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American Society of Landscape Architects

 

September 2004 Issue

Death of a Thousand Patches
Shoddy maintenance nibbles away at a Minneapolis gem.

By Charlene K. Roise

Death of a Thousand Patches
Charlene K. Roise

On a beautiful summer evening, crowds of sausage-eating, beer-quaffing music lovers fill the tiers of M. Paul Friedberg's 1970s Peavey Plaza in downtown Minneapolis to enjoy a free concert. When the band stops playing, the sound of buses rumbling down Nicollet Mall is muffled by a waterfall that cascades from a street-corner fountain to the pool filling the plaza's lower level. Wealthy patrons shuffle off to the evening's concert at the adjacent Orchestra Hall; a group of homeless men banter among themselves in a nook near the waterfall. The plaza embraces it all.

But all is not well. While some landmarks of modern landscape architecture—Lawrence Halprin's Skyline Park in Denver, for example—have been confronted with wholesale demolition, the threat to Peavey Plaza is more insidious: death by a thousand careless cuts. The encroachments come in many shapes and sizes. The underlying structure of the landscape was compromised by the removal of evergreen berms that softened the transition between Nicollet Mall and the plaza's lower level. A maintenance hassle, the berms have been replaced with hard-edged terraces of concrete block and railroad ties holding garden shrubs better suited for a suburban lawn. (On a recent evening, a transient was sleeping on one of the berms that remain on the south end of the plaza: Maintaining the landscape is only one of the challenges facing the plaza's owner, the city of Minneapolis, in this inner-city setting.)

In addition to losing the berms, the plaza is also missing a number of the honey locusts that created a lacy grove, a particularly important element defining the sense of place for this urban refuge. Five more of the trees were felled in July, and no replacements are in sight. To add insult to injury, some of the planting areas that once held trees have been mulched with wood chips and surmounted by plastic garbage cans and hot-pink fencing.

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