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In new setting along the river, Remembrance Garden will command more visibility, more meaning

The garden will be backlit in a soft blue, the same color that illuminates the new bridge.
Courtesy of Oslund and Associates
The garden will be backlit in a soft blue, the same color that illuminates the new I-35W bridge.

As it turns out, moving the Remembrance Garden out of Gold Medal Park to a stretch of parkland across the street makes for a better tribute to the victims and survivors of the I-35W bridge collapse. Tom Oslund, the garden’s designer, said as much on Thursday as he joined Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and several survivors in a brief and somber unveiling of the project.

As just another section of the park, the garden would have had to compete for attention with other features. Pushed across the street to the edge of the tree-lined river, it stands alone, commanding more visibility, more drama, more meaning. The linear garden will stretch 81 feet along West River Parkway, just downstream from the Guthrie Theater and about a quarter mile upstream from the scene of the tragedy itself.

“It was clear to me the first time that I walked the property that this was a better site,” Oslund said.

A dark granite wall, with water running over it, will include the names of 145 survivors. Thirteen black I-beams, similar to those used to construct the fallen bridge, will line the parkway to commemorate those who died. The garden will be backlit in a soft blue, the same color that illuminates the new bridge. Benches and other design features will tie in to Gold Medal Park across the street. While trees will block the view of the disaster site, visitors can choose a short walkway through the woods leading a small viewing platform overlooking the new bridge and the river below.

Expressing emotional complexity
Taken altogether, Oslund, Rybak and the impressive group of survivors and relatives of victims have created a memorial that captures the complex emotions of Aug. 1, 2007. Terrror. Sadness. Heroics. Anger. Incredulousness. Community pride. Heartbreak. Loss. Mourning. New beginnings.

Justina Hausmann, whose father died while trying to pull a victim from a car at the bottom of the Mississippi River, said the garden’s design reminds her that “something beautiful can come out of tragedy.”

Erica Gwillim, who survived the bridge’s plunge, said she’s compelled often to return to the site. “I was afraid that I’d forget,” she said, “and that others would forget as well.”

The garden was funded when attorneys carved $1.5 million from a recent $52.4 million court settlement to cover the cost of construction and maintenance. Since the garden will be on city parkland, formal approval of the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board is required. Board member Scott Vreeland said Friday that he sees no major obstacles to opening the garden on Aug. 1, 2011.

Placing the garden in privately owned Gold Medal Park, as originally intended, was complicated by the park’s leasing arrangements. Putting it on public land will provide the garden a more secure future.

In a previous Cityscape, I expressed hope that some of the twisted wreckage from the collapsed bridge could be included it the project. But Oslund hits just the right note with a design that’s dignified, respectful and free of any overt sense of recrimination. This is a sensitive project and a moving reminder of a sad day that shouldn’t be repeated.

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