31.7.08

Sidewalk of the Week: Water Power Park

Is it a sidewalk? I cannot be sure.

The question haunts me for days. I toss. I turn. I wake up in a cold sweat, the image of pavement seared into my brain like an ad for BK Broilers.

But as they say... if it walks like a sidewalk, and cracks like a sidewalk, then it's a sidewalk. And when I wandered into Minneapolis' Water Power Park on a sunny Main Street day, I found so many people enjoying a stroll that I simply must award this fine park the official status of Sidewalk of the Week.

Even though it's been open most days for over a year, I'd never discovered Water Power Park until last week. I was taking a stroll down Main Street, one of the oldest and finest sidewalk spots in Minneapolis. I was enjoying that special feeling of sidewalk cafes, ambient Segway tourists, and my proximity to the legacy of liquid-fueled industry ... when all-at-once, I turned a corner and found a city park. I wandered in...

[Sidewalk park strollers lean on a rail by a riverside pool to gaze at a Great Blue Heron gaze at a reflected skyline in a rippl'd riverside pool.]


Jane Jacobs attempts to describe some of the dynamics of city parks in her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. She comes up with a bunch of interesting rules, but all-in-all, you get the sense that the success of a park depends greatly on its social and geographic context. You need to have a critical mass of people watching and enjoying a park for it to quality as a real park. (The same can be said of sidewalks.)

[Standing as close as you can stand to the waterfall that made Minneapolis.]


What I liked very much about Water Power Park was the way it drew you in. Frederick Law Olmsted, the famous park designer, included within many of his large park designs a section of park called "The Bramble", designed to be a place where people could wander, get lost, and lose themselves in nature.

The way it worked for me, the Water Power Park was a similar experience, only instead of nature you find yourself lost in Minneapolis's industrial history. When you enter, it really isn't clear where you're going or what you're going to find. You see a small sign that says Water Power Park and boasts the Xcel Energy Logo, and end up wandering and following people as they lead you through our city's electric infrastructure.

You follow a winding path through steel and gaggles of geese, until you find yourself standing right on top of the waterfall. And there you discover the kind of peace you can only get when surrounded by white noise, mist, and the mesmerizing sight of endless water ever falling. The waterfall surprises you and find yourself alone in the big city. You disappear inside the magic of water.


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In the end, I don't know if it's a sidewalk or not. The question has stopped haunting me. All that matters is the path before my feet.



[Industry and culture, power plants and condos bump elbows along the Mississippi River in Minneapolis.]


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