See Twin Cities parks in a whole new way with guided tours, new database

·4 min read

See the Twin Cities in a whole new way.

That's a goal of What's Out There Twin Cities, a years-in-the-making project that's debuting this month. It's the work of the Washington, D.C.-based Cultural Landscape Foundation, and it will allow online users to explore the design, background and importance of dozens of significant metro-area landscapes, a diverse range of places that includes Gold Medal Park, the Midtown Greenway, Historic Fort Snelling at Bdote and Victory Memorial Drive.

"Our mantra is, 'Make visible, instill value and engage the public,' " said Charles Birnbaum, the foundation's president and CEO. "We're excited to share our enthusiasm for the Twin Cities, which has an unrivaled and visionary legacy of park planning and design."

Kicking off the Twin Cities' inclusion in the foundation's What's Out There database is a nondigital event: What's Out There Weekend Twin Cities, a series of free guided tours of parks, gardens, historic landscapes and open spaces, set for Sept. 18 and 19.

Online learning

Those unable to make the in-person tours can immerse themselves in the foundation's database — a mammoth, easily searchable and interactive archive that spotlights 2,300 landscapes across North America.

Also included are 1,100 profiles of influential individuals and design firms, and 12,000 photographs. It's optimized for smartphones and includes a handy GPS-enabled feature that allows users to locate landscapes within given distances.

The Twin Cities metro area is the 20th region to be added to the database. Along with including information on 67 varied landscapes, the new segment also features two dozen profiles, including glimpses into the legacy of Eloise Butler, Charles M. Loring, Martin & Pitz Associates and other landscape design pioneers.

"You might know a lot about Theodore Wirth, but you'll learn that Minneapolis stole him from Hartford," said Birnbaum. "You can click and learn about his work there. The same with M. Paul Friedberg. You may know about Peavey Plaza and Loring Greenway, but he worked all over the U.S. and Canada in a career that spanned a half-century, and that's all connected through the database."

Find the Twin Cities database at

The foundation has also created a truncated guidebook, including all of the landscapes featured on the tours. The online edition ( can be downloaded to a printer (free), and a published version can be purchased ($12.95) through the foundation's website.

Walking and biking

Next weekend's tours are free, but registration is required and tour sizes are limited. To register, go to

Sponsors include the Minnesota Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects, the National Endowment for the Arts, Minnesota Historical Society, Green Minneapolis and nearly two dozen design firms.

"It's a really big tent of support," said Birnbaum.

All tours are scheduled to run two hours unless otherwise noted, and for bike tours, attendees must provide their own bicycles. The tours are being led by local landscape architects, historians, consultants and academics.

"We love the idea of having local experts lead these tours," said Birnbaum. "Often, they have been involved in the work in some way, or it happens to be a favorite landscape. It's great to see it though their eyes, and to learn about the often invisible stories behind these places."

Sept. 18

8:30 a.m.: The Knoll, Northrop Mall and Scholars Walk, University of Minnesota

8:30 a.m.: U.S. Bank Stadium, the Arches, the Commons, U.S. Federal Courthouse and Hennepin County Government Center

9 a.m.: United Cities Bike Tour (three hours, bike tour)

10 a.m.: Juxtaposition Skate-able Art Plaza, 26th Avenue Overlook, Farview Park (bike tour)

10:30 a.m.: Lakewood Cemetery (90 minutes)

11:30 a.m.: Nicollet Island Pavilion, Water Power Park, St. Anthony Falls, Father Hennepin Bluff Park, Mississippi Riverfront Regional Park and Stone Arch Bridge

11:30 a.m.: Nicollet Mall and Peavey Plaza

1 p.m.: Minnehaha Falls (Mnigaga), Coldwater Spring (Mni Owe Sni) and Historic Fort Snelling at Bdote (bike tour)

1 p.m.: Theodore Wirth Regional Park, Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and the Trailhead

2:30 p.m.: Nicollet Island Pavilion, Water Works, Mill Ruins Park, Stone Arch Bridge and Gold Medal Park

Sept. 19

9 a.m.: Kellogg Mall, Raspberry Island/River Overlook and Harriet Island (90 minutes)

9 a.m.: Minnesota State Capitol and Capitol memorials

9 a.m.: Indian Mounds Regional Park and Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary

Noon: Rice Park, Landmark Plaza, Irvine Park and Upper Landing Park (90 minutes)

Noon: Western Sculpture Park, Aurora St. Anthony Peace Sanctuary Garden and Rondo Commemorative Plaza

Noon: Como Park, Marjorie McNeely Conservatory, Como Lakeside Pavilion and Charlotte Partridge Ordway Japanese Garden (90 minutes)

1 p.m.: Loring Greenway, Loring Park, Wurtele Upper Garden and Minneapolis Sculpture Garden