Finding Space for Research

While the World Garden Commons is designed as a community gathering space, research conducted there is helping us understand natural urban spaces. Last year, North Dakota State University researchers kicked off numerous projects in the stormwater basin.

Their research data will provide important information for planners and community members who will make decisions about stormwater management in the future.

From the projects, we are learning more about topics such as natural prairie restoration and water retention.

Here’s a brief explanation of some of the projects:

Piezometers, an instrument that measures the pressure of gas or liquids, were installed to sample groundwater in the basin. The samples collected from April to September will be analyzed at the North Dakota Department of Health lab in Bismarck for E.coli, nitrogen, phosphorus, nitrates, ammonia, TKN, general chemistry and dissolved phosphorus.

Additional devices were designed to test the water flowing into and out of the basin during major spring flooding and summer storm events at three sites: World Garden Commons, a basin near Scheels, and the Fish Eye Basin surrounded by apartments north of 9th Ave. Samples were taken at three different water levels as water entered and exited the basins.

Researchers inventoried vegetation as part of native prairie restoration in the basin last spring. Twenty-five ovals were marked and seeded with various seed mixes. A seed blanket was placed on half of the seeded area to protect the seeds from erosion. Later, a standardized inventory was taken to assess the vegetation established in the mowed and non-mowed areas.

To determine how trails will impact vegetation, Jesse, a post-graduate researcher, used a modified aerator, dubbed the “Bison foot traffic simulator,” to replicate foot traffic on newly mowed paths. Expect to see more of Jesse and the “Bison foot traffic simulator” in spring and summer of 2017.

Jack Norland, NDSU Natural Resources Management program, supervised three undergraduate research projects.  Based on project stream flows a student, developed two rock riffles and two rock/willow riffles to induce meandering in the stream. A trash research project collected samples from three basins to determine where trash in the story water system is coming from. A survey of the Growing Together community garden participants was conducted to learn the motivations, benefits, and barriers to participating in the community gardens.

We’re Not Alone: Learning from Other Creative Placemaking Leaders

Sometimes innovative and exciting work can be lonely work, which is why we at The Fargo Project were excited to attend The Kresge Foundation’s conference in Philadelphia this fall.

The gathering brought together creative placemaking leaders and project implementers to learn from one another. It also gave us an opportunity to experience how a few neighborhoods in Philly have thrived by integrated arts and culture into daily life.

Nicole Crutchfield, our project lead and a city planner, and Rachel Asleson of Reach Partners, the project’s communications manager, attended.

The Kresge Foundation defines creative placemaking as “the integration of arts, culture and community engaged design into community development and urban planning practices.”

Philadelphia, PA

Philadelphia, PA

The foundation invests in projects and activities that change the paradigm and expand opportunities for vulnerable populations in America’s cities. The Fargo Project is one of these. To be successful, the work requires a long view, partners and creative solutions to complex problems, according to The Kresge Foundation.

This is why learning from other creative placemaking leaders is so valuable.

The Enterprise Center is housed in the original American Bandstand studio.

The Enterprise Center is housed in the original American Bandstand studio.

We talked about the complexity of creating a 500-year plan that shapes everyday people, connections and activities. We discussed steps needed to build thriving places that create meaningful connections, utility, beauty, health and prosperity.

We also toured examples of thriving and healthy neighborhoods that demonstrate creative placemaking.

First up was The Enterprise Center, housed in the original American Bandstand studio. What had been dilapidated was transformed into a state-of-the art center for programs such as business entrepreneurship, youth education, financial training, micro-loans and urban agriculture. Today, the space builds a stronger community by enhancing relationships, skills and a stronger, healthier neighborhood.

A quick tour of West Philly along Lancaster Avenue brought us to the Neighborhood Time Exchange, Public Workshop and Tiny WPA. These three entities were connected by Alex Gilliam, a building hero and visionary. In this space, Gilliam’s vision plus a few carpentry tools transform the community through design, K-12 education, hands-on experiences and artist involvement.

D’Ashay, a 17-year old Tiny WPA participant summed it up: “It would be great if we could build more useful and creative things around our city to make it a better and happier place.”

Artist’s studio in West Philly

The Kresge Foundation’s 3-Year Grant

In 2015, the City of Fargo received a 3-year grant from The Kresge Foundation to fund the creative placemaking efforts that are indicative of The Fargo Project’s approach.

The Kresge Foundation shares a vision with ArtPlace America and the National Endowment for the Arts and funds programs “where arts and culture are integrated and sustain how we think about healthy places to live and thrive,” says Maria Rosairo Jackson, senior advisor at The Kresge Foundation.

Creative placemaking includes four phases: analysis, engagement, design and implementation. Key to the process is taking these first three phases out of the city hall setting and moving them into the community. Creative placemaking connects artists, infrastructure, social and cultural needs. The leaders of The Fargo Project have learned that the process is as much a part of the art as a transformed space.

“We are learning through the process we are creating, and creating a process adaptable to other locations in our city,” says Nicole Crutchfield, city planner and leader of The Fargo Project.

Nicole Crutchfield, city planner and leader of The Fargo Project

Nicole Crutchfield, city planner and leader of The Fargo Project

“We believe that by setting the stage to activate public space through culturally relevant processes we can learn to appreciate our culture and define meaningful place. By connecting individual voices through artist-led initiatives, we will gain valuable insight on how best to transform Rabanus Park (the existing park and basin) into World Garden Commons. We can then begin transforming other physical spaces and methods for designing infrastructure,” she says.

Funds from the Kresge Foundation allow for thoughtful community experimentation while protecting and keeping the principles learned from integrating artists and community involvement into The Fargo Project.


The Kresge Foundation is a $3.6 billion private, national foundation that works to expand opportunities in America’s cities through grantmaking and social investing in arts and culture, education, environment, health, human services, and community development in Detroit. In 2015, the Board of Trustees approved 370 grants totaling $125.2 million, and nine social investment commitments totaling $20.3 million.

Read We Are Not Alone: Learning from Other Creative Placemakers

World Garden Commons Construction Update

Construction at World Garden Commons, the pilot site for The Fargo Project, started August 2015 and is slated to continue through this year.

Planning the sequence of Commons projects has been a balancing act as we strive to keep stakeholders informed and involved – while we honor the region’s unpredictable weather. After all, there are no models we can follow for this approach. The city hasn’t done restorative work in a stormwater basin before; the public has never been invited to provide this level of input on a city project before.

Still, we expect we will finish a number of projects in the basin this year:

  • Construction on the water features for two inlets and one outlet continues throughout the winter months.
  • The natural play site will begin to take shape once boulders are placed.
  • An overlook, a series of decked platforms where visitors can stand to view the basin or enter the basin bowl, is designed. The plans, however, need to be amended to fit the project’s budget. Once that’s done, a portion of the project will go for bid.
  • An Eagle Scout has begun to design and research materials for a pedestrian bridge that will connect the basin’s east and west green sections.
  • The design team will investigate materials to be used for paths throughout the basin. One key quality of these materials is that they can’t wash away when the basin fills and drains after a rain event. These paths will encourage people to explore the 18-acre basin, giving the public a different experience than walking along the rim.
The map outlines construction sequence at World Garden Commons

The map outlines construction sequence at World Garden Commons