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Monday, August 28, 2017

Minneapolis from the River

I recently had the opportunity to spend a full day on the Mississippi River as it meanders through Minneapolis. I toured the waterfront by boat above St. Anthony Falls in the morning (from the downtown Minneapolis Central Riverfront to the Upper Harbor), and spent the afternoon below the Falls in the lower gorge. Activities on and along the river as it passes through Minneapolis remain a series of somewhat isolated hidden gems - with rare exception, we haven’t yet placed the river at the center of our civic life and identity, nor have we fully connected the dots on how it functions as a whole system of experiences. Can we design new ways to bring the river into our lives, and make access to it easier for urban dwellers? Or will we continue to perceive and experience the Mississippi as an edge… a formerly industrial blue frontier accessible to those adventurers who seek it out, but lying just outside the awareness of most citizens and visitors? My advice: Get on a boat. You’ll discover the potential for night docking at the Sample Room for dinner, or see day-trippers sunbathing on the hidden beach near the Lake Street Bridge. It’s not entirely clear to visitors or even residents how to engage with the Mississippi River, but as the St. Anthony Falls Lock in downtown Minneapolis moves ever closer to reuse and redevelopment (pending the US Army Corps of Engineers’ recommendations), and as Water Works Park gets underway, the potential grows for a real center of gravity for people-river relations. A desire for greater access to watercraft beyond kayaks and canoes may soon take hold, and is already evident in the new Minneapolis Water Taxi that is plying the waters of the upper river this summer out of Boom Island. The Lock, which until 2015 enabled barges to traverse the 49-foot elevation change between the river above the Falls and below, is a unique asset in the context of a return to the River. The site is already on the radar of the National Park Service, who provides tours of the Lock, and Meet Minneapolis, the convention and visitor association. Both see it as a desirable location for visitor services and programming in the heart of downtown. Over the coming years, we may have a generational opportunity to place one of the world’s great rivers at the center of our urban experience and identity, situating Minneapolis squarely in public consciousness as a great waterfront city. (Kjersti Monson is managing an initiative of Friends of the Lock & Dam to repurpose the St. Anthony Falls Lock to a world class visitor and interpretive center seamlessly integrated with Water Works Park)

Monday, August 7, 2017

Time to Stop Solving for Healthcare

As the recent failures to pass a healthcare bill in the U. S. Senate suggests, the biggest problem facing healthcare is not a lack of good ideas, it is a lack of good problems. Tom Fisher and I co-authored an article recently published in The Huffington Post entitled, “Biggest Threat to Health? Solving the Wrong Problems.” In it, we discuss how the standard approach to problem solving is “elegantly solving for the wrong problems over, and over, and over again” an approach that is not only inefficient but also dangerous. We describe how the default for addressing wicked problems (complex and dynamic problems), “is to quickly pick an aspect of the problem to focus on or worse, jump directly to a technical fix,” which has more potential to compound the problem than to solve it.

In the article we note, ‘there is little doubt that the best way to arrive at new and creative solutions is to start from new and creative ways of understanding your problem.” To do so, we outline 5 tangible design strategies for reframing problems: “Outsider Input,” “Adjust Your Scale,” “Get Uncomfortable,” “Ask Different Questions,” and “Change Your Format.” As the article notes, “making the “familiar unfamiliar” is the key to reframing or identifying different problems, and it may just be the new lens we need when looking to change the healthcare conversation in this country. Jess Roberts

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Coming Tsunami of Bikes

Bike sharing has become a global phenomenon, with companies that didn’t even exist a few years ago, like Ofo, Mobike, and Bluegogo renting some 20 million bikes a day in China. And these private-sector companies are now coming to America. Renting in a little more than one day the number of bikes rented in the U.S. last year, these bike-sharing operations have a business model that floods cities with inexpensive bikes at a very low – or no - cost. Whether pervasive and nearly free bike sharing turns Americans into cyclists, it will have a huge impact on our streets and public realm, with more dedicated bike lanes, parking lots, and support infrastructure. This will change not only how Americans move around, but also how American cities look and function. Tom Fisher

Dutch Design

I spent a week in and around Amsterdam, Holland, getting my fill of one of the great cities of the world. Two things stood out as lessons for the United States. First, that city has made biking an integral part of its infrastructure, with streets layered with different paving for pedestrians, bikes, cars, and trams. While sometimes seemingly chaotic, those multi-modal streets are where the rest of the world is heading. Second, that city has some of the most sophisticated multi-family housing in the world, with mostly well-designed, multi-story buildings allowing for a wide variety of sizes and types of apartments, stores, and offices behind simple, well-detailed exteriors. The best of Dutch housing will be the subject of an exhibition next academic year in Rapson Hall. Tom Fisher

Design and the Liberal Arts

I gave a keynote address on design thinking and the liberal arts to the Associations of Departments of English and of Foreign Languages Midwest meeting and joined my colleagues Virajita Singh and Remi Douah in leading afternoon design-thinking workshops. The workshops generated a lot of creative ideas, such as the “gamification” of the liberal arts in which students would read literature in order to play educational games. And I argued, In the keynote, that while STEM fields have overshadowed the liberal arts, the former have triggered their own demise as repetitive and predictive knowledge gets converted to software. What can’t be digitized?  The creative and caring skills of a liberal-arts education.  Tom Fisher

Friday, April 21, 2017

Anti-terrorist urban design

As terrorist attacks continue to happen, most recently in Paris, we need think more creatively about how we respond to such attacks and what they mean for our cities. This piece in the magazine, World Finance, contains an interview with MDC Director, Thomas Fisher, about how urban design can offer some important anti-terrorism strategies.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Importance of Street Trees

This piece in Minneapolis's Star Tribune on the proper planting and care of street trees is part of a larger effort at the MDC on creating healthy communities, in which environmental, social, economic, and human health are inseparable and essential. Here is the link to the article: