Placemaking in Practice

Ten years ago, who would have thought a bare, mowed stormwater basin in Fargo, ND could be a transformed into gathering space, community gardens, ecologically restored and nationally recognized?

Transform a stormwater basin Learn new low-impact stormwater practices Integrate artists and community into the public process Connect programming activities to public spaces

Creative placemaking, is a relatively new approach which crosses art and culture with design in infrastructure and development projects. The results of the creative placemaking approach is emerging through the construction at World Garden Commons at Rabanus Park, Fargo ND.

Echoing the experiences of those working on The Fargo Project, Leslie Braunstein summarizes the 10 best practices for Creative Placemaking written by Juanita Hardy, Urban Land Institute’s senior visiting fellow whose work supports Building Healthy Places Initiative, a two-year creative placemaking project funded by the Kresge Foundation.

  1. Begin with the end in mind. Envision what you would like to see, but also what you do not want to see, such as displacement of existing residents.
  2. Bring in artists and the community early. Timing is everything. Art and culture need to be central to the project’s design.
  3. “Mine” local art and cultural assets. Creative placemaking works best when used to amplify local community assets.
  4. Engage local artists. Find and recruit artists in the local community, including visual artists, performing artists, poets, writers, musicians, designers, chefs, and other creative types.
  5. Understand and articulate stakeholder benefits. Explore how art and culture can contribute to both the social and economic vitality of a project.
  6. Form cross-sector partnerships, including artists, community members, and public and private sector organizations.
  7. Identify the critical skills needed to deliver on project goals and outcomes. Collaboration is critical to the success of a project.
  8. Look for early wins to generate excitement, visibility, and buy-in. For example, use pop-ups and community gatherings to gain engagement while awaiting entitlements.
  9. Maintain a long view. Don’t stop when the goals of the built environment are met. Consider programming that keeps the community engaged and the place alive and exciting.
  10. Pursue creative financing. Money can come from unforeseen, unexpected places—even, for example, a casino.


Role of the Artist: Vision Keeper

In celebration of Jackie Brookner’s (1947-2015) work, we recognize the legacy of her work as an artist in the construction and the ecological restoration of World Garden Commons at Rabanus Park.

“I needed to challenge and share authorship, to provide opportunities where people could exercise their own ability to solve local ecological problems in creative ways.” Jackie Brookner

A long-held artistic goal in the lifetime of Brookner’s work was to integrate the creative process of the people within their community.

Before design began, Brookner wanted to hear from people in the community. She organized gatherings of people known to share like interests, partners and programs that matched the vision and principles of the project.

“I needed to challenge and share authorship, to provide opportunities where people could exercise their own ability to solve local ecological problems in creative ways.” -Jackie Brookner, Ecological Artist

The community was invited to participate in the work of local artists: ceramic bowls, batiked placemats, puppet shows.  The works of art engaged the senses and emotions of the recipient creating opportunities for deeper interaction and participation.

While authorship came from the community, Brookner served as the project’s vision keeper, or the link between community’s ideas, desires and interests and the outcomes of The Fargo Project at World Garden Commons.

Role of the Artist: Deep Listening

In celebration of Jackie Brookner’s (1947-2015) work, we recognize the legacy of her work as an artist in the construction and the ecological restoration of World Garden Commons at Rabanus Park.

"I always begin with listening–to the place itself, how it feels and functions or could function ecologically and socially, to its assets and needs." - -Jackie Brookner Jackie Brookner was a master inquisitor, asking team members of The Fargo Project to share stories, personal backgrounds and interests.  As people shared stories, Jackie engaged all her senses to listen for cues to tell her more about an individual’s vision.

During one gathering, NDSU professor Carolyn Grygiel talked about the ability to transform the basin.  She used her hands to gesture large round shapes.  Jackie asked her what the gestures meant, and Carolyn remarked that she didn’t even realize she was making the shape of a buffalo boulder.

The professor explained the geology of glacial movement across the Red River Basin left behind various kinds of large rocks, “buffalo boulders,” that would not otherwise be found in the region.

Today there are buffalo boulders found in the design of the natural play area – a nod to those gestures.

People of The Fargo Project: Ben Bauer, Restoring Frogs

Ben Bauer, a NDSU Natural Resource Management graduate student, will reintroduce frogs into a restored urban wetland habitat and monitor the success of the reintroduced frogsBen Bauer, a NDSU Natural Resource Management graduate student, will reintroduce frogs into a restored urban wetland habitat and monitor the success of the reintroduced frogs.

This fulfills one of the goals for World Garden Commons at Rabanus Park—to create an interactive area for the residents of Fargo to enjoy the sights and sounds of birds, crickets and frogs. However, there is just one problem—there are no frogs that naturally live in these areas.

“The Fargo Project is the first project of its kind to create a wetland from former drainage ditches. Nothing like this has ever been attempted. As of right now, we do not know if the frogs will survive in these places,” Ben says.

Since the late 1980s, populations of frogs, toads and other amphibians have declined because of habitat loss, invasive species, disease, and pollution. Without wetlands, frogs and other amphibian species cannot survive and reproduce. To prevent further decline in amphibian populations, we need to know how our actions impact them.

Amphibians are important components of many ecosystems. Frog populations can be an early warning system when there is something wrong with the environment. Frogs and other amphibians essentially breathe through their skin, which makes them susceptible to pollutants and other chemicals. Similar to adult frog skin, frog eggs absorb nutrients from the outside. This can cause the embryos inside the eggs to die or form mutations, such as extra limbs or no eyes.

Ben continues: “If this project is successful, this could be a great tool in conservation for amphibian and other animal species. Not only will it be beneficial for wildlife but for humans as well. Frogs are an ideal environmentally friendly pest controller. The hope for these sites is that they will bring people together from all walks of life.”

Ben’s undergrad degree is in NRM with a double minor in zoology and range science. He explains, “I chose NRM because I want help enhance and conserve our natural resources and heritage for future generations.”

Role of the Artist – Restoration

Hidden in the roots of our words we find what we seem to want to forget-that we are literally the same stuff as earth. My work explores this identity while undermining the assumptions and values that keep us from acknowledging it.”  -Jackie Brookner, Ecological Artist

"You cannot do ecological projects without working with people, because our values need as much healing as our ecosystems do.” Jackie Brookner, Ecological ArtistWorld Garden Commons is the result of The Fargo Project, the transition of 18 acres of sometimes wet and sometimes dry stormwater basin from a mowed field into a welcoming greenspace.  The goal is to connect people with the land and with each other.

A chance meeting between an ecological artist and an engaged citizen culminated in this transformative venture called The Fargo Project now in its seventh year.  Through the leadership of ecological artist, Jackie Brookner (1947-2015), activities and engagement continues to bridge city departments, artistic expressions, professional disciplines, community, culture and languages.

 “I believe that you cannot do ecological projects without working with people, because our values need as much healing as our ecosystems do.” Jackie Brookner, Ecological Artist

The project’s pilot installation, World Garden Commons at Rabanus Park in Fargo, represents the efforts of those new relationships as work continues to restore the basin ecologically and socially into a lively green space while maintaining the basin’s function as stormwater storage.

Role of the Artist: Connector

In celebration of Jackie Brookner’s (1947-2015) life and work, we share stories of her interactions, roles, influence and the legacy of her work as an artist in the construction and the ecological restoration of World Garden Commons at Rabanus Park.

Jackie Brookner's Signature on slate headstone at her final resting place in Sleepy Hollow, NY

A long-held artistic goal in Jackie Brookner’s body of work was to integrate the creative process of the people within their community.  By reaching out to a wide range of people, she made new connections, identified shared interests and needs.

Growing Together, tended by Jack Wood and Nola Strom, provides a safe, welcoming place for New Americans to meet new friends, grow food and relationships. In 2012, they were seeking new garden space at locations accessible to New Americans.

Through conversations with Wood and connecting his need for open land and rich soil near a water source, Brookner and City Planner Nicole Crutchfield devised a strategy to connect Growing Together with Lutheran Social Services through a lease from the Fargo Park District (a separate taxing entity and owner of Rabanus Park).

The new relationship resulted in a change in Fargo Park District policy to break ground for the first garden site on public property at the Rabanus site.

Early in the process the Brookner recognized the need to be adaptive, focused on context-sensitive solutions appropriate and customized for the surroundings.

Earth Day Brought a Chorus of Frogs to World Garden Commons

On Earth Day 25 bags of trash was picked up and an uncounted number of tadpoles and frog eggs released into the World Garden Commons stormwater basin.

40 adults and children gathered to learn that much of the trash, often carried by the wind, comes from nearby dumpsters while smaller partials of litter mostly made up of cigarette butts, come from the storm-water drainage system.

Janessa Veach, a NDSU Natural Resource Management undergrad, stressed it’s important to keep the area clean because the World Garden Commons serves as the only green space for those who live and work nearby. Her suggestion to an apartment or building owner is to enclose dumpsters to prevent overfill from blowing into neighborhood.

NDSU student Ben Bauer released frogs, eggs and tadpoles into the basin. No one has ever documented the transplantation a frog population into stormwater basins prior to this Earth Day, NDSU Natural Resource Management Department Chair, Jack Norland confirmed.  It will remain to be seen if they tiny tadpoles and frog eggs released into the basin survive.

