The city of Bloomington, Minnesota undertook a community collaboration project in its effort to transform Lyndale Avenue into a thriving, walkable, mixed-use corridor that serves as an amenity to attract new, and retain existing, residents and businesses- the Lyndale Avenue Suburban Retrofit. I was engaged to bring creative thinking and design to this work and was charged with turning a 4000+ sq. ft. former liquor store into an inviting, accessible location that would welcome the public during both “open studio” hours and a public open house. In addition to consulting on other activities, I would designed an interactive exercise to collect public input on their priorities for the project area.
The Stantec team, the City of Bloomington, and I chose a spring garden theme to frame the event. We felt this theme had cross cultural appeal, fit with the time of year (March) for the event, and could address themes of renewal and growth without the negative connotations that are often attached to those words in city planning contexts.
Exterior and interior space needed to be inviting, yet serve practical needs as well. I brought in color and designated smaller spaces within the expansive space, all using a welcoming garden theme.
Upon entering, participants were greeted by a carpet of artificial turf leading to two greeting points: one to their left at the built-in counter, now also covered with artificial turf, and one straight ahead with a staff person seated behind a table. At either location, they were invited to sign in and sign up for future communications and offered a packet of seeds that also included information about next steps and the project website.
The working area for designers was set behind the built-in counter. It was bounded on one side by windows (through which action could be observed from outside) and on the opposite side by one of the large planters. The planter helped to separate the work area from the more public pin-up area. The pin-up area was not “treated”, but left to be a flexible open space into which designers eventually moved tables in order to lay out maps with overlays of possible bike paths, new character districts and service nodes or other changes to the corridor.
The stakeholder meeting space and kid’s activity area were located in the middle third of the store, continuing the carpet of turf that started at the doors. The kid’s area was delineated by a series of turf “hedgerows” that also doubled as additional seating. The meeting space stayed on theme with Adirondack chairs for seating and white picket fences to delineate the rear edge.
The right hand third of the store was reserved for engagement activities. During open studio hours, these included a display on the existing conditions of the corridor, presenting finding from research and previous engagement activities; a draft vision for the project area on which people could give feedback; a prioritizing activity in which participants listed the one thing that they felt was most important for the corridor; and a 4 x 24’ map of the corridor to collect feedback about specific locations. During the open house, this was augmented by a massing activity using Duplo blocks to look at building scale on an imaginary future node of the corridor and an exercise in creating street sections that was housed inside the portable greenhouse.
The prioritizing activity, “Help Lyndale Avenue Grow”, went through several iterations before settling on the final form of a garden to which participants would add their input in the form of a plant or garden inhabitant. We wanted the activity to build on the existing conditions information and previous feedback that would be presented at the beginning of the space.
In those previous engagement activities, residents had identified existing assets along the corridor as well as desires for the future. The existing conditions research identified market trends as well as the existing characteristics of the project area.
With this information in mind (ideally), participants were instructed to choose one priority that would affect the corridor as a whole, write it on one of the cut out shapes (flowers, leaves, butterflies, or worms), tape it to a stick and add it to the garden. We offered suggestions including beautify streetscape, increase transit, improve pedestrian and bike access, expand public spaces, build more housing, but kept the activity an open-answer format where participants could formulate their own response.