Downtown Improvement District: Spring has sprung

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April 11, 2011
By: Sarah harris
Sarah harris
The grass has ris’. I wonder where the birdies is?

This age-old quip runs through my head. I heard it when I was little and now it has become a rite of spring for me as much as watching people flock out of buildings en masse looking for ways to soak up the fresh air, sunshine and the sense of community that public gathering spaces and pedestrian areas offer. I can’t help but challenge us all to think about capturing that sense of outdoor wonderment all year long.

In January, DID presented the 2010 Greening Awards, we highlighted efforts that extended beyond plants and demonstrated the role greening could play in making a great pedestrian realm in Downtown.  

Among the places we celebrated were the outdoor plaza created by WCCO Television and the sidewalk café experience brought to us by The Local & Your Enchanted Florist. Both of these places represent ways for people to gather — one offering an inviting place for people to eat and enjoy the company of friends and colleagues, and the other offering a space for smaller presentations and programmed gatherings. Both spaces leverage an experience that extends beyond their own business interests to create a pleasant and inviting experience for everyone Downtown — even those who are simply passing by.

I would challenge these award-winning leaders, and every one of their peers in Downtown, to extend the use of outdoor spaces from a summer-time passion to a nearly year-round amenity.  This is perfectly possible. Other winter cities have used stand-up heaters and blankets on sidewalk café chairs to extend the season of use. In fact, in Copenhagen, colored blankets on chairs distinguish each restaurant’s domain, while collectively making a welcoming rainbow in an otherwise dark and gray time of the year. Outdoor performances and events celebrating seasonal activities happen elsewhere in the Twin Cities — why not in Downtown too?   

If we really want to reinvigorate the public realm (with the resulting direct benefit to the
retail and entertainment
vitality of Downtown) we have to make outside dependably available and part of people’s daily consciousness.   

I hope next year I’ll be musing: “Spring has sprung. We’re still outside. Our Downtown vibe has found its stride!”

Sarah Harris is the chief operating officer of the Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making Downtown a clean, safe, green and vibrant place to be. For more information, visit MinneapolisDID.com.