The Growing Power of Placemaking

This is an update on an evolving story on Rice Street in St Paul. Peter Musty of the Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Board (CAAPB) provides the update on the Rice Triangle Garden.

In the most difficult times, we know that art, music and sports have the power to bring us all together. Events like festivals, concerts or big games can be bridges that can bring together communities in the most difficult times. The building of beautiful spaces and cultivating of local gardens in key locations (important acts of “placemaking”) are just as powerful in their potential to connect communities. The quiet, incremental and often individual efforts to cultivate new spots of green vitality can provide hopeful symbols of human caring that are beautiful, visible and lasting.

Rice Triangle Garden

Shown here in 2018, this visible corner lot was still sore on the eyes, the overgrown pavement just a remnant of a once vital Rice Street. At the intersection of Como, the parcel was too small to easily re-develop, and had become a symbol of disinvestment in the midst of a corridor of striving small businesses. The lot was a perfect place to cultivate the seeds of community.

Since 2017, MSHS has been helping create connection and placemaking through gardening at the intersection of Como and Rice streets in St. Paul through our Minnesota Green program. MSHS, the City of St. Paul, the Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Board (CAAPB), Clear Channel, Hmongtown Market and the Junior League of Saint Paul have worked together to establish a garden where once only cracked asphalt lay.

RIce Triangle Garden

Today, the corner has become a beautiful amenity for the corridor. It has taken time, patience and consistent effort through unrest and a pandemic, but each year more step forward to care for the corner. The long-range goal is to create a community space worth caring about, together.

In 2022, the team of organizers has been able to formally involve more volunteer community groups! Neighbors such as MHealth Fairview/Bethesda and Urban Farm & Garden Alliance have stepped up through the adoption of planters. Groups can choose to plant new mixes or stick to nurturing the hearty Asian lilies introduced by MSHS. Groups pledge to water and tidy up the space once or twice per summer. More partners are now in line for next year.

This spring, site owner and host ClearChannel Outdoor and MSHS organized a spring cleanup, and over 25 people arrived, making quick work of the task. The billboard at the site is again reserved for community messaging for rotating periods throughout the year.

With some luck in the coming years, an art installation adorning the site may be in the works, adding to the diversity of commemorative works in the Capitol Area. Ideas for public art have come forward through the process; one is to commemorate the long history of immigrant neighborhoods north of downtown - another is to commission a statue celebrating the story of the Hmong and Karen communities, the American chapter of their amazing story being centered in this part of Minnesota.

Every year the group learns more – and gets better at working together. The idea is that long-range dedication to placemaking can quietly replace barriers with connections. Great spaces like this, if cultivated carefully and located thoughtfully, can play a part in bringing together communities that have been divided culturally, economically or physically.

If you have the chance, please ride by. With new partners introducing new plant mixes, it will be fun to watch the diversity that blooms by the end of this summer.


Peter Musty is the Principal Planner and Administrator of The Zoning and Design Rules at the Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Board.

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