Monday, April 27, 2009

Are you AMMPed up About Milfoil in Uptown's Lakes?

Are you worried about the impact of milfoil on our neighborhood’s lakes? Are you looking for an innovative solution to the problem? If so, check out the a Minneapolis Milfoil Project (AMMP) and start doing your part to end the milfoil invasion.

What is AMMP?
According to their website, AMMP’s mission is to “educate and encourage city residents and park visitors to take individual action through prayer or meditation to revitalize these water resources.” Or, as their tagline succinctly puts it, “acknowledge the Spirit of the Lakes and give thanks.”

AMMP’s track record
In 1999, two local experts conducted a “Feng Shui Exterior Chi Adjustment and Pipe Ceremony” in response to that summer’s excessively high levels of milfoil. Apparently it worked, as by 2000 the milfoil was gone.

It’s back…
The pipe ceremony held things off for a bit, but by 2002 the milfoil was back, and worse than ever. Barbara Bobrowitz of Energetic Alignments and Jeff Grundtner of Earth Spirits, the original leaders of the pipe ceremony, suggested that “the Spirit of the Lake was being ignored as a living organism. Hence the energy of the lakes was declining, deteriorating the lakes’ health and vibrancy. The energy around the lakes has become negative.”

What will it take to solve the problem?
According to AMMP, it will not be easy to bring forth the level of positive energy necessary to combat the milfoil. As a goalpost, they suggest that a minimum of five percent of Minneapolis residents need to actively participate in the project.

What can I do to help?
Pray, meditate, or give thanks to the Spirit of the Lake. Children are encouraged to draw pictures or write stories. If you want to make a contribution of money, time, or energy, you can do so by contacting AMMP directly. AMMP claims nonprofit status, but I was unable to verify that information; searches on GuideStar and the IRS’s website came up with nothing for a Minneapolis Milfoil Project or Project by Design (the name indicated as the paypal or check recipient). In other words, contact them directly to confirm their current 501 (c) (3) status if you plan on giving them a tax-deductible cash contribution.

Does it work?
Admittedly meditation and prayer are not my cup of tea, but what the heck, it can’t hurt. More importantly, at least from the perspective of a skeptic, is that taking the time to think about the lakes and their significance to the community is a good thing. It may not help the milfoil problem, but it can give us all a chance to appreciate the lakes for what they offer. If we’re lucky that will translate into finding practical solutions (beyond praying, I mean) for their problems, even if it’s something as small (but important) as picking up trash while you’re out on your next stroll around the lakes. And as for the feng shui pipe ceremony and the call for positive energy, well, it’s worth a shot. I salute AMMP for offering a creative solution to a vexing problem.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Tricky Nature of Community Involvement

In spring 2008, the Wedge (LHENA) approved the neighborhood’s NRP Phase II Action Plan. As described in the executive summary, the plan “aims to promote a neighborhood vision through stakeholder-identified goals and strategies.” In an attempt to identify these goals, a survey was distributed at neighborhood meetings, at National Night Out events, through emails, and through publication in The Wedge, the neighborhood newspaper.

The results of this survey are a vivid example of how many important neighborhood decisions – in this case the shaping of neighborhood decisions, those involving large amounts of money – are being directed by a small group of active and involved individuals. The survey, its results made available in Appendix E of the Phase II Plan, shows a grand total of 21 respondents. Of these respondents:

90.5 percent owned and lived in their homes
This is compared to a rate of 14.7 percent of the neighborhood as a whole, based on 2000 census numbers. That percentage likely went up in the 2000s due to condo conversions, but most neighborhood residents remain renters.

4.8 percent were renters
One respondent chose not to answer this question, so in a best-case scenario less than ten percent of survey respondents were renters. In a neighborhood where 85 percent of homes were rentals in 2000, this is obviously a major disparity. The one renter was also “highly satisfied” with his or her landlord; while that’s good news (especially for him or her), I know that there are some slumlords in the Wedge, too. It would be nice to see some of their tenants getting active and involved and advocating for change from a renter’s perspective.

71.4 percent lived in single-family homes
I don’t know the exact statistics on this, but given the large number of duplexes and apartments in the Wedge I would assume that the percentage of single-family homes is nowhere near 71 percent.

On average, respondents had lived in their current home for 18 years; the average tenure in the Wedge neighborhood was 22 years.
In other words, these respondents were a self-selecting group of people with deep-rooted ties to the community. They may well be the best people to make informed decisions and suggestions about the future of the neighborhood, but they’re certainly not representative of the neighborhood’s demographics.

There were no respondents younger than 45
Given that only 15.7 percent of the Wedge’s population was 45 or older in 2000, this number is also skewed. There needs to be a way to get at least a handful of younger people involved in neighborhood issues. I know there are many younger people out there who do care about the neighborhood and who have strong opinions on its evolution, but for various reasons few of them are choosing to become involved through the traditional means favored by older residents.

