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The ReConnect Rondo Land Bridge Vision

What to do with an urban highway that destroyed a community 60 years ago? ReConnect Rondo wants to put a land bridge over it.

Episode chapters, links

00:00 | Intro
Streets.mn Podcast episode on urban highway removal
00:55 | Interview part 1
Rondo land bridge feasibility study
25:56 | The Parklet
27:14 | Interview part 2
48:59 | Find ReConnect Rondo online
51:33 | Outro

Attributions

Our theme song is Tanz den Dobberstein, and our interstitial song is Puck’s Blues. Both tracks used by permission of their creator, Erik Brandt. Find out more about his band The Urban Hillbilly Quartet on their website.

This episode was produced by Sherry Johnson, edited by Parker Seamon aka Strongthany, and transcribed by Ian R Buck. We’re always looking to feature new voices on the show, so if you have ideas for future episodes, drop us a line at podcast@streets.mn.

Transcript

Ian: [00:00:02] Welcome to the Streets.MN Podcast, the show where we highlight how transportation and land use can make our communities better places. Coming to you from beautiful Seward, Minneapolis, Minnesota. I am your host, Ian R Buck. One of the biggest challenges facing many American cities is the harm created by interstate highways built through our communities in the 60s and 70s, and what to do about them is a huge question facing urbanists today. One of our very first episodes was about several highway removal campaigns in Minnesota (if you missed that episode, there’s a link to it in the show notes). A related concept is a land bridge, also known as a highway cap, which is the goal of the ReConnect Rondo campaign. Our producer, Sherry Johnson, caught up with Keith Baker, who’s the executive director of ReConnect Rondo, to chat about it. Take it away, Sherry.

Sherry: [00:00:55] Welcome. Thank you, Keith, for joining us today. We’re here with Keith Baker, executive director of Reconnect Rondo. How are you this morning?

Keith: [00:01:05] I’m wonderful. I’m hoping you’re well as as well.

Sherry: [00:01:09] We had some small talk about Christmas and that was real nice. Um, for those who’ve never heard about ReConnect Rondo, though, what is its mission?

Keith: [00:01:19] Well, it’s a restorative movement to restore that which was lost. Today, we call it an effort to reconnect Rondo, leveraging transportation investment, a land bridge to build community, an African American cultural enterprise district.

Sherry: [00:01:41] Wonderful. So when you say land bridge, what might that actually look like here in Saint Paul?

Keith: [00:01:47] Well, we’re in the process with community members to decide that. What we do know is our early feasibility study indicates 21 acres of new land can be created over the freeway. And with that, the possibility of museums, business marketplaces, housing, uh, educational facilities, public facilities in terms of park space, at least 13 acres. So there’s a wide range of possibilities that can be placed on this newly created land.

Sherry: [00:02:19] Hmm’hmm newly created land. That’s that’s a lot of land. I mean, I’m trying to even get my head wrapped around how much land that is. Do you have kind of an image that you use to paint that for people?

Keith: [00:02:29] Well, if we can imagine Chatsworth to Grotto, Chatsworth to the west and Grotto to the east, that’s between Dale and Lexington.

Sherry: [00:02:42] It’s hard to imagine sometimes when you see the the interstate just how big it is, right? Um, so what was your journey into leadership of ReConnect Rondo? Tell us your story.

Keith: [00:02:53] Well, I mean, I’ve been working in the Twin Cities for 40 years, working in the nonprofit arena, working in private sector, working for engineering firms, working for a wide range of organizations that have been about trying to respond to the needs of community in one form or another, including the philanthropic arena. Most recently, I would say ending in 2015, I worked for the Department of Transportation. I managed the consultant contracts unit, worked with all of the engineering firms that did work in a wide range of projects in the metropolitan area. And I oversaw, uh, at one point in my career early on, the diversity efforts for the metropolitan district and ultimately as deputy director of civil rights.

Sherry: [00:03:43] And having gone to Rondo event, a ReConnect Rondo events and talked to a lot of people in the community, I know that your organization kind of prides itself on having a lot of people on staff, on the board that grew up here. Um, what has it been like for your staff and your board to be working on this project?

