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Futuristic vision would top 35W with a park neighborhood

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Imagine spreading a blanket on the grass for a picnic above Interstate 35W. That may not be too far off, if a team of students, planners and designers get their way.

They are dreaming up a futuristic vision to create a land bridge park atop the stretch of Interstate 35W in Minneapolis near Washington Avenue, Seven Corners and the University of Minnesota.

And it wouldn’t just be a park.

The team, which includes students at the U School of Architecture and the Metropolitan Design Center, has designed a whole new neighborhood with space for businesses and schools, too.

The neighborhood would include enough apartments to house 5,000 residents, along with daycare facilities, light rail and shopping to serve them.

“You’d be creating density,” says Mic Johnson, interim director of the Metropolitan Design Center.

He says businesses in the neighborhood would benefit from proximity to the university and from easy access to light-rail lines as well as I-35W and I-94.

And the new neighborhood would also be environmentally friendly, MinnPost reports.

All buildings would have "green" roofs. Covered with vegetation, they provide environmental benefits, reducing rainwater runoff for example, and filtering out pollutants. Higher floors would be set back from the lot line to allow for sunshine, air and eyes on the streets below. And in the middle of the whole thing would be a ribbon of parkland covering up I-35.

The plan doesn’t include tearing down any existing businesses. Much of the land and the air rights are publicly-owned.

Johnson says the new park would repair some of the historical damage caused by the construction of the interstate right through the city decades ago.

"The process demolished hundreds of blocks of real estate, divided neighborhoods and degraded the quality of life for thousands of urban residents, creating enormous amounts of noise and air pollution," Johnson says.

"The time has come to repair these self-inflicted wounds and stitch our cities back together if we hope to thrive - socially, environmentally, and economically - in the 21st Century."

Right now, he says, 35W forms a barrier between communities, and the land on either side is essentially wasted.

The new park neighborhood would bring the city together.

And, he says the plan doesn’t require public funding.

“By returning 11 blocks of taxable real estate to the city, utilizing the air rights above the highway to generate revenue for the state, and creating public parks and district parking for a whole new neighborhood."

MinnPost reports costs for capping 35W would range from $40 million to $60 million.

MnDOT commissioner Charles Zelle told MinnPost he supports the proposal.

The plan corresponds with the state’s transportation goals of creating a system that incorporates different modes of travel, while maximizing “the health of people, the environment and the economy."

He wasn’t the only one happy to hear about the idea.

Steve Cramer, CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council, says the "lidding" would aid in achieving the group’s plan for 2025, one of whose aims is to double downtown population to 70,000., MinnPost reports.

Some estimates show big returns to Minneapolis from the project, with a boost in tax revenues over a 10-year period by $288 million. Currently, the 11 blocks involved would pay about $8.1 million over the same period.

Planners say they don’t want to stop at the 35W either – their vision calls for two dozen other highway parks around the Twin Cities, creating “a necklace of green connecting the city's major landmarks."

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