Category Archives: urban community

Open Letter to My New Northside Neighbors…

fam 1989When Janeen and I bought a home in North Minneapolis 25 years ago, not many white folks were buying homes in the 55411.  There was little support from family or old friends, initially we thought we were on our own.  In reality, this lack of support was a good thing, it forced us to make new friends and learn from our new neighbors. These long term residents taught us about the beauty and culture of our community, how to enjoy it and thrive in it.  They also taught us about potential dangers and how to be wise and safe without living in fear.

The neighborhood is much different now.  There are many statistics that demonstrate these changes but a simple observation I make daily is this:  When we moved here I was one of the few people I’d see out jogging or biking; now there are tons of joggers and bikers, and a good number of them are white folks.  This is a visual sign of a community undergoing deep transformations.   Such changes can positively impact a neighborhood since economically and racially isolated/segregated neighborhoods are rarely a good thing.  Yet, there are also negatives, one being long time neighbors who get displaced as rents, property values and taxes increase, as well as the potential for growing animosity between long-time residents and perceived new invaders.

So here are my thoughts  to folks who have recently moved into North Minneapolis or any other urban community that has traditionally been home to lower-income persons of a particular ethnic group.    Consider this; if I were to move to a farm community or to a city in another country,  I would not go with the assumption that I will find in my new neighborhood the things in enjoy in my present one.  No, I would go open to learn yand experience new things in a new place.  Yet I am constantly astonished by new Northside neighbors who bring their small town and suburban assumptions to my neighborhood. So welcome to North Minneapolis.

If the neighborhood could talk I’m sure it would say, “I was fine before you came to nomi and I’ll be fine if you never want to nomi.  BUT –  If you want to be a good Northsider, come to learn from people who know the history and carry the pride of this richly  diverse place.”  Do this, and you can become a real neighbor and not just a resident gentrifier.  A neighbor embraces the diverse community and grows with the community, a gentrifier endures the diverse community in order to profit personally from the community.  Here are some practical tips to becoming a neighbor:

 Shopping:  Spend as much of your money as possible locally, buying food, cutting your hair, eating out, remodeling your house, or fixing your car: local purchases help local families.  True some shopping experiences may be different from previous experiences, so use it as an opportunity to expand your comfort zone, learn new things, and make new friends.  At the same time you are creating a stronger community.

 Children: Seek to provide as much of your child’s educational and social needs in the neighborhood as possible.  Minneapolis schools are improving and engaged parents (like you) make them better.  Even if you cannot find a school for your child in the neighborhood, (as we at times did not) keep your kids engaged in park athletics and activities, neighborhood and community groups.  Get to know kids and parents on your block and encourage (as much as possible) your kids to play together.  If you send the message, even without verbalizing it,  that “…our neighborhood is a dangerous place and that people who look different than you cannot be trusted,”  your children will internalize it.

 Involvement: Be involved in your neighborhood groups and do not be content if most of the people engaged in the group are of the same race and social status.  Neighborhood groups can be great tools for engagement and improvement of the whole neighborhood, or they can be a wedge factor; separating the block into “us” v “them.”  Across the northside there are a few groups that are really “homeowner associations” rather than a neighborhood association.  I know it can be difficult to get renters, especially families who have been very transient, to get involved.  But the benefits are huge and worth the time and emotional commitment required to make it happen.  Create your own forms of connecting by designing safe spaces for all your neighbors, without agenda or uneven distribution of power.

 Communication:  The Northside gets enough negative press,  work to communicate about the neighborhood in ways that are truthful, yet as positive as possible.  Seek out long term residents from whom you can gain information to help yourself (does anyone know why….? Or,   help me understand….?)  Use public forums to share needed information that can help build understanding and solutions.   I’ve been kicked off the Facebook group ”North Vent” because I disagree with their very purpose of existing which is contrary to these basic principles.  If you need to vent, go to the neighbor who caused the problem, or work with neighbors to craft a solution.  But public bitch-n-whinin’ makes the neighborhood look worse and makes you look ignorant to your friends who wonder why you bought a house in “that” neighborhood to begin with.

Stability:  You got your chance to move into the community because someone else was displaced, and so now work to create stability and limit displacement.  For us it happened when Mrs Fischer died and her husband got moved to a nursing home.  Others have new homes because someone else lost their home through foreclosure,  job loss, slum lords that got shut down, medical issues, or via displacement after the tornado came through and they learned they were under insured.   While there is really nothing you can do about the past issues you can be involved to see that stability, not dislocation become new norms in our neighborhood.  What you can do:

                • Press local officials to maintain quality low-income housing across the neighborhood including single family, multi-plexes and apartments.
                • Work to support local education and housing groups whose mission is community stability
                • Don’t fight groups who want to provide services to the people who lived here before you bought your home. (AKA – NIMBY folks fighting sound projects)
                • Help renters on your block find connection and security so they will desire to stay put and advocate for them if land-lords are not doing what they should to provide quality homes.

Building a Beloved Community takes intentional actions that force us to reconsider our own self interests. However it is much better than following the normalized colonist model: Move in, take what I want, make it like I want it and force out anyone who does not fit with my vision for my world. With  hard work and a little self-sacrifice, we can together make a great place for everyone, without excluding anyone.