Keith: [00:04:02] Yeah, if I can kind of frame and add to the previous question as I’m leading to the answer to this one, sure. Is that I’m one of the founding board members of ReConnect Rondo. I got connected up with Nick Khaliq, Mr. Anderson, Deb Montgomery, uh, at the time, Commissioner Toni Carter, as this idea was beginning to bubble up, certainly helped at least give them some sense of what transportation does, what transportation can do, because the idea of a land bridge surface back in 2009. So in that journey, starting in 2009, all the way to about 2015, I was tangentially involved, just helping folks understand transportation. I started as the executive director for ReConnect Rondo in 2019, then began to kind of codify the vision and the possibility of what can come about.

Sherry: [00:05:01] And you’ve called in a lot of experts in the field, right, who who have been some of the people that have worked on this?

Keith: [00:05:08] Well, I would probably start with we establish an advisory committee. And that advisory committee represented some community members, some technical folks that understood transportation planning, folks that also understood transportation policy, folks around funding and financing around transportation projects in MnDOT’s early, early stage of rethinking I-94 so that we could really have a foundational understanding of what MnDOT, uh, was doing in its two tiered process and really centering on the discussion around purpose and need. What’s the purpose for the new rebuild of I-94? And what would ultimately be the outcomes or the aspirations desired.

Sherry: [00:06:00] So I think a lot of folks hopefully are familiar with the history of the interstate and the damage that it did to neighborhoods like Rondo all over the country. What do you think gets missed in recent conversations about that history?

Keith: [00:06:16] The main thing that I think is important for people to recognize is that when you think about new folks migrating or immigrating to a community, they do that around their traditions, their languages, their common experiences. When we think about Rondo, we don’t necessarily consider it in the same way. And I think what gets missed is just like any other community, whether it’s German or, or Latin, or Scandinavian in one form or another, it gathers because it has a place. Well, we know the history of Rondo forced African Americans to live in a geographic area, and they began to build this social, cultural, economic, civic, spiritual, cultural environment. And I think it’s important to recognize that that fabric, those elements that I described, were literally destroyed.

Sherry: [00:07:23] Yeah. When you’ve been out talking to folks in the community. I know you’ve done a lot of stuff, both virtually and in person, with residents, people who have historically lived here, people who have moved back, people who are new. What are some of those conversations like around that kind of trauma?

Keith: [00:07:41] Well, I mean, that’s such an important, important question because what I hear consistently is the pain that’s associated with it. Uh, along the way, even as we are thinking about the possibility of this 21 new acres. Getting people to a place of possibility thinking is challenging because of the lived experience of trauma. So we see this as a process not only to help find places of healing and ways of healing. But how to pivot that to possibility thinking? What we hear in the stories is, oh, this is when I drive on the freeway. This is where my house was. Or I hear this is where my grandmother lived, or my grandfather lived, or my parents owned their home. Or this is where I used to play, and this is where we used to gather. This is where we used to church. These are the stories that are consistently elevated. But it was a place of joy that I hear people talk about. It was a place of connectedness that I hear people talk about. And it’s easy to talk about it as an intellectual exercise and a reflection. It’s much harder when you’re a person who’s lived the experience and having a true desire to find that place of resolution. And we see the project that we’re moving forward with to reignite this African American cultural enterprise district, which was Rondo, as I’ve just described to a large degree, with a social, cultural, economic, civic, spiritual fabric. Then thinking about the future, what might the future hold and who might be the beneficiaries, which we see that being the community itself?

Sherry: [00:10:01] When you talk about the Cultural Enterprise district. Um, I’m wondering if you could unpack that a little bit, describe what that might look like and what you’re hearing from folks who are starting to think about possibilities. What are the kinds of things you hear and think about and talk about with folks?

Keith: [00:10:20] Well, there are six basic buckets or elements that are considered. Um, culture, history, arts, transportation and mobility, equity, economic development, housing, environment and resiliency. So when we consider all of those elements that we think are important to improving quality of life, what we’re hearing principally as the three top in our planning process, economic development, housing affordability. And I want to distinguish affordable housing from housing affordability, and I’ll get to that in a little bit. But art history, culture being very fundamental and foundational. It’s not that transportation mobility is not important. It’s not that resiliency and environmental things are not that important. They certainly are. But I think the community really is still grappling with what that really means and how that translates, right, into their day to day lives. But I want to get back to the housing affordability.

Sherry: [00:11:29] Yeah, versus affordable housing.

