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From weeHouse to lightHouse: Alchemy Architects debuts high-style, small-footprint prototype

Since Geoffrey Warner and his firm, Alchemy Architects in St. Paul, debuted the weeHouse in 2003, the modular prefabricated housing system, which optimizes many elements of the traditional design-build process, has become a Dwell darling and a hit on the tiny-house circuit. The components of the weeHouse have also been combined and stacked in myriad combinations for clients from Pennsylvania to Marfa, Texas.
Now, Alchemy is premiering another prototype sure to transform modern living. On May 19, at Mia’s Third Thursday: Art of Sustainability, the lightHouse debuts. In an article on the Mia website, lightHouse is described as “a new kind of urban hotel and the next evolution of sustainable living.” Warner goes on to explain that lightHouse fulfills the firm’s desire to “do something between a tent and a house that wasn’t a travel trailer.”
It’s basically a shipping container with a door and windows, insulation, and solar panels, in-floor heating and filtered wastewater systems installed so the lightHouse could exist off the grid. That means it could be mobile, as well—and comfortable. “This will expand the idea of what you can do with limited space—sustainable doesn’t mean it can’t be comfortable,” Warner told Mia. “By inserting a room like this into the urban fabric, places both celebrated and ignored, you can start to talk about living in the city as an interaction with the urban environment.”
The 300-square-foot unit could also be used as an accessory dwelling unit or ADU, but with caveats: In the Twin Cities, regulations stipulate that any sleeping quarters must have a foundation and sewer/water connections. Warner is currently discussing with officials how lightHouse could fulfill pressing needs for ADUs  to increase density, sustainability and the shortage in affordable housing throughout the Twin Cities.

Minneapolis' C-TAP: Free Assistance for Co-Op Founders

The City of Minneapolis is launching a free technical assistance program for budding co-op founders, starting with a two-hour presentation on April 20th.
Dubbed C-TAP (Cooperative Technical Assistance Program), the initiative is an outgrowth of the city’s successful B-TAP (Business Technical Assistance Program) for aspiring small and midsize business owners. Like B-TAP, C-TAP is an immersive program designed to support co-op founders and supporters from ideation through opening—and, in some cases, beyond.
According to the City of Minneapolis, C-TAP will unfold over three years, in three steps.
Step one, happening this year, focuses on “co-op readiness planning” for “groups that are thinking of forming a Co-op…to get a clear picture of the legal, operational and organizational requirements.” It’s basically a crash course in what it means to start a co-op.
Step two, set for next year, will focus on “board member and organizational design.” That means training prospective board members in the basics (and nuances) of co-op governance, as well as “one-on-one technical assistance” for select co-ops that require guidance designing their organizational structures. Step two is available to not-yet-open co-ops and existing co-ops that want or need outside assistance.
Step three, set for 2018, will revolve around “sustainability [and] profitability.” In other words, setting and keeping newly opened co-ops on the path to stable, long-term profitability and prosperity.
C-TAP’s kickoff event, a two-hour presentation dubbed “The State of Co-ops in Minneapolis,” is scheduled for April 20, 5:30-7:30 p.m., at Open Book in Downtown East. The presentation will discuss the city’s current “co-op inventory” and the industries supported by Minneapolis co-ops, introduce and explain C-TAP, and discuss next steps for co-op founders and principals interested in participating.
On May 11, Step one officially gets underway with an eight-week “co-op feasibility” course. Held at the City of Minneapolis Innovation Center in the Crown Roller Mill Building near City Hall, the course’s eight sessions will cover the basics of the co-op development process, co-op business plans, finances, cooperative governance, legalities and other topics. Registration is free and open to the public, but prospective co-op groups need to have at least two participants and have selected a product or service to offer prior to signing up.
The City of Minneapolis is no stranger to co-op support. According to city government, Minneapolis has plowed some $3.5 million into local co-ops through existing development and support initiatives, and has an additional $850,000 outstanding in loans to three in-development co-ops—including Wirth Cooperative Grocery, a first-of-its-kind grocery co-op in the city’s underserved Northside, slated to open later this year.

