Bill Lindeke

The Gentrification Paradox

As long as I’ve been working and writing about city planning, a problem keeps coming up in my mind. Things I often consider to be improvements — a new transit project, investing in a beautiful streetscape, replacing a parking lot with a new apartment building –are sometimes greeted with frustration or anger by people in a neighborhood. It’s what I call the “gentrification paradox.” To me, this paradox is partly about how our cities are deeply entwined with complex social histories of race, class, and neighborhood identity. It’s impossible to separate these issues, and they can lead us into tangled logics.

But I also believe that often frustrating gentrification debates will go nowhere as long as they ignore deeper issues of economic inequality. We need to talk about capitalism. If your home is getting bulldozed by a wealthy developer, do you care whether he is black or white or Middle-eastern? To me, the problem we’re talking about when we talk about gentrification is economic and social inequality.

Gentrification is our word for how money controls our cities.

I don’t want to ignore race. In fact, the history of cities is crucial to understanding the connection between race and economic inequality in the first place. (A short list includes redlining, restrictive covenants, the connection between racism and “neighborhood” identity, perpetuated real estate wealth, police profiling, and the spatial inequality of our schools.) These issues are massively important, but to me solving them only happens when we address deeper issues of economic inequality.

I have two sets of questions, neither of which have easy answers:

Who gets to speak for our city?

In other words, should homeowners have more influence over city decisions than others? Should long-time residents have more influence over city decisions than newcomers? For me, the answer has to be “no” for both of these questions. But how do we respect local histories without reifying identities that often exclude others?

Who benefits from city plans?

In other words, what questions must cities ask themselves about fostering economic development? How can cities make investments and improvements without deepening inequalities? How can planners and politicians begin to make decisions that are meaningfully democratic?

As I said, these questions don’t have easy answers. But if we don’t take the time to ask them, we’re doing ourselves and each other a large disservice. We all have a right to the city.

Bill Lindeke has been blogging about sidewalks and cities since 2005, ever since he read Jane Jacobs. He’s a PhD candidate in geography at the University of Minnesota, working on his dissertation about bicycling, cities, and affect.

Kirk Washington

How has the citymaking process affected me?

I learned and continue to learn that the work we are engaged in is much bigger than us, and not in vain.  I only gained this perspective from trying to understand our collective humanity.

This process and the path we walk can only be appreciated through the relationships we have built from breakfast club and our neighborhood.  I firmly believe we are human, only through our relationships with each other.

I was deeply impressed with the artists we worked with, who came over to the north side to hear our stories.  They gave us the feeling that we can imagine a future if we work together and make change as agents of culture in Minneapolis.

– Kirk Washington, The Breakfast Club

Aster Nebro

Through this process I have learned there is still lots of work to do, on the north side of Minneapolis, with regards to race, class and gender.  As an Ethiopian woman married to an African American man, I’ve noticed how the city making process is vital to undoing much of the issues.

The people in our neighborhood were extremely receptive and excited to tell their own stories during this process, instead of having the dominant narrative attempt to retell and undermine them.  For there is power in being in charge of ones own story.

To be able to share these stories as a witness to our narrative and our socio-economic divide in the city.

This, I feel, can bring about the necessary healing we need.  Healing as an alternative to the present living condition and also to begin to walk the path of true democracy, that the city and country desperately needs.

—Aster Nebro, The Breakfast Club

Brenda Kayzar

I am skeptically intrigued by the Creative CityMaking project. Although conceptually, attempts to marry city planning and economic development with the arts are omnipresent; the facilitation via Intermedia Arts suggests promise. Intermedia’s stated mission is to lend a voice to the frequently voiceless and underrepresented. Within the economic development realm, power and practice have historically colluded to render many communities mute. Despite a marked improvement in outreach and empowerment on the part of the planning community over the past few decades, real engagement often remains elusive.  In consideration of long-term citywide plans and economic development agendas, interaction at community meetings suggests planners are asking permission to enact already vetted actions rather than seeking to engage residents in envisioning the future based on that community’s perception of need. Therefore, Intermedia’s place at the table holds promise in this endeavor at real engagement.