Keith: [00:11:32] Affordable housing. Now, affordable housing is important. But we have to think about how we think about it. When we say housing affordability, it’s about whom are you earning enough? Are there the types of jobs in your neighborhood that you can walk ten blocks or 15 blocks, or that you can get to in ten minutes, that really raise your income without any particular training that you need, except for a willingness and some experience. So it’s about affordability. We happen to be aimed at. You know, affordable housing, because that’s part of the dilemma and the challenge. People can’t afford housing. So it it brings forward this idea of subsidy rather than a balance of assistance and support with an increased ability to earn.

Sherry: [00:12:27] And how much does the Rondo land trust figure into that? I know that that’s been another really successful effort here. And certainly they’re also on the Rondo roundtable as well. Um, how does that figure in things like land trusts and or REITs, for example?

Keith: [00:12:47] I mean, this is really the critical the critical question, how do you take a look at the broader ecosystem, those who are already and have been for a long time doing the work, like the Rondo Community Land Trust, like Model Cities. Like Walker West Music Academy. Like so many other organizations. Aurora Saint Anthony, I mean, we can go on all a part of this collective. What we really are aimed at is amplifying the ecosystem. Who does what? And trying to leverage this transportation element to resource the work that they’re all in their lanes doing. Right. That’s the bigger unknown, is leveraging transportation policy and investment to bring attention to an environment that has an ecosystem already responding but needs elevated resources, right, and capability in order to deliver what we know the community needs overall. So the Rondo Community Land Trust is an incredible partner, uh, has been in the ecosystem for a long time. In fact, I’m appreciative of not only the housing issues that they’re dealing with, but now their expansion and really looking at how commercial space kind of ties into this and affordability, which is all a part of anti-displacement activities.

Sherry: [00:14:24] Sure. Now, I, I made the mention of the Rondo roundtable. Could you talk about them a little bit?

Keith: [00:14:30] Oh, absolutely. In 2015, Nieeta Presley and a group of other folks began to think through, uh, with the central light rail corridor coming through, how it can, after its advocacy for stops in Rondo, how it could find ways to elevate the arts, elevate history, really mark throughout the community the the expressions of the African-American community. And so from those early discussions, which I was also privy to, we began to think through, how do we build this collection of organizations? So we had the Rondo Center for Diverse Expression, at the time, like I said, Aurora Saint Anthony, which Nieeda had led at the at that moment in time, we had also a few other folks that were tied to the county that were looking at destination areas. And we thought it was be important to carry that forward as part of the leadership for the work now we’re doing for ReConnect Rondo as well, and ReConnect Rondo now is a member of the Rondo roundtable. And again, it’s about really initiating, furthering the harnessing of creating a cultural district, an arts district, a business district. And so all have a similar kind of… role, if you will, or providing leadership in that space. And so it was really important that we began to work more collectively in that effort.

Sherry: [00:16:09] So you all have been working on this for a really long time collectively. And one of the things that I’ve been wondering about is with all of that collective history, as this gets real, right as this gets as as, you know, you’ve got the federal funding, we’ve got some studies happening, we’ve got MnDOT’s Rethinking 94. What are some of the worries or concerns about this moment? In those spaces, especially at Rondo Roundtable in your work.

Keith: [00:16:44] I mean, this is a really important question. Let’s just imagine a continuum, if you will. And folks are in different places along the continuum, which is understandable because of lived experience. Right? The lack of trust of institutions. When we can talk about MnDOT being one of them, we can talk about even parts of the county system. We can talk about parts of the city system. We can talk about the role of Met Council. So while we do see levels of anxiety because of lived experience and participation in the destruction of Rondo, I think people are also beginning to see through this rethinking I-94 process and opportunity. The question is, what will that opportunity bring? And can it realize some of the things that people have been working on for such a long time?

Keith: [00:17:42] Certainly, if we think about the central light rail corridor, there weren’t guardrails put around the central light rail corridor, and development has happened in such a way that nobody can afford to live there anymore. Well, that’s one of the things that we are working very diligently to prevent from happening. In fact, in the fabric of our planning is our anti-displacement and community investment strategies. And we’re just about done and going to be introducing that particular report. But the community has been involved with informing that report throughout the process. So displacement, clearly who’s going to actually benefit from them from from this opportunity clearly as a concern or at least an issue raised.

Sherry: [00:18:34] Right, not only with the housing piece but the business piece, right. That commercial who owns those commercial buildings potentially on this new land, who who runs them? Who benefits from them?