Nine respondents had children under the age of five
I was quite happy to see this; Uptown, and the Wedge in particular, aren’t often seen as “family” neighborhoods. This number is skewed too, of course, but I’d rather see over-representation than under-representation.

No one made less than $29,999 household income in 2006
I know there are people in the Wedge making less than $30,000. Let’s get them involved, too.

One third of respondents had a graduate degree
While certainly not a bad thing that this group of respondents was highly educated, it is another indicator of the imbalance that so often occurs when dealing with neighborhood decisions, boards, and community-wide conversations.

90 percent of respondents were white, with the remaining 10 percent declining to answer.
87 percent of the population in 2000 was white, so maybe this isn’t too far off. Still, a little more ethnic or racial diversity would have been nice.

I’m not bringing up this survey to fault the Wedge or its NRP Phase II Plan; I think they made a strong effort to provide all residents with the opportunity to participate. The small response rate – 21 people out of a neighborhood with close to 6,000 residents, most of them adults – shows how hard it can be to engage the majority of a neighborhood’s residents in local issues or politics. While most people living in the Wedge probably have opinions about what can and should be done to improve the neighborhood, many of them aren’t going to get involved unless they see a pressing need. On the one hand, this may suggest that many residents are happy with the neighborhood the way that it is. On the other hand, by not getting involved or expressing their opinions they run the risk of a small but vocal minority of fellow residents potentially defining the future of the neighborhood, and possibly in a different direction than the quieter residents would like.

The Wedge, along with its fellow Uptown neighborhoods, is lucky to have a core group of neighborhood activists. These people care about the area and are willing to invest time and energy to make their neighborhood a better place to live, play, and work. But, as both neighborhood board demographics as well as surveys like this show, the people who actively participate in more formalized forms of neighborhood governance or decision making tend to reflect a small sliver of the larger neighborhood demographics. In a city where neighborhood boards, DFL conventions, and similar activities have a great impact on both political and practical matters, it is even more important that every effort be made to involve a broader cross-section of residents in the community.

I’m not sure what the solution should be. We’ve all heard that old saying, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” That doesn’t mean we should give up. This lack of involvement needs to be a priority in all four official city-defined Uptown neighborhoods. While it’s unrealistic to think that everyone, or even a majority of, local residents are ever going to attend a local board meeting or even a neighborhood block party, it’s not far-fetched to think that the rates of participation across different demographic subsets could be increased.

Locally, the Kingfield neighborhood seems to be doing a good job with their outreach efforts; their excellent website and e-letter provide an easy way for even those with odd hours to feel connected, and their recent annual neighborhood association offered free childcare. Although not a Kingfield resident, I’ve now subscribed to their email-based newsletter, and continue to be impressed with their community-building efforts. The Uptown neighborhoods have many achievements and innovate ideas of their own, of course, but I, for one, will continue to keep an eye on Kingfield for additional inspiration of how the neighborhoods of Uptown can continue to build community, engage all citizens, and generally go about building and sustaining the vibrant, safe, and thriving Uptown that we all want.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Matt Filner's Dilemma: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

This past weekend was a busy one for Uptown, with the Ward 10 DFL convention crowning Meg Tuthill with the official party endorsement. Prior to the convention both Tuthill and her opponent, Matt Filner, had promised to abide by the endorsement. Well, it’s already Tuesday, and there’s still no official announcement as to whether Filner will stay or go. While I realize there is a lot going on behind the scenes at the moment, let me add my voice to the larger chorus: please, Matt Filner, continue your candidacy and give Ward 10 residents – all of them, and not just the DFL faithful – to make their voice heard in November.

While Meg Tuthill won the endorsement by a respectable majority – 62.2 percent – Filner counters that delegates were not representative of the Ward as a whole. “For an extremely diverse ward,” said Filner, as quoted in the Southwest Journal, “it was an extremely non-diverse convention.”

Not everyone agrees with Filner’s assessment; one commenter on the Southwest Journal’s site asks rhetorically, “could there have been any more of a diverse of an audience? I believe Mr. Filner had a gentleman in his 90s there to represent him, and I think I saw a toddler…” So, could it have been any more diverse of an audience? Yes, of course. Diversity is not just age, or even ethnic or racial background. When you’re talking about ward diversity, than geographic diversity is important, too. By most accounts the biggest delegate turnout was from the western part of the ward, leaving residents of other areas (including Lyndale, the most diverse section of the ward and the area most often overlooked by local politics) underrepresented.

Unfortunately for Filner, he stated that he “absolutely” would abide by the endorsement. I was disappointed when he first made that statement, although I realize that there are politics involved, and that it would be difficult for a candidate to gain full support without promising to follow the process. I think it will be difficult to explain away how “absolutely” gets tossed out the window following a loss, even if that loss is based on a flawed system.

