FARGO — In the sprawling, urban, concrete jungle that is the Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo metro area and beyond, finding spaces to take a deep breath can sometimes be hard to come by.
From providing people with opportunities to connect and engage with their community to helping bring in more patrons to area businesses, public spaces are essential to a healthy way of life.
Public spaces, or "third" spaces, which is the idea of an alternate space people inhabit that is not work or home, are important to creating quality of life for residents of these communities.
They create a space for diversity and inclusion through events and activities, as well as social opportunities for people to meet and engage with one another.
Organizations in the FM Area are working to create these public spaces for residents to enjoy for years to come — one park and event at a time.
Downtown is coming alive in more ways than one — but some things might take a while.
Sure, green spaces are popping up around the community. Places like Lindenwood and Island Parks provide trees and green in an otherwise grey, concrete area. The Island Park swimming pool gives adults and kids a place to cool off during those hot summer months, tennis courts on the south end of the park are the perfect place to get your sweat on in the sunshine and the expansive green area provides a place to sit back, relax and enjoy the beauty of Mother Nature. To the south, Lindenwood Park's campgrounds allow residents from near and far to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors in the summer, while the Lights at Lindenwood Park show off the community each Christmastime.
But if you're looking for parks north of Island Park in downtown Fargo, don't bother. Green spaces are hard to come by the further north you go — at least that's how it used to be.
What began as an idea on a napkin has turned into an 18-story living and working facility complete with corporate headquarters for R.D. Offutt, a 125-room hotel, a 300-stall parking garage and condominiums that grace the very top floor. The complex is known as Block 9.
But the crown jewel to this already expansive architectural wonder is a bit closer to the ground.
Mike Allmendinger, president of Kilbourne Group, said building community is key to preserving a cultural and historical site like downtown and the Block 9 Plaza will be a factor in doing just that.
"What makes us excited about this plaza is that it's going to be programmed with so many different experiences that everyone in this community can have in downtown Fargo," Allmendinger said. "There will be some event that Fargo Parks is planning that every person in this community can participate in during the year."
Through their partnership with the Fargo Park District, Block 9 and Kilbourne Group hope to bring the best of their events and activities to downtown.
"As we are talking about engagement, I think at the end of the day, we have over 2,500 acres of green space that the parks district manages today across 20 miles of distance," said Joel Vettel, who was executive director of the Fargo Park District at the time of the interview. "But this plaza really provides that unique engagement where we can really focus. We're looking at over 200 events that are going to be in that plaza every year that we are going to program."
From moving the extremely successful movie night from Island Park to Block 9 and incorporating smaller events like yoga, Fargo Parks is hoping the partnership with Block 9 will continue to make downtown a destination to work and live.
But designated spaces like Block 9 aren't the only way community leaders are looking to give the community a boost.
Joe Burgum, president of Folkways, a group that works to incorporate culture and innovation into the Fargo-Moorhead community through events and areas, said inspiration comes from everywhere — even from communities other than our own.
"One thing we look to do is try learning from other cities," he said. "I think Fargo has done a really amazing job in bringing ideas back to the community."
From working to activate otherwise unused areas, like alleyways or parking lots, Folkways looks to find opportunities to bring about excitement and create something unexpected.
"We host a number of event throughout the year," Burgum said. "Those are really borne out of trying to solve a problem for the community. In many ways these events are our medium of problem solving."
The Red River Market, a local farmer's market that runs every Saturday from mid-July through the end of October, first began in a parking lot and has continued that tradition years into the future. The Night Bazaar provides those who work downtown the opportunity to enjoy music, food and art with their families after their work day is done. These events continue year-round, too. Cristkindlemarkt, a European-style outdoor market hosted around Thanksgiving time, gives customers an excuse to enjoy the beautiful outdoors during the colder months of the year.
"There's something to be said for a space that can be activated multiple times per day for multiple purposes," Burgum said. "Creating spaces where people are meeting in the morning and enjoying a cup of coffee and blending outdoor spaces with commercial spaces. I think at Folkways it's really about how we can continue to build a great quality of life in Fargo-Moorhead."
Opening just over one year ago, West Fargo's POW/MIA Plaza, which sits just north of Sheyenne Plaza and the new VFW, has proven itself to be a community hub.
The space was intended to be a place for partners to host outdoor events like the monthly Cruise Night each summer. Artificial turf creates a green space on the plaza, while decorative light pillars house built-in speakers and outlets that provide the ability to host concerts or performances.
The POW/MIA Plaza isn't the only public spaces being added to West Fargo, though.
Following the completion of the north end of Sheyenne Street revitalization, three mixed-use facilities are planned on the south end of West Fargo's main drag. Similar to an open-air pavilion, the proposed Lights at 32 outdoor space will allow for a standing-room capacity of 2,200 people, and it could host public events like concerts or NDSU viewing parties, as well as offering a skating rink in the winter.
There's a lot to be said for the western side of the Red River, because crossing the bridge into Fargo's sister-city brings about green spaces galore. With over 45 different community, neighborhood and regional parks, as well as miles of trails and recreational facilities available for use, Moorhead is a city built around outdoor activity.
Woodlawn Park — just one of the many parks Moorhead has to offer — is situated along the banks of the Red River and is home to disc golf, basketball hoops, a playground and an expansive green area, as well as walking and biking paths. That means park goers have the opportunity to enjoy their outdoor space in any way they please.
Each Tuesday from June through September, the parking lot at Moorhead Center Mall comes alive with the sound of families, music and more. Encouraging the community to buy fresh and local, the Moorhead Farmers Market features food trucks, live music and the opportunity for residents to engage and connect.
Just up the road, the monthly RiverArts event keeps the party going with concerts and events for families with children of all ages. Hands-on activities, inflatable games and horse-drawn carriage rides give parents and kids alike the chance to meet their neighbors and enjoy a summer evening on the town.