Keith: [00:18:45] All of those things are the right questions, and we invite those questions. And in fact, if there are those that are in the community that have some insights or some understandings or some particular ideas, it’s time to bring those to the table, because we want to make sure that this is driven by the voice of community. But let’s let’s think about how traditional development works. Okay. Traditional development. We ask the question who’s the primary secondary tertiary beneficiary? And we know it’s business. It’s the developers. For this project, the first thing that we’ve done is said the community must be the primary beneficiary. So everything that we do. In all of our reports, all of our approach, all of our conversations is to ask the question, how does the community benefit first? And I’m even going to go that much deeper. Part of our anti-displacement study focuses in on, okay, the right to remain in Rondo. And an ability to return to Rondo. And now considerations about descendants of Rondo as primary beneficiaries certainly want all of Saint Paul to benefit. Certainly we want the state of Minnesota to benefit, but we cannot leap over the reality. And that is asking ourselves who’s the primary beneficiary? We’ve done a lot of work. And again, we’re really founded on making a technical case, a business case, a moral case and a just case. So we’ve done studies almost through the ears, but we want to do that to ensure that the institutions cannot deny our findings. In the context of who the primary beneficiaries are. And we’re using the same tools that private developers use, but we’re using it to lift community. And that’s also what makes this very, very unique. And I’ll give an example. Let’s take a look at Target Field. The state gave $350 million to Target Field. I’m not judging whether or not that was the right or wrong thing to do. I’m saying that’s what happened. Let’s take a look at US Bank Stadium. The state gave $350 million to US Bank Stadium. And I asked the question, did you measure how Rondo benefited.

Keith: [00:21:25] That answer cannot come. We can presume tertiary benefits, but no direct benefits in that investment. So what if we were to consider this: establishing a way in which the monies can go directly into a neighborhood. Similar to a public private partnership, except for, we add, philanthropy and the ability of people, individuals in the neighborhood to be the developers. If the community is the developer, then the resources cycle back into the neighborhood.

Sherry: [00:22:01] And there’s that circular economy piece that I’ve heard in a.

Keith: [00:22:04] Very, very critical. But one other thing I want to note. Target Field also received $90 million for infrastructure investment. And these are transportation dollars because it sits over a freeway. So precedence is set in terms of how things work. But we’ve never applied them in neighborhoods. And so our approach is to provide or to apply what we call systems, processes, tools and resources. Those that have benefited developers or business to be focused in, in our community to benefit more directly the community itself.

Sherry: [00:22:50] Are you currently as you spoke, you talked about, um, examples locally. Do you have examples nationally that are maybe even closer to what you’re trying to do here, maybe partners nationally in other states and other cities that are trying to do similar work or have done similar work?

Keith: [00:23:11] Yeah, that’s a good question, because if we think about what the bipartisan infrastructure bill and that’s what the Biden administration has put forward. And Secretary Buttigieg, we know that resources have been made available and are being directed towards communities across the country. Just recently, in October, we hosted a Reconnecting Community summit, and we invited many of these communities to Saint Paul. And what was really powerful is they had an opportunity to share their stories. And those stories were so similar. And with that, we recognize that, not only are a lot of folks working on these things, but they’re in different places, either in their planning process or trying to figure out how communities get factored into their projects. I say that, in that a lot of folks are looking at this, but getting to the specific questions, land bridges are not new. Seattle has more land bridges than any place else in the country. But what those things do are connect wealthy communities.

Sherry: [00:24:28] Yeah, having having lived in Seattle for five years, walking across that interstate and its gardens, essentially gardens, its pathways. Pathways.

Keith: [00:24:39] Exactly. Right. Yeah. And and so in 2016, Mr. Anderson, myself and a few other folks went to Seattle to look at them. We also went to Dallas, Texas, Klyde Warren Bridge. It was a 5.2 acre, newly created park space, that also had a private foundation that really was responsible for all the maintenance on top of the structure and the programming on top for the community or what was downtown, quite frankly. And so visiting other places around the country and seeing what they were doing, but also seeing what is missing. We are truly doing something very unique considering the building of 576 housing units, considering 13 acres of open space but an open amphitheater, thinking about business incubation and a marketplace for descendants or those who lost for that matter, right? So literally, it’s a lived, almost central hub for the community, which was Rondo Avenue before the freeway destroyed it.