Good Grocer: Food shopping for inside-out empowerment

Good Grocer, an independent grocery store tucked into a low-slung building near the old Kmart at Lake Street and I-35W, has only been open since mid-June. Yet it’s already received coverage in a half-dozen press outlets, from the Star Tribune and the Huffington Post.
What makes Good Grocer different? Founded by Kurt Vickman, long-serving (now former) pastor at Edina’s Upper Room Church, Good Grocer is part co-op, part nonprofit social enterprise and all good.
According to its website, Good Grocer stocks more than 3,000 items, focusing mostly on fresh fruits and vegetables, and minimally processed meats, dairy and baked goods. Unlike a traditional co-op, whose members pay fees on joining, Good Grocer regulars pay for their memberships by volunteering at least 2.5 hours per month at the store: stocking shelves, working checkout, whatever needs to be done. In return, they get 25 percent discounts to sticker price on everything they buy at the store that month. Good Grocer has at least 300 members and counting.
The goal, says Vickman, is inside-out empowerment — the inverse of the standard outside-in, or top-down, charity model. Though Vickman doesn’t keep detailed statistics on members’ economic status, the immediate neighborhood is among Minneapolis’ poorest precincts.
Good Grocer helps locals who “value eating well, but can’t afford the ever-increasing cost of food” to partake in a food quality experience usually reserved for Whole Foods shoppers. By giving members an outlet to give back to their fellow shoppers in a tangible way, Good Grocer is literally helping people help themselves.
“Low-income people aren’t helpless or giftless,” says Vickman. “We all have gifts and strengths within us. It’s [Good Grocer’s] mission to draw those gifts and strengths out of our members and empower them to define themselves in terms of their potential, not their limitations.”
Good Grocer also addresses its densely populated environs’ glaring lack of fresh food options. Its corner of South Minneapolis doesn’t meet the technical definition of “food desert,” but the Midtown Global Market and the Uptown Cub — the closest reliable sources for fresh food — aren’t close at hand.
“We thought we’d get some positive feedback about our choice of location,” says Vickman, “but we were really taken aback by the number of people who came in to say, ‘Man, thank you for opening a grocery store here.’”
Then again, Good Grocer isn’t a straightforward charity. The blocks to the north and west of Good Grocer are economically diverse — and, in some areas, downright affluent — so a fair number of locals can afford to shop at the store without much regard to price. Good Grocer counts on those folks to patronize the store in numbers and pay full price for their purchases. Full-price customers subsidize in-need members who rely on the 25 percent discount and ensure that Good Grocer can afford to stock top-quality food items.
Indeed, Vickman sees Good Grocer as a low-friction way for people of means to give back in a more meaningful way than simply donating some cans to a food pantry or church around the holidays. The store’s motto is “Let us never tire of doing good,” a Scriptural reference to Christians’ charitable duties. That motto neatly summarizes Vickman’s choice to leave his relatively comfortable appointment at Upper Room and strike out as a social entrepreneur.
“I decided that I wanted to spend more of my time living the themes I was preaching, rather than just talking about them,” he explains.
Despite Good Grocer’s ecclesiastical pedigree, the store is strictly non-denominational — non-religious, actually. “No one’s handing out tracts at the door,” says Vickman, who notes that the store’s membership base is a reflection of the neighborhood’s racial and denominational diversity: first- and second-generation immigrants from Latin America, Asia and Africa shop and volunteer alongside the area’s established European and African-American residents.
“We’re not looking for help or support from outside the community here,” says Vickman. “We’re proud to be creating our own solutions.”