The call to engage the arts is a high priority for most cities. The rise in partnership governance, which necessitates enrollment of corporate and third sector funds and vision in order to ‘reshape’ urban landscapes, is centered on a belief that cities must be entrepreneurial in order to survive in the global economy. After several decades of entrepreneurial efforts, the term creative has supplanted entrepreneurial in the planning and economic development lexicon. The hope was/is that such things as theaters, murals, and artists will foster landscapes that attract ‘creatives’ and their investments.  Or the arts themselves might develop into sustainable economies of production.

From a place of experience creative spaces are visually engaging and interesting and the endeavor has certainly advanced the creative industries. From a critical perspective though, the creative concept has been stretched quite thin. Within the economic development and planning literature it appears that creative place-making is a cure-all for most everything; from crime (insert mural) to housing decline (insert ‘creatives induced’ gentrification). The promise of the term ‘creative’ masks realities such as displacement, uneven development, and inaffordability. But I noted the call to engage the arts remains a high priority for cities.

I’m still unclear as to the exact roles the artists were expected to play in this creative place-making process in Minneapolis. Each engaged in different ways and in a variety of projects and neighborhoods. I can only speak to Wing’s role as we’ve talked about his engagement with Jim Voll and the communities in North Minneapolis. I do find the ways in which Wing and Ashley sought to engage residents at community events and meetings to be…dare I say…inspiringly creative-but more than that; intuitive, reflective, and realistic. I do not doubt that their enrollment will provide valuable insights for city planners as well as the communities themselves. Yet I am only cautiously optimistic.  Like many endeavors to engage, interpretation of success can be based simply on how well the interactions went or what was learned from each party. From the community’s perspective trust is the ultimate measure of success, however, and trust is not awarded without a visible outcome; and experienced improvement in their quality of life.  I look forward to learning more about the various groups; their visions and outcomes from this project.  But more, I hope for translation…the translation of this creative city place-making knowledge… into action-giving voice to the frequently voiceless.

– Brenda Kayzar, Ph.D., Geography Professor, Urban Studies Program, University of Minnesota

Rachel Engh

How can people who make decisions in city planning departments effectively listen, collaborate, and share power with people who live in the city? How can peoples’ stories be used to affect planning decisions?

In May, I graduated with a master’s degree in urban and regional planning. In school, I learned how to make maps and run statistical regressions. I wrote surveys, interview questions, and focus group agendas. I made strengths/opportunities/challenges/threats diagrams and practiced voting on issues with dot stickers. I also learned the often dirty, narrow, exclusive, and racist history of planning. We discussed that as future planning experts, we shoulder the actions of past planners and should seek public participation in our work. And then we graduated.

Through working with artists, I’ve gotten to explore creative ways to collect peoples’ stories, more creative than administering a survey or conducting a focus group. Artists are storytellers, creating worlds with paint, words, movement. Planners also are storytellers, creating worlds with roads, buildings, zoning codes, tax increment financing, bike lanes. Real people live in these worlds and when planners collect and use these peoples’ stories, better worlds are built. Figuring out the most authentic, effective, sustainable, and creative ways to collect these stories and how to use the content of these stories to influence planning decisions will result in more voices at the table and hopefully more equitable cities.

—Rachel Engh, Master of Urban and Regional Planning, University of Minnesota

Shaina Brassard

For several decades, cities have been designed around the car, not the person, and definitely not the person without a car. At the same time, the aesthetic and sensory experience of moving around a city, including our interaction with buildings and public space, has been dismissed as unimportant, as we have focused on the city as a place for big business.

I would love for the main question we ask during the continuous citymaking process to be: How does/might the built environment, public space and public transit facilitate people’s ability to get their various needs met, including their needs for positive social interaction, self expression, and overall happiness and health?

—Shaina Brassard, Marketing and Communications Coordinator of the West Broadway Business and Area Coalition

Ashley Hanson

As I begin to reflect on all that I have learned and experienced over the last year, I am reminded how grateful and fortunate I am to have been selected, along with my collaborators Wing and Jim, for this amazing journey. We have witnessed micro-transformation that we can hope will have a beautiful butterfly effect on the planning process. We have witnessed ourselves being pushed and challenged and stretched and inspired. We have witnessed daily moments of awesome wonder.