Ian: [00:25:56] More about ReConnect Rondo in a minute, but for now, let’s take a little break in the parklet. We have an in-person Streets.mn event coming up soon. On January 27th, from 4 to 7 p.m., we’ll be gathering for a bonfire at the Como Fire Pits in Saint Paul. Come hang out with Streets.mn fans, contributors and board members. Bring a snack or beverages to share. It’s easy to access by bike on the Saint Paul Grand Round, and transit is served by routes 3A, 83 and the A Line. We look forward to seeing you all there! Streets.mn is a community blog and podcast and relies on contributions from audience members like you. If you can make a one time or recurring donation, you can find more information about doing so at [https://streets.mn/donate]. Also, the Streets.mn Podcast is looking for sponsors. If you would like to support the show and connect with our very engaged audience, you could have a message right here in the parklet. Email us at [podcast@streets.mn]. And with that, let’s get back to ReConnect Rondo.

Sherry: [00:27:14] So MnDOT, they formed this Rethinking I-94 initiative, which is sort of disconnected, a bit disconnected, but related to ReConnect Rondo. Right. And that initiative was formed as part of a promise to the Rondo community, all communities in the corridor to “do better.” So they just did their first round of sharing alternatives with the community. It’s my understanding all the options that include a trench would allow for a land bridge in the Rondo neighborhood. What are you hearing from the community about these alternatives?

Keith: [00:27:48] Yeah, I just want to clarify. One thing is that with the alternatives that were put forward, what MnDOT had shared is that all alternatives will consider the rich and deep work that ReConnect Rondo and the Rondo community has done. It doesn’t necessarily automatically default that a decision has been made around a land bridge. With with that in mind, there are many of the alternatives that we think are plausible, uh, for a land bridge. But that’s a decision MnDOT’s got to make. With respects to community input, while I know MnDOT has initiated the process for feedback, and I think they just concluded some surveying processes, they’re still looking for continued ways for community input. And so part of what we expect to do is to continue to help the community understand, well what is really meant by an alternative? What does that really mean to the work in the neighborhood to reignite a cultural African-American cultural enterprise district? So I’m not certain that the community is in a place to completely weigh in on the alternatives. But I think that part of the process is to continue to educate the community about what this really means, because it’s also factoring in transit.

Keith: [00:29:16] Again, I had mentioned earlier, transportation, mobility, equity being a very, very critical thing. And I’ve also mentioned the importance of our consideration. People should be able to get what they need within a 15 minute walk. Right? And we think fundamentally that’s part of the restorative development work that we’re engaged in. We believe in climate reduction. We believe in carbon neutral development. All these things are important. But right now. People have got to travel, and we have to think about whether or not transit travel is sufficient, whether or not in their living area, they can also work and play and get the goods that they’d like to to have as also an important part of the process. So with the alternatives, I know MnDOT’s introduced it at a high level. I think that we’re at a place where the community is just now beginning to kind of digest what this actually is, and I think we’ll be able to provide greater feedback, you know, on an ongoing basis as we continue our planning process.

Sherry: [00:30:28] You brought up that 15 minute number. I think the first time I ever heard of 15 Minute Cities was in a very, very early meeting, a community meeting hosted by ReConnect Rondo. So that sounds like that’s still part of this vision.

Keith: [00:30:42] Absolutely. Our restorative development model is really centered on three basic principles a circular economy and a place in which people can live, work, and play. Really focused in on regenerative urbanism. And, you know, for folks that may not know exactly what that means, is that your place where you live is a place of beauty. It’s a place that regenerates not only the spirit of individuals, but also plant life. Right. Uh, green space. All of this improves quality of life. Blue green infrastructure design. How do we use water and how is water reused and how does it work for gardening, whether we’re talking about rooftop gardens, solar, you know, wind, all of those things are considerations. And then the other is really smart cities technology. So, that whole 15 minute walk becomes critical. And you mention it because it was first put on the table back. And I think about 2018 when we were working, and we had a five day technical advisory panel where community members were interviewed, experts from around the country are in land development, etc. all gathered. So I’m glad to know that you were there.

