The city’s goal is to make the initiative as inclusive as possible. ”Even though it’s a messy process, we want to engage as many people as possible,” Shardlow said.
Also, as an immediate next step, the city is encouraging neighborhoods to hold May Day events throughout May. Neighborhood websites will be rolled out later this summer, Shardlow said.
‘Things have stabilized’
When Brian Rogers and his neighbors got the neighborhoods initiative going, the city faced major challenges, with numerous home foreclosures and budget issues.
Looking back on it, he realizes that at that time, “It wouldn’t have been very successful. Things have stabilized since then. We’re in a better position to do this now than we were back then,” he said.
The city has developed a broader community engagement plan and a rebranding effort to improve perceptions of the city. The neighborhoods initiative dovetails with those efforts, according to Shardlow.
The city modeled its program after the St. Louis Park neighborhood program, Rogers said. For example, Brooklyn Park dedicated a staff person to neighborhood matters and tried to create a clutter-free website, emulating the St. Louis Park setup, according to Rogers.
Gerry Gibbs, the crime prevention coordinator for the Brooklyn Park Police Department who sits on the neighborhoods task force, is optimistic about the initiative.
Through her job, she has seen firsthand the value of the neighborhood watch groups.
The new initiative has the same basic premise. Bringing people together not only translates into “less crime, but just happier people living in this community,” she said.
Gibbs, a Brooklyn Park resident, can testify to the meaningfulness of a close-knit neighborhood on a personal level, as well.
A couple of years ago when her son returned from an overseas deployment with the National Guard, her neighbors showed up on her driveway with some fanfare to welcome him home. “That’s how you know you have a good neighborhood,” she said. “It was such a good feeling when we turned the corner, seeing that.”
Ryan Jancik, another task force member, said the “Community Cafes” already are helping to build community.
He has met new people himself. He’s also learned about how other neighborhoods operate — using the phone or fliers to reach older residents, for example, he said.
Along the way, Jancik has even picked up some historical tidbits about the city, including the area’s earliest potato farms, bygone businesses and key players in its early days.
Overall, he’s been pleasantly surprised at the level of participation in the process. “People have been very positive about it, and they’re asking a lot of questions, which shows they’re interested,” he said.
Task force member Al Smith said the initiative is also helping residents to “understand different cultures and find out where everyone comes from and get to know each other as neighbors,” adding, “We don’t want anyone left out. We’re covering every corner of Brooklyn Park.”