Bridge symposium addresses issues with river and city

A small crowd gathered in the Ted Mann Concert Hall Thursday night to listen to stories of the Mississippi accompanied by classical piano and accordion. While Patricia Hampl, memoirist and RegentsâÄô professor of English, read various authorsâÄô accounts of the river, Dan Chouinard played classics on the piano. This began âÄúThe City, the River, the Bridge,âÄù a two-day symposium that looked at issues surrounding the Mississippi River and transportation infrastructure in light of the collapse of Interstate 35W bridge. The event picked up on Friday morning in Hanson Hall, with a panel of speakers addressing the local, regional and global effects of the bridge collapse. Tom Fisher, dean of the School of Design, said the new bridge is well built, in contrast with the old one. âÄúThe way the bridge is designed now, it is like four connected bridges, so if one fell, it wouldnâÄôt bring down the others,âÄù Fisher said. However, he said the new bridge is still part of a fractured urban system. Geography professor Roger Miller furthered the point of a fractured urban system with maps of development patterns in the city. Miller said âÄúedge development,âÄù or building farther from the city, dwarfed development in Minneapolis and created suburbs. However, Miller said a year living without the I-35W bridge has highlighted the weak points in this system. âÄúIf we continue to address transportation issues by putting in more roadways, we may be missing the point,âÄù he said. Judith Martin, geography professor and director of the urban studies program, said these infrastructure issues became a serious problem for those neighborhoods surrounding the bridge after the collapse. âÄúNormal life disappeared for a time,âÄù she said. âÄúCongestion made our everyday activities impossible.âÄù Freeway traffic moved onto neighborhood streets, Martin said, causing congestion, limited on-street parking and dangers to pedestrians. This traffic also limited peoplesâÄô access to businesses in the area, which suffered greatly during that year, she said. Martin said the bridge collapse made it obvious that the city needs to redesign its transportation infrastructure to attract people from the suburbs to the city. The second panel directed attention to the Mississippi River. Deb Swackhamer, a professor of environmental chemistry, described the importance of the Mississippi River and current pollution issues. Similar to the I-35W bridge, Swackhamer said, the river is also an important artery, not just for transportation, but also as an ecosystem. However, man-made pollution, including the building of locks and dams and discharges of wastewater, is destroying the river, she said. âÄúWe are the beginning point of the river, so in many ways, we are its parents,âÄù she said. âÄúLet us use this tragedy to reacquaint us with the value of the river.âÄù The final panel of the symposium looked at how the University can become engaged with the community and the river. Andrew Furco, associate vice president for public engagement, said the goal of most universities is to engage with the community, not only through programs, but to prepare students who will go out and improve society. The symposium closed with remarks from President Bob Bruininks, who admits to being a long-time lover of the river. âÄúOne of my great passions is to sit on the back of a canoe,âÄù he said. Bruininks said itâÄôs important that the University connect its drive to discover to real life solutions, saying the St. Anthony Falls laboratory is one way the University is working with the river. The lab, located on an island on the river, conducts research for developing engineering solutions to major environmental, water and energy-related problems. Hilary Holmes, a senior majoring in urban studies , said the symposium addressed things that many people donâÄôt see as issues. âÄúWe have to think about where we are going to go now,âÄù she said. âÄúWe canâÄôt just build a bridge and bow out. There is still a lot of work to be done.âÄù