway area of Saint Paul, with an emphasis on athletic facilities. The second would be Brooklyn Park near the Target Corp. campus. Each development would include elements that are likely to be built anyway. An architecture garden approach would simply cluster community amenities together in one place and elevate the quality of architecture. This creates significant synergies that will result in a greater impact than if the facilities were built as stand-alone structures.
I'll talk more about what might be included in each garden in a future post.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Bilbao Effect

Truly great architecture can transform a city district. This was dramatically demonstrated in Bilbao, Spain with Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum. It draws around 1 million tourists per year, 80 percent of whom come just to see the museum. Hotels and swank boutiques have filled in what used to be an industrial waterfront. The results have been termed "the Bilbao Effect," and have become a model for cities across the world looking to rejuvenate a district.

In our region, the Milwaukee Museum of Art has tried to emulate that model. To a much lesser degree, the Guthrie Theater (shown) in Minneapolis has used architecture to boost nearby development. However, the Guthrie probably tries too hard to fit in with its environment. Game-changing landmark architecture doesn't fit in. It says to the world that it's the king of the hill.

From a visual standpoint, the Weisman Art Museum has this look, but it doesn't have the scale or location to allow it to serve as a catalyst for further development.

What all these venues have in common is a location along a waterfront. What do you do if you want to create something dramatic that can increase development but that's away from the water or other scenic location?

Valencia, Spain figured out the answer. Rather than just one great piece of architecture, they commissioned an entire neighborhood of truly stunning buildings. The impact has been enormous. I'll talk more about it in my next entry.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Commuter Rail for Event Traffic

We need more transit choices. We need to get more people out of their cars. We also need to spend a lot less money on parking infrastructure.

A focus on facilities in the Midway area would help us achieve these goals. The Minneapolis-Saint Paul area has the best underpinnings for event traffic of perhaps any city in North America. The new Central Corridor LRT line will connect downtown parking in Minneapolis and Saint Paul with events at the U of M and the Midway area. For sporting events, there's probably no single rail line that connects more venues. (See the green line on the above graphic for the Central Corridor LRT route). There is one that matches it, though.

The proposed Red Rock Commuter Rail line (see the red line on the above graphic) would use the same station as the Northstar Commuter Rail line in Minneapolis, near Target Field, and Union Depot in Saint Paul. If desired, it could stop behind the Minnesota Science Museum, providing a quick walk to the Xcel Energy Center. This line runs right past the current AmTrack station in the Midway area. It also passes through the U of M East Bank Campus, providing access to their many sports venues.

This same line also passes through the heart of the Midway bio-science zone. If we want to connect bio-science workers to athletic facilities, this is potentially one good way to do it.

With very little additional investment, we could have a rail system that could carry thousands of passengers to events at the largest venues in Minneapolis-Saint Paul. Even if we don't use the line as a link to Hastings, its primary purpose, opening it up for event traffic may make a lot of sense. The savings on parking infrastructure could be significant. There's no reason that major venues in the Midway area have to mean a significant increase in automobile traffic.

Iconic Architecture

Building sports facilities in the Midway area isn't simply a functional exercise. Each college naturally wants their own facilities on-campus, both for the convenience of students and institutional pride. 

To overcome that, we need to support facilities that would be difficult for a solo-institution to support while at the same time being designed with a flare and scale that would draw international attention. We want prospective college students to be excited about attending a Minneapolis-Saint Paul college because they have the opportunity to use the best and most exciting facilities of their kind in the world. The same would go for attracting bio-science workers to our region.

The image shown here is of a proposed multi-purpose sports complex that could be configured for basketball, tennis, volleyball, badminton, wresting and weightlifting. There would be nothing else like it in the world. With 15 potential courts, it would be an ideal location for all kinds of regional and national tournaments. It could be used by area colleges, high schools, park districts, clubs and many others. The space between courts could be used for sports-medicine clinics, offices, classrooms, treadmills and free-weights, restaurants and other uses.

As part of a collection of similarly iconic sports architecture, this complex can become an architectural symbol of our region.

Attracting the Best and the Brightest

There's a perception that people move to a certain community because of a job. That's not necessarily true.

A study by Next Generation Consulting found that "Three out of four young people under the age of 28 first pick a place to live, and then find a job."

What does it take to attract young people to the Twin Cities? While the change of seasons is nice, I don't think the weather in January is a primary attractor. We've got to have amenities that are attractive to the kinds of people we wish to retain. With one of the region's goals being to become an international center for bio-science, it would be wise to focus on what that group is interested in.

University United in Saint Paul took notes on a presentation by urban planner Don Carter in June of 2003. "Technology workers, especially those in the biotech sector, are especially interested in health and wellness issues, and place a premium on living and working in a community that has an abundance of  recreational and athletic facilities."

Ideally, we should focus on athletic facilities that can be placed where they'd be attractive to young people that we want to attract to our community while at the same time being close to our bio-science zones. Is there an ideal location for this in the Twin Cities region? Yes! 

The Midway area of Saint Paul has hundreds of acres of land that's ripe for redevelopment that's centrally located within around 2 miles of most major college campuses in the Minneapolis Saint Paul area and is within blocks of areas that are designated for bio-science development. This same area can readily be served by the existing Associated Colleges of the Twin Cities bus circulator as well the Central Corridor LRT and proposed Red Rock Commuter Rail line.

What Makes a Great City?

Great cities stand for something or have something that stands for them. The greatest cities do both.

The easiest way for a city to stand for something is to be a capital of a nation. Paris, London, Tokyo, Beijing and others easily stand out in this way. Another way is to stand out as a financial and business capital. Examples of this include Shanghai, New York City and Sydney. That leaves generally only two openings per country. Are the rest of us out of luck? No. 

Cities can also stand out as capitals of industries that capture the public's imagination. This would include Los Angeles (Hollywood) and San Francisco (Silicon Valley). Atlanta used the 1996 Olympics as a tool to position themselves as the business and cultural "capital" of the American Southeast. Being the home of CNN and Coca-Cola also helps.

Is there a good way for the Twin Cities region to stand out via the above criteria? Sort of. While we are leaders in numerous business categories and home to many Fortune 500 corporations, they aren't the kind of industries that generally capture the public imagination. However, they're something from which we can build.

If we really want to stand out, we need to do it through icons. This can be iconic architecture and iconic transportation. London, New York and San Francisco, in addition to being political, business and/or industry capitals, also have both architectural and transit icons.

While the Twin Cities has some really great architecture and a somewhat unique and well-developed skyway system, there's really nothing that someone in, say, Singapore, would immediately think of if you mentioned Minneapolis or Saint Paul. We can change that!


Welcome to Twin Cities Tomorrow. This site is dedicated to exploring and presenting a vision for how the Twin Cities region of Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minnesota prepares to compete on a world stage. While there are a number of terrific groups exploring basic infrastructure for the metro area and individual cities that do a great job charting their own development, the Twin Cities lacks a compelling vision for how we distinguish ourselves as a region.

To compete, we have to attract and retain the best and the brightest from outside our region while also doing a better job of growing our own talent. To add to the challenge, we need to do all of this under the constraints of immediately challenging economic times with more challenges ahead in the form of an aging population. This demographic shift will require more resources for health care and retirement benefits, putting fiscal pressures on everything else. 

We need to find ways to meet our basic infrastructure needs and stand out while still being friendly to taxpayers. It's a big mission, but with imagination and perseverance, anything is possible!

Please join me on this journey. Your comments and ideas are welcome!