Architect innovates design service for accessory dwellings

They’re known as granny flats, mother-in-law apartments, even Fonzie suites for those who remember the Fonz’s digs above the Cunninghams' garage in the tv show “Happy Days.” For years, accessory dwelling units (ADUs) have been popular throughout the U.S. for homeowners needing an additional, separate living space for a relative (or family friend) adjacent to main house—and as a flexible housing option in developed urban neighborhoods.
Now ADUs are legal in Minneapolis. On December 5, 2014, the Minneapolis City Council passed a zoning code text amendment allowing ADUs on lots with single or two-family homes. Shortly thereafter, architect Christopher Strom, who spent countless hours working with zoning administrators during discussions about the code change, launched his new initiative, Second Suite.
“I wanted to be the first to market my expertise with the zoning related to these small residential dwellings,” says Strom, who has a thriving business as a residential architect in Minneapolis, and has designed ADU-type cottages for clients in the suburbs and northern Minnesota.
He learned during informational meetings that “a lot of people didn’t want ADUs because they fear too many people would be added to the neighborhood, resulting in extra noise and traffic,” Strom says. “But the new law limits ADUs to a total of 1,000 square feet, including parking; they’re only feasible on certain lots, depending on the positioning of the primary house; and the primary house must be owner occupied. Only one accessory building is allowed per property, so most people will combine an ADU with a detached garage.”
As a result, Strom continues, “The majority of the new ADUs to be built in Minneapolis will be Fonzie suites. Remember how he lived above the Cunninhgams' garage? He had a cool bachelor pad totally separate from the main house, but was always at the Cunninghams'.”
ADUs are a viable option for creating more space, whether for additional storage, an art studio, home office or apartment for aging parents. With the new zoning, the units can also include a small kitchen and/or bath. “They’re wonderful for seniors, and a nice way to establish multi-generational living next to the primary house while giving the occupant an integral level of independence,” Strom explains.
St. Paul, particularly the neighborhood of St. Anthony Park, is currently looking at its building codes, as well, by studying the feasibility of allowing ADUs on single-family lots.  
Strom adds that ADUs are “a great entry point for people to start working with an architect.” A well-considered design might result in an ADU that blends in with the architectural style of the existing residence, or be entirely different.
Moreover, Strom adds, “Second Suite represents a lifestyle that I want to be able to deliver to my clients. This lifestyle is about families pooling resources and enjoying more quality time together through care-giving that enables grandparents to help with childcare and adult children to help with aging parents.”

A homeownership initiative to help the Little Earth community

Already, the Little Earth of United Tribes Homeownership Initiative is turning around part of Minneapolis’s East Phillips neighborhood.

As its name suggests, the initiative helps members of the Little Earth community get to the point of homeownership.

Only a handful of years ago, the American Indian-targeted affordable housing Little Earth was considered dangerous and undesirable, says City Council member Gary Schiff.

Today, Little Earth has a waiting list of 100 people. “It’s a significant sign of success for the organization,” he says.   

In some ways, this relates to the homeownership initiative, which got its start a few years ago, he says.

At the time, Little Earth began working with the city to reduce crime in the area.  

Little Earth took a zero-tolerance attitude towards crime, evicting problem tenants. Then it partnered with the city to buy up the nearby rental housing on what's referred to as the E.M. Stately blocks, where drug-dealing and gang activity were still an issue. That's where the homeownership initiative, which involves rehabbing or constructing seven new single-family homes, comes into play.

The housing is like an extension of Little Earth, while providing for the possibility of homeownership--the first initiative like this in the city to target American Indians. “It’s an economic development and anti-crime strategy,” he says, adding that crime is way down.  

The program, which includes everything from the new homes to job assistance, creates an economic ladder for those who want to live in the area, but who don’t qualify for low-income housing at Little Earth, he says.   

One of the homes is being rehabbed right now, while another four are under construction. The houses are planned to be ready by wintertime.  

“The number of residents paying market-rate rents is really fascinating,” he says, adding, “People want to live there and be a part of the Native American community.”

