Open Streets gets rave reviews but insufficient funding

A roller skater watches the band Casual Confusion perform on Open Streets West Broadway.
Photo by Henry Pan

On a warm and sunny day earlier this September, thousands of people took to West Broadway Avenue in North Minneapolis to scoot, bike, blow bubbles, perform and see performances, and buy and sell clothing, books and food.

The series of events, part of Open Streets Minneapolis, is now in its 12th year. They are organized by the City of Minneapolis and Our Streets Minneapolis and entail closing key corridors around the city to car traffic so people can be in community with one another.

“I love Open Streets. It’s a great way to network, to vend, to meet new people and just to be in the community,” said Crown Shepherd, who runs Liberate Your Bookshelf that sells books written by Black authors. Shepherd has been to seven Open Streets events in the past several years.

However, the event series may have trouble continuing. Not only does the organization need money to treat its participants fairly, but they also say the City does not adequately support them.

“If we want to do eight events [annually] at the level that we want to do them, we’re looking at around a $500,000 budget,” said Ember Rasmussen, who organizes Open Streets and uses they/them pronouns.

The first Open Streets event in Minneapolis took place on Lyndale Ave. through the Whittier, Lyndale, and Wedge neighborhoods in 2011. That event has since become the flagship Open Streets, with as many as 50,000 attending.

In total, close to 100,000 participate at up to eight Open Streets events annually. It’s so successful that it has influenced similar events elsewhere in the metro, such as in Richfield. It also fostered a generation of advocates who want to see safer, calmer streets; Hennepin County recently removed a traffic lane from Lyndale Avenue because of lobbying from those advocates. 

“We can stand out in the street and not worry about getting hit by a car,” said Keyez Williams, who performed with his ’70s rock and soul band Casual Confusion at two Open Streets events this year: one on West Broadway, the other on Lyndale.

The City has a contract with Our Streets Minneapolis to run Open Streets for the next two years, with an option to extend it for up to two more years. But Our Streets will get no money from the City to organize the annual complement of Open Streets, instead receiving in-kind support, such as assistance with street closures and waste removal—the quality of which they say is declining.

“Every year when I have these conversations with City officials, they’re always asking me how they can do less,” said Rasmussen. “I’m talking to folks who run trash for us, for example. They aren’t provided with additional funding from the City to support Open Streets, but they’re supposed to provide us with that in-kind resource.”

Open Streets also had to pare back the number of events due to a lack of funds to hire additional staff to organize them, which includes connecting with those on the corridor to let them know ahead of time about the event.

Downtown has not had an Open Streets since 2017, and the University of Minnesota, Northeast, and Nicollet corridors have not had one since 2019.

“I’d rather do a smaller number of events in an intentional way that really serves the participants, rather than just doing more and more until folks aren’t having a good experience because we are overworked,” said Rasmussen.

Another reason Open Streets wants more money is to support those who exhibit. “The biggest thing that [people in the community have] said was, one, we need to bring the [exhibit] fees down, and two, we need to provide more resources for small businesses,” said Rasmussen, who adds that exhibitors must bring their own supplies to the event because they can’t provide any. “If people don’t have car access, they basically can’t come out to Open Streets.”

They also want to pay the artists who perform at Open Streets. “If an artist wants to come out to the street, they can for free, but we can’t pay them for their valuable service. And I feel that’s not right,” said Rasmussen.

The City is deciding how best to support Open Streets moving forward. But until Our Streets gets more funding, they plan to severely reduce the number of Open Streets that happen next year. The Lyndale and West Broadway Open Streets are safe, Rasmussen said, with room for one or two more events depending on their budget.

The final Open Streets Minneapolis event of the season will take place on Sunday, Oct. 1 from 11 am to 4:30 pm on Minnehaha Ave. between Lake Street and 46th Street.

One Comment on “Open Streets gets rave reviews but insufficient funding”

  1. Open Streets events are among my favorite parts of living in Minneapolis! What can we do, who can we contact to show support for Our Streets and press our elected officials for more funding?

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