Being a part of Creative CityMaking I was constantly stretched and asked to think about my work and my environment differently – from a different “point of view.” Wing and I came into this year-long adventure with the goal of collecting many different “points of view” through our respective art forms, in a way that can inform the City planning process. As with embarking on any project where you imbed yourself within a community and / or system of working, I knew that through this process my personal point of view would also begin to change, but you are never sure how that will impact your work and life when you begin.

The best way for me to explain what I have learned is through an exercise that the artists and planners participated in during our first weekend of Creative CityMaking. This exercise was led by Wendy Morris and – as simple and perhaps even potentially polarizing as it was – I have found myself referring to it many times in conversation about how Creative CityMaking has impacted me.

An orange was placed on a piece of paper in the center of the room. We were asked to draw a line down the center of the paper and to label one column “artist” and one column “planner.” The prompt was simple: describe the orange from the lens of each. But the deeper prompts came with my personal reflection on the exercise. How would an artist describe an orange, how would a planner? What are its uses? Do we see it as a resource? A work of art? A representation of the food system? Who owns it? Can it be defined? Who has the right to define it? Is there a right or wrong answer?

The metaphor is clear, of course. How would an artist describe a City or community and how would a planner? What do we each see when we look at the same subject? What are our points of view?

We were then asked to keep the lens of the “other” in mind as we made our way through the City. This has stuck with me. I can no longer look at the City as I did before this exercise or before I was involved in this Creative CityMaking experience. Now, I can see the economic nodes being developed, the choice to include more multi-family housing units, if a street is pedestrian friendly or not, how far the sidewalk is from the storefront… the list goes on. And, although I have seen these things in the past on an objective basis, now I have the ability / desire to see them from a different point of view. The ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ and ‘whos’ behind the City I live in.

I can truly see the complex nature of asking a group of people to “describe an orange,” let alone decide how it should be distributed, developed, shaped, changed, to accommodate the needs of everyone… It’s a big job.

And yes, it has given me a much greater appreciation for the challenges City Planners face on a daily basis, but beyond that, it has made me realize how important it is to have a common language to “describe the orange,” so we can at least have a place to start. Perhaps that is where the art comes in – to be that common language.

We have spoken often about what we are trying to accomplish, and I see this as a two-fold response. On one hand, we are attempting to fulfill the goals of the Creative CityMaking program by informing the city planning process with new, creative community engagement strategies that can be implemented long after our contract expires. On the other hand, we are genuinely trying to find out what the community wants.

I think it is important to highlight some of the challenges that exist within each of these goals, as a way to decipher if the strategies we have developed work. One of my first concerns is thinking about the implementation of these strategies after the artists are no longer a part of the process in an official matter. I do believe that the planners see the value in what we are creating, but my concern is the amount of time the planners have on each project to implement the strategies. We have taken that into consideration when designing our strategies, but we are also beginning to understand the planning process better, and realizing the reality of time constraints and systems in place that make it challenging to continue this kind of work.

As artists, we often have the luxury of taking the time we need to complete a project, as we are often working on our own schedules. With this project, our time was so limited that it made for an interesting challenge; the more we learned about the planning process, the more we tried to find ways that both adhere to and challenge the existing model – but, again, we have that luxury and the planners might not.

The second goal is trying to find out what the community wants. The engagement strategies that we have unrolled do show results that can be aggregated into somewhat concrete information that can help inform the planning process. Both Wing and my methods try to get at the heart of what people want through questions, which often results in qualitative data that is not always easy to aggregate. We have done our best to work within the quantitative model, but recognize that much of our interaction is lost in distilling down the information into predetermined categories.

Recognizing the limited time that we had to work on this project, we started to see our interactions and engagements as a kind of gateway to getting the community excited about participating in city planning; to get them thinking about what they do want, and ways that they can express those wants to impact change. With many of our participants, our engagement is the first time they have participated in the planning process. We hope that through our approach they realize that it is not an intimidating process, that they have significant ideas to contribute, and hopefully, that they now know they can continue to engage and have an impact on the future of their community.