Schiff is finding that word is spreading. People at Little Earth are taking classes to become homeowners and establish a good credit record. “It’s gotten people excited at Little Earth to realize it’s building an economically diverse community,” he says.

The City of Lakes Community Land Trust (CLCLT), Minnesota Housing Partnership (MHP), Woodlands Bank, the city, and the Greater Metropolitan Housing Corporation (GMHC) collaborated to acquire the lots.

“It’s one of several housing projects that reflect a renaissance for East Phillips and the American Indian community,” he says, adding that the community continues to grow for the second decade in a row.    

Source: Gary Schiff, Minneapolis City Council member
Writer: Anna Pratt

A communal garden by a coalition of neighborhood groups in the works for the diverse Phillips area

The 24th Street Urban Farm Coalition in Minneapolis’s Phillips neighborhood will have its first official workday in its “communal” garden on May 19.

Phillips resident Sammie Ardito Rivera, who is the outreach and education coordinator at Dream of Wild Health, a 10-acre native farm in Hugo, belongs to the volunteer-driven coalition.   

The coalition is a joint effort of a number of community organizations including the following: Ventura Village Neighborhood Association, Indigenous Peoples Taskforce, Women’s Environmental Institute, Waite House, Indian Health Board, and Native American Community Clinic, along with Dream of Wild Health.  

It’s an opportunity for these organizations to do a demonstration farm that will help community members, especially American Indians, learn how to grow food, she says. That education is needed in the native community, which has high rates of heart disease and diabetes, Rivera adds.   

People will work in the “communal” garden collectively. “It’s not a community garden in the plot sense,” she says. “It’s more of a teaching opportunity for people who aren’t ready to grow their own food but want access.”

Nearby, a couple of other "communal" gardens are also in the works (see The Line's story here).

Planning for the 24th Street garden began last year, involving some minimal plantings last growing season. “This summer we hope to expand and have a more solid presence there,” she says.

The undeveloped piece of land, which the Indian Health Board owns, will be farmed temporarily. The Indian organization may have plans for the lot further down the line, she explains.

At the same time, the gardeners are also hoping to expand the farm in the future into a nearby lot that the city owns.

Right now, the farm is still fleshing out the details, she says, adding that for now, it’s on the lookout for rain barrels.

Source: Sammie Ardito Rivera, member of the 24th Street Urban Farm Coalition
Writer: Anna Pratt

Phillips neighborhood group strives to make 'communal' gardens

Neighbors Connecting for Action in Phillips (NCAP), a new community group for Minneapolis’s Phillips neighborhood, is organizing a couple of “communal” gardens in the area.

Unlike the typical community garden structure where people sign up for a certain garden plot, participants will pool their efforts in the project, according to Jude Ortiz, an NCAP representative. “We’re coming together as neighbors to grow plants for each other,” he says, adding, “It’ll be collaborative, based on what people can do.”   

One garden at 28th and Portland Avenue South will focus on perennial plants, including various native species.

NCAP has an agreement with the Sustainable Resources Center in Northeast Minneapolis to work the land, according to Ortiz. There were gardening efforts there in the past, but there's been nothing in recent years, he says.

A second garden at 26th Street and 13th Avenue South, which has a longer, more fruitful history, will grow produce.  

To get the gardens going, the group has been pulling together community members. It's planning  meetings at both places for April 15. Attendees will begin discussing the design of the gardens at these gatherings.

Because NCAP is working without much of a budget, they’re trying to get as many donations of supplies and plants as possible. Already, “There’s a lot of interest and creativity going into it,” Ortiz says.

NCAP sees the gardens as “important to restore the urban ecosystem” and to provide access to healthy, organic food. It’s also an educational opportunity, helping the community become more self-sufficient, he says.

Further, having this kind of green space “creates an oasis in the city for people and other species,” he says.

