Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Ghetto in the Sky

A dubious landmark in Minneapolis is Riverside Plaza, or as it's more commonly known among my generation, "Ghetto in the Sky" or "The Crack Stacks".

Located at the intersection of 35W and I-94, it is primarily home to East African immigrants. Minneapolis has a huge Somali population (fun fact: the much more commonly used "Somalian" is grammatically incorrect!)--in fact, Minneapolis has the largest Somali population in the United States.

When I was little, I thought this building was so cool, because of the painted squares on the outside that set it apart from other skyscrapers in the city. I don't know if it's a side-effect of me growing older, or if the buildings' colors have faded from the sun over the years, but they now seem dingy and dated, an embarassing hulk of real estate set apart from the rest of Minneapolis's reflective glass skyline. It was built in 1973 and looks like it was built in 1973.

Now, the owners of the development are planning a $100M renovation of the property, and are looking for the state to grant the buildings historic status in order to get over $20M in federal and state tax credits to help finance the project. Usually, a building needs to be over fifty years old to be considered for historic status, or have a great significance. I don't personally believe that these buildings are historically significant enough to be granted this status.

Am I biased, based on the buildings' not-so-flattering nicknames? My opinion is not based on racial stereotypes associated with these buildings, I just don't think they deserve historical status, and therefore don't deserve the funding from the government for their project. What do you think?


  1. Congrats Lady Buck, on a great blog concept, especially this post. My apologies for the ensuing rant...

    Local government housing assistance is one thing, but public funds for this under the "historic preservation" category? No way!

    I just think architecture says a lot about the soul of a city, and particularly when you're talking about a complex that's partially subsidized with public funds, we're justified in asking that project to make a positive contribution to the aestethics of our city.

    Both aestethically and structurally, this complex is an offense against the human soul, particularly when we make refugees from a warzone live in it. It's a lost cause, as it was from its inception, like all Brutalist architecture, IMHO. Tear it down, and build something in its place that will be both a positive contribution to our skyline, and a dignified and economically prudent subsidized housing solution for low-income residents.

    Side rant: who are these people that think such a horrible eyesore as this travesty of justice is worthy of historic preservation? If someone thinks this dark period in Western architecture is worthy of remembrance, we'll always have pictures of this disgusting complex for you to look at. And besides, Minneapolis abounds in other examples of the quasi-socialist idealism that was Brutalist architecture. Moos Tower or the Rarig Center, anyone? And although technically not brutalist, the hideous 33 S 6th St (aka City Center, aka Multifoods Tower) should equally fill such a person with delight.

  2. Wow, Joe, that was a very well-thought out comment... maybe better than my original post :)

    I don't know if tearing it down, as you suggested, is the right option... at least not unless something is built elsewhere first. I like your choice of the word "dignified" in reference to low-income housing. As you mentioned, many of the residents of this building are refugees, and while they are undoubtedly glad to have any home, they are no less deserving of a home to be proud of than any born-and-raised American.

    What particularly surprises me is that in the Star Tribune article I linked to, they were open about the fact that the building was originally built on the cheap with materials that were not necessarily intended to stand the test of time. And yet this building is proposed as an historical landmark? I am admittedly not clear on the requirements to become a landmark, but it seems reasonable that some measure of durability and permanence be assumed. If these qualities were not intended for this structure originally--why should we assign them now?

    As to architectural style... I suppose I should be more open-minded. I have never favored a cookie-cutter aesthetic, and Minneapolis has several examples of buildings that some consider eyesores but I think are beautiful: the Weisman Art Museum, the Walker Art Center, the new Guthrie Theatre just to name a few. However, I still wouldn't even argue for these buildings to get special treatment and be granted Historical Landmark status before their 50th birthday. Maybe I'm being a stickler for rules here, but that's how I feel.

  3. I think the Weisman, Walker and Guthrie would at least deserve such status after 50 years, but I still think this place would be a hard sell even after 50 years. And as for my tearing-down idea, there are multiple buildings in the complex, so ideally they wouldn't rip them all out at once. It's not likely to happen anyway, but a boy can dream :-).

  4. I grew up in the Twin Cities and it is so funny that you thought the buildings were cool when you were young. I did too. Every time my parents drove past the building I used to say that I thought it would be a nice place to live. My parents would laugh - because really - it's always been a ghetto type place. I was only 8 at the time.

  5. The Somalian population have lived in the taxpayer subsidized grey ghetto on the West Bank for over 20 years now. Time to become fluent, get full time employment and move on. The building should once again become a vibrant mix of citizens. Students, singles, working poor, and some immigrants. Every other group of refugees have become self-sufficient in much less time.

  6. People recreate what they know. Let them recreate Somalia in this highway-ringed section of MSP. Pay the $100mn ransom and consider ourselves lucky. Do not tear it down as that will only promote distribution of these cretins throughout the city. Witness the disaster that ensued in Chicago after the demolition of its concentrated public housing developments - skyrocketing violence. Integration has failed in the US. MSP already carries the burden of an unassimilable African population. Don't make it worse by creating the risk of their dispersion.