I didn’t endorse Filner or Tuthill on this blog because I think it’s best for the ward if local residents have a real choice during the real election. Yes, I assume there will eventually be a Republican (or other party) candidate, but the reality is that a Democrat, and most likely the official, endorsed Democrat, is going to win. The local DFL delegates obviously care about the ward and are committed to the neighborhood, but that doesn’t mean that this limited group of people – however involved and informed - should have the power to essentially crown a winner in April.

Overall, this whole process has left a bad taste in my mouth. I know some will say it’s the system working as it should, but I simply don’t believe that this process works in a one-party town. Mr. Filner, please continue to run. Ward 10 voters – ALL of them - deserve the opportunity to make their voices heard.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Name That Alley: Named Alleys and Alley Gates in CARAG?

I’ve been spending some recent quality time with the CARAG Neighborhood Master Plan, a document filled with both innovative and exciting ideas, as well as some, well, less-enthralling ideas. The CARAG Neighborhood Plan was completed in 2000, and while the authors acknowledge that the details may need updating from time to time, the document itself was intended to guide the neighborhood through several decades of growth and change. In other words, it might be up-to-date, but it’s not yet out-of-date. Over the next month or so I’m going to explore some of the plan’s highlights (or lowlights, depending on the topic) and see how the plan stacks up today. Documents of this sort can be extremely useful, and it’s worth reading for anyone who is a former, current, or future CARAG resident, or who is simply interested in learning more about how one Minneapolis (and Uptown) neighborhood envisions its future. And while I don’t agree with all of the concepts, I give CARAG much credit for being willing to make some truly creative suggestions and for not “playing it safe” by not always simply sticking with the status quo or always sticking with the traditional, safe, but sometimes boring design or planning options.

So, that said, one of the more realistic yet creative portion of the Plan were a series of proposals to increase community “ownership” of alleys. As described in the plan itself (page 4-23):

The master plan suggests that each alley be named – essentially reinforcing the ability of neighbors to take control of the space. Naming the alley, and then creating an appropriate sign, is the responsibility of each block. The sign – an alley ‘gate’ – is located at each end of the alley and marks the mid-block point of each east/west block… creation of the gate and its maintenance would be the responsibility of the gate and its maintenance
would be the responsibility of the neighbors who share the alley.”

Additional suggestions include the use of a CARAG artist-in-residence to work with neighbors to create the gate, as well as the incorporation of plantings and light fixtures into the gate itself. NPR money could be made available for the funding of these gates. As a side note, the plan also spends time discussing the benefits of alley-oriented “granny flats” (which I think is a wonderful idea), tearing down fences to create “visual connections between back door and alleys,” the renovation of garages, and the creation of ornate “garbage gazebos” to hold garbage cans and recycling bins.

I love alleys. I like their utilitarian nature, and the fact that they have a very different feel to them than do the streets. For kids, they often offer a new play space, somewhere where kids from the block can run around, maybe shoot some hoops, and generally enjoy the benefits that come from sharing the quasi private-public nature of the shared alleys. I think that they do contribute a great deal to CARAG’s character (and to the character of all the Minneapolis neighborhoods that have them), and that they do offer a sort of “final frontier” for forging new and improving old neighborhood relationships.

When I lived in CARAG most of our neighborhood activity was centered around the people who lived on our street; when I said “my block” I meant those houses that looked out onto the main street, not the houses that were shared an alley. Anything that can be done to build relationships with neighbors sharing an alley is a good thing; it is these neighbors, after all, who are the most likely to observe potential criminal activity (vandalism, garage theft, etc.). CARAG – and Uptown – residents will benefit from knowing both their neighbors on all sides. The CARAG plan is on target with that goal. I don’t, however, buy into the concept of named alleys or alley gates.

What’s in a name?
I once lived on a block with a named alley (not in Minneapolis). The name had no impact on neighborhood relationships, or on the sense of community; mostly it just served to confuse people who saw it listed on maps and were led to believe that the “Mission Alley” was more substantial than it was, inevitably envisioning a street of some sort and not just a dirt path leading to some garages. I imagine that some neighbors would love the process of naming an alley, but it’s not an easy thing to just let a group of residents (and are we talking homeowners or renters? Both?) get together to decide on a name. Just look back at the relatively recent discussion in CARAG about changing the neighborhood’s name to Wellstone – the naming of an alley could easily spark the same sort of controversy, just on a smaller scale. Maybe the process of getting together to discuss name and gate design would bring about an opportunity to build relationships, but given that many neighbors would lack the patience necessary to sit around in meeting after meeting debating the merits of this name or that name, let alone choice of a design, I don’t think that this is the best use of time or of NRP money.

An ongoing responsibility
If an alley is successfully named, and an attractive gate installed, can we trust that the residents of a certain block are really going to maintain it? True, the neighbors initially involved may be committed to the gate and its ideals, but CARAG has a high residential turnover rate. Renters come and go, as do homeowners. For certain designs this doesn’t matter - time and neglect can even enhance the charm of some materials – but for anything elaborate involving lights or plantings or anything else involving regular maintenance, or infusions of money, this could get tricky.