Source: Jude Ortiz, NCAP
Writer: Anna Pratt

TPT documentary sheds light on area's innovative affordable housing projects

“Homes for All,” a documentary from Twin Cities Public Television (TPT), showcases several Twin Cities affordable housing projects that go above and beyond.

The documentary, which was sponsored in part by the Metropolitan Consortium of Community Developers, Minnesota Housing Partnership, and the Community Land Trust Coalition, will air on TPT on Feb. 19.  

It focuses on three different public- and private- sector developments that vary in size, including Hope Communities apartments in Minneapolis, Quarry View townhomes in Apple Valley, and Forest Ridge Townhomes in Forest Lake.  

Chip Halbach, executive director of the Minnesota Housing Partnership, explains that the documentary was put together to “give the general public a more in-depth understanding of what affordable housing is.”

The documentary profiles some residents of the developments behind the scenes, showing what their homes look like and how they fit into the community.

In each of these cases, the developments are “designed to contribute to the community,” he says.  

For example, Hope Communities, a 173-unit apartment complex at Franklin and Portland avenues in Minneapolis's Phillips neighborhood, has helped turn around a blighted area.

Besides stabilizing home life for its residents, the building, which was developed jointly by Minneapolis-based Hope Community and nearby Aeon, hosts various youth programs. “It goes beyond just making it safer,” Halbach says. “It’s a community-organizing vehicle” that has sparked revitalization elsewhere in the neighborhood as well.  

Although there's more work to be done in the neighborhood, “It all adds up to something that’s a real positive force in the Phillips neighborhood," he says.

In the documentary, a number of housing experts also “provide context for why the public should be interested in these affordable housing investments,” he adds.  

Source: Chip Halbach, executive director, Minnesota Housing Partnership
Writer: Anna Pratt

Waite House trying to raise $250,000 for new home

Waite House, a community gathering place in Minneapolis’s Phillips neighborhood, started construction at its new home this month. It’s about 80 percent of the way to its goal of raising $250,000 for the project, according to Waite House information.

The neighborhood organization is moving from its cramped quarters at 2529 13th Avenue South only blocks away into the larger Phillips Community Center at 2323 11th Avenue South.

By the spring, the organization will be sharing the building with a handful of other community-oriented organizations, including the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board, which has also revamped some parts of the complex.

Waite House director Francisco Segovia says that the new digs will allow for “collaboration with other organizations under the same roof."

Community members will be able to take advantage of the fitness center, eat healthy meals, and take classes. It also has a double gym, teen center, kitchen, dining room, offices, parking, and more.   

“This will enhance and provide services to a lot of kids in Phillips,” says Segovia.

The remodeling project mainly involves tearing down walls, installing new flooring, and upgrading systems, he says.  
Until now, the Waite House has had to juggle a community café and a gym in the same space.

In the new building, the functions will be separate. It’ll also have a computer lab, community-organizing-focused library, wireless Internet access, and meeting space.  

The food shelf is going to be bigger, he says. “We’ll be able to store more fresh food than we can at this point.”  

In the future, he hopes the organization will be able to open a coffee cart to have on hand for meetings.

“It’s a place in the neighborhood where community members of all nationalities and ages can come and network with people there,” he says.

Source: Francisco Segovia, director, Waite House
Writer: Anna Pratt

American Swedish Institute nears groundbreaking for $21.5 million campus expansion

To accommodate growing programs, the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis's Phillips neighborhood is embarking on a $21.5 million campus expansion.

A groundbreaking ceremony is planned for April 16, while construction will continue through June 2012, according to institute information.

The twofold project includes the renovation of the 1908 Turnblad Mansion, where the American Swedish Institute was founded 80 years ago, its website states. A new elevator and stairway tower will make it more accessible; original rooms will be preserved, and classroom and community meeting areas will be set up, along with space for research materials, according to the website.   

Bruce Karstadt, who is the president and CEO of the American Swedish Institute, explains that through the years, "The mansion has been called upon to serve as all kinds of things that it was never intended for."

