Minneapolis, MN—from whence I hail—is not a perfect city. It has punishing winters—which is how most people identify our northern-most state—and one of the most tragically placed airports in the nation, causing jet engines to roar at low altitudes over the city throughout the day. However, many people who have not visited that city would be surprised to find that it is also one of the most beautifully managed and environmentally exquisite cities in the nation.
Austin, TX—where I currently make my home—is also a flawed gem. It’s summers are insufferable at times—we are currently experiencing a woeful drought—and all planning revolves around accommodating an ever increasing onslaught of cars. But it does have a nice parks and greenbelt system and Austin Energy is a leader in the industry, doing wonderful things with sustainability and conservation.
The two cities don’t share too much in common really, but they do have this: a river and creeks. In Minneapolis, Shingle Creek and Minnehaha Creek both empty out into the Mississippi River; and in Austin, Shoal Creek and Waller Creek empty into the Colorado River (there are other creeks in these cities as well). What’s interesting about this is that each city has dealt with this commonality in two very different ways. Generally speaking Austin’s M.O. has been to hide, bury, and fight with their waterways. In Minneapolis the practice has been to understand what Nature wants to do and then build a community around that understanding.
Austin is in one of the most flood prone regions in the country and the effort to dam the Colorado River was a herculean feat that kept roadways, property, and people from being wiped out by flooding on a regular basis.
Minneapolis (which means city of water) is no stranger to flooding either. The sometimes rapid melting of heavy snowfalls in spring can cause serious flooding and the Mississippi River is no babbling brook.
Minneapolis showcases its lakes, creeks, and its iconic river. Incredible multi-use paths line every riparian edge in town, which started with visionaries like Horace Cleveland and Theodore Wirth who paved the way for design and planning in Minneapolis by making parks and waterways the dictating principle in how things flow and connect.
Austin loves its water, too, with idyllic swimming holes throughout the city (if only it would rain enough to bring us out of this drought).
But in Texas they see land and water in a very different way than they do in Minneapolis, and next time I’ll take a look at how that different way of thinking has kept Austin from being a better city.