Art has been noted as a vehicle for establishing and enhancing relationships among neighborhood residents who nurture their connectedness by helping, sharing, and encouraging each other while working on projects (Kay, 2000)–see examples at Project for Public Spaces. In 2013, Hennepin County Community Works collaborated with the City of Minneapolis, community artists, and community members to reimagine the future of Penn Avenue in North Minneapolis. As noted by a Hennepin County staff member who worked on the project, “We took our time in identifying various groups and talking with people, building relationships and finding out how best to engage different groups.” Using playful interactions like chalk talks, bus stop theater, and pop-up galleries the group generated ideas, which ranged from economic development to housing strategies, beautification, and livability, and helped create the small area plan for the Penn Avenue corridor.
Hennepin County, Minnesota
Photo credit: createplace.org
Wilder Foundation’s Minneapolis Bike Equity Report (2016) notes that, “In Minneapolis and throughout Minnesota, social and economic conditions vary significantly by neighborhood, often as the result of long-standing policies and historical practices that divest resources away from some communities” (p.5). Communities of color face significant health disparities. In North Minneapolis, where 57% of the population is Black, the city is planning to implement a bicycle boulevard on Queen Avenue by 2021. According to the Bike Equity Report, “…expanding Minneapolis bikeways can improve opportunities for residents to engage in healthy activities and access employment, education, and other community resources” (p.1). The signs, pavement markings, and other traffic calming measures of bicycle boulevards make streets safer for pedestrians and motorists as well.
Lead poisoning, which can cause serious health problems and developmental delays, is 100% preventable and the Sustainable Resources Center hopes to spread that message by offering outreach and health education. The Leadie Eddie van is a mobile lead testing unit and puppet show that travels to neighborhood events offering educational materials about the dangers of lead and strategies that families can take to protect themselves in English, Spanish, and Somali. “We have community partners who go to events, who speak multiple languages, who are [able] to engage people in the communities,” says Patricia Fitzgerald from Hennepin County Community Works. Families also have an opportunity to learn about free in-home visits and about grant funds that could help remove lead hazards from their homes. By reaching where people already gather, this effort makes homes healthy places to live.
The acquisition, rehabilitation, and resale of tax-forfeited properties create an opportunity to turn discarded spaces into places of opportunity. “Our goal was to match these vacant homes that are sitting there and put them to better use,” says Kevin Dockry, Director of Hennepin County Community Works. The county-owned homes are rehabilitated by Sentencing to Serve, a program which provides hands-on job training to criminal offenders. After the home is rehabilitated, the land is placed into a community land trust to ensure permanent affordability for generations to come. Finally, the housing is sold to low-income buyers, helping reduce the gap in homeownership levels between minorities and whites–in the Twin Cities, 25 percent of black residents own a home, compared to 70 percent for all residents, with over half residing in apartment complexes with five units or more (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011).