The following post is by guest writer Yasmine Robinson, a graduate student of urban planning who blogs at Student of the City.
Growing up in Duluth, I was always excited to visit The City. Watching the skyline appear on the horizon from the back seat of the car was thrilling every time. As teenagers, my friends and I always had a list of stores we wanted to go to, places we wanted to eat and coffee shops we wanted to be seen hanging out at. We loved the City, we loved the excitement, the lights, the people. Minneapolis still gives me that feeling, but the undertone of excitement has changed from ‘what is’ to ‘what could be’. Minneapolis has a lot going for it: parks, waterfront districts, diversity, great housing, miles of bike trails and lots available space – space other cities would kill for. As I walk around downtown Minneapolis’ surface lots and empty storefronts, I wonder and worry about it’s future.
For years downtown Minneapolis has battled sprawl as corporate headquarters have dispersed to the suburbs, leaving office space and night time sidewalks empty. Departments stores that were once downtown destinations struggled to stay open and my favorite record store as a teenager (Let It Be) closed. Naturally at this point City Officials begin the “revitalization” process. This bring me to the topic of Block E. I know that at this point in time Block E is a dead horse, I promise not to beat it for too long.
My main complaint about the Block E development is it’s implicit target audience: people who live in the suburbs. I think the idea was that people from the suburbs could come to downtown Minneapolis, park in the attached ramp, dine at the Hard Rock cafe (r.i.p), Hooters (r.i.p) or Applebee’s (r.i.p) and see a movie (r.i.p?) or go to the adult arcade Gameworks (r.i.p). One could, for a short while, buy books at the Borders but sadly that establishment also met it’s demise. (Alright, thats enough of the beating.)
Here are my questions: Why would a person from the suburbs want to battle night time traffic on Hennepin in order to be in an indoor mall when they could just go to an indoor mall that is close to home? Why build a suburban destination in the middle of downtown Minneapolis? I can’t help but feel that this was a slight to the people of Minneapolis even if it was not meant to be.
Luckily, at the time Block E was being built I was taking a psychology class. I remember the feelings I had during its construction and opening as well as how they related strangely to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ 5 Stages of Grief:
Denial: “I’ll believe it when it’s built, maybe it will never happen.”
Anger: “Why are they doing this? Didn’t they learn anything from City Center Mall?!”
Bargaining: “Maybe if I go there and I bring my friends it won’t be so bad?”
Depression: “This is horrible, why is this happening?”
Finally, comes Acceptance. We cannot go back in time but we, as citizens can be more vocal and engaged in telling City officials what we want downtown and in our neighborhoods.
The good news is that it seems to be happening. One example is Neighborland, a project started by Candy Chang in New Orleans that has finally migrated to the Twin Cities. Candy is an artist and urbanist who has had much success using art and community engagement to help shape development. Neighborland aims “to help people voice what they want in their area and join forces with others. It connects residents who want things with like minded people, organizations, knowledge, resources, and initiatives. It’s a valuable poll for civic leaders, urban planners, developers, and business owners to assess what residents want in different places. And it helps reveal neighborhood demands and prove there is a viable customer base for new businesses and services to open.” There, you can create an account and fill in the blank: “I want _______ in Minneapolis”. Maybe you have seen the billboards asking these questions downtown lately? It was a nice sight to be seen from my perspective.
The people of the Twin Cities have a long history of grass-roots activism, amazing creativity and innovation. Right now Minneapolis is teeming with start-ups from Micro-Breweries to food trucks that with enough backing from the community, will flourish. So let your voice be heard – get in touch with your neighborhood City Council Member, ask them what is going on development wise in your area. Go to your neighborhood meetings, hearings, and get involved in City politics. Community involvement is so important and in the future, it may prevent you from the 5 stages of development grief.