On October 27, the Northside Funders Group and Blue Line Coalition co-hosted a learning event open to funders and community stakeholders to discuss the METRO Blue Line Extension.
Proposed routes travel along historic Northside commercial corridors: West Broadway and Lowry Ave N. This event was designed as an opportunity to better understand the current timeline for the project, lift up perspectives from organizers, business owners and residents of the Northside, and articulate specific ideas to ensure a community-centered approach to this major infrastructure development.
First things first, we want to acknowledge that history matters. This light rail project is preceded by many developments on the Northside that have unfortunately occurred with little to no say from Northside stakeholders. It’s vital to know where we’ve been – the good, the bad, and the ugly – to understand where we’re going. Everyone who came together wants to see a project that benefits the Northside. And as we look forward to building that, we can hold the reality that past harms should be acknowledged and repaired.
Second, while we are talking specifically about a transit project, what we’re really talking about is a transit, housing, business, jobs, environmental, cultural, health justice issue. So, if you’re reading this as a funder thinking, “eh, we don’t fund transit,” I invite you to think again and keep reading.
Finally, the timeline for building the Blue Line is lengthy. A successful, community-centered project will require intentional engagement and investment in both short-term and long-term needs. Furthermore, it requires being pro-active, planful and strategic.
Now that we’ve got that cleared up, we can jump into some salient points, ideas and action items shared in the October 27 session:
- Timeline: Next spring we expect a report will be released detailing community feedback on the two proposed routes and advancing a decision on which one will be chosen. After the final route is announced, there will be work to establish the station area plans. 2028 will be the earliest we can expect to see a physical train moving through the Northside.
- Repair: Before the West Broadway and Lowry routes were put forward, the Light Rail was supposed to travel in close proximity to the Harrison Neighborhood. Even though light rail will not be built in this community (background story here), Harrison did experience accelerated gentrification. Nichole Buehler , executive director of Harrison Neighborhood Association reports rents going up $300 a month or more resulting in hundreds of residents being displaced. Promises of greater pedestrian safety infrastructure along Olson Memorial also went unfulfilled. Now the organization is asking how do we make Harrison whole and how do we prevent this from happening in other part of the Northside. For Harrison, their advocacy continues around eliminating Olson Memorial Highway all together (find out more about the transit injustice connected to this development in the 1930s), Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act, Rent Stabilization organizing, an effort to establish a Grocery Co-Op and more.
- Anti-Displacement: Learning from Harrison’s disappointments, community is calling for robust anti-displacement policies and strategies to be adopted as part of the development project. Met Council and Hennepin County have invested resources to establish a formal Anti-Displacement Working Group supported by research being conducted by Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA). We will stay engaged to find out what the findings and recommendations will be, but Harrison already seems to have some great ideas!
- A community vision and agenda: We need to see deep investments in organizations, coalitions, businesses that are organizing a wide array of Northside stakeholders to establish a vision and agenda with clear metrics. This is absolutely necessary in order to advocate at decision making tables for the light rail and connected developments the Northside wants to see.
- Our Youth: We need to be clear that we are making decisions that will impact future generations. Young people today will be the users of this infrastructure. How are their questions, concerns and dreams being rolled up into the planning and implementation of this development?
- Invest in BIPOC Developers and Businesses: Businesses along the proposed routes have grave concerns about how they will survive the construction period of the light rail, and even whether their buildings will have to be torn down to make space for the train. Businesses want to know what supports (including dollars) will be made available to them! In addition, there are many real estate projects already in development along the proposed routes. How can we invest in those projects now to ensure wealth building is captured locally? This means more grants for pre-development (a huge need) and resources like revolving loan funds.
- Data. We have it, let’s use it: To put a clearer point on the issue of learning from past experience or new emerging information, data must be shared more freely and broadly so that everyone can act from a more powerful, intentional and pro-active space. As an example, of planners already know certain building will need to be torn down to make room for the train, why not share that? If it helps to focus and inform community perspectives it can only make for a better project down the road. If running the light rail down West Broadway means tearing down 10 building, while going down Lowry would entail only 1-2, wouldn’t that be helpful to know now?
- Technical Assistance Infrastructure: From marketing, accounting to legal support, businesses can benefit from more specialized and dedicated professional services. What if there were a way to pool resources to get access to those providers?
- Organizing, Organizing, Organizing: Whether sitting at decision making tables or working to capture, synthesize and translate community perspective to decision makers, the time required has a cost. Organizers need resources to build momentum, and center powerful relationships to keep the agenda moving towards their priorities.
Before closing, there was a direct message expressed to funders that is worth repeating.
“Funders need to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Shift away from transactional relationships, stop chasing fires and be pro-active in building alongside community, invest for the long-haul and in for-profit ventures (as a note, many of these themes came up in the last NFG hosted learning event).”
We only scratched the surface during this 2-hour conversation. To learn more, or get engaged, feel free to connect any of our speakers (listed below). Join the movement to ensure that Northside community vision is front and center.
We want to thank our insightful speakers: Felicia Perry, Owen Duckworth, Ricardo Perez, Nichole Buehler,Chris Webley, KB Brown and Sunny Chanthanouvang.