Once the released tadpoles and eggs grow, it still may be difficult see these tiny frogs.  An adult boreal chorus frog grows to be only 30MM or about the size of a fingernail. If the population takes to the basin, we should be able to hear them very clearly. Boreal Chorus Frogs sound like this.  They feed on small insects and mosquitoes at night and rests in thick grass during the day. Amazingly, chorus frogs spend the winter frozen solid and can thaw without damage to their bodies. 

Future NRM students will be on the lookout to see if the frog population can thrive in the World Garden Commons.


Celebrate Earth Day at World Garden Commons: Pick-up Party, Frog Release & Meal

Show the Earth some love by attending our Earth Day Pick-up Party and Frog Release at World Garden Commons on Saturday, April 22.

Students and faculty from the North Dakota State University’s Natural Resources Management program will lead the activities, which include short presentations, trash pick-up, and a frog release. A meal also will be served.

All are welcome, reservations by April 18 are required for the meal (see below).

Please dress according to the weather and know that it’s often wet and muddy in the basin. We will provide plastic gloves, garbage bags, sunscreen, bathrooms, water and food.

Where: Rabanus Park, 4315 18th Ave. S., Fargo, ND 58103. Meet by the big rocks on the southeast slope.
When: 3:30-6 p.m. Saturday, April 22


3:30 p.m. Mini Presentations: Learn how natural resources management, art and culture have shaped the stormwater basin during World Commons Site & Creative Placemaking. NDSU natural resources management student Janessa Veach will share her research on where trash in the stormwater basin comes from. During Make the Basin Sing: Frog Release at World Garden Commons, Jack Norland, Ph.D., will talk about what might happen when we release frogs and frog eggs into the basin.

4 p.m. Trash Pick-up

5 p.m. Frog Release: For aesthetic and ecological site improvement, we’ll release leopard, northern chorus frogs, frog eggs and toads into the basin.

5:15 p.m. Meal



Design Principles at Work

Design principles are a valuable resource for artists.

At first, it may seem that defined principles (or guidelines) may limit creativity. In reality, they provide structure to artistic creativity. They’re a constant reminder of what the artist is trying to achieve and why.

That is the case for The Fargo Project, as well.

While The Fargo Project’s pilot site, World Garden Commons at Rabanus Park, is certainly a public works project (stormwater basin), it’s also a work of public art. Early on, the founding artist and project lead established design principles that have driven everything from how we make decisions to what activities we plan for the site.

Jackie Brookner (1945-2015), the founding artist, and Nicole Crutchfield, a Fargo city planner, identified four design principles.

These principles recognize that communities are dependent on the health of the natural world, even if our day-to-day activities have been removed from it. They recognize that within all cultures, we create stories, music and art that reflect our relationship with our surroundings. The design principles also respect ecology and uphold water as a natural resource that connects us all.

Whenever our team moves forward on an idea or starts to dream about what’s next, we review the design principles and confirm that we’re staying true to the artistic intent:

Principle #1 Let the Water Lead
Create a self-sustaining, hydrologically functioning basin true to the regional ecology. Maximize opportunities for the regional prairie landscape to express itself and develop. This means there should be little in the way (such as concrete) to influence the way the stormwater basin behaves.
Principle #2 Learn from the Natural Environment
Learn how the ecological systems behave, practice responsive adaptive design and adaptive management.
Principle #3 Involve Community – Belonging
Make efforts to maximize diverse community participation throughout the life of the project from conception through long-term maintenance.
Principle #4 Experience Nature and Ecology
Create opportunities for people to enjoy the natural environment. The landscape is a unique attraction where people can experience the qualities and ecological relationships of a prairie landscape.

World Garden Commons Welcomes the Vernal Equinox

The World Garden Commons welcomes the vernal equinox

The World Garden Commons welcomes the vernal equinox

Today is the vernal equinox, the beginning of Spring, the season for renewal. Astronomically speaking, the equinox happens at the same time worldwide 10:29 UTC (or 4:29 CST) even if we don’t share a time-zone.  The world over, days and nights are nearly equal length, although not exactly.

Right here at the World Garden Commons, dawn broke at 5:44 AM, the sun rose at 7:27 AM and the sun will set at 7:40 PM making our vernal day 12 hours 13 minutes long.

During the equinoxes, the line on the earth which separates night and day, is vertical and connects the north and south poles. During our summer months, the dark line tilts past the north pole shedding more daylight and providing us warmer temperatures.  This line is called earth’s terminator. Read more about it.

Spring means planning for summer activities, the completion of winter construction and the start of new projects. It means new garden planning for Growing Together community garden, and new season of research.

Seeing Equinoxes and Solstices from Space:
Credit: NASA, Meteosat, Robert Simmon