Sherry: [00:32:07] I know I’ve made me feel smart when it came up later and some of my urbanist circles, so “I know what that is!” Um, so I’ve been talking with a lot of folks around the Rondo community about Rethinking 94, about Reconnect Rondo, and I note that some were concerned about the energy being dedicated to the land bridge. Focusing on the land bridge might have been drawing attention away from conversations about housing displacement and gentrification right now, jobs and economic development, health and safety impacts. I’ve heard I keep hearing the term “river of pollution” about 94. How does the dream of ReConnect Rondo impact the realities of people living here right now?

Keith: [00:32:51] Well, like I said, there are folks in the ecosystem already addressing things right now. In fact, we had an unprecedented legislative session that brought more affordable housing resources to the table than we’ve ever seen in Minnesota’s history, right? So the land bridge isn’t literally taking away resources. In fact, it has the potential of leveraging resources further beyond what has just happened in this recent legislative session. So but I can understand why one might ask the question, well, why a land bridge? Why use money for a land bridge? Well, it’s important to recognize that there are no housing dollars being taken away from the legislature or the federal government. These are transportation dollars, and these are dollars specifically designed for connecting communities. In our instance, I-94, which ReConnect Rondo didn’t launch MnDOT launched the I-94 corridor project because of its aging infrastructure. I believe very strongly that we must focus in on opportunities to leverage transportation policy to correct the past wrong. And these dollars can only be used for transportation. Minnesota is getting $6 billion. It’s going somewhere. And for a community that has lost as Rondo has lost, to direct those resources to build an asset. Something to leverage to reconnect and rebuild the community, I think is an important proposition because Rondo has already a lot of the remnants, a lot of the stories, a lot of the history. But what draws it all together. And we believe that this infrastructure project has that possibility. Also keep in mind, as I’d mentioned, we’ve done just studies and part of our early feasibility study speaks to the health benefit of the creation of 21 acres. Now, this happened far before the idea of a boulevard. And I think it’s important to note that it happened before the conversation around a boulevard, because we’ve always considered health in our early health impact assessment, which is one of the studies we’ve done. The importance of building not only quality of life, but really looking at building a healthy community. And that’s why the fabric of the work that we’re doing right now is centered on addressing climate change matters as well.

Sherry: [00:35:40] So you’ve done a lot of studies. You you mentioned the Anti-displacement study, the health impact assessment, the feasibility study. Um, you’ve also talked about past prosperity study. Uh, can you talk a little bit more about that?

Keith: [00:35:57] Oh, absolutely. So what we wanted to do is two things with our past prosperity study. And if I’m noting it correctly, I think the past prosperity study was done in 2018-19, roughly. The past prosperity study was to take a look at what are the transactional loss? What’s the transactional loss? And that revealed quantitatively the value of 700 homes being taken and destroyed. What we call an intergenerational wealth loss. To the families whose homes were taken. We used a snapshot in time 1980 sales cycles of homes, and we did that intentionally. In 1980, when we followed the sales cycles of two homes that are still existing here. The gain to the descendant was $50,000 in 1980.

Sherry: [00:36:58] Oh my goodness.

Keith: [00:36:59] Now, if we imagine 1980 and we ask ourselves what could $50,000 have paid for then. It could have paid for a new business. It could have paid for a full four year college degree. It could have paid for so many things, right? That’s the intergenerational wealth loss. I set that stage in 1980 and ask $50,000 asked the question, what’s $50,000 times the 700 homes? It’s $35 million. That $35 million could have paid for 4800 four-year college degrees at the University of Minnesota. So not only are we talking about transactional loss of property, but the gain for African Americans because it was a point in time in history where African Americans were going into college at unprecedented rates. So you see the connection. With that, if we think about if the homes had not been taken at the time of the report, which was 2018. Now that I’m reflecting. The value of those homes if they were still there was $157 million. So keep in mind. That’s the wealth loss: 48% home ownership loss; 61% population loss. Quantifying that matters. That’s what the past prosperity study does. Now let’s also talk about other losses. So we have a Rondo scorecard. And that Rondo scorecard talks about 18 different indicators. And the ranking of Rondo by those indicators. Indicators like financial condition. Education condition. Health condition. Right? Air quality. Heat island effect. These are all of the indicators that we have our eyes on. And by each of those indicators, the community of Rondo ranks net negative. So the word equity becomes something important. How do you build equity in each of those measures? So this is not just about a land bridge. It’s about the prosperity and health and wellness of a community and how you measure that and how you ignite that moving forward. So that’s also a part of the prosperity study that pivots to a restorative rondo, which really then begins to integrate the principles of restorative development that we work and, and base our work around, which is really around addressing each of those indicators. So I know that’s a lot to kind of throw out there, but I think it’s important that people really see how comprehensively we’re thinking about this. And while we understand the hesitation potentially around, oh, why do you want to spend money on a land bridge? I say this is a transportation element and transportation policy that can be leveraged. To address those inequities in a neighborhood wide way, to address past wrongs, to celebrate what exists in the community and set conditions for the future.

