Residents laud the quality of life in the suburbs, but often community connections are lacking. Now a cluster of inner-ring suburbs is establishing neighborhoods to foster a greater sense of identity.
Ed Whitley and his family have lived in their Columbia Heights home for five years. He watches his 5-year-old daughter, Shane, bounce around the Huset Park playground.
Fifteen-year-old Sandra Yang has grown up in Columbia Heights. She and her cousin walk to Huset Park to play some volleyball. A few blocks away, Wayne and Betty Bjerken stroll to the Pit Stop Chill & Grill. Wayne Bjerken was born and raised in Columbia Heights.
They’re all out on the same afternoon. They all speak warmly of the quiet inner-ring suburb on Minneapolis’ north border.
But they all also confess that they don’t really know their neighbors.
It’s the conundrum of the suburbs. Residents laud the quality of life, but often a sense of community and a know-your-neighbor mentality are lagging.
Now a cluster of inner-ring suburbs are trying to foster neighborhoods with that sense of community and identity. Columbia Heights and Brooklyn Park are making efforts, and Brooklyn Center last winter officially designated neighborhood boundaries to help city leaders better communicate with residents. The city hopes some neighborhood associations may eventually blossom.
There could be some challenges, city leaders acknowledge. Neighborhoods are about grass-roots involvement, but in all three instances city government is trying to plant the seed.
The inner-ring suburbs are increasingly diverse. Sometimes people, unsure what to say, shy away from approaching new neighbors with different cultural backgrounds.
Some suburbs, specifically designed decades ago to separate residential areas from businesses and shops, don’t have as many natural gathering spots as urban neighborhoods.
Columbia Heights and Brooklyn Park are each taking their own approach to neighborhood building.
In Columbia Heights, the city is launching a pilot project attempting to create a neighborhood association around Huset Park, between 37th and 40th avenues. The city is hosting an organizational meeting for neighbors at 6 p.m. on Aug. 20 at Murzyn Hall.
City leaders selected Huset Park for the pilot because it is already a natural gathering spot, with a playground, wading pool, ball fields and picnic shelter.
Huset also represents how the city is changing. It is made up of smaller single-family homes built in the 1920s and 1930s. It also includes newer townhouses, built on former industrial sites in the city. Columbia Heights, with its sidewalks and city grid, has a decidedly more urban feel than some other suburbs.
The main goal is to create community pride and bolster the community’s identity, said Sheila Cartney, assistant community development director. Another goal is to get young families that move into the city to connect with each other and with longtime residents.
While the city has set some broad-brush goals, it would like residents to set goals and priorities, too.
“We are hoping the neighborhood takes the ball and runs with it,” said Columbia Heights Police Capt. Lenny Austin. “Having that sense of ownership, it helps with our mission of crime prevention and public safety.”
Residents say they welcome the opportunity to establish some more community connections.