Current status
I haven’t heard anything about this recently, let alone noticed any elaborate alley gates or alley names, so I’m assuming that this project has been set on the back burner for now. Current funds are available for front yard lighting and for block club activities; block improvements could include efforts to enhance alleys, but that’s not the sole focus.

Although I think named alleys and formal alley gates are a little silly, I think there’s a lot of merit to the idea of reclaiming alley space for community purposes. Enhancing the alley experience – for safety, community-building, environmental, and aesthetic purposes – is certainly a valid and admirable goal. And while I might not live off of “Remington Alley” anytime soon, that doesn’t mean that we should stop looking carefully at Uptown-area alleys and their potential.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

HOURCAR in Uptown

Car-sharing has been in the Twin Cities for nearly five years now, yet there are still people out there who aren’t familiar with the concept. The only place in town – for now, anyway – is locally-based HOURCAR, a company started by the Saint Paul nonprofit Neighborhood Energy Consortium. And while car sharing is a useful resource for any neighborhood, it works especially well in a densely populated, urban neighborhood such as Uptown.

How car-sharing works, in a nutshell: Cars are parked in permanent locations, or “hubs.” You first become a member of HOURCAR. When you need to access a car you simply go online, make a reservation, then walk to your local hub, pick up the car, and go. Members pay monthly for hours, gas, and mileage based on usage.

Where are HOURCAR cars located in Uptown? Core Uptown locations include the YWCA at 29th and Hennepin and 31st and Girard (behind Calhoun Square). Also within walking distance of manyUptowners is the “Wedge Hub,” at 22nd and Garfield.

Cost: There are different plans available, but for the “Freedom” plan you pay just $5 per month in dues. Hourly rentals go for $8 an hour and 25 cents per mile. You can rent the cars by the day or weekend, too.

Hub Sponsorship: HOURCAR is currently soliciting applications from businesses, organizations, or individuals who are interested in their property serving as an HOURCAR hub. Sponsors pay between $12,000 and $15,000, depending on type of vehicle; in return HOURCAR promises to locate the car there for at least two years. The sponsorship will be matched 1:1 by the McKnight Foundation. I don’t know who currently is or has submitted a recent application, but am hoping that the future hubs will better serve some of the residents of the greater Uptown area who don’t live within close distance of the current hubs (although there are vast swaths of the city not currently served by HOURCAR; these people deserve access, too). Eventually maybe we’ll be lucky enough to have these dotted across the Uptown (and city as a whole) landscape, which in turn will give more and more people the opportunity to get rid of their cars as an unnecessary expense. HOURCAR's website specifically cites neighborhood organizations as potential sponsors; I'm not sure if any of the Uptown-area neighborhood organizations (I know the Uptown Association is a supporter) are current or potentially future sponsors, but this is certainly something arguably worthy of neighborhood funds.

What makes a good HOURCAR hub (according to website):

  • Low to moderate income neighborhood
  • High density neighborhood
  • “Strategically positioned to enhance the existing HOURCAR network”
  • Sponsor should be committed to supporting the hub, through marketing, maintenance, or other endeavors

I think car share programs are a great idea, but have a couple of questions and possible concerns about the way HOURCAR works in Minneapolis. First, the existing fleet of 19 cars is pretty small. What happens if someone has rented one of the only few cars in the neighborhood for the entire day or weekend? You can go pick up another one elsewhere, but if that’s the case it won’t be long before the convenience benefit of the program starts to erode. The coming expansion (ten new cars in ten new locations) will help a great deal, and eventually (with luck) there will be enough cars in enough locations that few people will ever be seriously inconvenienced. My second, and biggest, question relates to the cars themselves. HOURCAR is very proud of their energy efficient cars; options include the Toyota Prius and the Toyota Yaris. These are obviously great cars from an environmental standpoint, but do they really serve the needs of HOURSHARE customers? Take a look at this (unscientific survey) of some of the top trips for San Francisco’s City CarShare, one of the models for the Twin Cities’ HOURCAR:

  • Picking up friends or relatives at the airport
  • Dropping off donations at Goodwill
  • Helping friends move
  • First date
  • Meeting a client on the Peninsula (Minneapolis equivalent would be anywhere in the ‘burbs)
  • IKEA visit
  • Grocery store trip

A Toyota Yaris is a four-door sedan. It fits five people and has a spacious trunk. The Toyota Prius is a sedan with a hatchback. It can fit a lot in the back, but is it big enough to handle a trip to IKEA? Maybe, maybe not. I suppose there are always regular rental options, or the traditional cheap U-Haul truck, but it would be nice if HOURCAR could consider expanding its fleet options as it expands its bases. On the other hand, a Prius could well impress a first date, and both of these cars would be fine for a trip to the store or for a jaunt out to Maple Grove.

