Past Meetings

Learning from Saint Paul: A New Preservation Paradigm

Exploring the building blocks of liveable cities

Saint Paul, Minnesota

21-24 May 2014

Thank you Saint Paul! What a wonderful host city you were this past May. And given the record rainfalls you’ve been experiencing recently – with the concomitant rising Mississippi – it seems that our timing could not have been better!

DAY 1 – Thursday

Don Varney played the role of enthusiastic host and promoter for his city.  And to that end, having Mayor Chris Coleman welcome us on the first full day was quite the coup!  And Mayor Coleman’s words towards making Saint Paul the ‘most livable city in America’ by preserving its significant cultural and natural heritage truly resonated: and it all came to life throughout our time there as we were to see in the revitalized downtown with its vibrant culture, green initiatives and sustainable living.  The Mayor’s references to Frederick Law Olmsted and to Horace Cleveland truly endeared him to the Alliance!  It was also important to be able to express to him some of the reasons why we made Saint Paul our 2014 choice, in particular the evolutionary approach of the Mississippi Development Framework established under the watchful eye of urban designer Ken Greenberg: returning to Saint Paul’s river origins, through a web of interconnected, pedestrian-oriented urban villages within a lushly reforested river valley.

The conference continued with a two-pronged educational salvo.  John Anfinson, Chief of Resource Management for the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (USNPS) introduced us to Saint Paul and this northern stretch of the great river, having researched, written and spoken about the river for a good long time.  He laid out the historical evolution of this stretch from pre-contact to today and reminded us of the importance of preserving the sense of place: of course he emphasized that this is part of a larger conversation both here in North America and in the broader international sphere and our responsibility as custodians therein.

John was followed by Gregory Page, who had served on the Saint Paul Riverfront Corporation in a variety of capacities over 28 years including developing the vision for the development framework previously noted.  Although retired since 2011, his enthusiasm was readily apparent as he spoke of the original Ben Thompson vision of the “Greening of the Great River Park” and the fourth coast that is the Mississippi.  What is apparent today is that the lost ‘thoughtful connection to the river’ was slowly being regained.  Which, in part, is why the Alliance was in Saint Paul in the first place!

The morning continued with the first slate of papers including a theatrical performance curiously connected to ‘landscapes of death’ (really: you had to be there!).

John Anfinson at Indian Mounds Park

Don Ganje at Bruce Vento

We kicked off the afternoon for our ‘outdoor’ portion of the day at Indian Mounds Park overlooking the great river.  John Anfinson spoke about how one culture’s arrival (Europeans) affected another’s (Native Americans/First Nations).  Our next stop was at the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary where we heard from Don Ganje – and saw firsthand – the amazing transformation of former rail yards into a rich, biodiverse setting.

Fig 3 Jody Martinez at Two Rivers Overlook

Jody Martinez at Two Rivers Overlook

Fig 4 Tim Agness with Don at Ford Dam

FTim Agness with Don at Ford Dam

Next on the stop was the Two Rivers Overlook above the junction of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers and the ominous Fort Snelling.  Jody Martinez offered the commentary here.  A short drive down Mississippi River Boulevard, Tim Agness met us and spoke about the Ford Dam Overlook and the legacy of HWS Cleveland.

Fig 5 The Group!

The Group!

We made our way back downtown along Summit Avenue – the longest and best-preserved row of Victorian mansions in America – under the spell and detailed commentary of Amy Spong.

Fig 7 Don Varney

Don Varney

Fig 8 A captive audience

A captive audience

We finished off the afternoon alongside the Mississippi River at the Upper Landing/Chestnut Plaza, a project near and dear to Don Varney’s heart (and of which he spoke at length).

DAY 2 – Friday

On reconvening for the second full day of the conference, delegates remained fresh and enthusiastic for what was a terrific array of presentations.  (Perhaps Ober’s Island will also have residual impact as a future initiative for keen Alliance people?)

And I would be remiss if I did not mention the presentation by Ron Williams about his recently published Landscape Architecture in Canada.  Many years in the making, said epic tome is something for us all to be proud whether landscape architect, historian, Canadian or American.  Congratulations once again to Ron in bringing his magnum opus to fruition.

Friday afternoon was spent in Saint Paul’s ‘twin’, Minneapolis.  We were welcomed at the Mill City Museum and Mill Ruins Park by Tom Meyer and Bruce Chamberlain respectively who offered considerable insight.

Tom Meyer at Mill City Museum

Mill City Museum courtyard

Bruce Chamberlain with Stone Arch Bridge

Fig 10-2 Stone Arch Bridge

Stone Arch Bridge

At the north end of Halprin’s Nicollet Mall, we were met by Jean Garbarini and Erin Hanafin Berg at Paul Friedberg’s Peavey Plaza.  A nice touch was Don Varney’s suggestion to stroll through Loring Greenway and Loring Park to the sculpture garden at the Walker Art Center.  A very nice way to experience a valuable greenspace connector.

Fig 11 Jean Garbarini & Erin Hanafin Berg

Jean Garbarini & Erin Hanafin Berg

Fig 12 Admiring the early photos

Admiring the early photos

Fig 13 Strolling through Loring Park

Strolling through Loring Park

Fig 14 Spoonbridge


At the north end of Halprin’s Nicollet Mall, we were met by Jean Garbarini and Erin Hanafin Berg at Paul Friedberg’s Peavey Plaza.  A nice touch was Don Varney’s suggestion to stroll through Loring Greenway and Loring Park to the sculpture garden at the Walker Art Center.  A very nice way to experience a valuable greenspace connector.

Fig 15 Bruce Chamberlain at Minnehaha

Bruce Chamberlain at Minnehaha

Dan Nadenicek’s recitation

DAY 3 – Saturday

Another full morning – including an enticing promo for 2015 – preceded an afternoon to the east of Saint Paul in Stillwater on the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.  While there, Carole Zellie (and Kathleen Anglo) brought us up to speed on what has been taking place there (including the lift bridge conversion to non-vehicular and the new vehicular bridge to the south).

Carole Zellie in Stillwater

The lift bridge on the St. Croix

Once back in the city, the evening banquet took place very near to the hotel at 317 on Rice Park.  A good time was had by all!

Once again it behooves us to extend our thanks to Ian Firth, Susan Hitchcock and Wendy Shearer for their efforts in realizing the intellectual content of Alliance conferences, that is to say the ‘call’ for papers and posters.  It is also necessary to thank Eric Macdonald and Ted McLachlan in their roles managing the student scholarships.  And with that in mind, congratulations to both scholarship recipients:  Betsy Anderson and her paper entitled: Deconstructing Hydrologies –

Reviving the Memory of Water in Dumbarton Oaks Park; and Zach Small (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and his poster, Continuing John Nolen’s Vision: Public Waterfront Infrastructure in Madison, Wisconsin.

And thank you to the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT) for their generous support as our signature sponsor (thanks Debbie Smith for making the connection)!

The Saint Paul Hotel provided a superb venue for our 2014 meeting and Eclipse Transport kept a steady hand at the wheel as we toured around the Twin Cities and beyond.

So in conclusion, words to (continue to) live by?  The quotable Gregory Page who said:

Thorough in research.  Clear in communication.  Persistent in pursuit.

Once again, kudos to Don Varney for suggesting the idea of Saint Paul in the first place.  You did under promise and over deliver.  Truly wonderful!

See y’all again in March 2015, this time in Savannah, Georgia.