Kristi Corey has lived in Brooklyn Park for a decade, but she still feels like a newcomer. “I wanted to find a way to bring old and new neighbors together,” said Corey.
That’s when she learned about the effort to organize the city into individual neighborhoods. It sounded like “something that Brooklyn Park has always needed. It helps to form our identity,” and puts a face to the map, she said.
Now, there are names on it, too. A task force recently presented a neighborhood map to the City Council, which accepted it on a 5-1 vote. Corey’s neighborhood is going to be Sunny Lane, and she and many others are busy planning a picnic for July. “Everyone is pitching in,” she said.
That speaks to the overall goals of the neighborhoods initiative, which began last year and is part of the city’s broader “community engagement” process.
In early June, the City Council voted to accept the report from the neighborhoods task force and to direct city staff to continue work on the neighborhoods initiative, said Josie Shardlow, Brooklyn Park’s neighborhood relations specialist. The map lays out the boundaries and names for 31 neighborhoods along with six “future neighborhoods” that will be filled in when those areas get more developed.
The work that has gone into the neighborhoods initiative has itself brought neighbors together. Many met at city-hosted “community cafes,” over dinner or at their mailboxes, Shardlow said.
The proposed neighborhoods were worked out at “community cafes,” and nearly 650 residents weighed in on the map during a public comment period from January through May. Altogether, the project represents a “very robust community engagement process,” Shardlow said.
Brooklyn Park is also encouraging neighborhoods to host gatherings through June to be eligible for a drawing for cash prizes for National Night Out (NNO) celebrations in August. So far, about a dozen neighborhoods have done that, Shardlow said.
The neighborhoods on the map come in all shapes and sizes. That’s OK, Shardlow said: the vast majority of participants agreed on the boundaries. In drawing those lines, “The parameters we gave to people were to think about big natural and man-made barriers and central gathering places,” like where they walk their dog, what streets they don’t cross, that kind of thing.
After brainstorming possible names, most neighborhoods came to a consensus relatively quickly. Many names draw from local parks or historical figures. However, some have involved more discussion. Residents of a “to-be-determined” (TBD) neighborhood are still voting on four choices — “River View,” “Mississippi View,” “M. Jewell” and “Jewell Oaks” — and the results will be finalized this week. “Folks who live on the river identify strongly with the river,” while others feel more connected to the park, Shardlow said.
In the coming weeks, Shardlow will visit the neighborhoods to get a sense of what’s working and what’s not, including “what resources would help.” For example, she’s recently learned that Monroe residents would like to have a skating rink.
City departments will align service delivery with the neighborhood boundaries, while crime alerts and neighborhood updates will be more targeted. The city plans to roll out neighborhood sites on Nextdoor.com, too.
That said, the city isn’t looking for neighborhoods to form new associations. Rather, it hopes to tap into existing groups. The idea is to develop a network of neighborhood contacts that will organize among themselves.
Bringing people together
Joe and Judy Klohs of the “TBD neighborhood” are lobbying for a river-related name. The couple bought their house on the Mississippi in the 1970s. “The stretch along the river is unique. Most people stayed for a lifetime,” Joe Klohs said.
“For my job I travel worldwide. Everyone knows the river, even in China or Thailand,” he said. Many local sites incorporate the river into their names, like Riverview School. Yet the preliminary names proposed didn’t reflect that. He informally polled neighbors about the issue. He found “a camp of people with older roots who are nostalgic” and other, newer residents who have a different take.
“It was interesting to hear the input from some of the rest of the people who aren’t physically on or across the river. It was a good dialogue” that brought people together, he said. Also, it may lead to further discussion about micro-neighborhoods, or neighborhoods-within-neighborhoods.
Brooke Schablin, who moved to the TBD area in 2011, got involved in the neighborhoods initiative in a totally different way.
She had contacted the city about hosting a combined birthday party for herself and her son, William, in May — they were turning 30 and 4 — and she wanted to make it a community affair.
She heard about the neighborhoods initiative and it motivated her even more to reach out to neighbors. She and William went to the 11 houses around their cul-de-sac to spread the word about the party. She got William to shake people’s hands and say, “would you like to come to my birthday party?” He also handed out invitations, she said.
Thanks to the party, which was well attended, neighbors who didn’t know each other before are waving, mowing each other’s lawns and hanging out. There’s talk of organizing a “sweep team” to ensure that the cul-de-sac houses are up to par, and to find out if anyone needs help with upkeep. Schablin has even been invited to a cul-de-sac wedding. All in all, the initiative is a good step toward achieving that small town feel, she said.
An informative process
Task force member Gerry Gibbs, who is also a crime prevention coordinator for the Brooklyn Park Police Department, was impressed with the level of participation throughout the public comment period. Although the project has had some critics, “For the most part, once people understood what was being done, what it meant for the future,” they supported it, she said. “I think people are ready to clean up the reputation” locally, and this is a starting point for that.
Also, she was struck by the degree to which people identify with their parks, she said.
Ryan Jancik, who also serves on the task force, talked to hundreds of people throughout the public comment period. Through it all, it’s been interesting to learn more about the neighborhoods — their character, history and demographics, he said. The neighborhood names and meanings behind them are so personal.
Ultimately, the best thing to come out of it is that neighbors are starting to get acquainted, he said. “We saw this all across the city.”
It builds community, and knowing one’s neighbors is invaluable for crime prevention. For example, one resident got a call from a neighbor about his garage door, which had been left open. That connection came out of this process, Jancik said.
For more about the Brooklyn Park neighborhoods initiative, go to www.brooklynpark.org/neighborhoods/.
Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance journalist. She can be reached at email@example.com.