I’m not (currently) a member of HOURCAR. My transportation options are bus, feet, and the occasional ride from family or friends (too scared to brave city streets with a bike; a weakness, I admit.). In the future, though, should I join the ranks of licensed drivers, I will definitely consider HOURCAR as an option. Programs like this one make it easy for many people to give up their cars. Why go through the hassles and expense of maintaining a car if you mostly use it just to go to the grocery store or run occasional errands? Car shares are an increasingly common part of urban life, and it’s encouraging to see the concept growing in popularity in Minneapolis. With each new location, and perhaps with each new type of car option, it becomes easier and easier to eliminate some of the cars on our streets.

Are you a member of HOURCAR? If not, what’s stopping you? Where would you like to see the next HOURCAR hubs located?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Support Local Business With the 3/50 Project

City Page's Hot Dish blog clued me into a new website designed to raise awareness of the need to support local businesses, as well as some practical tips on how to do it. The 3/50 Project, as it’s named, encourages residents to select three of their favorite local independent stores, then commit to spending at least $50 per month (total) at those stores. It’s a simple, easy suggestion, and provides an instant framework to help people wean themselves off of chain stores. Given all the recent furor over the possibility of Trader Joe’s coming to the Uptown/Lyndale area, this seems like a particularly relevant topic.

The 3/50 Project has national ambitions, but has its roots right here in the greater Uptown area. Founder Cinda Baxter is the owner of the former Details Ink, which until its recent closing (it shut its doors in 2008) was located Calhoun Village.

The concept of shopping locally should be an obvious one, yet for many of us it’s not. How many people from Uptown do you know who do their shopping elsewhere? Sure, not everything is readily available here, and sometimes you don’t have much of a choice, but I know plenty of people who think nothing of hopping in their car and driving out to Mall of America to pick up a present or buy a pair of shoes. If we want locally-owned independent retailers and businesses to stay in our neighborhoods, then we need to be willing to support them with our dollars. The $50 per month that Baxter suggests does not have to be above and beyond your current budget; most of us can meet that minimum amount by simply doing some shifting around; if the battle of the grocery stores has you riled up, shop a little less at Trader Joe’s in St. Louis Park and a little more at the Wedge.

Uptown has a large number of residents who do spend their money locally. Still, there’s a lot of room for improvement. Taking Baxter’s advice and identifying your personal top three independent stores that you would hate to see go out of business is a great approach, but ideally it is only the first step towards a larger shift in shopping and spending habits. You might not spend every dollar right here in the neighborhood or in the city, but being aware of the impact that dollar can have, and the benefits of shopping locally, is a great start.

My only question about the 3/50 project is why they have chosen to use CafĂ© Press (an online store) to sell their 3/50 Project coffee mugs and t-shirts; I’m assuming it’s for the sake of ease and affordability, but given the local “bricks and mortar” independent store philosophy of 3/50, it might have been better to go without rather than offer up this non-local, online option.

If you own a local business and want to be listed as a supporter, or want to obtain free graphics to use in your business or on your website, you can register (for free) as a supporter at 3/50 website.

And finally, the hard (but fun) - picking your top three. Realistically we should all pick more than three local (3/50 asks that they not be franchises, and that they have fewer than six local locations) places to support - shopping locally should become a way of life - but picking three is a good place to start. Here's my Uptown list:
  1. Magers and Quinn
  2. Uptown Bar and Cafe
  3. Shoe Zoo
Although not officially endorsed by the 3/50 Project, I also think it's important to support your local community stores, even if sometimes that means supporting a larger chain. Davanni's and Dunn Brothers, for example, are both above the six locations rule, yet I think they deserve our support, too. (although the bigger a chain gets the less I like it, even if it is locally-based; Caribou, for example, is pretty low on my list now, and Dunn Brothers is falling fast with the opening of each new franchise location.) My personal rule of thumb is to first try the independent, then the local chain, and then finally the national chain located in neighborhood. At the very bottom of the list would be leaving the neighborhood to go out to a mall or the suburbs to support a big box store.

What three local, independent stores will you put on your 3/50 list?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Uptown Crime: All About Your Neighborhood Policing Plan

The Minneapolis Police Department compiles annual neighborhood policing plans for all of the city’s neighborhoods; these community-based plans allow the department and neighborhood to zero in on the specific issues faced by each individual neighborhood. These plans lay out specific goals, and evaluate the successes and failures of the previous year’s plans. 2009 plans are not yet available for Uptown’s neighborhoods, but the 2008 plans are compelling reading. Once the 2009 report is out I’ll spend a little more time investigating how things went in 2008. You can read the details for yourself on the city’s website, but to save you some reading I've listed the main goals/targets for each Uptown neighborhood. How do you think the neighborhoods stacked up in the end?

