Looking for new ways to gather community feedback, Minnetonka city leaders turned to Facebook Live, hosting a virtual town hall meeting this month.
The west metro suburb is perhaps the first Minnesota city to use the new platform, with more than 100 people tuning in for the meeting, which has now been viewed more than 1,600 times.
“It’s truly breaking ground,” Rebecca Ryan, a futurist hired to oversee the process, said at the half-hour town hall.
It’s part of Minnetonka’s new input effort, “Imagine Minnetonka,” begun this year to get feedback from residents through October.
So far, pedestrian and bicyclist safety and amenities have emerged among respondents’ top priorities, suggesting more mountain bike trails and sidewalks.
It’s a common theme suburbs across the Twin Cities are hearing from all ages: People want streets that were designed amid suburban sprawl to be reconfigured to focus less on cars and more on bicycles and pedestrians.
“It’s a wonderful neighborhood, a wonderful city. But the one thing I get a sense isn’t being taken seriously enough is pedestrian safety,” said Mike Tikkanen, who’s pushed for more crosswalks and pedestrian bridges near Ridgedale Center. “We have to plan ahead because there’s going to be more pedestrians and more bicyclists.”
City leaders say the campaign wasn’t started because there’s anything wrong with Minnetonka, but rather because they want to get ahead of the curve to see what residents envision for the city over the next 20 years. The process could help the 50,000-resident suburb rebrand and set new goals for its strategic plan.
“We want to remain vibrant,” Assistant City Manager Perry Vetter said.
In the process, the city has also asked residents about misconceptions others have about Minnetonka. A common one: The suburb has only huge houses on Lake Minnetonka. In fact, the massive lake is bordered by 14 cities, and Minnetonka is only a sliver of it.
Continuing the process
The city is gathering input until Oct. 31 on the web, at social media sites and at a dozen places such as a farmers market and a senior center. The next event will be Oct. 4 at Minnetonka Civic Center Campus followed by a town hall Oct. 12 at the Minnetonka Community Center.
“We’re trying to go where people are,” Vetter said, adding that the city may use Facebook Live more in the future.
The city then will compile feedback and analyze it.
Resident Kamel Aossey said he’s glad the city is soliciting comments, but he’s still skeptical that they will influence future plans.
“Have they made up their mind before [residents] chime in?” Aossey said. “The city really needs to look at it as an opportunity, not only as a vision for what they see, but what the neighborhoods see.”
Vetter said that’s exactly what the city is doing.
“We’re not doing this so we can set it on a shelf,” he said, adding feedback will shape future city decisions.
So far, pedestrian and bicyclist needs have been among the top suggestions online. They come as Minnetonka, like other suburbs, has seen increasing housing density, such as a six-story apartment building going up near Ridgedale.
“I know this is the worst pedestrian neighborhood I’ve lived in,” Tikkanen said of his neighborhood of 15 years, south of the mall. “I’ve seen so many close calls.”
He said safety measures can’t wait, and he’s pushing for more marked crosswalks, signs, sidewalks, better lighting and foot bridges.
“You have to be a sprinter [to cross the street],” Tikkanen said as cars rushed by at the intersection of Ridgedale Drive and Plymouth Road. “If you’re 65 like me ... it’s just too dangerous.”
Besides the mall, the area has many stores, a library and Hennepin County service center. More seniors and families are also moving there who want to walk or bus places.
Vetter said plans are already in place across Minnetonka to improve pedestrian safety. He said the new feedback on this topic as well as maintaining Minnetonka’s character help reiterate that the city is on the right path.
“It’s reassuring that that’s one of the themes that comes out that’s important for residents,” he said.