Sunday, November 22, 2009

Healing the Lowry Gash

I spoke in meeting today, about how places heal. In particular, I was thinking about the great gash in the ground in Minneapolis around the Lowry Tunnel. When looking at old maps of Minneapolis (here's one from 1900, and another from 1929), it seems like the city moved naturally from downtown into the Lowry Hill residential area. The Hennepin Avenue-Lyndale Avenue intersection was apparently simply known as "the bottleneck" (see Jack El-Hai's wonderful Lost Minnesota for a piece on the Plaza Hotel that once stood between Loring Park and what is now the Sculpture Garden)—it was an annoying part of town, but you couldn't really tell where downtown started and south Minneapolis began.

Then the interstate came through. I-94 was completed from St Paul through to Hennepin Avenue in 1968 (see a photo of construction at Blaisdell Ave, near Nicollet Ave here). There actually aren't many pictures of the construction in progress, but what there is, isn't especially exciting to anyone who has seen interstate highways under construction. There's an interesting piece about the tunnel here. The point is, the continuity was broken. It's especially dramatic if you look out from Hennepin Avenue south of the Hennepin Avenue Methodist Church, at the big gash in the ground that was dug to bring the highway down to tunnel-level.

So here's what the area looks like today, 28 years after the tunnel opened. And the thing I've noticed, over the 19 years I've been mapping the area, is how it's healed over. It's not that the gash is gone, but it's been built around. It was created in the midst of a city that was never designed for it, but as each new project and plan in the area was built, it was built with the knowledge that the big roaring river of traffic was there. And so the interruption to the city became part of what the city was.

All without a Master Plan To Heal the Gash.

What I said in meeting, was that, as I've been worrying over this and that discontent and conflict and trouble within meeting over the last few weeks, I've been thinking along the lines of "what can we do?" I've been hoping for some sort of Master Plan. I've been thinking about Liz's continued pain over the meeting not uniting easily to give the boot to a visitor who was preaching anti-gay bile, and the sense of a few commenters in that thread of "why can't we just..." And about pain around theist vs non-theists in our meeting.

But... we don't want a gash through our meeting. And there's the rub. Because we have theists and non-theists in meeting. And many on either side of that divide do feel strongly about their path to where they are, and while we at least say we are open to convincement, neither are we interested in being untrue to our personal experiences.

What can be healed then, is the pain around the divide. And it happens the same way the Minneapolis healed: one block at a time, one project at a time, one member and one friendship at a time. Now, we perhaps can build a Master Plan-type framework within which that healing can occur, and I'd argue we do that already, but we also just need time, and a long-term, low-level commitment to make that divide not a gash but just part of our city.

I want to say one more thing before I sign off, and it goes back to discussions last year about "the Grid," referring to the measured squares we impose on the landscape. As I said then, my conclusion is that the problem with this grid is not in is use as a tool for measuring, but in its imposition back upon the world being measured. It's when the ruler lines are cut back on the landscape with little regard for the shape of the land itself.

But what I'm saying here I think applies as well: once the cut is made, we can't go back and entirely un-cut it. What we can do (and sometimes have done) is to take this scarred land and make choices that heal around it. Like the mounds that dot the central part of the continent, we can let the grid become part of the land—because it is part of the land, however uncomfortable that makes us.

1 comment:

Ingrid Case said...

Maybe the problem happened when we, as a meeting, tried to write it down in a way that tried to make meeting's variegated nature make sense. The fact is that we have both people who are theist and people who are not, people whose belief structures would be considered Christian or Buddhist or Jewish or atheist, and most of the time this works out reasonably well. Maybe the gash happened when we tried to write something that didn't acknowledge this paradox.