Community Conversations: West Side Flats Greenway

On Tuesday, the first community meeting for the West Side Flats Greenway took place at the Neighborhood House/Wellstone Center in St. Paul. Attendees were greeted by project members and asked to participate in a number of activities relevant to the planning process. People were asked to write about what they saw for the space in ten years and to vote on their ideal space designs. With this process there were pictures of various gathering space concepts, water features, park types, bench styles, and activities displayed where each person voted for their two favorites in each category.

The theme of community input was apparent throughout the meeting and was especially salient because the green space is all about designing for function and amenity.

The West Side Flats Study Area is approximately 120 acres and is located directly across the Mississippi River from downtown Saint Paul; situated between the river, Plato Boulevard, Wabasha Street, and Lafayette Road. The proposed Greenway is located along a working rail line that divides the Study Area.

The Study Area was funded through multiple grants including U.S. EPA Brownfields Areawide Planning. Through this grant, Minnesota Brownfields was brought on as a partner to help inform the community about the role of brownfields in redevelopment planning for the West Side Flats. The Areawide grant  enables planners to assess not just the proposed study area but the area around it for an expanded, holistic, next-gen approach to planning. The site of the Greenway has soil contamination in the form of unregulated fill (cinders, brick, black top, and sand) which is not toxic along with a small area of arsenic cleanup.

Throughout the presentations there was a theme of returning back to the Flats as the immigrant population that once lived there was removed due to flooding. The vision for the West Side Flats is a mixed use urban village for all with the Greenway as the most prominent green space in the neighborhood. The Greenway will be part of a larger amenity complex with connections to a river walk and bike trails to make the park a multiuse amenity for residents.westsideflatsvote

However, there are a number of challenges that come with this project as well, the most important being the creative use of limited space. The area for the Greenway will not just be a park but a stormwater management site. There will be a stormwater pond to protect the area which is designed to withstand five year floods while also being a stormwater treatment area. Making this limited space a successful water management system and an appealing park able to support a large population is further compounded by the presence of the railroad and the existence of utilities that cannot be built on or have trees on as access is still needed. These challenges are daunting but involving community in the design process will help the community understand the process.

The West Side Flats Greenway is using a stacked-function green infrastructure concept where private property owners are partnering with the City of Saint Paul to use green design to manage stormwater runoff, reduce sewer overflows, and improve water quality. Barr Engineering is coordinating master planning for the stormwater functions of the Greenway. The City itself is implementing the process in a different way as the maintenance, operation, and assessment of the site is being done through multiple department partnerships instead of one department and is a learning process for all.

This meeting was all about helping the community understand the potential for the space along with the challenges that come along with it. Minnesota Brownfields was on hand to give insights into how projects like this have been handled in the past and what kinds of remediation need to be done at this area in particular. The next community meeting will be in 6 to 8 weeks where Barr Engineering will bring in proposals for the community to learn about and discuss.