Taking back the street: Lyndale Open Streets is car-free, movement-heavy

If it’s a summer weekend, there must be a street fair – a chance to buy crafts, eat from food trucks, and engage in the great warm-weather sport of people watching. Street fairs, as enjoyable as they are, are all pretty much the same, right?

Not according to Alex Tsatsoulis of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition (MBC), which has put on the Open Streets Minneapolis events for the past five years. The 2015 season will feature eight of them, beginning on Sunday with Lyndale Open Streets. Lyndale is the largest and oldest of the Open Streets Minneapolis events, and is billed as a way for the community to experience “car-free fun.”

The inspiration for the Open Streets movement, which has spread across the U.S., is the ciclovias (literal translation: cycleways) which began in Bogota, Colombia, more than forty years ago. Every Sunday and major holidays, 75 miles of main thoroughfares are closed to motor vehicles so that they can be used by an estimated two million bicyclists, skaters, runners and walkers each week.

And like the ciclovias, Lyndale Open Streets participants will bike, skateboard, run, walk, and rollerskate; there will be dancing and yoga and exercise routines – in short, lots more movement than you’d expend in your car. “Most of the Open Streets draw about 5,000 people. Lyndale draws about 15,000,” Tsatsoulis said.

Lyndale Open Streets will span 20 blocks, from West 22nd to West 42nd, and will run from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. “Lyndale Open Streets brings people together to meet their neighbors,” said Larry Ludeman, co-president of the Lyn-Lake Business Association. “Besides people biking, it’s a great way for everyone to take back the street.” Continue Reading

Speaking truth to power: Parents, teachers and students rally against cuts to Saint Paul schools

On Monday, June 1st, an hour after word began to spread of movement in the K-12 education budget stalemate between Governor Dayton and Republican legislators, the St. Paul Federation of Teachers sponsored a rally protesting potential layoffs of teachers, educational assistants, counselors and other staff, some of whom have already received pink slips. Parents, students, teachers and an elementary school principal spoke truth to power: members of the St. Paul legislative delegation, who sat in the front row of the auditorium at St. Paul Central High School. In attendance were State Representatives Erin Murphy, Dave Pinto, Rena Moran, Carlos Mariani, John Lesch, Sheldon Johnson and State Senators Dick Cohen and Sandy Pappas. Members of the St. Paul delegation not in attendance were State Representatives Alice Hausman and Tim Mahoney and State Senators John Marty and Foung Hawj. Continue Reading

Community in the Air: Frogtown Farm’s Backyard Fair

Frogtown Farm started out as a dream – a very big dream that some believed could never come to fruition. But longtime residents of the area formally known as the Thomas-Dale neighborhood or Planning District 7 (located within the boundaries of Lexington Avenue on the west, Burlington Northern Railroad on the north, Highway 35E on the east, and University Avenue on the south) were determined to turn a 12.7 acre parcel of land into part of the burgeoning urban agriculture movement. Community members worked tirelessly with The Trust for Public Land, the City of Saint Paul and the Wilder Foundation to turn their vision into reality – and on Saturday, May 30, neighbors gathered under a sunny sky to celebrate at the Backyard Farm Fair on the SE side of Frogtown Park and Farm, off of Victoria and Lafond Avenues. A smiling Katie Novotny of the Hamline-Midway neighborhood said, “This is new to me – I found out about it on Facebook!”

As volunteers welcomed community members, organizers shared plans for the park and farm. “I love the idea of this farm,” said Frogtown resident and volunteer Filson Ibraham, who stood behind an information table, signing up her neighbors. Continue Reading

New citizens make it official at Festival of Nations

Amazing ethnic dance performances, foods, and exhibits – that’s what usually comes to mind when you think of the Festival of Nations, in its 83rd year as the region’s largest multicultural festival. But, the 52 men and women who gathered in the Roy Wilkens auditorium of Saint Paul’s RiverCentre on May 1 will always remember this year’s Festival of Nations as the place they became U.S. Citizens. As the soon-to-be citizens waited, excitement and nervousness in the room was palpable as three women, clipboards in hand, circulated throughout the arena. “We’re with the League of Women voters,” explained Paula Clark. League volunteers attend all naturalization ceremonies in the state (28 this year), registering the new citizens to vote. Continue Reading

