Spring brings celebration of neighborhoods

Many events planned for Neighborhood Day on May 11

People throughout Southwest Minneapolis will be celebrating Neighborhood Day on May 11 this spring to connect residents and business owners to the work of neighborhood organizations in the area. 
Both city and neighborhood leaders hope it will increase awareness about (and participation in) all the city-recognized neighborhood organizations in the city. There are 22 that serve the southwest area.
“Our hope is that Neighborhood Day encourages community members to seek out their local neighborhood association and to start building connections within and across their neighborhood’s diverse community to collaboratively build a safe, vibrant and sustainable neighborhood,” said Lyndale Neighborhood Association Executive Director Sami Smetana.
Steven Gallagher is the city’s neighborhood programs manager. He was working with the city in 2019 when the idea was approved as part of the new Neighborhoods 2020 plan. The idea was inspired by a program in Los Angelas where neighborhoods would hold board elections on the same day with support from the city aimed at improving election turnout.
Minneapolis’ first annual Neighborhood Day was held in 2021, when neighborhood organizations were encouraged to hold board elections or host other community activities to increase resident participation. In 2021, according to Gallagher, only five or six of the city’s 70 official neighborhood groups participated. In 2022, he said that the number was closer to 20, and he is hopeful it could surpass that this year. 
According to a city announcement, typically fewer than 1% of potential voters actually vote in neighborhood organization board elections. Neighborhood boards manage the organizations. They set priorities, weigh in on city decisions, and control the neighborhood organization’s budget. Voting in board elections is seen as an important way to make sure that the board members represent the residents of the neighborhood.
“There was time when a lot of neighborhood boards were not representative of their populations,” said Gallagher, “but I have seen a huge increase of boards trying to get underrepresented groups involved and they are doing a great job.”
This year several southwest neighborhood organizations are using the day to help get more residents involved in their work. 
The Kingfield Neighborhood Association is hosting a Garden Tool Swap at Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Park from 9 a.m. to noon.
The Cedar Isle Dean Neighborhood group is hosting an event at Cedar Lake South Beach where they will have a bike tune-up station available and other activities where people can picnic and enjoy time with their neighbors.
The Kenny Neighborhood Association is having their annual meeting and board elections. People are invited to visit their office between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. to learn more about their association, plans for the year ahead, as well as their programs, goals and financials. The day will kick off their board elections, which will run from May 11-17. 
The Linden Hills Council (LHiNC) will be hosting their annual community garage sales day on May 11 with dozens of households, businesses, and even the Linden Hills library participating. (Read related story beginning on page one in this issue featuring the LHiNC executive director.)
The Kenwood Neighborhood Organization (KNO) is hosting two engagement activities on May 11: their annual East Cedar Lake Beach Clean-Up  from 8:30-11 a.m. – and a Safety Walk & Clean-Up that starts at Kenwood School at 9 a.m. 
Perhaps the most remarkable, and largest, Neighborhood Day event is being done by Citizens for a Loring Park Community. In the morning of May 11, starting at 10 a.m., there will be a memorial tree planting to honor Robert Skafte, the long-term resident, dancer, Steven Square’s farmers market founder, and a creator of the La Salle Community Garden who was tragically killed last December while working at the Oak Grove Grocery store. The memorial will be followed by a “Peace in the World” concert featuring JD Steele and the Mill City Singers, Sarah M. Greer and Dean McGraw, the Ukrainian Village Band and more.   
“May is Tangletown Neighborhood Association’s busiest month,” said their executive director, Andrea Siegel. While they are not planning events for  May 11, she said, “We have taken two of our longstanding May events – our compost distribution fundraiser and our neighborhood Spring Spruce Up – and combined them into one event and added the Neighborhood Day branding.” These events will be held on May 18, from 10 a.m.–noon in the Mayflower Church parking lot.   
Board members and committee volunteers will be there, sharing information and helping people learn about upcoming board elections and about serving on the board themselves. Their board elections will happen the following Monday at their annual meeting on May 20. 
The Lyndale Neighborhood Association (LNA) is not hosting a specific “Neighborhood Day” event, but they are hosting several events in May including a Wheels & Bike Rodeo, with skate demonstrations, a bike skills course, food trucks, a bouncy house, facepainting and art activities on May 4, from 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. at Painter Park. The Lyndale Garage Sales Day will take place on May 18.
Since the Neighborhood Revitalization Program funding ended several years ago less money has been provided by the city for neighborhoods, and the county stopped funding them completely. There was an increase last year of $5,000 in funding from the city for every organization but still, Gallager said, “The unknown state of stable funding is what I hear from most neighborhoods as a concern.”  
He added, “Ideally the county would step up. Back when we had the TIF [Tax Increment Financing] they put in a lot of money.”   
When asked about the value of neighborhood organizations, Siegel said, “Number one for me is the ability to cultivate such hyper-local connections and communications. Many of us know our immediate neighbors, but having events and volunteer opportunities in our immediate communities helps us connect with even more of our neighbors. Also, for Tangletown, it’s given community members a chance to connect with and work on meaningful projects based on neighborhood interests, such as environmental projects like our e-waste grant series, and in an organized way with other neighborhoods, such as our pollinator pathway project.”
“Value and challenges of Neighborhood Organizations is a bigger discussion,” said KNO Board Chair Courtney Cushing Kiernat. “I personally think they are important, but for neighborhoods that can’t afford a paid staff, their success is really at the whim of who is willing to volunteer and serve on the board.”
“It is the smallest form of government in Minneapolis,” said Gallagher, “and it’s a great way to create a sense of place and pride within a neighborhood.” 
“Neighborhood organizations play a vital role in Minneapolis’ civic ecosystem,” said Smetana. “Through our newsletters, board and committee activities, and community outreach, we engage our neighborhood residents and business-owners about city plans and neighborhood trends and provide a positive vehicle for residents to channel their energy and ideas for Minneapolis’ future.”
Smetana added, “LNA believes that community members – through their ideas, time, and energy – are the neighborhood’s most important asset.”


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