Death by a thousand cuts

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“Death by a thousand cuts” was a description of the Ford Plant task force that found resonance with the breakout group I worked with at Monday night¹s meeting. Our assigned task was, in 50 minutes, to wade through a list several pages long of goals and principles that were supposed to govern the alternative plans created for the 125-acre site. The list, which was not prioritized, was collated from a 45 minute small group brainstorming session that had taken place at the meeting prior to this one and ranged all the way from the cosmic and visionary to the particular and detailed.

In addition, we were also presented with three alternative vision statements synthesized from the dozen or so vision statements submitted via e-mail by task force members to the city¹s department of Planning and Economic Development. All three vision statements sounded alike, with each calling for multi-use redevelopment. None called for the takeover of the site by a single manufacturer of, say, green equipment wind turbines, hybrid bus engines, etc which is certainly one of the possible uses for the site.

It took about five minutes of confusion over precisely what we were supposed to accomplish with the list of goals and principles a period of time that, in the manner of such moments, quickly devolved into a futile attempt to line-edit the list for the group to discard the list in a fit of frustration and set about brainstorming broader, more visionary goals we¹d like to see incorporated into the site. These ranged from proposals that the site should become a catalyst for the transformation of transportation in Highland Village, St. Paul, and the metro region by emphasizing pedestrian, bike, and inter-modal mass transit to calls for development that would encourage civic engagement, be fully sustainable, achieve a minimal energy “footprint,” utilizing the smallest amount of energy input compatible with the sites ultimate use or uses, to a call for the site to build upon the best of what the Twin Cities already offers the world in education, research, employment, investment, arts and culture, and community. Perhaps most important of all, it was agreed by our group that development of the Ford plant site should be adaptable to whatever changes in technology or the environment might occur in the decades ahead.

To achieve any or all of these goals will be a tall order. But at least the members of the group I worked with ended the evening with a palpable sense of accomplishment and more than a little sense of relief from the frustration many of us have been feeling since the task force was convened last month.