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Our View: Keep imagining future of Canal Park

The early-autumn launch party and pop-up events got a load of media attention and are all wrapped up now.

"So," as Duluth City Councilor Elissa Hansen said, "it's easy for people to be like, 'Oh, that's over.'"

But it's not. The city's work to gather opinions and ideas and to imagine a better future for tourist-rich, Lake Superior-hugging Canal Park is far from done. It's in a bit of a pause right now as Hansen and others from the city work through 1,000 or so surveys they gathered this year and plan more ideas to test out with funding from a $200,000 Knight Foundation grant. But "Imagine Canal Park," as they've dubbed their work, has a year or more left to go. The public's input and engagement will still be needed.

In November, we can expect to read about the survey results.

This winter, after Christmas probably, we can expect another creative public event somewhere in the shadow of the Aerial Lift Bridge so more people can be asked what they like and don't like about Canal Park. The event may involve closing off a street or shutting down a parking lot for a winter village. But don't bank on that yet; it's to be determined.

And next summer through next fall, we can expect more gatherings and parties (bouncy houses!), each one another chance to test ideas for better moving traffic, improving pedestrian flow, eliminating backups when the bridge goes up, helping visitors and locals alike find parking, helping everyone find their way around better via more and more-helpful signage, and more.

"We want to try stuff because we know we can do it better, but we don't know how yet," Hansen said, speaking at a meeting last week with members of the News Tribune Editorial Board. "I feel like if we do a better job as a city figuring out how to move more people through (Canal Park) comfortably and make more of our residents feel welcome in that area, then we have the ability to look at projects (like new attractions or like parking structures built so they can easily be converted for other uses should parking demand decrease in coming decades).

"We want to keep people engaged through this process," Hansen said. "We were lucky enough to win this grant , and we get to try stuff because of it."

Imagine Canal Park is an offshoot of Imagine Duluth 2035, a currently ongoing update to the city's 2007 Comprehensive Plan. The city learned it won the Knight Foundation grant in June. Tourists and city residents alike can expect to be asked to imagine Canal Park's future for 18 full months. It may seem like we're getting to the end of that timeframe because of all the events and media coverage, but we're actually only in month 4.

"Watch this over the next year," said Keith Hamre, the city official leading the comprehensive plan update. "Help us out by becoming a tourist in your own city and enjoying as a resident the wonderful space."

"Canal Park is a great success story, but that success story can go from three to four months a year to year-round," Canal Park Business Association Vice President Matt Baumgartner told editorial board members. "Whether you're a small art gallery or a service business, to figure out more ways to get the local community to come down there year-round would be incredible."

Envisioning and then creating the incredible is the whole idea behind Imagine Canal Park. But it'll only happen with the community's continued involvement, input, and ideas.

"We're really excited to see so much engagement already," Hansen said.

There's no reason it can't be kept going.

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