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A Dissenting Take on the Nicollet Mall Planning Process

While many are excited about the prospect of James Corner Field Operations redesigning the Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis, one commenter sees some of the worst dynamics of top-down planning at work.
January 8, 2015, 10am PST | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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"The biggest impediment to improving Nicollet Mall is not the aesthetic of the street, but the buildings themselves and their poor frontages," according to Nathaniel M Hood. "This fact is apparently lost among the Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District’s Board of Directors, a self-selected group of downtown building owners, property managers, and corporate stakeholders."

Because, according to Hood, Nicollett Mall's troubles are a result of buildings, "[those] advocating for urban improvements are precisely the one’s who are creating most of the problems."

Hood's concern, however, is not just with questions of urban design, but also with the politics of the redesign process (James Corner Field Operations produced a new round of redesign proposals, released to the public in December). Instead of a community engagement process in the tradition of Jane Jacobs, Hood sees a top-down planning process in the tradition of Robert Moses:

The city starts the process by hiring the best outside ‘star’ consultant to tell us the things we already know. They draft renderings with the best design software money can buy that includes the finest superimposed human silhouettes unpaid interns can draft. Minimum engagement requirements are hit by having people fill out online surveys while business and political insiders, not the countless thousands of daily users or small business owners, drive the process forward.

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Published on Monday, January 5, 2015 in Streets MN
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