Two words have driven me since 1970: connect and protect. Very simply, I have strived to “connect” people to Lake Superior visually, mentally, historically, and physically and “protect” the freeway from Lake Superior.
When highways happen, they cause severe separations of people from things that are important parts of their community. This was the disaster I intended to avoid in Duluth, beginning in 1970 when I learned of the probable severing of our community by the construction of Interstate 35 through downtown. This would have severed the city from Lake Superior at its potentially most perfect scenic and physical point: at our corner of the lake. Kids and parents would no longer have been able to come to, learn from, respect, and enjoy Lake Superior with a freeway blocking the way.
This had to be prevented. The connection of our city, residents, and visitors and the identity of Duluth and Lake Superior was the top priority.
The lake also had to be protected, and these two objectives were exactly why Lake Place was born. The three-acre “platform park,” with sheet pile and concrete walls, enclosed the freeway, keeping it away from the water’s edge. This offered protection not previously envisioned. It also stopped the freeway from being built in the lake.
Lake Place was envisioned, designed, and fully intended to accomplish both connecting and protecting. This is what drove me, its designer, in the beginning, and apparently still does 50 years later.
However, the connection just kind of happened, and not in the prime downtown location intended. So the connections we have now are small and not highly visible. They’re minor or secondary kinds of connections. A longer history of this, spanning some 40 years, includes serious errors on the part of the city and opportunities missed by the city to accomplish a stronger connection.
The city now has new and imaginative leadership, suggesting that, finally, this connection can be accomplished. It needs to happen, and there is a way, requiring cooperation and leadership by the city and others.
This incomplete link has driven me for decades to search for ways to accomplish this connection. “Connect” and “protect” weigh on my mind as simple yet basic needs. A highly visible, safe, colorful, celebrated, and comfortable connection between people downtown and the lake should have been achieved decades ago.
How can you help now? Honestly, I don’t know. I do know that for some reason, at this time in my life, and at my age, it is important for me to define and summarize this thing that I believe is so important for people and this city.
It is not too late to achieve and celebrate Duluth’s fortunate relationship with Lake Superior. Our city, our citizens, and our visitors are incomplete without it.
Kent G. Worley was a landscape architect in Duluth from 1967 through 2007. He designed Lake Place, the Lakewalk, Leif Erikson Park, and Interstate 35 through downtown Duluth.