07 May Good to Great: Placemaker Gil Penalosa visits the Twin Cities
This week, internationally renowned placemaking expert Gil Penalosa is visiting the Twin Cities during the Saint Paul Riverfront Corporation’s Third Annual Placemaking Residency. The residency includes 16 events over 4 days with Penalosa to get residents and planners collaborating on how to bring the metro area from good to great in terms of its parks, transit, mobility and overall livability.
It’s not as simple as it may seem, said Penalosa, the esteemed former Commissioner of Parks, Sport and Recreation in Bogota, Colombia, at the Textile Center in Minneapolis on Monday during the opening event. “It’s much more difficult to go from good to great than bad to great,” he added.
As the executive director of Toronto’s 8-80 Cities, Penalosa’s idea is that if you create a city that’s good for an 8 year old and good for an 80 year old, you will create a successful city for everyone.
The Twin Cities is on the right track with multimodal transit infrastructure, improved green spaces and pedestrian friendly development getting special attention from planners and policymakers in recent years. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to sit idle, says Patrick Seeb, executive director of Saint Paul Riverfront Corporation.
“[Penalosa] will help push us to think more boldly about what the opportunities are in the Twin Cities,” he said.
Those opportunities might vary greatly across the city—from parts of the Cities that are rather advanced in thinking about pedestrian balance and mobility like downtown St. Paul, where an Open Streets event will be held with Penalosa on Thursday, to places like the South Loop in Bloomington where planners are trying to figure out how to better develop the area around the two major transit stops near the Mall of America.
Then there are places somewhere in between, such as Prospect Park. Here organizers are pushing a plan to transform the area north of University Avenue into a vibrant mixed-use center of pedestrian activity around the new Green Line station. Construction on Surly Brewing Company’s new destination brewery is already underway there, providing a potential anchor for future development, said Dick Gilyard of Prospect Park 2020 while leading a walk with Penalosa on Monday.
Penalosa says there is a tendency for cities in the northern hemisphere to mistakenly plan their infrastructure around the couple harshest days in winter. “When we think this is the norm, we end up with a series of tubes above the city that sucks the life out of the city,” Penalosa said. “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing,” he added.
One of the key goals of the residency is to pull ordinary citizens into the planning process by giving them the tools, vision and lingo to be able to participate in meaningful ways, according to Seeb.
“People want to make a difference in their neighborhood, and the more they can help shape where they live, the more likely they are to stay there and reinvent and improve the neighborhood,” Seeb said.
With the help of Penalosa and an array of partner organizations, Seeb hopes the residency will empower people all over the Twin Cities to get involved in the planning and development of their communities.
Penalosa will be making appearances at places like Central High School in St. Paul to help students and community leaders explore how the school can better connect to its surrounding neighborhoods. He’ll stop by the University of Minnesota to promote biking and walking in the University district. He’ll also lead a walking tour of downtown Minneapolis and be the keynote speaker at the 20th Annual Great River Gathering Thursday evening.