City must overcome community mistrust
The City of Minneapolis hosted an open house Saturday afternoon April 23 at Phelps Field Park about a future redesign of 38th St. and Chicago Ave., the intersection where George Floyd was murdered by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in May 2020.
Since the killing of Floyd, the blocks surrounding 38th and Chicago (often called George Floyd Square) have become a memorial that serves as a community gathering zone with art, a greenhouse, and several community-run aid initiatives.
The open house had a poster board and a suggestions box where residents could drop their ideas. City Council President Andrea Jenkins, Councilmember Jason Chavez, and Mayor Jacob Frey were in attendance.
“This today is an initial step in how we can come together and plan for our community,” Jenkins said. “No plans have been made; no plans will be made without community engagement, input, involvement, at every step of the process.”
City officials say this framework of community engagement coming before a project even begins is a new approach in Minneapolis. The city’s director of public works, Margaret Anderson Kelliher, said this approach can be scaled up and used for future projects.
“Having what we would call the engagement and inform phase be first for a major project is a real change in the way that transportation planning in the past has been done,” Anderson Kelliher said. “In the past, a set of plans were made, you’d come out to a community, you would say, ‘Here’s our idea of what this should look like.’”
“Here, the input is really on the front end of this,” Anderson Kelliher added, “and I think that’s an important thing.”
Some community members have expressed doubt that the new process is an improvement for community involvement. On a poster board asking the community for engagement, unsigned post-it notes from several community members expressed skepticism over the City’s approach.
“There is a great deal of mistrust in the community as every process always starts in private meetings without invitation to all to participate,” one note read. “The process needs to begin with public listening sessions.”
The note also referenced some of the City’s early community engagement for the project, and interviews with 30 unnamed stakeholders in the community. The only information the City has released about the stakeholders is that they are involved with the local community in varying capacities.
“Who are these mysterious stakeholders?” the note inquired. “Why wasn’t there a public invitation to join?” The note ended with, “Turn around and start over.”
Other community members are more hopeful. Billy Jones, one of the partners in the newly opened Forreal Coffeehouse in George Floyd Square, thinks the redesign could benefit the community.
“Most of these houses and places have been designed in the early 1900s, so with the new design and the City coming in, it could be a great thing depending on how it goes,” Jones said.
“Change is always good,” he added. “I’m looking at ways to make it accessible for the public but also businesses. That balance could be a great thing for the community.”
According to an FAQ sheet released by the City, a final design concept for the streets is projected to be completed by spring 2023. It also notes that “the timeline will have to include flexibility to allow for each engagement phase to be completed before advancing to the next.”
Some of the City’s stated goals for the redesign are to reflect community needs and use of the space and to explore pedestrian and transit expansions while maintaining access to local businesses.
The City has not ruled out creating a pedestrian plaza in the area, noting it would explore the idea through further community engagement. The City is also exploring expanding opportunities at 38th and Chicago regarding the upcoming D-line bus route and has considered purchasing the closed Speedway gas station on the intersection’s northwest corner.
Another public meeting regarding the redesign will take place virtually on Tuesday, April 26 from 5-7 pm. Go here to join the virtual meeting. Opinions on the redesign can also be submitted online through a survey by going to www.surveymonkey.com/r/38Chicago_Phase2
Henry Pan contributed to this story. Pan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cole Miska is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.