I think what it boils down to is trying to get at the singular core question behind this work – are we engaging people that otherwise would not be engaged in shaping their city? And the ways in which we can ask and answer that question are infinite, but the goal remains the same. Everyone has a right to not only participate and be heard, but have easier access to participation. Everyone has the right to be listened to and have their opinions taken into consideration. Everyone has the capability to be a Creative CityMaker – and our hope is that through this work, more people will believe and act on that notion. And hopefully the tools of engagement and measurement that are provided and created during this year-long project can help inform the larger local and national evaluation conversation.

Ashley Hanson is a theater engagement artist who lives in St. Paul

Wing Young Huie

So what if you merged the individual artistic process (perceived as subjective, qualitative, serendipitous, playful, emotional, and intuitive), with the urban planning process (perceived as bureaucratic, political, technical, quantitative, and driven by engineering specificity)? As in all stereotypes there is just enough truth to make it a lie.

In the end, the goal of an artist (this artist at least) is to create something that confronts, informs, and celebrates the complex realities of the world around us. The ideal city would hopefully do the same, reflecting its total citizenry. A gargantuan task indeed when considering the dizzying varieties of culture co-existing in a large urban region.

As artists both Ashley and I collect points of view and translate those voices into a collective photographic or theatrical language. What we have done this past year was to employ our artistic process as a way to facilitate community engagement that would inform the city making process. For the most part we asked questions and documented people’s answers in various ways. Here are the questions with which we started: What do the people want? What are the questions to be asked? How are they asked? Who gets to ask them? Who gets to answer them? What happens to the answers? Would the answers impact the city planning process?

Part of our idea was to reinvent and invigorate the typical community meeting and clipboard survey process. I talked to a director of a non-profit who had been to over 90 community meetings in the last year and called it a mind-numbing experience. “I know what everyone in the room is going to say and the loudest voices always say the same thing,” he said.

“Who comes to community meetings anyway?” said another. “Only people with time on their hands or the biggest gripes. We need to get those to the table who feel they aren’t ever heard. Not just those with wherewithal or home-owners.”

Another was skeptical that meetings did any good. “The city comes in and asks people what they think. Viewpoints get put on Post-It notes. Then nobody knows what happens to those notes.” Many talked about how difficult it is to get people to fill out surveys or to sign up their contact info.

We spoke with hundreds of people in the North Minneapolis area about the city making process, and as you can see in the chalkboard statements exhibited in this paper, there is a wide array of viewpoints expressed. But a constant thread throughout our interactions was an underlying distrust and cynicism—that people feel ignored by the “city” and that their opinions don’t really matter.

What we did was not systematic, rather a scattershot approach that would hopefully inform the city making process. When we subjectively quantified the answers into various data formats, we wondered if what we collected was much different from what a typical survey would reveal.

And so we are left with even more questions. How can an artistic process be translated into useable data? Who decides what is useful? Is data emotional? Perceptional? Perhaps the process in which the answers are obtained, and putting a face to those answers, is as important as the answers themselves.

Wing Young Huie is a photographer who lives and works in Minneapolis

Jim Voll

I think one of the main things I have learned is there is value in taking approaches to planning outside of the standard operating procedures.  When we walked up and down Penn Avenue and talked to the people we met we obtained a perspective about the wants and needs of the neighborhood that was different than would be found at a typical community planning engagement meeting.  It was interesting to see what people who live, work, and pass through on Penn Avenue think when there is not a meeting agenda, but just a chance to talk informally.  I also learned that I really like talking to youth about their thoughts about Penn Avenue and their neighborhood. When we  did engagement at the Penn-Lowry intersection  we spoke with many people high school age and younger. I was heartened to see how they had views and opinions on what their neighborhood should be, and what could be done to make it happen. As I get older, it is hard for me to remember what I was like at that age, so I thought it wouldn’t be the best use of my time to engage younger people, but I was wrong and now think it is a great idea.

Jim Voll is a Principal Planner for the City of Minneapolis