LHENA (the Wedge)

  • Robbery suppression: Among other items, two new beat cops attempted to decrease the number of robberies in the neighborhood.
  • Reducing residential burglaries: According to the report, there were 165 burglaries in the Wedge in 2007. The majority (approximately two-thirds!) did not require force, suggesting a lot of local residents leave their garages and homes unlocked. The department dedicated some of their time and resources in educating residents in the basics of common sense.
  • Reducing theft from motor vehicles: As with burglaries, much of the prevention tactics focused on education. In case you missed the police department’s messages, I’ll repeat it here: please do not leave your purse, laptop, wallet, or valuables in your car.
    Other highlights: The MPD was also planning on working to expand the block club program, and to expand the concept of e-block clubs and the use of technology as an outreach tool. There was also discussion of the creation of a citizen block patrol.


  • Burglary prevention: The Department had the ambitious goal of eliminating all non-forced-entry burglaries. Education was an important element in this plan, as was an increase of nighttime patrols.
  • Reducing drug trafficking: The 2008 goal was to reduce local drug sales by five percent.
  • Increased curfew and truancy enforcement: Exactly what it sounds like: get kids off the streets and in bed or at school.
  • Other highlights: Community involvement and engagement continues to be the common thread between all of these plans. In CARAG that means involvement with neighborhood meetings, encouraging block clubs, the continuation of a citizen “stroll patrol,” a group formed following the 2006 murder of Michael Zebuhr.

Interestingly, although perhaps understandably, despite the very low rate of violent crime in East Isles (nearly all crime is property-related), the report notes that residents are focused on the scarier stuff.

  • Reducing residential burglaries: As with other local neighborhoods, two-thirds of residential burglaries did not involve forced entry. Lock your doors, people!
  • Reducing theft from cars: Also like other area neighborhoods, East Isles gets a lot of people, residents and otherwise, who leave their valuables in their car.
  • Other highlights: Continued block club expansion, the use of technology for communication with the community, and the creation of a citizen block patrol were all discussed.


  • Reducing theft from vehicles and car theft: The police intended to address the car theft (both from and of) through increased patrols and education.
  • Reducing burglaries: While 2007 crime mostly went down, burglaries actually went up. The 2008 plan attempted to address this problem through increased and targeted patrols as well as increased enforcement of curfew and truancy laws.
  • Other highlights: The Police Department expected to continue to strengthen and expand community relations, as well as to increasingly use technology to enhance communication.

Overall, Uptown is a pretty safe place. There is crime, of course, and residents and visitors alike need to take the standard basic precautions, but overall Uptown seems to be in pretty good shape. I might complain at times about the neighborhood organizations, but they have taken on a strong role in working hand-in-hand with the police to help keep the area’s streets safe and crime at bay. Given that crime – or even the perception of crime – can really impact a neighborhood in negative way (let alone the people it directly touches), it’s essential that community members and the police continue to come together to address crime of all types, from the broken car window to the more serious and scary crimes like robbery or assault.

And please, please, remember to lock your garage, your house, and your car.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Trader Joe's: Coming Soon to a Neighborhood Near You?

The local food blogs (at City Pages and Heavy Table) are buzzing over the suggestion that Trader Joe’s may be coming to a new location at 2309 Lyndale. The debate so far seems to be concentrated on several issues:
  • Do chain stores belong on Lyndale?
  • Would a Trader Joe’s hurt the Wedge Co-op?
  • What does this mean for traffic?
  • Is Trader Joe’s a terrible, soul-sucking evil corporate Walmart-type that will destroy the neighborhood? (that’s a bit extreme, but Trader Joe’s seems to have the ability to incite strong feelings in people)

I’m perfectly fine with a Trader Joe’s moving into the neighborhood, although my position hasn’t yet solidified. Some musings on the issues at hand:

Do chain stores belong on Lyndale?
I would much prefer to see local, independent stores than I would see chains. But, that said, I don’t think it needs to be a hard-and-fast rule. National chains have their role in society, too, and I’d rather see some development than no development. Trader Joe’s fills a different niche than any other store in the neighborhood. If it was in direct competition with another independent store I might feel differently. But in this case, if done right, I think a Trader Joe’s could fit in well.

Would a Trader Joe’s hurt the Wedge Co-op?
I don’t think the two stores are direct competitors. Sure, some traffic might go to Trader Joe’s that might otherwise go to the Wedge, but for the most part Wedge fans are going to stick with their regular store. Trader Joe’s is great for frozen items and private line convenience foods; it’s not the kind of place you visit because you want top quality produce or meat. Yes, people have a limited amount of money that they’re going to spend on food each month, but realistically many Wedge patrons don’t shop exclusively at that store. A Trader Joe’s might take some money away from Wedge and other area food stores (Rainbow, Kowalski’s, etc.), but it’s unlikely to be as drastic as some people fear. Finally, many people in these neighborhoods are already Trader Joe’s fans; in their case it would simply mean that their Trader Joe’s budget was shifted from one location to another. I'd like to also think that instead of getting in the car and driving to St. Louis Park they'd do their shopping by foot or bike. Given the unpleasant nature of most Trader Joe's parking lots, I'd guess that many Uptown residents would choose to walk and not drive.