Sherry: [00:40:28] Do you have any idea what the time horizon is at this point?

Keith: [00:40:34] Yeah, that’s always I. If I had my druthers, it would be before we lose another elder. Another descendant. But we know this is a process. And in my view, MnDOT’s got its process. And as you alluded to earlier, it’s responsible for the entire corridor from Saint Paul to Minneapolis. What ReConnect Rondo has done is focused its aim in the space that I had shared with you, Lexington-Dale, Grotto-Chatsworth. We are responsible for that portion of the project. It is our project meaning as a community led effort. That’s a very unusual proposition. This just doesn’t happen. But what we’ve done is we’ve been so far ahead of MnDOT’s planning process. We’ve taken ownership for this as a part of our work. But while saying that we know that the city, the county Met Council and MnDOT are stakeholders and they’re very important stakeholders, and we’ve been working with all of them since as early as the apology that took place in 2015.

Sherry: [00:41:53] Yes, talk about that apology. I hear about it a lot.

Keith: [00:41:55] That’s really what ignited the rethinking I-94. So in 2015, then Mayor Coleman, Norm Coleman participated in the opening and the launching of the Plaza, which we’re at right now. And he apologized on behalf of the city for the city’s participation, because the city was a part of urban renewal, and urban renewal was parallel in a parallel track, actually, in some instances preceded the freeway in the seizing of homes. So Mayor Coleman apologized. And then Commissioner of Transportation Charlie Zelle also made an apology, which I had talked about, that healing process that was such a powerful healing process to acknowledge publicly this harm that had taken place, which really allowed us to really launch and push forward the idea that we currently are in. So there’s lots to celebrate, there’s lots to reflect on. There’s lots of pain associated with it. But again, as I mentioned before, healing is important. Talking openly about what’s going on is important. The issues that community members raise are important, uh, issues to to hear and to consider. And then those same members be invited to the table because they can help drive and shape when it’s all said and done. But that healing trust building to shift to possibility thinking from possibility thinking to co-ownership co-creation and then co-ownership. And so that’s really the basis of our model as we progress.

Sherry: [00:43:39] So I’ve been excited about this project, being a long time Saint Paulite for a long time. And when I, the more I get involved in land use transportation circles I’m becoming familiar with a lot of our listeners are advocating for the possibility of even filling the trench, getting rid of the interstate. And that’s gaining ground in a lot of the spaces I’m in. And. You know, that’s part of a carbon emissions drawdown. It’s that improving the health and safety in the area of the interstate. How might that vision impact what ReConnect Rondo wants to do? Does it preclude it?

Keith: [00:44:23] You know, to be honest, I don’t know enough about the details. I know that there’s an idea. Fill in the trench. I don’t know what that really means. I hear themes like land trusts. I hear themes like bringing wealth back to a community. But as I’ve illustrated, we’ve been studying this and planning this for quite some time. So we can point to how we see it happening. Now with that, anybody through this process can come up with an idea. And certainly that’s an idea. But one thing that I have to also reflect on is what’s the cost? There’s been no feasibility study. How do you fill in a trench? Where are you getting the dirt? What is the trucking implication? Carbon reduction. Just as one slight consideration. So we also want the best of health outcomes for all along the corridor. But I can’t quite speak to their synergies, except for the global picture of carbon reduction, the global picture of ensuring communities are beneficiaries. The global themes certainly were supportive of that, but the actual work itself, it’s unknown.

Sherry: [00:45:41] All right, so talking about the future, what’s coming up for ReConnect Rondo in the next weeks, months year?

