Brooklyn Park will hold the first of three “Community Cafes” on Monday, Feb. 10, events that will bring residents together to discuss ways to strengthen neighborhood bonds in their diverse city.

At the Community Cafes, residents will consider names and boundaries for neighborhood designations that the city is planning and discuss tactics for promoting a tighter community. The idea is to break down the city of more than 77,000 people into 30 to 40 smaller communities with common interests so that residents will feel closer to their neighbors, said Josie Shardlow, Brooklyn Park’s neighborhood relations specialist.

The first cafe, for the city’s East City Council ward, will be held Monday at Edinburgh USA. That will be followed by a Central ward cafe on Feb. 24 at the Community Activity Center and a West ward meeting on March 3 at North Hennepin Community College.

“It didn’t come out of anything negative,” said Shardlow, who has been talking to residents since September about their community expectations. “People really love their neighbors.”

Melody Bird felt that warmth when she and her husband moved to Brooklyn Park in 2001.

“I can speak with some authority on being a newcomer,” said Bird, who is originally from New York City. “To feel welcomed was great.”

As first-time homeowners, Bird said she and her husband were especially grateful for their neighbors’ pointers. Now, she is her neighborhood’s watch captain, and residents can come to her with questions or concerns.

“Brooklyn Park has all kinds of voices,” Bird said. “It doesn’t matter to us what cultural background you have — we’re all looking out for each other.”

The community cafes are a place where neighbors can foster that sense. There will be facilitated discussion where everyone can give input in a non-threatening way, Shardlow said. Residents will be able to ask for resources that would be helpful for building relationships within their communities. For those with increasingly busy lives, one resource might be the meetings themselves.

“We make our own opportunities around here,” Bird said. “[The meetings] will get people together to have another reason to get together.”


Sarah Barchus is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.