What does this mean for traffic?
Yes, a Trader Joe’s will undoubtedly increase traffic. The parking lot will almost certainly be congested. The only reason I care about any of this is because it will slow down buses, as well as potentially hurt other area businesses. In general I think that people who live in urban neighborhoods should expect traffic and parking problems; it comes with the territory. In an ideal world the bulk of Trader Joe’s shoppers will be walking or biking and not driving. Both the Wedge neighborhood and Whittier are dense, urban neighborhoods, and walking should be a doable option for many local residents. I'm not sure where the tipping point is between acceptable and unacceptable traffic levels; I don't want to see local businesses hurt, but at the same time I hate to see the continued development and growth of our neighborhoods designed around the needs of automobiles.

Is Trader Joe’s an evil big box store?
Trader Joe’s likes to fashion itself as an alternative to both traditional large grocery stores as well as smaller upscale gourmet food shops. It’s not a co-op, either, but does incorporate some of the food ethics that are more traditionally found in stores of that type. I think it’s this marketing that leads to people’s strong feelings – of both love and hate – for Trader Joe’s. Yes, it is a national chain, and some people would hate it for that alone. But the feelings towards Trader Joe’s seems to run deeper than that. Some of the comments on local discussion boards seem to bear this out; I’ve already seen multiple references to the epitome of evil corporate globalization, Walmart. Warnings about “big box stores” and “walkabilty” are already flying. This is where the opposition argument really begins to fall apart for me; while Trader Joe’s is a national chain, it’s certainly not anything like a Walmart. And as far as “big box stores” and threats to walkability, well, Trader Joe’s are not big stores, and there’s no evidence that a local store would in any way negatively impact neighborhood walkability. When the gloom and doom warnings veer off into the downright silly then I think it’s fair to say that there’s more at work than just a discussion about whether or not a certain store would be a negative or a positive for the neighborhood. While there are valid reasons to dislike Trader Joe’s, I think many of these negative reactions are knee-jerk emotional responses to both chain stores as well as to the perceived yuppie clientele of a Trader Joe’s.

I like Trader Joe’s. I don’t like the crowds and I don’t like the crowded aisles, and find the theme thing a little annoying, but I like the fact that I have an option to buy affordable, vegetarian frozen and convenience foods. I do agree that we as a society should be increasingly moving towards buying locally, and I also try to when possible support local businesses. I’m not perfect, though, and while I try to stick to my principles there are times when it’s not possible. Trader Joe’s isn’t perfect, either, but it’s certainly not the evil empire that some opponents make it out to be. If Trader Joe’s does come to town then we can and should expect it to be an appropriately developed urban store. We can also use this as an opportunity to raise community-wide discussions about the importance of supporting local businesses. We can expect Trader Joe’s to give back to the community and to be a good corporate neighbor. A Trader Joe’s might not be the best fit for Uptown/Lyndale/Whittier at this point in time, but it’s not a terrible, thing either.

Snapshot in Time: 32nd and Fremont in 1930

Do you ever walk down Uptown’s streets and wonder what it was like to live here back when it was “new”? Uptown didn’t develop overnight, of course, but most of it dates to the first three decades of the twentieth century. Most blocks are filled with houses and apartments all dating to the brief time span. The experience must have been drastically different, say, in the 1920s; while walking your dog or strolling with the family you’d likely pass busy construction sites, walk across roads still being laid, and witness new businesses opening up constantly. The relatively new, thriving neighborhood was well-served by streetcar, and residents could buy practically anything they wanted right in the neighborhood, as well as go to the theater, attend church or synagogue, go to school, and generally meet most needs in life.

So who were these residents? The short answer: it varied greatly. Uptown has always had a mix of residents of different economic levels. It was a primarily white place, but then so was Minneapolis as a whole. Uptown was actually pretty diverse, with residents from all over the world. Also, unlike many Minneapolis neighborhoods, Jews could rent and buy Uptown homes and apartments. It was never a “Jewish” neighborhood in the traditiona sense, but with two synagogues in the neighborhood it had more religious diversity (plenty of Catholics and Lutherans in the ‘hood, too, of course) than many Minneapolis neighborhoods.

Out of pure curiosity I decided to take a look at some sample 1930 census data from the 32nd block of Fremont. I’ve always liked that block for its mix of grand old apartment buildings, duplexes, and single-family homes. As an added bonus, it’s also the current home to Ward 10 Council Member Ralph Remington. So who lived here in 1930? Here’s a snapshot from the time, featuring the representative residents of one big apartment building, one mid-sized multiple family building, and one single-family house:

3240 Fremont
According to current city data, the building is now home to 26 units: 25 one-bedroom apartments and one two-bedroom apartment. It was built in 1924. Rents ranged from $38 to $65 per month, with the average hovering around $55.

