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Brookyn Center looks at designating neighborhoods

  • Article by: SHANNON PRATHER
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • September 11, 2012 - 4:13 PM

Jill Dalton admits she feels a pang of envy when she sees the robust, organized neighborhoods of Minneapolis flex their muscles. They host parties, rally around grass-roots causes and apply for grants to improve their neighborhoods.

That's why the Brooklyn Center resident supports a proposal to establish 17 official neighborhoods in her city.

"I think it's a fabulous idea," said Dalton, a new Brooklyn Center parks and recreation commissioner. "It gives power to neighborhoods."

The City Council reviewed the plan at a recent work session and could vote on it sometime this fall.

According to the proposal, the 17 neighborhoods are primarily centered on parks and natural features. The neighborhoods vary in size from 15 to 40 square blocks and from 200 to 1,000 single-family properties, according to a city staff report.

The idea behind the plan is that drawing official neighborhood boundaries will make it easier for the city to communicate with residents. If passed, the city would simply draw neighborhood boundaries and assign names.

"It would really be about making them more official, and then we could look at other ways to use them," said Vickie Schleuning, the assistant city manager.

Long term, it could foster a greater sense of community, increase resident involvement and improve the city's image, said the staff report.

"I think it's a good idea. It's a good way to organize the city and neighborhoods into a cohesive community," said Mayor Tim Willson.

The mayor said neighborhood creation would be part of a wave of positive changes including reduced crime rates and new development.

"We've done many things in Brooklyn Center to convey to people across the metro that the old stigma of Brooklyn Center as being lower income and crime-ridden is just not true," Willson said.

City officials underscore that the official neighborhoods are structured to work with existing neighborhood initiatives. The city hosts annual informational meetings in parks and has a neighborhood watch program.

Can the idea work?

But given that neighborhood groups are traditionally a grass-roots effort, can a top-down approach take root?

"Government decrees alone are not enough to build a sense of neighborhood, but if there is something there already, there are things government can do to help build that," said Jay Clark, director of the Minnesota Center for Neighborhood Organizing at the University of Minnesota.

Historically, neighborhoods are built around a common kernel -- churches, large employers, ethnic groups, parks or natural features. Clark said cities can help cement together loosely defined areas into neighborhoods if there's some commonality.

The Hale-Page Diamond Lake neighborhood in south Minneapolis is a prime example where City Hall helped create the neighborhood, Clark said. The city helped establish it and sought out feedback from the group.

"That sort of thing can do a lot to get the community to work together and to feel a sense of ownership," Clark said.

Clark said another important ingredient to neighborhood creation is time. Older suburbs are now catching up with larger cities.

Council Member Kay Lasman said she sees the benefits of establishing official neighborhoods.

"Building that connection between people and trying to encourage them to know each other, that makes for a cohesive city and we think that's a real positive thing," Lasman said.

Shannon Prather is a Twin Cities freelance writer.

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