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The MR|DI’s design team TLS/KVA – partnering firms Tom Leader Studio and Kennedy & Violich Architecture – propose RiverFIRST, a multifaceted and multidimensional vision for a renewed and revitalized Upper Riverfront.

Scroll down for a guide to exploring the RiverFIRST proposal and for design team biographies. Then join the journey to the future of Upper Riverfront parks by connecting with our Community Engagement activities.


Four Design Principles

Go with the Flow: This is an approach to planning that allows the river to inform how it is shaped and used. It resists the imposition of dams, levies and locks and instead makes connections to surrounding storm water systems, neighborhoods and river wildlife.

Design with Topography: The shores and adjacent land along this 5.5-mile stretch of the Mississippi is varied in height.  RiverFIRST takes advantage of this natural state by day-lighting existing storm water infrastructure, creating scenic views and overlapping programs to maximize land use.

Both/And: Differences between public and private, work and play and segregated communities can be overcome by an approach that tolerates the coexistence of multiple uses and conditions and that creates new opportunities for access and understanding.

Parks Plus: RiverFIRST envisions parks that provide more than open space, trees and recreation; rather, parks are a regenerative place, cleaning storm water from the city before it enters the Mississippi, habitat for native flora and fauna, and an economic engine for Minneapolis and the region.

Four Responses to 21st Century Challenges

Water: RiverFIRST offers a comprehensive remediation of the Minneapolis storm water management system, transforming storm water – naturally cleaned by new bio-infiltration systems – into a confluence of “tributaries” that lead back to the river.

Health: A guiding principle in the RiverFIRST proposal is to leverage parkland to improve the health of the river and the health of Minneapolis and its neighborhoods through new opportunities for urban agriculture and easy neighborhood access to healthy food and nutrition.

Mobility: The new Knot Bridge bike/ski pedestrian walkways tie together the North and Northeast river shore trails to create a world-class recreational and bike commuting network with Nice Ride Stations and to improve suburban and regional public access to the river.

Green Economy: RiverFIRST proposes to use the Park as a catalyst to accelerate the transition of the River to a 21st century green economy based on logistical transportation advantages and smart and clean-tech innovations.

Nine Areas of Opportunity

Proposed Public and Green Space

Riverfront Trail: A continuous green Park Trail returns the Mississippi Riverfront to the public by connecting both public and private land through strategic local interventions.  What has been considered as an inaccessible backyard now has become a central amenity within Minneapolis’ internationally renowned park system.

BioHavens®: A protected network of floating islands made of robust, lightweight geotextiles and 100% recycled PET materials, the BioHavens® will create over eight acres of riparian habitat for endangered species and migratory birds by providing nesting and staging areas for endangered aquatic and land animals and plants.

Library Square Park: An urban living room for downtown and a gateway to the river connected by a park landscape of day-lighted storm water tributaries to the Mississippi River.

Farview Park to Mississippi Expansion: The centerpiece for the River City Innovation District, this major new park extension with urban agriculture bridges over Interstate 94 and reconnects the high point of the city and communities in North Minneapolis with the Mississippi River.

Westside Wetlands: A molded alluvial wetland landscape is reclaimed to create a civic-scaled climate change eco-infrastructure, providing bio-filtration for storm water flows, increased flood protection, and new riverfront habitats.

Green Port: The Upper Harbor Terminal evolves into a clean energy port that drives the city’s global and regional green economy providing research, design and manufacturing facilities that can take advantage of the site’s existing multi-modal road, train and river transportation systems.

Northeast Bluffs: For Northeast Minneapolis, RIVERFIRST follows principles of carving produced by the constant flow of water against the river’s limestone bluffs.  Ravine landscapes remediate storm water and form stepped eco-stairs for flows of water, people, and wild life, and serve as high points to overlook the Mississippi and downtown Minneapolis.

Scherer Park: Restoring Hall’s Island and offering a river beach cove, Scherer Park will serve as a recreational entry point to the Mississippi trail and park system for kayaks, bikes, skiers, and runners.  Residential uses, a Community Arts Center, and pool/skating rink create a significant urban hub at this important riverfront site.

Spirit Island: A former sacred place for the Dakota Indians, the now vanished Spirit Island is symbolized by an illuminated river weir to mark the site as the eye and soul of the river.