The renovation will help bring back its original grandeur.

Secondly, a 34,000-square-foot Nelson Cultural Center, named for donors Carl and Leslie Nelson, will be built adjacent to the mansion, with a pedestrian walkway linking the two buildings, he says.

The center's contemporary design will complement the historic mansion, reflecting Scandinavian influences, he says.  

It'll feature a glass-enclosed reception lobby, art gallery, studio and crafts workshop, 325-seat event space, conference room, museum shop, and café. It'll also have storage space, commercial kitchens and offices for partner organizations, including Gustavus Adolphus College, according to project materials.

Given that the institute will offer the only full-service café in a multi-block area, "we hope people come for the coffee and stay for the story," says Karstadt.

There'll be a courtyard between the two buildings, with an outdoor dining and programming area, he says.

In the new cultural center, the institute will go for a high level of LEED certification, a national benchmark for sustainability; Karstadt says that it will be one of the first museum spaces in the area to do so.

The institute will achieve the standard by incorporating a green roof, native plants, sustainable building materials, low-emission interior finishes, water and energy conservation measures, and geothermal heating and cooling systems.

"We're really excited," he says. When all is said and done, "it'll be accessible and welcoming for the entire community."

Source: Bruce Karstadt, president and CEO of the American Swedish Institute
Writer: Anna Pratt

Minneapolis Project screens 24 shorts by 18 filmmakers about 22 neighborhoods

Five hundred people packed the Riverview Theater last week to see the "Minneapolis Project 2010" -- a one-night festival of 24 short films about 22 places in the city. Most of the shorts were narratives that one way or another evoked the character of the neighborhoods in which they were set, says organizer John Koch.

The project is akin to recent efforts such as "Paris, je t'aime" and "New York, I Love You," says Koch, who contends that "any city could do this." But it's no one-off for Koch's nonprofit, Cinema Revolution--the same name as his former art-house DVD-rental shop in Uptown. "The Minneapolis Project" is Cinema Revolution's fourth omnibus film screening, a continuation of events that began during the six years Koch owned the shop.

The city's neighborhoods supply both the films' subject matter and their audience. "Most films are made with the broadest audience in mind," says Koch. But the aim of the 18 filmmakers participating in the Minneapolis Project was different: "creating films specifically for a local audience, knowing that a local audience would find value in it."

A moment in which that concept crystalized came during the screening of the project's lone animated short, "Urban Agrarian Woman," a film about the Powderhorn Park neighborhood by John Akre. At one point the heroine rides a flying bicycle past the tower of the former Sears store, now Midtown Global Market, on Lake Street. The audience's recognition of the local landmark was audible. "From that point they were invested in the idea," Koch says. "It's so rewarding to hear an audience of that size (respond)."

That kind of reaction is part of the appeal for the participating filmmakers, particularly those just starting out, for whom the project is important simply as an opportunity for hundreds of people to see their work. They paid $20 per film to participate, the money going toward a $500 prize for a winning film selected by audience vote (still underway online). Koch fronted the money to book the theater, gambling that the box office would cover his cost. Cinema Revolution will hold another group-film screening in December, "Dance Project 2010," with either a second Minneapolis Project or a St. Paul edition next summer.

"There's so much to say" for filmmakers creating narratives about neighborhoods, says Koch. He contributed three shorts of his own, about Dinkytown, Uptown, and Minnehaha Falls.

"I could make 25 shorts just about Uptown," he says.

Source: John Koch, Cinema Revolution
Writer: Chris Steller

Here are the films from "Minneapolis Project 2010," with links to those now available online. (Filmmakers were prohibited from uploading their contributions to the Web until after last week's screening.)

