Edina's neighborhoods begin organizing
- Article by: Mary Jane Smetanka
- Star Tribune
- November 19, 2013 - 3:57 PM
Six months into Edina’s effort to build community and communication through neighborhoods, three of Edina’s 45 neighborhoods have set up formal associations.
Morningside, once a town of its own, was the first to get its already long-established association recognized by the city. Recently Countryside and Concord followed.
“We have other groups where we’ve been contacted by individual residents who are getting together,” said Assistant City Manager Karen Kurt, “but we don’t think we’ll have any more by year’s end. Maybe next year.”
Edina is the second suburb in the west metro to have formal neighborhoods. St. Louis Park has had them for many years, as has Minneapolis.
For some residents, Edina’s push for neighborhoods was controversial. They wondered about the expense and the city’s motives.
Kurt said the effort, which was approved in April, has cost very little. City leaders were interested in neighborhood associations as a way to more easily get in touch with residents on intensely local issues, like proposed street or building projects.
Countryside had an informal group that had coalesced a couple of years ago over a controversial development in the neighborhood, so residents there had contacts that gave them a starting point.
In Concord, organizing started from scratch, but the neighborhood had an ace in hand: Hope Melton, a retired urban planner, who as a volunteer led the city’s neighborhood naming project; she was Concord’s primary organizer.
“It’s going well, but it was pretty hard,” she said last week.
Edina also has city manager intern Annie Coyle, who had been very involved with St. Paul neighborhoods and has helped Edina navigate the early efforts to organize neighborhoods.
The city is using a free private social network program called Nextdoor that made it easy for Melton to contact neighbors and ask them to contact others.
“We started out with 10 members a month ago, now we have over 75,” she said. “It made it so easy to just send an e-mail about the first steering committee.”
But first she and other volunteers covered Concord on foot, distributing postcards inviting people to meetings.
About a dozen people attended that first organizational meeting. Coyle spoke, and there was a presentation about Edina’s new living streets policy, which tries to make road projects friendly to pedestrians and cyclists as well as vehicles. When there are road projects in Concord — and Melton said some are coming — the association will be one way for residents to tell the city what they’d like to see in those projects.
The presentation showed how an association could give residents influence over “what a neighborhood looks like and how it functions,” Melton said.
At a second meeting, Melton was named chairwoman and a six-person steering committee was appointed. That’s a requirement to register the group with the city.
Melton thinks Concord is facing some hot issues, including what to do about increasing airport noise and increasing controversy about teardowns and big new homes in a neighborhood with many modest dwellings. She would like to get business owners from a nearby shopping center involved in the group, saying the association needs to hear their voice.
Though Melton has many volunteer activities that keep her busy, she said neighborhood organizing has been exciting.
“I really enjoy bringing people together, and I think we all will be better served by bringing a stronger sense of community,” she said.
Kurt said the city has been on a learning curve along with residents. When it began planning a street reconstruction project in Morningside, it was the neighborhood association that called the city and said, “Hey, you need to talk to us.”
“It was an educational moment,” she said with a laugh.
The city’s Parks and Recreation Department wants to partner with neighborhood associations to help host winter events in area parks, she said. In Countryside, residents were involved in the redesign of a park.
In September, about 30 people attended the city’s neighborhood organizing workshop, and information on the neighborhood page on the city’s website is getting deeper.
Kurt said she feels that, little by little, the move to associations is gaining momentum.
“Folks are asking a lot of great questions, and we have these pockets where people are talking about it,” she said. “I feel like maybe we will be able to match [the number of new associations early] next year.”
The city’s neighborhood website is at: http://edinamn.gov/index.php?section=about_neighborhoods.
Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380
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