As incredible as it may be, the Council seems posed to vote to allow DeLaSalle High School and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to install artificial grass (or "AstroTurf") on their proposed stadium on Nicollet Island. On Thursday the Zoning and Planning Committee send forward without recommendation an appeal to our own Historic Preservation Commission who agreed with City staff and determined that artificial turf should not be allowed in the historic area.
I strongly oppose this idea. Putting plastic grass in the middle of the Mississippi in this historic National park is just a bad idea. AstroTurf is significantly worse than real grass on a number of fronts - it does not sequester carbon, does not aid water infiltration, does not cool the air, and in fact contributes to the heat island effect. The state-of-the-art type that is being proposed also includes its own artificial dirt --- 200 tons of ground up old (and toxic) tires. These are known to contain toxins and have yet to be proven safe for children to play on or for a river eco-system.
More importantly, considering the historically appropriate nexus we are to base our decisions on, AstroTurf violates the finding of historical similarity that the Council must make in order to allow its use. The Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation (important because this is a Federal Park district) guidelines state that the following is not recommended:
"Using a substitute material for the replacement part that does not convey the
visual appearance of the surviving parts of the building, streetscape, or
landscape feature or that is physically or chemically incompatible." [emphasis mine]
It is impossible to understand how any of my colleagues can find that replacing real grass with AstroTurf meets this requirement.
The arguments coming out of the Park Board at this point carry little weight with me. They are making the intriguing claim that fake, plastic grass is environmentally superior to real grass. Real grass must be mowed, they contend, and fertilized, and treated with herbicides, and watered, whereas AstroTurf is virtually maintenance free. This makes some sense, until you observe one of the Park Board's existing playing fields (such as Matthews Park, where I've coached baseball). Years of trampling feet and little shade have privileged plants that can comfortably fit into that niche: clover and other low, hardy plants that seldom need mowing. And the idea that grass must be infused with chemicals to prosper is, well, bunk. As to the watering, it's a wash (no pun intended): AstroTurf must be watered in the summer to keep it cool enough not to hurt the kids playing on it.
Beyond all of this, though, I have a deeper objection to this move. This is one of only a handful of conditions the Council placed on this private-school playing field on public park land that was a bad idea in the first place. The Council has already reneged on other conditions, having to do with the height and brightness of lights and size limitation on signage, and now policymakers are poised to do it again - take back a condition that we imposed. This undermines the argument made by the school and the City in the lawsuit brought by the stadium opponents, that the conditions the City has placed on the project show that we have not made our decisions in an "arbitrary and capricious" manner. Put another way, our willingness to remove every condition to which the school and MPRB object shows that on the details and the fundamental issue of whether or not to build a stadium on protected parkland, the Council is making decisions simply out of deference to the applicant. The message: we like DeLaSalle, and we'll let them do whatever they want, no matter the parkland guidelines, no matter the historical preservation guidelines, no matter the opposition from neighbors or environmental groups, no matter what we ourselves have said in the past, no matter what.
And that's not the way we're supposed to make these decisions.