The city has changed during the first 10 years of the program
Linda Picone, Editor Southwest Journal
June 26, 2000
The Neighborhood Revitalization Program celebrated its 10-year anniversary a few weeks ago in a landscape that has changed significantly since the program started.
When the program was started in 1990, its "bricks and mortar" goal was to "build neighborhood capacity." This meant improving housing and developing, expanding or upgrading neighborhood facilities like parks, libraries and schools.
A decade ago, Downtown was booming but some neighborhoods - and parts of neighborhoods - were in decline. The City Council and Minneapolis legislators recognized that a vibrant Downtown wasn't enough to maintain a healthy city. They turned to the same tool they had used for downtown growth - tax-increment financing - and directed it to neighborhoods. About $20 million a year for 20 years of TIF funds would go to NRP. In the first 10 years, about $176 million was spent on NRP projects.
That investment has paid off, so far. In every neighborhood of the city, property values have risen. In some neighborhoods - most of those in Southwest - they have skyrocketed.
This is success beyond what was envisioned by the creators of NRP, and it carries with it new challenges - the relatively new lack of sufficient affordable housing being a big one.
NRP can't take full credit for the way neighborhoods have flourished. A strong economy nationally and locally played an important role, but NRP clearly was crucial in those neighborhoods that most needed a boost.
NRP had another key role, a somewhat less tangible one: "creating a sense of community." Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin was a Minneapolis legislator when NRP was created and has been on the NRP Policy Board since it began. He has said that one of the clear intents of the legislation creating NRP was that citizens should be energized through it.
How do we measure that success? The Teamworks study evaluating NRP, which was presented last year, concluded, "Citizen participation has grown in NRP, and people believe neighborhood participation is effective."
The NRP celebration at the Convention Center Feb. 24 gave proof to that. It was long - breakfast through dinner - and some of the presentations weren't all that lively, but what struck many of the several hundred who attended was the sense that everyone was part of the action.
In workshops, those offering information frequently were interrupted (politely), questioned, then offered anecdotes or suggestions. That could happen - and happen effectively - because city residents had learned that they have something to offer, and the responsibility and opportunity to offer it. They are empowered, in other words.
NRP is an important part of that.
There have always been some active citizens and some active neighborhoods, but NRP gave many new people a reason to participate in their community.
It's all too easy to scoff at the difference between one neighborhood spending money on ornamental streetlights and another on building affordable housing for families. They are not equivalent needs - and those neighborhoods do not get equivalent NRP funding. The formula for distributing NRP funds is weighted heavily towards neighborhoods with the most serious housing needs.
But in both kinds of neighborhoods, people who didn't participate before NRP have attended meetings, joined boards, made decisions - and, sometimes, taken the heat. They've learned how city government works - and when it doesn't work. They've made big mistakes - and had wonderful successes.
We don't know exactly what will happen after NRP. The housing and neighborhood improvements will be with us for a long time. We hope the same will be true of the kind of citizen involvement and empowerment NRP has encouraged in so many neighborhoods.
We'd like to go to the 20-year celebration and feel as if it's all just getting started.
© Copyright 2001 Southwest Journal. All rights reserved.
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