Making Equity the Priority in North Minneapolis Transit Investments

By March 30, 2015Foundation Blog

Transit

BY MEMBERS OF THE BLUE LINE COALITION*

Three years ago, the Foundation began working with Nexus Community Partners to assess and build the capacity of North Minneapolis stakeholders to effectively engage in proposed transit investments slated for their communities. The powerful movement being built has already forged significant progress. Their power lies in their unity and their fierce commitment to equity. This is only the beginning of their journey.

Momentum for the METRO Blue Line Extension Light Rail Transit project is building and so is the work of advocates along the corridor committed to racial equity. Over 15 organizations representing place-based groups, culturally focused organizations, faith organizations, housing advocates and job training providers have formed the Blue Line Coalition (BLC) to ensure the project advances local and regional equity.

Members of our coalition recently secured two voting seats on the influential Corridor Management Committee (CMC) for the METRO Blue Line Extension. This is a first in the region! Historically membership on a CMC has been reserved for elected officials and key agency staff impacted by a transit line. The CMC plays a critical role in advising and recommending actions to Metropolitan Council from engineering, development policy and more.

What is the METRO Blue Line Extension?

Blue line extenstion map picThe METRO Blue Line Extension, also known as Bottineau LRT, will be 13 miles long running from downtown Minneapolis connecting communities of Golden Valley, Robbinsdale, Crystal and ending in Brooklyn Park at the Target Corporate Campus.  It is projected that 30,000 jobs will be added in station areas by 2030.  The majority of the projected jobs will be added in Brooklyn Park and around the Target Field Station in Minneapolis. The Blue Line Extension, when completed, will provide communities from North Minneapolis to Brooklyn Park access to a regional transit network with vital connections to employment centers throughout the Twin Cities region.

The communities along the corridor have experienced significant demographic shifts in the last decade making them more racially diverse. At the same time, there has been an increase in poverty and racial disparities. Communities of color have a significant presence at the eleven station areas: half of the planned station areas are majority people of color, one-quarter are 30-49% people of color and the remaining quarter are 20-29% people of color.

How and why was the Blue Line Coalition (BLC) formed?

Our work together started as a series of conversations among community groups with constituencies impacted by the proposed METRO Blue Line Extensions. The original conversations were organized by Nexus Community Partners and supported by the Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota. Our work grew to be much more. Several of our groups had worked on transit issues for a number of years, but most of us started engaging in the regional transit conversation through the Corridors of Opportunity process.  As a result of this past work, hundreds of community members had been engaged, priorities identified and best practices of what works and what does not had been shared.

We saw an opportunity in strategic collaboration. Through collaboration we could gain the scale to really influence the line and leverage benefits for our communities that we could not individually. We organized a day-long retreat to develop a corridor-wide strategy and develop a structure from which to work with each other.   Many of the leaders involved also benefitted from the Northwest Area Foundation sponsored trip for local community leaders to Portland to learn about the Communities of Color Coalition and their accomplishments. We learned that diverse organizations had to be intentional to foster trust and overcome differences and old wounds caused by competition.  BLC pic

It became clear that we needed to form a structured coalition that could have impact and provide the means to hold members accountable to each other.  A key principle adopted from the Communities of Color Coalition is “Do No Harm.”  The principle of “Do No Harm” is a guiding principle to the work of the BLC.  Members are committed to bring their best to the table.

Building trust and being focused on impact is key to our mission:

“Our Mission is to build community-based power to advance local and regional equity and community health by securing community benefits, changing policies and systems to support the creation of wealth and well-being of historic communities of color, immigrant/refugees, migrants, people living with disabilities and low-income communities along the Blue Line Corridor.”

Blue Line Coalition provides grassroots organizations the scale needed to have impact.

The Blue Line is planned to have two station stops on Olson Memorial Highway: Van White Memorial Blvd and Penn Avenue.  Being a part of a coalition gives us a chance to coordinate with suburban-based organizations to better connect all our communities to career centers and advocate for transit connections that will get workers from the station to job centers outside the ½ mile station areas and that will support investment in the region.

The Harrison Neighborhood Association (HNA) has been working on transit equity issues for several years and was involved early on with the formation of the Blue Line Coalition (BLC).  The Harrison neighborhood is located in North Minneapolis and bordered by the Southwest LRT line and the Bottineau LRT lines placing the entire neighborhood within a half-mile walk of a proposed LRT stop.   There is a lot at stake for Harrison residents and Northsiders in general, especially as our communities focus on equitable economic development and the creation of sustainable local economies.

The HNA has been very active engaging residents and working to leverage benefits for the community from the two stops.  Residents have made it clear that Olson Highway needs to become safer for pedestrians, and the land surrounding the stops needs to be rezoned to support mixed use development south to the Glenwood Corridor, providing the community needed services, jobs, housing, and increased lBLC PIC 3ivability in our vibrant communities.

As a grassroots group we have been able to influence the planning of our station stops and as members of the Blue Line Coalition we have gained the ability to influence the entire line and represent Northside communities on the Corridor Management Committee.

We are more powerful together!

To learn more about the Metro Blue Line Extension, please visit the Hennepin County Community Works project site.

* Current Blue Line Coalition Members: Masjid An-Nur (MAN), Heritage Park Neighborhood Association (HPNA), African Career, Education & Resource, Inc. (ACER), Northside Residents Redevelopment Council (NRRC), The Alliance for Metropolitan Stability (AMS), Asian Economic Development Association (AEDA), Harrison Neighborhood Association (HNA), Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota (LACM), Asian Media Access (AMA), City of Lakes Community Land Trust (CLCLT), Metropolitan Interfaith Council on Affordable Housing (MICAH), African America Leadership Forum (AALF), Nexus Community Partners, CAPI, and Project Sweetie Pie