Forecast worked with Hennepin County to creatively reopen five business districts through artist-created installations. This work was featured in the Urban Land Institute report released in the last week of March, 2021, The Pandemic and the Public Realm: Global Innovations for Health, Social Equity, and Sustainability; a report featuring 30+ innovations in the public realm since pandemic health measures began, it showcases how cities worldwide have implemented transformative changes to public space to address new challenges during crisis. For our featured project, the Love Local Initiative, Forecast hired 18 artists—nearly half of whom are BIPOC artists—to implement creative projects across five business districts.
The Artists and districts
50th and France, Edina – 4 art houses
Downtown Robbinsdale -1 Dome
Mainstreet Hopkins – 2 Domes
Downtown Excelsior – 3 Domes
Downtown Wayzata – 2 Domes – “Winter Solstice”
Artists who worked on Wayfinding
Jen Krava, Forecast’s Director of Programming and New Initiatives, answers questions from ULI about the project
How did you gain support for and implement these changes? Who was involved? What challenges did you overcome? What has the outcome been? Who funded?
Business districts play a crucial role in driving local economies and creating a sense of community and vibrancy in cities across Hennepin County. Restaurants, shops and public spaces that make up business districts are primary gathering spots and are essential to preserving a sense of togetherness and community.
Hennepin County’s business districts are feeling the impacts of COVID-19. Between temporary closures and changing how business is done in order to keep customers and employees safe, business districts are facing unprecedented challenges in maintaining their customer base and preserving their value to communities.
The Hennepin County Board approved Federal CARES Act funding for the Business District public space program to contract with one or more consultants to provide technical assistance to business districts to support marketing, provide equipment and supplies, and help create public spaces that facilitate retail and food/drink establishments under social distance/COVID19 guidelines.
Forecast was selected as the public space and placemaking consultant, and MOD was selected as the marketing and communications consultant.
Through a competitive application process, 11 districts were selected to receive marketing and communications assistance, and 5 of those districts were also selected to receive public space and placemaking services.
Forecast’s work was to identify and implement business district-wide strategies to create public spaces. Our strategy was focused on:
- Creating a renewed enthusiasm for customers/clients to come back to the business district and gather safely
- Providing spaces for people to enjoy goods purchased from district businesses, to take a stop and rest while moving through the district
- Pulling people through the district so they stay longer and explore more businesses
- District wide strategy, not just focused on one or select businesses
- Utilizing public spaces/publicly owned spaces as possible
- Keeping street parking open and usable for curbside pickup
We wanted to provide spaces throughout each district for people to enjoy goods purchased from district businesses, to take a stop and rest while moving through the district. We installed domes in each district – some outfitted with chairs and tables, with COVID guidelines indicated – one pod at a time, masks required, etc.
Other domes in the district have been augmented by artists with engaging installations for district-goers to enjoy as they patronize businesses.
The domes serve 2 purposes – to keep people in the district and give them something more to enjoy and a place to rest, but also for the artist domes to act as a draw and bring people to the district so they stay and explore further.
We knew that other cities had design for distancing competitions and ideas, but hadn’t seen this employed on a district level scale. All of the stakeholders in the project approached it as a demonstration – what can we do in a short amount of time with readily available materials? What can we learn through this in 2020 that could be expanded upon next winter?
Just as we set up all of the domes, COVID cases in Minnesota were fast increasing and the Governor issued an executive order called “dial back MN.” Social activities, indoor dining, and health and fitness clubs were “dialed back.”
We worked closely with the County’s Public Health Department to assess what we could do, and determined that the domes we had installed were considered indoor spaces. This meant we could not allow people inside until the Governor released these restrictions.
We had to pivot. We worked closely with each district to remove furniture from any domes, and create alternative uses that would provide enjoyment to people in the districts by viewing from the outside. In Robbinsdale, community members were engaged in creating a holiday scene that was placed inside a dome. The 50th and France district created displays showcasing all of the businesses in the district. In Wayzata, creative lighting displays adorned the insides of domes.
How did you ensure that everyone could benefit from these changes to the public realm equitably? How did you select the locations for the projects?
As noted, we focused on district-wide strategies, which supported businesses within an entire district (e.g. public space improvements to support social distancing, shared dining or seating areas, reuse of public or parking areas to support businesses). Strategies that only supported individual businesses were not a consideration.
A key part of Forecast’s process was collecting input. Our team facilitated surveys and focus groups with businesses in each district to understand what changes they had already made and what else they had capacity for. We also collected information from customers of the businesses to understand what might raise the interest to come to the district in winter, as well as what would make them feel safe while in the districts. Through this we found that people are interested in more outdoor seating areas, outdoor art exhibits, and more outdoor events.
We placed domes in locations throughout the districts to encourage exploration of the entire district by visitors. Domes with artist installations were strategically placed so district visitors would stumble upon them as an exciting surprise.
We also prioritized BIPOC artists for installations and other artistic signage that was part of the project.