Edina begins defining its neighborhoods

  • Article by: MARY JANE SMETANKA
  • Star Tribune
  • January 24, 2012 - 4:22 PM

Ask people who have homes near Weber Park in Edina where they live, and the first thing they might say is "Morningside."

Residents of Morningside, which is nestled in the city's northeast corner and once was a separate village, identify strongly with their little piece of the city. They have an active neighborhood association, hold regular neighborhood events and even have a babysitting co-op.

It's something that could become more widespread in Edina, which has begun the process of dividing the city into distinct neighborhoods in the hope that it will aid communication between the city and residents.

"We know that a sense of community is really important to people, and neighborhoods are important to that," said City Council Member Joni Bennett, who lives in Morningside and has been a proponent of the neighborhood idea.

"In the past, [the City Council has] had someone coming forward and saying, 'I speak for the neighborhood.' It's difficult for someone who has to make a decision to know if someone really is speaking for a neighborhood or not."

Karen Kurt, Edina's assistant city manager, is the staff liaison to a committee of 12 people that begins its work on neighborhoods with a first meeting on Thursday. Members represent all corners of Edina. The goal is to propose neighborhood boundaries and names by year's end.

When City Council members discussed the neighborhood project, they suggested holding informational meetings for residents in each of the city's four quadrants, which are neatly divided by Hwys. 100 and 62. Kurt said one of the committee's duties will be to talk with residents and identify what neighborhood groups and institutions already exist.

"We want to make sure those people are consulted and we want to bring everything to the table," Kurt said.

The city is relying on advice from next-door neighbor St. Louis Park, which has had designated neighborhoods since the early 1990s. Twenty-seven of its 35 neighborhoods have active neighborhood associations.

Neighborhood boundaries tend to be defined by physical features like highways, roads and railroad tracks. Bennett believes that with a similar population and physical size, Edina will end up with about the same number of neighborhoods as St. Louis Park. Research shows that between 400 and 1,200 households is an ideal neighborhood size -- big enough to find the volunteers to keep a neighborhood association going, but not so big that it's difficult to communicate.

Now, Morningside probably has the most organized association in the city, with elected leadership, an annual meeting, a website and regular neighborhood events.

Other neighborhood groups have come and gone, often springing out of controversy over proposed developments and driven by a few committed individuals who are trying to unite neighbors.

While no neighborhood will be forced to form an association, Bennett hopes that Edina's process will yield associations like Morningside's that have good participation, elected leadership and that create a sense of neighborhood identification. The connections that result not only keep people in neighborhoods but also attract new residents, she said.

Kurt said organized neighborhoods should allow the city to more easily inform residents about intensely local concerns.

The city already is required to notify a certain number of households about developments or initiatives that could affect their area. But having an association to work with will allow the city to not only meet its legal obligation but also to hold meetings in neighborhoods to let those who live nearby know what's going on.

And there are less tangible benefits that affect livability.

"It should help neighbors make connections with neighbors," Kurt said. "I think there's hope that it's not just about the relationship with the city, but that they will pursue their own objectives and projects and relationships for their own reasons."

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380 Twitter: @smetan

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