In 1930, it was home to 39 adults (ages 16+); all but three of them were born in the United States. 54 percent were born in Minnesota, with the other Americans coming from a total of 15 states, mostly in the Midwest or on the East Coast. The foreign-born adults were born in Canada and Russia. The majority of American-born residents were the first generation to be born in this country; most of them had at least one parent from another country. Germany, Norway, Sweden, Mexico, Russia, and Ireland all appeared multiple times, with other parental nationalities including Denmark, England, and Canada also listed.

The bulk of the building’s apartments seemed to be either couples or families with one or two young children, but some units packed in several generations or included roommates. The Malchow family, for example, consisted of mother Louise and her two daughters, Flora and Charlotte, as well as a young boarder. The girls were all in their young 20s and worked in office jobs. The Fosters, a couple in their 30s, lived with Mr. Foster’s mother. The biggest family was the Shortalls, consisting of Mr. and Mrs. Shortall, Mr. Foster’s mother, and two Foster children.

The residents of 3240 Fremont held a broad array of jobs. In addition to the office workers listed above, other occupations included, among other things, a barber, a flour mill employee, a silk hose salesman, a paper boy, a filling station attendant, a candy salesman, several teachers, a bookstore clerk, a motion picture machine salesman, several engineers for the street railway, and a “credit man” for an underwear manufacturer. The vast majority of the women, regardless of age, were not officially employed outside of the home.

3216 Fremont
3216 Fremont was smaller and more upscale than nearby 3240. The 1923 four-plex still stands, and was one of the local buildings to “go” condo. Four families lived in the building in 1930. The owners, Max and Sarah Kohn, lived on-site; they had paid $15,000 for the building. Max Kohn was originally from Czechoslovakia, Sarah was from Austria, and their adult son, still living at home, was born in Minnesota. Max worked at a clothing manufacturing company and son Samson was a clerk at a cigar store. The Reade family consisted of Harry and his wife Mildred, along with their three-year-old son Noel Jack. Harry managed a jewelry store. While both adults were born in Minnesota, Harry’s parents came from Germany. Also living in the home was 20-year-old servant Celeste Schumacher, a Minnesota native with parents from Norway. The Reade’s young son probably played with three-year-old Charlene Morse; Charlene’s parents, Henry and Blanche, were born in Minnesota, although Henry’s parents were originally from Romania. The Morses also had a live-in servant; 19-year-old Natalie Pirrami was born in Minnesota, but had parents from Italy. Henry was the buyer for a radio store. The final family in the building was the Blat family; Charles was a barber and Leah was a beauty operator. They also had a six-year-old son, Robert. Charles was born in Russia and spoke "Jewish Russian" as his first language; Blanche was born in Minnesota to Russian parents.

3232 Fremont
One of the block’s single-family homes, 3232 Fremont was home to the Wallburg family. Herman and Elise Wallburg and their two young sons, Herman and Walter, paid $35 a month in rent. Herman Wallburg worked as a milkman. Both adults were born in the United States – Herman in Minnesota, Elise in Iowa – but Herman’s parents came from Germany and Elise’s from Norway. Elise, a 27-year-old mother with a 2 year old and a 3 ½ year old, was one of many mothers on the block; the houses and apartments - including both 3216 and 3240 - were filled with children.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Wear Your Heart on Your Sleeve, Uptown-Style

I wear my Uptown sweatshirt with pride. It’s warm, it’s soft, it has an Uptown logo. For those of you out there who also are looking for some Uptown-wear, whether for yourself or as a gift, here’s a brief tour of some of the Uptown-themed apparel for sale out there. Go ahead – wear your heart on your sleeve, Uptown-style.

I’m Down With Uptown:
one of my personal favorites, despite not having the money to actually spring for the shirt myself.

A Lakeside View of Uptown:
for those of you who don’t like words on your shirt, this landscape painting-turned-t-shirt is by artist Michael Sciortino.

Condos are Ruining My Neighborhood: I happen to think that the Uptown condos are mostly a good thing, but I know that not everyone agrees with that point of view. If you happen to hate condos then you might love this shirt.

Options, Options, Options: Design your own sweatshirt or other piece of clothing at Neighborhoodies, or take this general concept and bring it somewhere local.

Uptown Business Association: Buy Uptown Art Fair shirts or choose from an assortment of Uptown-themed shirts and hats.

Wearing a shirt with "Uptown" splashed across the front might not exactly save the neighborhood, but there's still possibly more benefits to be found than just a new piece of clothing for the closet. Schools have mastered the art of building a sense of student body (or alumni) community; maybe the symbolic act of purchasing and wearing a piece of "branded" clothing isn't so insignificant, after all. And hey, even if it doesn't enhance our shared community spirit, at least you'll have something to wear.