What does LRT have to do with me?

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The District 7 Planning Council hosted the “Our Side of the Tracks: Beats, Trains and a Voice” hip hop event that brought over 150 community members to the Moonlight Magic Club on Western Avenue in Saint Paul on April 29, 2006.

The all-ages event was organized to give teenagers and young adults living in the district an opportunity to voice their opinions, through hip hop, spoken word and dance, about the transit plans for the Central Corridor.

Boa Lee, Community Organizer for the District 7 Planning Council, noted that much of the District 7 population is under the age of 20, so when the LRT goes up in 2012, they will be the customers. It’s very important that they get involved now and have a say in what will happen to them later.” Lee extended the urgency to the Hmong community as well because with Asians being the highest populated group living in the district, they are sure to feel the effects.

What is the big deal with the Central Corridor?
The Central Corridor is the 11-mile long transit route that connects downtown Saint Paul to downtown Minneapolis – Interstate 94 and University Avenue are the two main transportation routes of the Central Corridor.

The Central Corridor includes business districts, residential neighborhoods, attractions and institutions that significantly contribute to the livability and economic success of the Twin Cities. As the urban area grows successfully with more people living, shopping and working in the area, so does the congestion of the roads.

Traffic planners have estimated that 200,000 vehicles will congest I-94 everyday by the year 2020. With such staggering numbers predicted, conversations about how to handle the situation quickly became a priority for public officials.

Consequently, because the majority of the businesses on University are Asian owned and patronized, any decision concerning the Central Corridor will have an effect on the entire Asian community.

Studies have consistently shown parallels between the growth and development on University Avenue with the arrival of Southeast Asian refugees to Saint Paul. A study done by students at Concordia University in 2005 showed that Asian businesses on University Avenue grew from 2 percent of all businesses in 1981 to 67 percent in 2005.

“It was the Asian businesses that really cleaned up University Avenue and made it what it is today. People think that since the Light Rail won’t be up until 2012 it doesn’t really affect them, but if they wait until the train is already built to say anything, it’ll be too late. What ever is decided – is going to change University Avenue,” expressed Lee when conveying her concern for the lack of involvement she has seen from the community.

After nearly two years of dealing with tight budgets and political arguments over adding roads versus public transportation, transit officials released a new forecast in January 2006 that predicted ridership numbers that were strong enough to push the transit plans forward.

The End of One Debate Leads to the Start of a New One
With possibilities leaning towards the $840 million Light-Rail Transit (LRT) system, which would result in a 28-foot-wide track down the center of University Avenue, new concerns over property-tax increases, land-use and ownership, and other effects on the local residents and businesses have risen.

There is also anxiety stemming from the Rondo Avenue community as they make reference to their situation in the 1950s when about 650 families and businesses were displaced to make space for I-94. The possibility of higher property taxes, changes in accessibility and parking for businesses and making space for the train are all threats that need to be addressed.

If businesses are forced out and families relocated, University Avenue could lose the Asian-influenced identity most of Saint Paul knows it for now. People are starting to wonder where, if anywhere, the “Asian Avenue” could end up if business owners lose business or cannot afford to stay.

To ensure that the community be involved and have a strong position in LRT negotiations, district councils along the corridor have been working hard at building a collective voice by organizing and educating local residents and businesses about the LRT. The councils are not taking a “for” or “against” position, but are doing everything they can to make sure the community is involved in the decision-making process.

Every Beat Counts
In the effort to create interest and increase involvement from the residents of District 7, primarily the youth, Boa Lee, led the hip hop project that resulted in the “Our Side of the Tracks: Beats, Trains and a Voice” event. The project focused on the use of hip hop and spoken word as a method for addressing concerns, thoughts and opinions on the LRT plans.

Neighborhood youth were recruited to participate in weekly educational sessions about the Central Corridor, hip hop and spoken word. Every youth that participated wrote their own pieces to be performed at the event on April 29th with well-known local hip hop artists like Slim from Guardians of Balance, Purest Form and Delicious Venom.

City Councilmember Debbie Montgomery, Ramsey County Commissioner Janice Rettman and Nancy Homand from the Mayor’s Office stood before the group together and expressed how impressed they were by the creative involvement of the youth as they greeted and thanked everyone for attending the event.

Well Done, Now What?
Planning, negotiating, reporting and further discussion is still taking place and the District Councils Collaborative has set six public information meetings to help people learn about the planning process for Central Corridor LRT and how to get involved in the process.

The last meeting will be on Thursday, May 18, 2006 at 7:00pm at the Hubbs Center for Lifelong Learning, Room 112, 1030 University Avenue in Saint Paul.

In addition to the 6 public information meetings, there will be 4 formal public hearings to hear testimony on the Central Corridor Alternatives Analysis/Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

Formal Public Hearing Dates and Locations:
Monday, May 22 at 6:30pm Radison Metrodome, 615 Washington Ave. SE in Minneapolis

Tuesday, May 23 at 5:00pm Lao Family Community of MN, 320 University Ave. W in St. Paul

Wednesday, May 24 at 8:00 am MN History Center Theatre, 345 Kellogg Blvd. W in St.Paul

Wednesday, May 24 at 6:30 pm Central High School auditorium, 274 Lexington Pkwy N. in St.Paul

For more information visit: “www.centralcorridor.org”:http://www.centralcorridor.org.

Share your thoughts on the Central Corridor plan in the “Government forum”:https://www.tcdailyplanet.net/forum/66.

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