Community engagement in metro transitway projects: Hearing it, not seeing it


On November 17, the Community Engagement Team for a new $5 million HUD grant (see sidebar) held an information session about the grant for the community that was less than informative.

On October 14, HUD awarded the Metropolitan Council a $5 million grant, which is part of a nationwide $100 million HUD Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant to create sustainable communities by integrating affordable housing, the environment, and transportation.

According to the Met Council press release, the grant is to be used to create “optimal development” along five major corridors: Southwest Light Rail Transit, Bottineau, Cedar Avenue Bus Rapid Transit, Northstar Commuter Rail and the Gateway Corridor. In the press release the Met Council said it will look to the current planning around the Central Corridor as an example, focusing on energy efficiency and affordable housing.

The information session was full, but mainly attended by organizations that were already involved with the transitways, including Mark Vanderschaaf from the Metropolitan Council and very few community members. Russ Adams from the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability said they hope to hold meetings at more convenient times in the future (the meeting was at 1:30 p.m.), so more people would be able to attend.

The session began with a panel from the three organizations that make up the Community Engagement Team (CET): Russ Adams with Alliance for Metropolitan Stability (AMS); Margaret Kaplan with the University of Minnesota’s Minnesota Center for Neighborhood Organizing (MCNO); and Repa Mekha with NEXUS Community Partners. They began by discussing the basics of the grant and how it is to be used to build sustainable communities along the five major corridors, which was awarded to the Metropolitan Council to promote sustainable communities along the 5 major corridors. They discussed how, while they have no decision-making power, their role is to be the voice of the community for the policy board of the project, which is headed by the Metropolitan Council. The panelists also said that although the money will not come until around March, they have already started planning. This planning, however, was not visible at the meeting.   

When asked by David Nicholson, program director of Headwaters Foundation for Justice, how they planned to engage the community in helping them, the panelists were unable to give an answer. Mekha said, “Nothing has been sketched in stone.”

Adams also said, “We want to establish clear criteria and have it make sense for the community, but we have not done that yet.”

Another audience member also pointed out that the $750,000, which was awarded to the CET for community engagement, was a small amount of money over three years, to which the panelists agreed. In response, Mekha said that the Twin Cities hopes to do well with this $5 million and then establish credibility with HUD when applying for more funding.

A community member discussed the wariness the community feels about the project, saying they “hear it (referring to community engagement efforts), but they don’t see it.” The community member said for all anyone knows, the $750,000 could be going towards fruit trays for all of the meetings instead of actual engagement.

The session ended with Adams saying he wants to and is available to answer questions and discuss strategies and that community members should contact him for 1:1 or small group meetings. His contact information can be found on the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability website.

(The meeting was located at the Central Corridor Resource Center on University Avenue, which is the old Lexington Library. According to the panelists, this will function as a central location for community engagement.)