It’s About the People: Cocreating Antidisplacement Strategies in the Twin Cities

Author: Elizabeth Burton
Date Posted: June 7, 2024

The Blue Line Extension, which will expand the light rail northwest from downtown Minneapolis to North Minneapolis, Robbinsdale, Crystal, and Brooklyn Park, has been planned for over a decade. During this time, communities along the corridor have been organizing to fight for antidisplacement measures and to ensure residents benefit from any development, highlighting that “it’s not about the train, it’s about the people.

The Metropolitan Council and Hennepin County have responded to these efforts by contracting the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) at the University of Minnesota to facilitate the Anti-Displacement Work Group (ADWG) to cocreate antidisplacement recommendations with Blue Line corridor communities. The ADWG members represent neighborhoods, nonprofit organizations, small businesses, government partners, and philanthropic organizations along the Blue Line Extension corridor. The workgroup is diverse, as members range in age from young people to older adults, include immigrants and generational residents, and encompass a wide range of experiences, priorities, and opinions.

In their facilitation of the ADWG over an 18-month period, CURA used their Reparative Justice Framework and Organizing Philosophy to center the people most affected by the Blue Line Extension and to offer the workgroup members agency to carry out the vision of the workgroup. To help the ADWG understand the context of the Blue Line Extension, CURA shared their local data and research on the history of disinvested and excluded marginalized communities in the corridor neighborhoods; a demographic analysis of people, housing, and businesses vulnerable to displacement; and a data dashboard. The ADWG also studied gentrification in the Twin Cities more broadly, including past effects of the Green Line and Blue Line implementations in order to understand how the light rail development gentrified neighborhoods and displaced residents and businesses.

CURA’s approach and trusted relationships with community organizations across the region created a space where all ADWG members felt comfortable sharing their concerns and ideas, even if those ideas were politically or fiscally challenging to implement. In a series of day-long collaborative workshops, the ADWG engaged with CURA’s research, community input, and members’ personal experiences to formulate a cohesive vision aimed at preventing displacement. The resulting 17 recommendations, outlined in the culminating report, address the needs of corridor residents, businesses, and neighborhoods.

In contrast with many other planning efforts that engage with communities retroactively to inform residents of decisions and plans already made, the ADWG process resulted in successfully cocreating a report and recommendations that centered community interests. The process also helped develop the leadership skills of ADWG members, helping them to continue to consult on and be a part of the policy implementation process. The Corridor Management Committee, an advisory board for the design and construction of the Blue Line Extension, adopted the report and committed to working with governments to advance the policy recommendations. Through this work and advocacy from community organizations and CURA, the $50 million Anti-Displacement Community Prosperity Program was passed through the 2024 Minnesota omnibus bill, which includes $10 million in state funding with a required match from each corridor city. The program will fund affordable housing for corridor residents, small business and community ownership , public space infrastructure, and job training to increase corridor resident participation in extension projects and program initiatives. Importantly, the program’s board, which will approve funding allocations, is composed of ADWG members, keeping community members at the decisionmaking table. CURA used their position to secure compensation for board members and resources for organizations to support the advancement of antidisplacement recommendations across the corridor.

The Blue Line Extension antidisplacement efforts included residents as true partners in crafting a shared vision for the corridor communities and in making decisions about implementation strategies that will affect their communities. The ADWG process led by CURA serves as a rare example of a planning effort that meaningfully prioritizes residents and stakeholders most impacted by development. Through cross-sector collaboration, the ADWG cocreated recommendations, used local data and research expertise to provide context, and empowered its members to assume leadership roles on the board of the Anti-Displacement Community Prosperity program.

In May 2024, the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP) conferred the G. Thomas Kingsley Impact Award to the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs at the University of Minnesota. This award recognizes a NNIP partner organization that has demonstrated impact using data to improve local policy and practice so that all neighborhoods are places where people can thrive. This story was written by Elizabeth Burton at the Urban Institute, with the support of Lee Guekguezian from CURA and Ricardo Perez, who is the lead organizer for the Blue Line Coalition. NNIP is a national network of local organizations in more than 30 cities that support local priorities by connecting communities with the data they need and the help they need to use it. CURA is the NNIP partner organization for the Twin Cities.

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