Minneapolis Third Ward City Council Member Steve Fletcher opened the fourth 3rd aWards ceremony Feb. 19 by saying it was an evening for both celebration and accountability. With his opening sentence, “Ward Three is situated on stolen Dakota Land in the midst of a climate emergency, and that grounds a lot of what we do,” he signaled a seriousness which underlay the past year’s positive improvements in the neighborhoods.
“Ward 3 is better than it’s ever been. We also have deep structural racial inequality that is one of the defining characteristics of our city’s past and present, and hopefully, not of our future. While many of us have as good a quality of life as anyone in the country, some of us are really suffering. Increasingly we have a consensus that overcoming those barriers and eliminating structural inequality has become one of the city’s defining priorities. The job of the city right now is turn this into action with every investment we make. While we’re doing it in some ways, in a lot of other areas we have a long way to go. We’re challenging everyone that investing in equity is the only moral credible path forward for our city.”
He said when he came into office the single most important topic was affordable housing, that it hasn’t changed and it won’t change anytime soon. He said the goal of the 2040 plan is to establish clear guidelines to make development more predictable for everyone involved, “and we can measure the success by what’s getting built and what’s not getting built. We continue to set records in overall housing development. Ward 3 has 40% of the new housing permits, and we’ve denied variances to developments that didn’t meet the 2040 plan.”
He saved his strongest words for the topic of public safety. Noting that while 2018 crime was well below average, 2019 was above average, with some “scary” incidents. “NE neighborhoods are safe and trending safer, but public safety is very hard to talk about because it’s becoming very polarized. There are people who are so committed to a narrative of racialized urban violence that they are rooting for crime to happen to support their story. Outstate Republicans in the legislature are lifting up every bad new article they can find about Minneapolis, not because they care about us, but because it sustains the narrative that justifies their taking funds from us for things that really do matter, like transportation and bonding transit construction. The way we talk about these issues resonated beyond our borders. I’ve tried at times to respond to negative narratives with facts and data. But increasingly we’re hearing the phrase “Perception is reality.” I’m not sure there’s a more dangerous phrase in our discourse. And I want everybody to hear loud and clear, “Reality is reality.” We will work to solve problems that we can identify and quantify with data, with solutions that make sense for the problems. We will not solve problems based solely on people’s perceptions. Especially in a moment when people’s perceptions of public safety are fundamentally at odds with reality. We need to be able to agree on a common set of facts if we’re going to make progress together. There are real public safety issues to address, and we need to solve them like our future depends on it, because it does.”
Fletcher ended on a brighter note, saying, “We can also have some fun while we do it. We’re the ward where everyone comes to play, and we should enjoy that, too. We’re the world of Art-A-Whirl and Wordplay; we’re the ward where the Pride Parade starts and the Aquatennial ends. We’re a spectacular community that gives creativity and spark to the rest of the city and let’s not lose sight that the joy of living here brings us.”
Mary Cassidy of recently closed Maeve’s presented the Best New Local business award to two shops, Marigold Way and Curiosity, both at 1228 2nd Street NE. She said, “Time moves forward, life goes on and I want to give a special shout out to the recipients of this award, who bring the courage, the ambition and the energy to carry on the vibrant legacy of 13th Avenue.” Jennifer C of Curiosity accepted the award for herself and Marigold Way’s Katrina Ulrich.
The Best Public Realm Initiative Award went to the 100 Restrooms Project. The award was accepted by Downtown Improvement District’s Ben Shardlow, who asked, “How many restrooms do you think we have downtown? The real number is 30, but they’re an invisible resource. There’s a perception that public restrooms are only there for people who don’t have anywhere else to go, as in homeless. The truth is, we have 200,000 people who work downtown and 50,000 people who live downtown, and we have millions of visitors. Most of our businesses are hawking coffee by day or hawking alcohol by night. They’re all diuretics! So having available restrooms is a big part of being a hospitable city.”
The award for Youth Leader of the Year went to Becca Cowin. Fletcher remarked that student housing was left out of the exclusionary zoning for housing, and he was uncomfortable with that; “I got more uncomfortable when student advocates started coming to my office saying ‘You can’t leave affordable housing for students out.’ That’s the kind of advocacy you want to see, one that causes pressure and believes that there are solutions. “
Of the Leader of the Year award, Fletcher said, “This one wasn’t even close. I know in this community that everyone is feeling the loss of Diane Loeffler,our State Representative since 2004. I came into a tradition of awesome leadership, someone who got the details right, and gave a roadmap to other people who were working to represent Northeast, and about how to do it really well. She absolutely loved this community, so I was thrilled when this nomination came up and over and over again her name came up as the person who should get this. Her husband, Michael Vennewitz is grateful for the support he has received from so many in the community. He asked me to give his best wishes to everyone who was nominated.”
State Senator Kari Dziedzic accepted Loeffler’s award, saying: “As a community it was so hard for us, and I think a way that we can honor her is by continuing to pledge our support for our district… that she worked so diligently to represent.”
The awards for Transportation Initiative and the Community Initiative of the Year both went to the Broadway Street Task Force, who engineered the transformation of the artery that bisects the heart of Northeast.
Fletcher said, “When this issue came up, in my early days as a City Council member, my instinct was to tamp down expectations; there are different jurisdictions, there’s a lot to accomplish. But people pushed, people organized, and we had exactly the thing happen that ought to have happened. All of the neighborhood organizations that touched Broadway came together. A drumbeat of momentum that we could do something better. This is one of those things that doesn’t happen if you don’t have political support and staff support. It began with the public works staff, who then took it across the plaza to the county, and it got done.”
The award was accepted by Public Works Department engineer Allan Klugman, who remarked, “Twenty-two percent of the land mass in Minneapolis is public streets, so when Council Member Fletcher talks about a vision of the future, a lot of that happens in the streets.”
The award for Affordable Housing Project of the Year went to the Stonehouse Square Apartments. The building, which formerly housed nuns of the Little Sisters of the Poor, has been an affordable housing space since 1979.
Fletcher said that when he heard that a building was going up for sale, “Everyone felt in their gut the harm that was going to happen. This was existing affordable housing that would be going on the market, and we wanted to be sure that we don’t lose it. When something like this comes up, my first step is to go to the city who have experts and who can figure out the next steps for us, and this was not an easy one to figure out. I want to give Oliver Smith from CPED the opportunity to present this award as a way of recognizing your involvement in the project.
Smith said, “I’m speaking for our whole team; we have to thank the Stonehouse Square Community, because without them there’s no project. And they are actually what it’s all about. “
Smith and Sheridan Neighborhood organizer Carin Peterson thanked the Common Bond Communities, Home Line and the Northeast community.
The award for Best Placemaking Initiative went to the Hennepin Theater Trust, for the 5 to 10 on Hennepin project. Joan Vorderbruggen, Director of Hennepin Theatre District Engagement, said, “Working on this project has been one of the most wonderful, magical privileges of my life.”
Fletcher remarked, in closing, “ How lucky are we to live in this community? There is so much more that could have been recognized but didn’t get nominated, and I’m so thrilled for what the next year can be, and what we’re building for, and how many amazing people we’ll build it with!”
The event was produced by Council Member Fletcher’s office. The nominations were publicized through email, social media, and in person.
Below: Ben Shardlow talks about the 100 Restrooms Project at the 3rd aWards ceremony held at the Food Building Feb. 19. (Photo by Mark Peterson)