November 22 2012

The Ghetto in the Sky: From Slum Removal to Urban Renewal in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Riverside Plaza Apartments, Minneapolis, MinnesotaOne of the most iconic viewsheds in Minneapolis – hated by some, loved by others – are any that include the Riverside Plaza apartments. From many places in the city you can see the Brutalist concrete buildings, with their primary-color panels and blockish tower-structure, towering above their surroundings.

In 2010, Riverside Plaza was included in the National Register of Historic Places under its former name Cedar Square West. Constructed in the early 1970s, the Modernist buildings were designed by Minneapolis architect Ralph Rapson (1914-2008), who was inspired by Le Corbusier’s post-World War II apartment and government buildings in Europe.

The Register lists the complex primarily for three reasons:

  1. Criterion A states that it is an Area of Significance of Community Planning and Development and is exemplary of innovative, federally funded urban renewal;

  2. Criterion C states that Cedar Square West is an Area of Significance of Architecture because it is one of Rapson’s most important contributions;

  3. Finally, even though it isn’t yet fifty years old – the usual cut-off for the Register – Criterion G states that it bears special significance.

Detail of Riverside Plaza, Minneapolis, MinnesotaOriginally planned as part of the 100-acre “New Town-In Town” concept, the area was intended to house 30,000 people of ethnic, economic, and generational diversity. Riverside Plaza currently houses 4,000 residents in 1,303 units.  Many of the residents are Somali immigrants. Following its listing, the current managers began a $132 million renovation of the property scheduled to be completed in December 2012.

Using a highly rectilinear composition, Rapson designed the complex to maximize land use by integrating parks, housing, and commercial interests around a pedestrian circulation system that included rooftop plazas designed by noted landscape architect Peter Walker.  By using various building heights and floor plans, Rapson intended his design to reflect the social diversity of its inhabitants.

Unfortunately, adequate funding was never available to realize the utopian goals the planners had for the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood. Plagued by crime in the 1990s, the economic and social diversity once planned for the area is absent. The concrete has not weathered well and the colorful panels have faded.

What does it say about a city when a major part of the skyline is referred to as the “Ghetto in the Sky?”

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Matthew Traucht

Matthew Traucht graduated from the University of New Mexico with a B.A. in cultural anthropology and is now pursuing his Master of Landscape Architecture at the University of Minnesota’s College of Design. Inspired by the work he was doing as an archaeologist in New Mexico where he studied prehistoric lifeways and preindustrial agricultural techniques; Matthew established an organic farm business. Eventually this led him to join the US Peace Corps where he served as a Natural Resources Volunteer in The Gambia from 2007-2009. For the last five years he has been blogging about some of his observations about the interactions between nature and culture, most recently on Desire Lines. Now, as a graduate student, Matthew is interested in sustainable communities, brownfield remediation, and historic cultural landscape preservation.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, November 22nd, 2012 at 8:50 pm and is filed under Architecture, Community/Economic Development, History/Preservation, Housing, Landscape Architecture, Social/Demographics, Urban Development/Real Estate. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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