Minneapolis Project 2010 (trailer)

"We Major" by Brian Murnion - Downtown skyways

"The Lovers" by Brian Murnion - Gateway District

"Dischord" by Tyler Jensen and Jaime Carrera - Bottineau neighborhood and Boom Island

"Passing" by Tyler Jensen and Jaime Carrera - Loring Park

"Parade" by Tyler Jensen and Jaime Carrera - Powderhorn neighborhood

"Yesterday" by John Koch - Dinkytown

"Today" by John Koch - Minnehaha Falls

"Tomorrow" by John Koch - Uptown

"You. Me. Here." (trailer) by Corey Lawson - Nicollet Island

"Firmament Collapse" (trailer) by Allen Keating-Moore (Phillips neighborhood)

"Urban Agrarian Woman" (trailer) by John Akre - Powderhorn Park neighborhood

"Raw Honey" by Abdi Hassan and Gabriel Cheifetz (long version) - Cedar-Riverside neighborhood

"Claudia" by Stephen Gurewitz - Northeast

"Loon Lake Dance" by Dave Deal - Lake Calhoun

"Shudder 13" by Dave Deal- I-35W Bridge/Bohemian Flats

"The Gallery" by Todd Wardrope - Whittier neighborhood

"Transfer" by Todd Wardrope - Route 5 Metro Transit bus stop

"Free Puppies" by Dan Dockery - underground

"Band Box Diner" by Amy Mattila - Elliot Park neighborhood

"Wedge Walk" by Sam Thompson - Wedge/Lowry Hill East neighborhoods

"The Rescue" by Yoko Okumura and Elizabeth Mims - Kenwood neighborhood

"Air Conditioner" by Gabriel Cheifetz - Midtown Greenway

"shut(ter)" by Nathan Gilbert - Phillips neighborhood

"Lakewood" by Sam Hoolihan - Lakewood Cemetery

Second artist-designed drinking fountain starts flowing

The place-names Minnesota and Minneapolis share a common source: mni, from the Dakota language, meaning water.

But leaders of the City of Lakes and the Land of Sky-blue Waters have butted heads over a Minneapolis public-art project intended to celebrate that common water heritage--demonstrating that water can divide as well as unite.

It began in 2007 when the Minneapolis City Council budgeted a half-million dollars to commission 10 drinking fountains designed by local artists to be installed in public places around Minneapolis.

The expenditure of $50,000 per fountain drew criticism, most notably from Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Although bonds, not state aid, were to pay for the fountains, the project got caught up in the raging debate over state cuts to funding for local governments.

It's an argument recently revived by Tom Emmer, GOP candidate for governor, who criticized St. Paul's privately funded sidewalk poetry program as a waste of government money.

Early this year, the Minneapolis City Council scaled back the number of fountains to four. Now, after a dedication ceremony last Saturday, water is flowing at the first two fountains. "3 Forms," a fountain by Gita Ghei, Sara Hanson, and JanLouise Kusske (with help from South High School students) draws inspiration from geology formations and fossils in a classical fountain design.  

Last fall, the first fountain, "Water of the Doodem Spirits" by St. Paul sculptor Peter Morales, was installed to less fanfare on Franklin Avenue. Morales says he enjoys watching people drink under the gaze of Raven, who is perched above Turtle and Fish in a sculptural treatment drawing on Ojibwe origin stories. There is no sign to explain the fountain's meaning, but stopping for a drink can sometimes elicit interpretations from other passers-by.

"There's a wide swath of society that goes by there," Morales says. "People took to it right away."

Source: Peter Morales, Balam Studios
Writer: Chris Steller

Reuse rampant as Minneapolis builds public-works facility to LEED standards

In the midst of last week's wave of heat and humidity, all 58,000 square feet of space inside the City of Minneapolis' new Hiawatha Public Works Facility were comfortably chilled--but not with conventional air conditioning. Instead it was thanks to a geothermal system that brings the Earth's coolness (or warmth, in winter) up from underground.

That's only one of the features making the $9.5 million facility the city's greenest yet--and likely the fifth building in Minnesota to achieve LEED platinum status for environmental sustainability. (With LEED gold status already in hand, the city has an application for platinum status pending for the facility.)