Tom Leader
Tom Leader, Principal, (TLS) is a landscape architecture and planning practice that seeks to investigate the uniqueness of cities and their landscapes. Community collaboration is central to TLS in civic projects such as the newly-opened 20 acre Railroad Park in downtown Birmingham, Alabama. The TLS project “Shanghai Carpet” has been featured in the Museum of Modern Art’s 2005 “Groundswell” exhibit. TLS was also included in the 2006 Triennial “Design Life Now” at the Cooper Hewitt Museum. The landscape, art and architecture collaboration, “Pool Pavilion Forest” with artist James Turrell was featured in the New York Times Magazine and received a 2009 ASLA Honor Award. A monograph of the firm’s work “Tom Leader Studio: Three Projects” has been recently published by Princeton Architectural Press.

Sheila Kennedy, AIA
Sheila Kennedy received her Bachelor’s Degree in history, philosophy and literature from the College of Letters at Wesleyan University. Kennedy studied architecture at the Ecole National Supérieure des Beaux Arts in Paris and received the Masters of Architecture from the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University where she was graduated with Distinction, the School’s highest academic honor. As an Associate Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Kennedy was Director of the M Arch II Program from 1991-1995 and is currently Professor of the Practice of Architecture at MIT. She is the first woman to hold this position in the MIT Department of Architecture.

As a founding Principal of Kennedy & Violich Architecture Ltd. (KVA), Sheila Kennedy has established a new model for an interdisciplinary design practice that explores architecture, digital technology and emerging public needs. Designated as one of Fast Company’s emerging Masters of Design, Kennedy is described as an “insightful and original thinker who is designing new ways of working, leading and innovating”. In 2000, Kennedy established MATx, the pioneering materials research unit at KVA. MATx engages applied creative production across the fields of design, digital electronics, architecture, and material science. The MATx Portable Light Project, a non-profit global initiative to provide adaptable solar textile kits in the developing world has been recognized with a 2009 US Congressional Award, a 2009 Energy Globe Award and a 2008 Tech Museum Laureate Award for technology that benefits humanity.

Kennedy has served as an advisor to the United States Department of Energy, the National Academy of Sciences’ Government-Industry Partnerships and the Vision 2020 National Technology Roadmap. She is the author of multiple patents for the integration of digital technologies into architecture, building materials and textiles. Kennedy’s research and work in architecture have been recognized by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Academy of Sciences.

Juan Frano Violich, FAIA
Violich received his Bachelor’s degree in Architecture at the University of California at Berkeley, and received the Masters of Architecture from the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University where he was graduated with Distinction, the School’s highest academic honor. Frano Violich received Harvard University’s Julia Appleton Travelling Fellowship Award and studied the fusion of traditional construction and contemporary design in Japan. In 1990, he founded Kennedy & Violich Architecture (KVA Matx) in partnership with Sheila Kennedy.

As an artist, Violich has had solo exhibitions at MassMoca in North Adams, MA, the Max Protech Gallery in New York City, NY, and the Phillip Bonafont Gallery in San Francisco, CA, and his work is in the permanent collection of the Museo de Arte Contemporanea in Merida, Mexico. Violich lectures and has given keynote talks at international conferences on design and the creative economy including the 2010 Design & Innovations Conference in Sao Paolo, Brazil, the 2009 Centro Metropolitana de Diseno Conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the 2008 World Sustainability Conference in Melbourne, Australia, the 2008 Conference of the Royal Australian Institute of Architecture and the 2007 Society for College & University Planners in Montreal, Canada.

Violich has been on the visiting Faculty at the Rhode Island School of Design, and has held the Saarinen Distinguished Professorship at the University of Michigan, the Freidman Guest Professorship at UC Berkeley, and Shur Visiting Professorship at the University of Virginia. Frano Violich has served as Design Commissioner of the Boston Society of Architects and is Chair of the Executive Committee for the Design and Industry Group of Massachusetts (DIGMA) working with leaders in government, business, and education to advance design as an integral part of the Massachusetts innovation economy. Elevated to the American Institute of Architects National College of Fellows in 2008, Violich is a registered Architect of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the State of New York, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the State of Rhode Island.