With less than two weeks left for public comment on the Metropolitan Council’s Final Environmental Impact Statement on the Central Corridor light rail project, Central Corridor neighbors vow to “go green at our own routine.”
At the same time, residents, business owners and advocates along the corridor are continuing to mobilize on their own terms, reaching out to elected officials to shape how the LRT is built, and mitigate effects of construction.
About 80 community members gathered July 7 at the Central Corridor Resource Center, 1080 University Ave., St. Paul for a community visioning summit organized by the District Councils Collaborative (DCC). The summit built on the work of the first Central Corridor community summit, March 7-8, an exhaustive community retreat that led to the creation of a community vision statement.
Key components of the vision statement include a call for full construction of stops at Hamline, Victoria and Western Avenues, equal distribution of the potential benefits of light-rail, and mitigation of disproportionate burdens. At last week’s meeting, community members signed on to that document, and signed up to work on issue-based teams to make that vision a reality.
In a compelling and creative move, the vision statement was presented in three parts by local spoken word and performance artist-activists. Tish Jones, Tou Saiko Lee and Deborah Torraine read powerful and critical interpretations of the vision statement’s more formal wording, reminding the audience that true democracy required mutual transformation, and engagement with all community members, not just those present.
Jones, who grew up in St. Paul and graduated from Central High School, said the event was reason to be “happy and sad at the same time.” Many friends and neighbors who weren’t present “don’t know that their voices matter,” Jones said.
Lee, who was raised on University and Western Avenues, played off common representations of Hmong communities as “nomadic, always pushed around from place to place, persecuted.” Warning of the threat of gentrification and displacement of Hmong residents and businesses, he at the same time insisted, insisted, “no, we are not mad, but we want to be recognized for our efforts.”
The question of light rail, Torraine insisted, fundamentally comes down to on whose terms it is built.
“Our community agrees to go green at our own routine,” she said, to laughter and applause.
Along with residents, business owners and neighbors, a number of public officials attended, including St. Paul councilmembers Russ Stark and Melvin Carter III, Ramsey county commissioner Toni Carter, and representatives of Mayor Chris Coleman and the Metropolitan Council.
“Most of us in this room, I think, have the same goals, and I think we’re at a place where we’re saying who’s going to be responsible for what,” Stark said.
To that end, community members can both sign onto the statement and get involved by visiting the DCC’s web site.
Another tool community members are using to shape how the LRT is built is the legal system. At the Summit, Dan Kravetz of the Preserve and Benefit Historic Rondo Committee (PBHRC) gave a brief update on the Title VI Civil Rights complaint that the coalition had recently filed with the Federal Transit Administration.
Not quite fifty years ago, the construction of I-94 led to the displacement of 650 homes and the destruction of Rondo Avenue, which had been a major commercial artery in St. Paul’s predominantly African American neighborhood. Community members and advocates are concerned that the Met Council has failed to address cumulative and disproportionate impacts on the east end of the Central Corridor.
The complaint, Kravetz said, is not a lawsuit, but “basically an ask to the FTA to look into the ways in which Met Council planning documents don’t address a lot of the problems identified by PBHRC.”
These problems, like equity of transit access and disproportionate impacts, are “similar to those identified by the first community summit,” Kravetz said.
Since the complaint was filed, a number of community organizations have signed on as supporters, including the African American Leadership Council, Summit-University Planning Council, St. Anthony Park Community Council, Jewish Community Action, and the Ramsey Chapter of the Minnesota Interfaith Council on Affordable Housing.
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