For 12 years (2005-2017), Elizabeth Glidden wielded power as the Ward 8 City Council member in Minneapolis, serving her final 4 years as Council Vice President. A thoughtful and persuasive speaker with a warm smile, she held sway over Minneapolis’ policy and budget, and cast critical votes on issues ranging from housing to community policing, labor practices to urban walkability, partnerships and pensions to public spaces.
Elizabeth’s ideas shaped important conversations. Yet her leadership was honed by listening.
“When I first ran, recent re-districting had given the Ward a new geography. I heard people talking about 38th Street where it meets Chicago Avenue, saying ‘We want this to be your number one priority,’” Elizabeth says. It was a new emphasis from the constituency. “Having a strong message from the community like that helps you marshal attention, helps you guide a specific push.”
For Ward 8 residents, theirs was a general placemaking plea.
“This wasn’t a plan driven by a lot of development,” Elizabeth offers. “It had been an intersection with vacant spaces for decades. The neighbors wanted a plan. There were a lot of little suggestions and a checklist,” she added. They wanted a plan to clean up litter, for example, investment in transit options, and to satisfy safety concerns.
It was obvious to the Council Member that this place mattered to the people who lived there. She recognized that this group of change-agents was committed to both immediate action and sticking it out for the long haul. Under Elizabeth’s guidance, each of the four neighborhoods that geographically met at the intersection of 38th and Chicago designated a committee to focus on the corridor specifically.
One neighborhood association assumed the leadership role and navigated the process from the citizen side of things. “Each neighborhood had a vision of what it wanted to do and it would involve coordination and collaboration,” Elizabeth explains. “My job was to hold the strands of the various community-oriented initiatives and guide them to fruition.”
Meetings were held and connections were forged. Citizen input and ideas ran the gamut from arts to commerce, but a theme emerged: neighbors in the 8th Ward were eager to tell their story, especially those whose stories that were not well known or had been overshadowed by more dominant voices.
The area around 38th and Chicago had been a predominantly black neighborhood for decades, and a center of black entrepreneurism.
Beginning in the 1950’s, the Regina Neighborhood had been the site of the Tilsen Building Project (between 4th and 5th Avenues, and between 38th and 46th Streets South), the first integrated housing development project of its kind in the United States that allowed white, black, Jewish and families of color to own homes and live side by side. “Redlining” and restrictive covenants had served to divide people by race for decades (see Mapping Minneapolis: https://www.mappingprejudice.org/).
Many of the Tilsenbilt homes in the Regina neighborhood are still intact as single-family homes, with some occupied by family members of the original owners. The neighborhood wanted historic designation for the area, and to initiate markers and programming for walking tours to celebrate its identity and draw more interest to the area.
As the placemaking pieces came together, Elizabeth coalesced community visioning with development and programming goals to create a city-adopted plan with the full weight (and potential for funding) of city policy. “The conversations and marketing efforts paid off,” she says. “My job was to elevate the status of the community planners and educate the neighborhood. We included broad stakeholders – property owners, neighborhood groups, businesses, local institutions, churches – to drive the engagement.”
And now that Elizabeth has “retired” from elected office serving Minneapolis’ 8th Ward?
She says she is hopeful for Minneapolis’ future. “We are seeing more organizing by people of color to re-frame what it means to do placemaking,” she observes. “We are all asking, ‘Who do we listen to?’ ‘Who are the voices around the table?’ and ‘What does community ownership look like?’” These are the planning questions, Elizabeth suggests, “that will help us reclaim important spaces, right wrongs, and help us to be more thoughtful.”
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Photo credits: SW Journal, The 38th Street and Chicago Avenue Small Area Master Plan, City of Minneapolis website