After nearly a week in my Ancestral Homeland, the disposition of its yeomen, wizened by the winds perpetually shifting excretory odors across indifferentiable stretches of its quiltscape, has reinforced my already prematurely-elderly mentality. On top of that, the internet offers me a world outside of the New Ulm Journal (edited by Paul Weyrich and published by Jerry Falwell) to excite my curmudgeonly nature.
The current object of my curmudgeoning is the proposed debasement of Peavey Plaza. After long efforts by the City of Minneapolis to ignore it in hopes that it will go away, the Minnesota Orchestra has prodded the City into requesting state money to tear down the fountains that have rusted over with neglect. Due to a copyediting error, the money was granted, and after a long public input process from which all members of the public who weren’t selected for a Review Committee were excluded, renderings of the selected design were released. The renderings show a city maintaining its proud tradition of obliterating any evidence of its past identity and instead substituting a cheap imitation of whatever happens to be trendy.
Peavey Plaza as it stands has some faults. Its cardinal sin is poor accommodation of individuals with mobility limitations. While it has a ramp for people whose physical conditions requires wheels for ambulation (but not for those who prefer to ambulate with wheels but are not required to), that ramp was built before the current standards for such facilities were adopted and must be reconstructed to meet the new standards (side note: standards like these are revised every decade or so in order to guarantee jobs for construction firms). Less dubiously, the ramp requires visitors to enter from 12th St, while the most common entrance is at 11th & Nicollet. The new design will “provide dignified access to the disabled” by adding a ramp to allow them to enter from the most common entrance like everyone else, a concept that appeals to the egalitarian in me. (Apparently this new ramp will also double as “integrated terraced seating”, which seems to me to detract from the added dignity.) But why does the entire plaza need to be redesigned for one new ramp? Couldn’t a similar awkwardly-placed ramp be wedged into the original design somehow?
Let’s move on to excuse number two: the darn fountains don’t work. Public Works has been responsible for the fountains since construction, but now claims that they are “in a state of extreme disrepair” and that “[f]ixing the fountain would require dismantling the original and rebuilding a new fountain to look like the old.” If they’re telling the truth, then it’s time to start buying bottled water. Public Works is also responsible for a thousand miles of fountains more than a hundred years older than Peavey Plaza extending throughout Minneapolis and even into the surrounding suburbs and delivering fresh water into fountains in the kitchens and bathrooms of private residences. You might say that they have some experience with water systems. If the fountains of Peavey Plaza have deteriorated beyond repair, it is because Public Works did not want to maintain them, not because they could not be maintained.
But regardless of whether the City ran the fountains into the ground, or whether Minneapolis somehow has a more fountain-hostile climate than, say, Moscow or Edmonton, the fountains are wrecked now and need to be replaced. They claim that rebuilding replicas of the existing cylinder fountains – they cost a whopping 1 million dollars in the high-flying 1970s (okay, maybe 4 million adjusted for inflation) – would be cost-prohibitive, so they are instead scrapping the defining street-lining fountains and installing vertical jet fountains in the new, less-sunken main plaza (see the rendering to figure out what I am feebly describing there). I consider this design to be the IKEA of fountains – it’s so typical in Europe that in Oslo they run a tram through it. Just like the fountains in the existing design both define and enclose the plaza – they are the most prominent feature from the street and from the sunken plaza, but also shelter the plaza from the street and give it an idiosyncratically (and very 70s) isolated feel – the new location of the IKEA fountains will allow the new design to interact a lot more with the surrounding streets, which besides being a trendy design aspect is useful for controlling homeless people.
I’m not really opposed to the debasement of Peavey Plaza. On the contrary, it confirms my weltanschauung, in which human culture perpetually but sporadically sinks, like someone who can’t swim thrashing wildly as they drown. Maybe 400 years ago the fetishization of the water well reached its zenith, but in ancient times that well tended to be less beautiful but more venerated for being a source of life. In Minneapolis we’re used to the destruction of our defining physical structures and their replacement with something banal or ephemeral. Peavey Plaza isn’t even really a Glass Block or a Metropolitan, but more comparable to the previous incarnation of the Walker Art Center, which began its life as an exuberant example of Moorish Revivalism, but quickly devolved into a dull modernist rectangle. Of course, that rectangle was short-lived, and we have every reason to expect the newer, duller Peavey Plaza to be destroyed and rebuilt whenever the aesthetic engineers that infest the coasts of this continent devise a new technique of mass-producing scenery.