Keith: [00:45:48] Yes. I mean, we’ve been engaged in doing community engagement, community outreach for quite some time, and we’ve had some really important, powerful touch points with the community through our community elders meetings or brunches, through our coffees and conversations with me, through boothing and being at a wide range of community pop up events. Selby Jazz Festival being one example. I personally have had about 2,000 conversations directly with people. That’s how engaged we’re being. So as we think about the future, we’ll continue to do those kinds of things all the way through December. In fact, I would say in January as well, we’ll have another event that really kind of puts at least some connection back with community with respect to what we’ve done with them for the last two years. On average, we have about 115, 150 people who kind of engage with us once we’ve been able to do that. And I believe our area neighborhood plan should be finalizing sometime in the spring. And when I say finalizing again, this is still very high level, but it would be the opportunity to ensure with community, as we’ve done along the way, that these are the themes and the areas of focus that they really have expressed as their priority. Continuing with that, we’re now approaching the legislative session.

Keith: [00:47:29] And so it’s about identifying what some of the recommended tools are that come through the anti-displacement study. What comes forward in the way of affirming a more formal way in which we can create a district? We will continue to think through how the future of workforce development on the land bridge. Who has access, who are the contractors? Although we’re not there in the selection process, but we need to begin to build the pipelines, right? The readiness for that, because we have a number of folks that have been out there as well. So again, you know, just continuing to build awareness, continuing to build relationships, really relying on the Rondo Roundtable to help kind of connect this idea to the entirety of of all of the various arts history, cultural expressions. Like I said, I think Walker West Music Academy is doing some great stuff. And so really continuing to help support that. The Rondo Community Land Trust, again, is another one of those organizations that are really, really key and critical, along with Model Cities and even the place you’re in, the Rondo Center for Diverse Expression. So we’ll just continue to build those relationships and envision and then making sure we understand where the resources are and how to leverage those resources.

Sherry: [00:48:59] So for folks who want to learn more about the land bridge, what resources are out there? Where would you point them?

Keith: [00:49:06] Well, I mean, our website is a good place where you can get a very good feel for the organization, how we’re approaching the work and who are our partners. So you can get that. You can, certainly, [https://reconnectrondo.com]. The other is we’re on LinkedIn. We’re on Facebook. We’ve got a Twitter account. We’ve got all those things on social media.

Sherry: [00:49:38] Oh, it’s “X” now, you know. “X.”

Keith: [00:49:41] Well, and of course now you’ve just expressed a generational thing too. But so we have we have those platforms as well. We’ll continue to do door knocking, continue to do those kinds of things to invite people to events. So just stay tuned. On our website, we’ve got an engage page specifically that really highlights the events that are going on and where we’re going to be. And and the fact that we just would love to see the voices of everyone at the table, and you don’t even have to agree to show up, because I think what’s really important is to be able to respond to questions, to be able to build a sense of awareness. And I’ll say this, anyone who has attended our events or have had any conversation with me directly or any of our folks, don’t walk away the same. And I say that in that it’s not that we’ve addressed all questions because it’s a complicated proposition, but I do believe that people began to really see the larger possibility, because there’s an acknowledgment of not only the lived pain experience, but also when they learn all of the folks that are involved giving this lift and providing the leadership that are already in the community here and who represent not only our elders but also descendants, many, many are jumping in to really push this idea forward.

Sherry: [00:51:17] Thank you so much for your time. This has been a great conversation. Keith, anything else you’d like to add?

Keith: [00:51:24] Well, I just want to let folks know. Join the movement. [laughter]

Sherry: [00:51:31] Thanks again. Take care.

Ian: [00:51:33] Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Streets.mn Podcast. The show is released under a Creative Commons Attribution non-commercial Non-derivative license, so feel free to republish the episode as long as you are not altering it and you are not profiting from it. The music in this episode is by Eric Brandt and the Urban Hillbilly Quartet. This episode was produced by Sherry Johnson, edited by Parker Seamon, aka Strongthanny and transcribed by Ian R Buck. We’re always looking to feature new voices on the Streets.mn Podcast, so if you have ideas for future episodes, drop us a line at [podcast@streets.mn]. Find other listeners and discuss this episode on your favorite social media platform using #StreetsMNPodcast. Until next time, take care.

About Ian R Buck

Pronouns: he/him

Podcaster and teacher. Ian gets around via bike and public transportation. "You don't need a parachute to skydive; you just need a parachute to skydive twice!"

About Sherry Johnson

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Sherry Johnson gets feisty about sustainability and localism. A complexity coach, adaptive strategist, and amplifier of counter-narratives, Sherry supports civic and nonprofit leaders as Principal Guide at Cultivate Strategy.