So if the consensus drives decisions in Rochester, what is the consensus on the river? Is this a rich cultural amenity worth enhancing and capitalizing upon? Or is it a banal achievement of engineering that only reminds us of our triumph over nature?
At least in our conversations with neighborhood organizations, business leaders, and individuals who have moved to Rochester from other areas that enjoyed a vibrant riverwalk experience, the consensus is something needs to be done. How can we make it better?
Design Rochester outlined a series of implementation steps—both short term and long term—that begin to address the desired outcomes outlined in the RDMP.
- Improved Signage – In many cases there isn't even sufficient signage to guide people to/from the paths that exist along the river, not to mention a cohesive strategy for wayfinding and appearance. Improvements include:
- Entrance Points
- Directions to __________ (destinations, districts, parks, etc.)
- Events/Programming – In the same way that the Peace Plaza expansion project was successful due to the increased programming of activities in and around the Peace Plaza, a concentration of programming should be directed at the hub of our Arts and Culture District in the core of downtown. In some instances this can be capitalizing upon existing events to create more interest:
- Artigras and other arts events
- Mayo Field/Rochester Honkers games
- Marching Band Contest
- Historic Walking Tours
- Water Events (boat/canoe races, lantern launches, etc.)
- Enhanced Pedestrian Experience – The cold and uninviting nature of the existing experience can benefit from simple updating and beautification aimed at making a more pedestrian-friendly atmosphere throughout the corridor.
- Vegetation/Landscaping at pedestrian interface points
- Improved Lighting (ballard type, underpasses, etc.)
- Treat the Walls – The primary factor in influencing the pedestrian environment is the materiality consistent throughout the corridor. Concrete, albeit textured, dominates the landscape. This structural foundation is necessary, but we need to move beyond this stark setting if we ever want to improve the likelihood of the community embracing the river in the future:
- Cultural or Ethnic Art Installations
- Public Interactive Art (the work of Ned Kahn, local collaborators, etc.)
- Business Ventures – There exists an opportunity for entrepreneurial businesses to capture the people that do use the riverwalk and may in the future too. Focusing business ventures specifically for the use of the riverwalk is an easy first step before widespread adoption of retail or restaurants that face the river. Businesses such as:
- Bike Rentals or Repair
- Canoe Rental
- Segway Rental
- Iconic Focal Points – Without a distinct image or identity, the entire corridor is easily overlook and forgotten in the community. The installation of an iconic bridge or feature would begin to create the cognitive association. It brings about a sense of place immediately (e.g. Corn Cob Water Tower, Former KTTC Building, etc.). Ideas include:
- Fountain(s) in the River Near Arts/Cultural District or Civic Center Drive Terminus
- Year-Round Fire Sculpture
- Symphony Hall Bridging Across the River
- River Advocacy Group – The long term success of the river corridor will rest in the hands of those who champion the cause. Other cities have public-private partnerships with non-profits and municipalities to enhance and broaden the experience of the river. In Rochester, the creation of a group of grassroots advocates who can bring these issues forward and educate people about the change necessary and its impact on our community’s perception is crucial. These people already exist; the trick is recruiting them, organizing them, and motivating them toward action.
- Breaking up the Monolithic Nature of the Wall – Probably the most difficult to achieve, but this effort is a harbinger of change. Softening the wall, through whatever means necessary, will create the pedestrian-friendly atmosphere that can lead to the community embracing the river.
- More Types of Crossings and More Crossings – This technique is being used in many cities where large Interstate or Highway corridors slice through downtown areas, segregating districts and areas from each other. They have begun to bridge these large gaps with pedestrian only parks, or landscapes. This can begin to be the iconic piece for Rochester to hang its hat on as well.
- Residential Uses Along the River – Bringing people back to the river, instead of just their cars, will spur activity and vibrancy. Hopefully we have seen the last day of new parking lots or structures being built on such hallowed ground.
- Arts and Cultural District Redevelopment – There a few locations around the Arts and Cultural District core where the City of Rochester and Olmsted County own land and can work with private developers to create fantastic mixed-use, walkable and contextually sensitive developments. Visions of these redevelopment opportunities already appear in the RDMP.
- New Beaches or Revised River Flow – Since the channel within the channel is man-made, why not man-make it into something more interesting. The river flow can be divided or pushed and pulled to create a more interesting sight. Creating an island of plantings or wildlife refuge could also add to the visual interest in the middle of the river.
- Water Infiltration Design Implementation – As our sensitivity to watershed dumping and clean water practices has been hightened, so too can our education of how our municipal drain systems work and how we are depositing much of our “waste” into these waterways. New designs should take their proximity into account and treat water infiltration as a necessary best practice to protect our waterways for future generations.
The future of the Zumbro River looks bright. What is in the past, is past. We have a blank slate to work from to design and create the experience that bests suits Rochester to provide an amenity for our residents and a destination for our visitors. For a year or two the focus has been on downtown--and now, hopefully, on our riverwalk.
So let's get to it!