The podcast this week is a conversation with Janne Flisrand. In addition to being a housing policy consultant and the vice-chair of streets.mn, Janne Flisrand is running for City Council in Minneapolis’ Ward 7, a neighborhood around uptown, Lake of the Isles, downtown, Loring Park, and Bryn Mawr. We sat down the other day to talk about her platform, which as you might expect, covers a lot of familiar territory like street design, transit, housing policy, and racial and social equity issues. Plus we talked about Hennepin Avenue, which is a major Minneapolis street! We had a great chat and I hope you enjoy the conversation.
[rough transcript highlights follow]
On her vision for Minneapolis’ streets:
I really love people. I love living in Minneapolis because I love the people that I meet in Minneapolis. I love riding the bus because I meet people so different from me, and it’s an opportunity to see the world in a different way. One of the places where I’ve found the city doesn’t work very well for me is on the streets. When I’m walking, I’m often scared of crossing Hennepin avenue, where I live. When I’m biking, I’m nervous about my sister’s kid being safe. When I talk to people, seniors are nervous about walking to Orchestra Hall or the grocery store because they’re afraid a driver might come and hit them. All of those things are part of Minneapolis being a great place.
On helping found the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition:
I got involved with the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition because people who bike get really excited bout riding their bike. It makes them happy and they want other people to experience that. When you make the city a better place to bike, it makes it better for as sidewalk café, or for people walking, or for other businesses. When I’m looking at the city, I think, “where is a there that we can nudge that makes the city better place for people in multiple ways? Where is there a place that can make it safer because you’ve got eyes on the street, a place that makes it more comfortable for human beings to be, no matter your age or why you’re out on the street?
On Hennepin Avenue:
One of my favorite blogposts, is called “Lets Make Hennepin Lovable.” A year or so ago the city was asking questions about ‘what do we want Hennepin to look like’ when we rebuild it?’ And I thought that was the most exciting question I’d thought about in a long time. It’s really unusual that you get to take a street and imagine the best possible scenario.
When I think about that stretch of Hennepin, I think about the places that have life and activity, and mostly in downtown, we don’t have much of that. When there are pop-up events, that gets more interesting. Or during rush hour at the bus stops, when you’ve got a lot of people walking around. But a lot of times it feels very crowded, and not like a place I wanna hang out. I dream of a place downtown that is called sticky… a “sticky street” is a street where when you’re there you want to stay there because its pleasant, and it feels good, and you just want to hang out. I ‘m excited that the plan that the city’s adopted involves narrowing the lanes and making it more predictable.
On transit in Ward 7
It’s sad that getting from uptown to downtown takes twice as long on a bus as it does to drive, especially since the reason the buses take so long is that they’re trapped in traffic by drivers. I’m really focused on the importance of using the decisions the city of Minneapolis make about streets to help make our buses be really reliable efficient and comfortable. If we’re going to accommodate all the new people that are coming to Minneapolis we’ve got to figure out how to get them where they’re going safely. That means transit biking and walking because we don’t have any more space on our streets for more cars.
On Minneapolis’ housing crisis:
Rental housing has been at the heart of my career for 20 years. What I see looking at my house talking to people in the community is that rents are rising really rapidly. The choices are much fewer and people are being forced out of the neighborhoods, and i’m deeply concerned about that because when we look at what the city is doing about affordable housing, we’re building a 46-unit apt building, which is great, but that’s offsetting the loss of 1200 affordable apartments every year. We’re just leaving people behind and forcing people out.
On improving Downtown:
I hear a lot about downtown having lost its vibrance. Its definitely true that if you walk down Nicollet mall and look at what it was in 1996, there are many fewer shops. There is one particular block on Nicollet that used to be home to many small businesses but that building has been merged, those buildings are still there but there’s only one door. We’ve allowed those small spaces in our downtown to be merged into big spaces that have less use and create a lot less energy.
Really big spaces are hard to find replacements for, small spaces are more flexible. We’re not insisting when we build a new building that we’ve got small spaces on the streets that can create sidewalk cafes and draw people and have things going on all day. That’s bad for business workers, for small businesses, for neighbors that feel less safe because its much lonelier and the people on the streets are sometimes people who make us feel uncomfortable.
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