Launched in 2014 by journalist Sean Baker, Med City Beat is an independent news source covering government, business and culture in Rochester, Minnesota.

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Seeb hopes to spark new ideas with Rochester's first-ever prototyping festival

Seeb hopes to spark new ideas with Rochester's first-ever prototyping festival

When it comes to the built environment, how do we put people first?

That’s the question DMC leaders hope to answer with Rochester’s first-ever prototyping festival. The event, modeled after one in San Francisco that attracted hundreds of thousands of people (see video below), is scheduled for Sept. 15-17, the same week as Mayo Clinic’s Transform Conference.

“We’re going to see dramatic change in Rochester,” Patrick Seeb, DMC’s director of economic development and placemaking, told me in a recent interview. “DMC is all about acknowledging that change is going to happen and being intentional about it. And I think this is a way to open up thinking in our community about what that change can look like.”

There’s really no telling what type of exhibits will be featured at the prototyping festival; that’s dependent on the creativity of local artists, designers and entrepreneurs. In San Francisco, installations ranged from benches that spin around to a piano you could walk on.

In Rochester, the focus will be on  wait for it  health. According to Seeb, that could mean (and these are just hypothetical examples) putting stationary bikes on street corners so people could get in a little exercise while waiting for the crosswalk light to turn green, or painting hopscotch stripes on the sidewalks as a way to encourage people to skip to work.

“Who knows what people will come up with,” said Seeb. “But if we say to our community, ‘let’s think about health as we’re building our city,’ maybe we’ll think differently about sidewalks and streets and the basic infrastructure of our city.”

The DMC Economic Development Agency, in collaboration with the Rochester Art Center and the Rochester Downtown Alliance, will hold a community conversation on prototyping this Tuesday. Seeb said he expects to put out a call for proposals by early May, with a six-week window for submissions. From there, depending on the number of applicants, there will a jury process to decide which ideas to move forward with.

There may also be an “idea jam,” in which innovators would get together and do a bit of creative sparring, as well as a pitch night, similar to the one held for the local TEDx conference.


“Then those that are selected, we will help support them as they’re constructing their installation,” said Seeb, adding that the designs will need to be durable enough to withstand several days of wear and tear.

In San Francisco’s case, many of the installations were really just to open up thinking,” he added. “But actually some of them have turned out to be things that they are actually going to install on a permanent basis.”

For the Rochester festival, which will likely be held on Historic Third Street downtown, there is no guarantee that an exhibit will go from prototype to permanent installation. However, Seeb noted it is possible that an idea could generate such strong feedback from the community that city officials consider incorporating it into future street designs.

“With the creative process, we just don’t know what will come out of it,” he said. “And that’s the beauty of all this."

Correction: A previous version of this article stated the festival will be held Sept. 14-16 (same dates as Transform) when, in fact, it will be held Sept. 15-17.

About Sean Baker: Sean is the founder and editor of the Med City Beat. Under his direction, the site has transitioned from a small news blog to one of the most widely-read publications in the city. Prior to launching the site in 2014, Sean spent about two years producing television news in Green Bay and Rochester. His office is above a brewery, so please excuse any typos. Twitter.

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(Cover photo: 2015 Festival / San Francisco Planning Department)

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