The Hiawatha site in south Minneapolis has been home to the city's Public Works Department for more than a century. The 18 buildings once scattered across almost 10 acres are now consolidated into a single facility that houses department offices and the city's construction-vehicle maintenance shop. Indeed, the new building incorporates a brick structure that originally served as an infirmary for horses that pulled fire trucks and construction equipment, according to Senior Project Manager Paul Miller.

Miller takes most pride in the fact that even the 17 buildings that the city demolished got re-used, to the extent that the project actually gained LEED points during construction. Most projects lose points as waste material is hauled off, but "virtually 100 percent of what was there never left the site," he says. "That's the coolest thing."

The re-use wasn't limited to crushed gravel made from demolished structures. Miller says Knutson Construction and RSP Architects kept finding new uses for old building materials from the site--or even from off-site. The facilty's perimeter fencing served, in its past life, as the the steel-grid decking on the Lowry Avenue Bridge over the Mississippi River, which is now being rebuilt.

Source: Paul Miller, City of Minneapolis
Writer: Chris Steller

Reviving a sense of place is goal of American Indian Cultural Corridor

"I believe if you have a sense of place, you have a better sense of direction," says Lemoine LaPointe, who directs the Healthy Nations Program at the Minneapolis American Indian Center. "A sense of place was already created here hundreds of years ago."

Reinvigorating that sense of place for Indian people on Minneapolis' Franklin Avenue is the purpose of an effort called the American Indian Cultural Corridor, started last year by the Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI).

LaPointe made his comments for a video NACDI produced to promote the cultural corridor concept, a vision of economic vitality and Native identity along a street that has been, for going on a century, a major focal point of American Indian urban life.

NACDI has taken that vision high-tech via an animated video that swoops down Franklin, starting at Cedar Avenue, current site of the American Indian OIC (AIOIC).

But the organization has taken a very concrete step as well, purchasing a headquarters building at the eastern end of the corridor, at Bloomington and Franklin avenues, with the AIOIC. Meanwhile, New Native Theatre has formed, offering reading series and planning a full production in 2011.

In some ways the vision is a throwback to what Franklin Avenue was like in the early decades following the federal government's relocation of Indian people to cities, when a full spectrum of goods and services was available to serve the immediate community. Now NACDI wants to see that richness return, this time fueled by Indian ownership and entrepreneurship.

Source: Lemoine LaPointe
Writer: Chris Steller

Wanted: Flat-topped building to host Midwest's first commercial rooftop farm

Actually operating the Midwest's largest commercial rooftop farm may yet prove to be the biggest challenge for Sky High Harvest, LLC. But in the meantime, founder Dayna Burtness has discovered that finding the right location is a challenge in itself.

"It's not like there's a directory of flat roofs," Burtness says.

Burtness is seeking to turn her four years of organic gardening experience into a for-profit business, raising high-end, interesting vegetables such as heirloom tomatoes, kale, greens and root crops.

But instead of growing food in the country, as she did while a student at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Burtness wants to grow it in the city, close to the market where it will be consumed. And since Minneapolis lacks expanses of available vacant land for farming, she's looking up for a building that could support a farm. Prerequisites include an EPDM surface, at least 10,000 square feet of virgin roof surface, and two access routes up.

That last one is a toughie -- but necessary to meet the fire code if farmers are to be toiling and tilling on top of a building. So Burtness has been scanning Google Earth's aerial images of Minneapolis, looking for the telltale shadows from twin pilot houses indicating two sets of stairs, on a nice, flat roof at least a half-acre in size.

Burtness is in consultation with rooftop farmers in New York City and Chicago and says she feels it's now or never for commercial rooftop farming to take hold here, in part because of the city's current "Homegrown Minneapolis" program.

Source: Dayna Burtness, Sky High Harvest
Writer: Chris Steller
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