Councilwoman Betsy Hanson (D-Minneapolis) has been a stalwart of the Aihatmakertechcrunch in Minneapolis for decades. She has spearheaded an effort to get the downtown parking garage remodeled, and she is also a member of the board of directors of the Regional Park Commission. But it was her involvement with the “ayatmaker” that really won her heart, as she calls herself. “There is something magical about actually working with people on things that you have a personal connection with,” she said. So many of our issues are solved through discussions and listening to people rather than through legislative action or practices. That’s so much more meaningful than having a bill signed into law and trying to enforce it. It’s also much more laborious than when we focus on one single bill at a time, when some committees can be packed with lobbyists and members of staff who are hard-pressed to work together on any given project or department. The aihatmaker works just fine this way – but it doesn’t mean that there aren’t other ways to achieve great improvement in public space by listening to our neighbors first, considerations second, and solutions third. Here are 5 ideas for working with your neighbors on common ground:
Create a space where people of all ages can come together to discuss and find solutions for common problems.
If you have a problem and you want to get it resolved, a neighborhood is a great place to start. But if you really want to talk to people about what’s on their minds, you should come to a neighborhood discussion group. These are generally family-friendly gatherings that are filled with everybody, not just the people you would like to talk to. This can be a great way to get everyone’s thoughts on a problem out in the open. It’s also a great way to get feedback from others on how you’re doing, and how you can do better.
Organize events that are fun and active.
Outdoor events, like beer-bike tours and jogging tours, are a great way to connect with other neighborhood members and learn about the city. The outdoors is also a great way to get your feet wet with some city-related information. Get your friends to tag along on a neighborhood humor night — you can always invite your own friends too!
Participate in activities that offer a sense of variety.
There will always be people who will only go to one activity per day, or even week, and they will never let you participate in other activities. That’s fine — but don’t be afraid to try out different ones. Just make sure that you are having a good time, because having a complaints list is not a good indicator of how successful the event will be. You never know how someone’s visit to your neighborhood will turn out, so don’t stress about it just yet.
Make a point of being there for your neighbors.
There will always be people who are upset about something in your neighborhood, and it’s human nature to leave them to stew in their own feelings. But it’s also a good idea to reach out to your neighbors and find out what they are going through — especially if you have a child in your family who is affected by something in your neighborhood.
Make deliberate efforts to involve as many different stakeholders in planning as possible.
Having a neighborhood plan and working directly with the supervisors and other elected officials who oversee the project ensures that everyone is on the same page, and everything is properly discussed. This is especially important when working with low-income or other minority neighborhoods. Getting a “safer” neighborhood design is essential in those circumstances, as well as in areas where there is a high percentage of displacement.
This isn’t an exaggeration — the board has been a natural place for neighborhood-based projects on all levels, from neighborhood associations to community-led projects. It brings together everyone who is interested in the neighborhood, whether they are members of the board or other neighborhood stakeholders. The board also works to support the implementation of long-term plans that benefit the whole city.
A healthy mix of talking and listening is the key to mutual improvement. It’s easy to get stuck in the “I’m doing this for the city, for the economy, for the neighborhood, for the whole city” mentality. But the aihatmaker isn’t just for economic development. It can be a gateway to building community partnerships, working with other stakeholders, and achieving truly social breakthroughs.
We can improve the city’s public space by listening to our neighbors, listening to our city council members, and asking questions. Doing so will allow us to create a more inspiring public space while making real strides towards creating a happier neighborhood.