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‘Creative cities’ consultant Landry to speak at St. Paul’s Great River Gathering

St. Paul’s Great River Gathering continues to add substance to its annual pepfest-like celebration of the city and its connection to the river.

As St. Paul’s Great River Gathering continues to add substance to its annual pepfest-like celebration of the city and its connection to the Mississippi River, organizers are bringing in Charles Landry as the this year’s keynote speaker.

But Landry, an international consultant who helps cities grow and attract talented people, will do more than speak at the 18th annual event on May 10.

He’s coming here a week early for workshops with several area groups, helping them visualize possibilities for developing creative destinations in the region, including the area along the coming Central Corridor light rail line. He’ll also help local officials consider ways to tie together ethnic and cultural tourism spots in the Twin Cities.

The Great River Gathering gala dinner and presentation, which had been known for years as the Millard Fillmore Dinner, celebrates the role of the Mississippi River in the St. Paul’s past and present.

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Landry, it turns out, was instrumental (without realizing it) in the vision of the first Fillmore dinners, which focused on the 2004 re-enactment of the 1854 Grand Excursion, credited with introducing the region to Eastern movers and shakers. Fillmore, after his presidency, was part of the excursion to promote a new rail line. Dignitaries and travelers went by train to Rock Island, Ill., then by steamboat to St. Paul.

One of Landry’s signature topics in developing urban plans is to focus on the city narrative.

Mark Vander Schaaf, who then worked for the city, used Landry’s idea to help formulate the re-enactment as a concrete St. Paul narrative. Vander Schaaf now works for the Met Council and helped bring Landry to the Twin Cities last summer. Patrick Seeb, the St. Paul Riverfront Corp. executive director, heard him speak. He joined with other local groups for the effort to bring Landry back this year.

“Landry is well-known here and internationally for helping formulate what we call the ‘next generation of place-making. It’s not just how nice the streets look and the building are, it’s the vitality and energy you can develop while building your city,” Seeb said.

One of Landry’s efforts in May will be leading walking tours of the areas around several of the Central Corridor train stations being built along the light rail line that will open in 2014. That will help officials and residents understand the importance of improving the blocks around the stations to attract visitors to the areas and to make it safe and pleasant for those living six blocks away to walk to the stations.

He’ll also lead workshops on what it takes to build authentic ethnic tourist oppportunities, Seeb said. And Landry will speak May 7, 10 a.m. at the Cowles Center in downtown Minneapolis, at an event sponsored by the Hennepin Theater Trust.

Landry has written books and worked with cities around the world and has helped communities on projects like green urbanism, using imagination and creativity for urban change and tapping into ethnic and cultural diversity for economic development, according to the St. Paul Riverfront Corp., which sponsors the event.

And as a profile in Strategy+Business explains:

[He] works with regional authorities and private-sector clients around the globe to identify and build the systems of support that knowledge-based global capitalism both demands and rewards. He sees his mission as nothing less than to help develop the physical and civic infrastructures that can powerfully support innovative practice.

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 At the May 10 Great River Gathering at St. Paul’s RiverCentre, Landry will show examples of successful city-building projects around the world, and discuss how he thinks St. Paul can aspire to emulate them.

Seeb said the Landry appearance, along with the week-long series of events, is helping bring a wider range of big thoughts to the Great River event.

“We’ll continue to make it a high-energy, festive event, but we want more substance. And we want to bring the entire city into the event, and not have it be just a river celebration,” Seeb said.

“We’ll continue to celebrate progress on the river, but we’re expanding to have more diversity, geographically, as well as in age and ethnicity.”

Two Cities blog, which covers Minneapolis and St. Paul City Halls, is made possible in part by grants from The Saint Paul Foundation and the Carolyn Foundation.