The river: “Voting for Vitality” programs asks, who uses it and what do they think?

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More riverfront movers and shakers have seen a Twin Cities River Rats show than have visited the Carl Kroening Interpretive Center, and more than a third of them dined or drank at an establishment along the river in the last week. That’s a snapshot of who was “Voting for Vitality” July 26 at the new headquarters of the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization, MWMO, 2522 Marshall St. NE.

The 70-some voters (using polling software and clickers for instant results) said 41 percent of them live within a quarter-mile, 15 percent within a mile, and 63 percent work within a quarter mile of the river. Environmentalist Don Shelby moderated the voting.

MWMO Executive Director/administrator Doug Snyder gave building tours after the program, the Minneapolis Riverfront Partnership’s (MRP) celebration of “Ten Successes in Riverfront Vitality,” all to launch a Riverfront Vitality Indicators Project. The expectation is that while it may take decades to dramatically physically transform specific sites, there must be ways to measure the less visible positive changes.

Northeast’s representative on the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, Liz Wielinski, will head the project and the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs at the University of Minnesota will set up the measures and gather the data. Categories: Environmental Health, Human Access, Human Activity, and Economic Health.

The voting program produced these guiding thoughts:

Most important measure of environmental health? Forty-one percent said “water quality,” 29 percent voted for something having to do with the shoreline, 18 percent said wildlife diversity, and the rest said stormwater runoff.

In the “human activities” category 52 percent of voters saw the existence of venues as the indicator. Forty-two percent were interested in measuring “who” uses the amenities.

Two already existing measures of economic health are property taxes and estimated market value. The central riverfront around downtown for example, changed in value from $25 million to $475 million in a transformation that’s taken about 40 years, journalist Linda Mack and MRP board member, said. Fifty-six percent of those voting saw private investment as the next important success measurement, 22 percent said “jobs” and 22 percent said “consumer activity.”

What about air quality? What about the river in winter? Can we count the number of people in the parks? Find out why people aren’t coming to the river? Let’s measure arts and culture. Let’s make sure we go at least 2.5-3 miles on either side of the river in the scope of analysis. These were other questions raised during open discussion.

David Ahlers of Graco now chairs the Minneapolis Riverfront Partnership. He said that when he came here in 1990, “you couldn’t run (along) the river. And now, it’s transformed completely. There is a lot to be proud of.” But he and other speakers talked about taking it from good to great. The MRP “advocates for projects with the power to transform.”

Riverfront vitality successes honored (from a news release):

Environmental Health: Increasing Awareness and Improving Health

  1. Providing River Recreation While Addressing the Threat from Asian Carp: Paradise Cruises, Above the Falls Sports, Friends of the Mississippi River, National Park Service, and Wilderness Inquiry
    These groups are both providing thousands of people with experience on the Mississippi itself and voluntarily stopping use of the locks in order to reduce the risk that Asian Carp will travel up the locks to northern Minnesota fisheries
  2. Recovering Urban Wildlife, Post-Tornado: Xcel Energy, National Park Service, Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, MN Animal Humane Society
    These private and public interests acted quickly to save some of the great blue herons whose rookery was struck by the 2011 tornado, and then raised awareness of the herons’ new rookery on islands off of Marshall Terrace Park and the Xcel Riverside facility, including installing a new Heron-cam.
  3. Modeling River-friendly Development: Mississippi Watershed Management Organization
  4. In its new headquarters, the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization cleaned up environmental contamination, enhanced the natural health and water quality of the Mississippi in an urban setting, and provided a welcoming public education and community gathering space at a key river crossing on Marshall Street NE at the Lowry Bridge.

Economic Health: Increasing Employment and Activity

  1. Developing a New Site and Drawing a National Audience: American Academy of Neurology
    The American Academy of Neurology is both the largest trade association in Minnesota and the largest world association of neurologists, who diagnose, treat and manage disorders of the brain and nervous system. AAN chose a Minneapolis riverfront location for its world headquarters, where it employs 140 people and welcomes nearly 800 neurologists a year from throughout the nation. Actively contributing to a vibrant riverfront, AAN distributed free bike helmets through various activities.
  2. Redeveloping a Riverfront Site and Increasing Jobs: Open Access Technology International
    Open Access Technology International, Inc. (OATI) provides software solutions for the energy industry, including products for energy trading, transmission, and the latest in Smart Grid innovation. OATI added nearly 100 employees since moving to its riverfront headquarters near the Camden Bridge in June 2011, now employing close to 350 people and continuing to add jobs. The beauty, vitality, and diversity of the riverfront and its surrounding neighborhoods attracted OATI to this site.