St. Paul’s teacher mentoring program combines coaching, evaluation to help teachers succeed

Every Sunday night finds Leslie Blue finalizing lesson plans two weeks in advance. Blue, who’s in her second year of teaching, then sends them off to veteran teacher Bobbi Jo Rademacher to review. “Bobbi Jo will spend Monday looking at them, and she’ll have actionable suggestions for me – things I might not have noticed. She might say something like, ‘You’re having them do book work two days in a row, can you break it up with a lab?’” said Blue, who teaches middle school science at Capitol Hill, the St. Paul Public School District’s gifted and talented magnet school (Full disclosure: My daughter is one of Leslie Blue’s students).As one of the St. Continue Reading

Veg Fest 2013 in Minneapolis: Celebrating compassion

The 2013 Twin Cities Veg Fest, held on October 27 at Coffman Memorial Union on the Minneapolis campus of the University of Minnesota, was an impressively large and varied event. According to event organizer Dave Rolsky, 2,000 or so vegans, vegetarians and veg-curious people attended the event (up from 1,200 last year), which featured speakers, music, and an exhibition hall packed with dozens of tables and booths where you could get a henna tattoo, sign a petition, buy a t-shirt or be paid $1.00 to watch a video about animal cruelty. And, of course, there was food.One of the event’s goals, Rolsky said, was to “showcase a wide range of delicious and compassionate food choices.” Local restaurants Flamingo, Kitty Corner Café and Seward Café, along with caterer Asase Yaa, sold everything from fruit-covered vegan waffles to lentil entrees, and exhibitors were offering so many free samples that it was possible to fill up on snacks without spending a dime. More than 100 people at a time lined up for samples of Chicago Vegan Foods’ Teese Vegan Cheese, and the sausage samples at the Tofurky booth were popular, too. But Minnesota food makers more than held their own: the nut milk cheeses of Minneapolis-based Punk Rawk Foods were a hot item.Brand-new Minneapolis candy maker Nicole Stewart of Comfort Candy (bottom, left) stole the show with an amazing variety of caramel and chocolate creations. Continue Reading

Minnesota rolls out online voter registration

When my husband moved to Minnesota from Maine 17 years ago, he was met at the curb by our friend Tim, who handed him a voter registration card. As most Minnesotans know, voters have had the choice of filling out a registration card in advance or taking advantage of same-day registration at the polls. But late last week, it became even easier to register to vote, said Deputy Secretary of State Beth Fraser, when Minnesota became the 15th state to allow online voter registration, launching an online tool at mnvotes.org. The tool also allows absentee ballot requests from Minnesotans who are living outside the U.S. or in the military. It’s available at mnvotes.org.“We have been watching other states, hearing rave reviews from both political parties,” Fraser said. Continue Reading

Candidates and karaoke: City council candidates face off in North Minneapolis

Four North Minneapolis candidates faced off in a public forum followed by karaoke at the Capri Theater on Saturday, September 7. About 90 audience members heard candidates respond to wide-ranging questions on everything from police-community relations to homelessness to the HERC garbage incinerator to youth policy. Economic empowerment was an overarching theme that the candidates often returned to in the forum, which was sponsored by Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC) and moderated by community leader Sina Black. With no DFL endorsement for the seat and incumbent Don Samuels running for mayor, the candidates are running hard and are eager to differentiate themselves from their opponents. Other than Severson’s repeated and rather pointed observation that he has lived in the 5th Ward his entire life, the candidates stuck to the issues and did not criticize each other. (Buckner is also a lifelong resident of the ward; Alexander moved to the ward after completing law school; Yang was born in a refugee camp in Thailand.)The candidates include:Ian Alexander, a family law attorney who lost his previous home in the north side tornado. Alexander ran unsuccessfully for the legislature last year, and came within a percentage point of gaining the DFL endorsement at the May convention. Continue Reading