Edina tries a new way to engage residents: neighborhoods

Officials hope that designating areas as neighborhoods will foster better communication with city residents.

In Edina, where residents bleed Hornet green and you can buy playing cards that feature city landmarks, there’s a new anchor for community identity: neighborhoods.

The city has joined St. Louis Park as one of two suburbs in the west metro to have designated neighborhoods. City officials, who studied the issue for more than a year before the City Council approved a neighborhood map this month, hope that having neighborhoods like Melody Lake, Creek Valley and Todd Park will foster better communication with residents.

“I was worried about the Balkanization of Edina ... but a lot of the things I was concerned about have disappeared over time,” Mayor Jim Hovland said at the council meeting. “This is worth trying.”

In Minneapolis and St. Louis Park, artsy and sometimes resident-designed signs mark neighborhood boundaries. Edina has 45 designated neighborhoods, but for now, there will be no signs. In fact, neighborhood names and boundaries could change if residents demand it. The city is available as a resource if residents want to form neighborhood associations, but no one at the city level will be pushing that.

Edina’s cautious approach reflects a desire not to impose anything on residents, some of whom were suspicious of city motives and what they saw as unnecessary expense.

The city said its motive is centered on communication.

“Lots of times we hear from residents that they didn’t know something was happening, and when they do find out it’s too late to really be involved,” said Karen Kurt, the assistant city manager who worked on the neighborhood project. “For residents, it’s an opportunity to connect and work on things that matter to them.”

Although neighborhood associations are common in cities nationwide, Twin Cities suburbs have been hesitant to embrace neighborhood designations. Bloomington discussed the idea years ago but rejected it. Minnetonka recently looked at how people in that city organize, but found that for the most part, residents were happy coalescing around churches, schools and places like the senior center.

The local suburban exception is St. Louis Park, which set up neighborhoods in the early 1990s. Today 27 of its 35 neighborhoods have an association. They have become part of city culture.

“If we tried to step away from it, we’d have a revolt,” said St. Louis Park Police Lt. Lori Dreier, supervisor for neighborhood outreach. “It’s an institution and is ingrained now.”

‘An inclusive model’

In Edina, Council Member Mary Brindle cast the lone vote against the policy, saying it was too complicated to be embraced by residents. Parts of Edina already have neighborhood associations, and having the city set the ground rules with requirements for bylaws, how to vote and other rules “is too much the city dictating what the neighborhood association needs to be and do,” she said.

But other council members said the requirements are minimal, and that the city could serve residents better by communicating with associations rather than just one or two interested citizens in a given neighborhood.

“I think we’ve created an inclusive model,” said Josh Sprague. “We want this to be a positive thing for the community, and now everyone is part of a neighborhood after adoption of this policy even if they don’t want to take part.”

City officials say neighborhood designations will make it easier to target communications about issues such as street work, park improvements and safety alerts. Even if neighborhoods don’t have an association, residents will be able to sign up for electronic news aimed specifically at their area on the city’s neighborhood page, which is still being built. The city has made assistant city planner Kris Aaker the point person on the issue.

Even long-standing associations like the one in the Morningside neighborhood, which once was a separate village, will need to register to gain official city status. Whether newer neighborhoods like the Heights, Presidents and Dewey Hill will register has yet to be seen.

“No one’s applied, but we have been contacted by residents on the western side of the city who are talking about forming some kind of association, and maybe asking for boundary changes, too,” Kurt said. “But it’s early days.”

 

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380

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