Minneapolis: Listening to community conversations in Lyndale

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During the past year LNA began a new strategy to engage Lyndale’s diverse community members through a series of community conversations. The goal of the conversations is to understand the value people place on their connections in the neighborhood, discover what they want for Lyndale, and build community. This article is a summary of what we have heard so far.

The conversations involve small groups of community members gathering to talk about what issues are important to them and why they care about where they live. They are rooted in the idea that for Lyndale to be a safe, sustainable, and vibrant community the people who live and work in the neighborhood need to share their opinions and hear from each other.

So far we’ve conducted eight conversations with groups ranging from parents at Lyndale Community School, groups of people living on the same block, to students from our ESL program. We’ve asked each group questions about how they connect with people in the neighborhood; how they spend their time and determine priorities; what neighborhood connections bring to their lives; and what they want to see in Lyndale.

Participants resoundingly conveyed that Lyndale feels like home and that they enjoy living here. People want to be here and are invested in this place where neighbors look out for each other, support each other, and keep each other safe. This can be a well-timed plate of cookies, a contact for a job, or an ear to listen amidst the rhythm of daily life.

A theme from the conversations is that even though community members have a lot in common, the neighborhood can look different for different groups of people.

For example, Lyndale has many places where community members cross paths on a regular basis that were frequently mentioned. People connect at the parks, on the street, and at LNA events like La Posada, Open House, and National Night Out. These community-building spaces are important to folks and they are happy with the diversity at these events.

One ESL student said she has seen an increase in Latino community members at the Open House. She remembers being one of the only Latinos at the event, but said the experience was worthwhile because other attendees were very friendly. The desire to understand each other across language and cultural differences makes Lyndale’s multicultural spaces accessible and welcoming to our community members.

However, there are spaces in the neighborhood that aren’t as multicultural, which points to the different worlds that Lyndale’s different communities experience and navigate. For instance, Caucasian community members mentioned spaces like their alleys and yards where they connect with neighbors because they tend to live in single or double family units. Other spaces they mentioned are restaurants like Pat’s Tap.

Latino community members mentioned other places where they connect that are entirely different. Restaurants like Popeye’s and Burger King came up, folks see each other washing clothes at the Laundromat or waiting at the bus stop, and one participant said they see people at their work over at the SuperValu on Lake Street. This is similarly true for the Somali students we spoke to at the ESL class who said they connect with people at Horn Towers and shops they frequent around the neighborhood.

While its true people navigate different spaces, there is a lot in common in how people spend their time and set their priorities. People are busy, but they care about the same things, like children, jobs, community involvement, and education. When issues are important enough, people try to make time for them and they would like other people to as well, but there are a lot of things that make it complicated to get involved.

People spend a lot of time working, often very long hours. One couple mentioned they are in the beginning of their careers and it’s hard to find things that fit into their schedule. A community member shared involvement is important, but there needs to be something people get out of it. One woman said: “I want to go to meetings, but I need to make money and work. White people have careers and can work just eight hours but we [Latinos] can’t.” Another community member shared why engagement is so important: “I want to learn to be someone better in life for my children, so I participate in events that help me.”

And when they’re not working, folks are spending time with their kids, playing with them and helping with homework. One mother at Lyndale School mentioned she likes to go to the school, when she can, to hear how her son is doing with his education.

Participants said that knowing other people in the neighborhood enriches their quality of life by giving them a sense of belonging. These connections run deep; one of our volunteers said as an adult she has never lived in a neighborhood with this much community.

There is day-to-day support that occurs between neighbors. This can look like taking in a neighbor’s package when it gets delivered, watching their child for a few hours, or even walking their dog. People like to socialize. A Pillsbury neighbor commented that it’s easy you come home, someone is outside, you sit down, chat, and have a beer. It’s a similar story for some of our ESL students who like to visit with each other. Something special that has developed in ESL is friendships that transcend language differences.

Lyndale community members want a neighborhood that is involved and engaged – something that is true from all the different communities in the neighborhood. They all want to see more community involvement, relationships, and neighborhood participation.

One issue that stands out is safety. Safety is a universal concern for the neighborhood. People talked about their relationships and interactions with the police, as well as what we can do as a community to address safety issues.

Caucasian community members value their safety and have a particular perspective on these issues. Many have a history with Lyndale initiatives; one participant mentioned the work of the bike patrol and the Lyndale Walkers. Another distinct wish was relative to street safety, maintaining speed bumps, and adjusting lights, which is different from the way that some of our Latino neighbors identify safety concerns.

We heard, particularly from ESL students, that their vision for safety has more to do with their relationship with the police. They would like to see more police officers who speak Spanish along with less discrimination and racism.

Many students shared stories about their experiences with the police where they felt treated unfairly. Occasions like when one woman got ticketed for jaywalking, a man who repeatedly gets stopped driving, and another woman who was deported and separated from her family.

Latino parents also shared they would like to see more Latinos involved at the school and taking an active role in their neighborhood. Across the board, people really enjoy community events and want to see people gathering together to share their cultures.

This year in Lyndale we want to bring more folks together from the different parts of the neighborhood to talk and share their ideas. These conversations have made it apparent there are mutual needs and aspirations for Lyndale, but that the lines of communication do not always extend across cultures. We have heard there are issues Lyndale needs to address to accomplish what the community wants.

People who have been in the conversations have told us how valuable they are. An ESL participant said there are many (deep) problems that Lyndale needs to address. However, a conversation like this helped her to think about our neighborhood and how we can help each other. Another participant echoed this sentiment, and that one of her biggest take a ways from these conversations is she feels hopeful about neighborhood engagement.

Lyndale will be holding more community conversations this year. They are a great opportunity to reflect and brainstorm about why community and neighborhood connections are significant in our lives. If you are interested in participating please contact Taylor at (612) 824-9402 ext. 19 or taylor@lyndale.org.