Carter visit is ‘coming-out party’ for Hawthorne EcoVillage, shining spotlight on successes of cluster approach to neighborhood revitalization
Innovative tactic of focusing resources on most challenged neighborhoods is yielding results
October 6, 2010 (MINNEAPOLIS) – The homebuilding that President Jimmy and Mrs. Rosalynn Carter are doing today in the Hawthorne EcoVillage in North Minneapolis, as part of Habitat for Humanity’s Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work, shines a spotlight on the successes of the cluster approach to neighborhood revitalization that the City of Minneapolis has taken in close collaboration with a number of partners and with key assistance from the federal government.
"President and Mrs. Carter’s work project is the coming-out party for the Eco-Village," Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said.
The Citys cluster approach to neighborhood revitalization is a community-partnership model of shared responsibility that focuses intensive resources on small geographic areas, or "clusters," in order to make a noticeable, positive impact on the housing stock and stabilize the homeownership market of North Minneapolis neighborhoods. It relies upon, and draws its strength from, the shared commitment of neighborhood residents, community organizations, the police, City departments such as Regulatory Services and outside partners who are dedicated to working together to bringing stable, affordable housing, safe streets and neighborhood connection back to a relatively small area devastated by the foreclosure crisis.
The EcoVillage neighborhood redevelopment strategy was launched in 2006 by the Northside Home Fund, a partnership of the City of Minneapolis, Northside neighborhood organizations, developers, funders and others, to tackle the complex challenges that arose because of and along with the foreclosure crisis. The City of Minneapolis decided to concentrate efforts in targeted geographic areas, selecting, at the recommendation of the Hawthorne Neighborhood Council, the area now named EcoVillage as one of six priority redevelopment areas.
Before this effort, the outlook for the Hawthorne Neighborhood looked very different. The Hawthorne neighborhood is one of the lowest-income neighborhoods in Minneapolis and has a below-average home ownership rate. The rapid increase in foreclosures, coupled with a declining housing market, led to vacant and boarded property levels that far outnumbered the public resources available for redevelopment. In the EcoVillage, crime was so rampant that longtime neighborhood residents were determined to leave, even if it meant taking a loss on their homes. Vacant buildings were being used for drug dealing and prostitution. Residents lived in fear of burglaries and violence.
Mayor Rybak related the story of a woman he met in the neighborhood five years ago, who told him tearfully that she was going to have to send her son to North Carolina to live with relatives for the summer because she was afraid he would be harmed or killed.
"She was afraid that her son would come to harm just in the course of living his life. That was wrong, and we resolved to fix it," Mayor Rybak said.
"We focused on this area because it was the worst of the worst," he added. "We had to take a stand."
Since the initiative began the neighborhood has started to transform. The Hawthorne Neighborhood Council works tirelessly to engage neighborhood residents and maintain strong, effective relationships with the City, police and organizations working together to improve the neighborhood. A community-policing initiative evolved into one of the most innovative and effective partnerships in Minneapolis history for addressing crime and stimulating development. Neighborhood residents became active participants in alerting police to crime. The combined efforts of crime prevention and community policing resulted in dramatically decreased crime rates over the past three years: the violent crime rate decreased 73 percent and arrests for drug-related activity declined 85 percent between 2007 and 2009.
In addition, the City and the Northside Home Fund, along with partners like Habitat for Humanity, removed the blighting influence of 39 properties in the cluster and immediate surrounding blocks through acquisition, rehabilitation, demolition and working with existing homeowners to bring their properties up to code.
Valeria Golebiowski, a resident of the neighborhood for forty-five years, was an eye-witness to the devastation that occurred in her neighborhood. Golebiowski was almost ready to leave her home because of the crime and rampant foreclosures, but the positive developments convinced her to stay. "If not for the vision of the EcoVillage and the noticeable changes already, I would have left," Golebiowski added.
The cluster’s name, EcoVillage, was selected by residents for the project’s focus on sustainable, green community development that is economically affordable and ecologically viable. Sustainable components of the EcoVillage include LEED-standard building practices, a tree nursery and a community garden with native, drought-resistant plantings that are available to cluster residents.
"Every person in this neighborhood deserves to be on the cutting edge of clean energy just as much as everyone else," Mayor Rybak said.
Across the six designated North Minneapolis clusters, the Northside Home Fund and its partners have touched more than 100 boarded and vacant properties. The other cluster that has seen the most success is the Cottage Park cluster, where 27 properties have been touched. Cottage Park, the scene of a notorious murder of an 11-year-old boy nine years ago and for too long a magnet for crime, has also been revitalized through this approach.
Mayor Rybak said, "When I walked through Cottage Park one day last year, seven-year-old Onea Miller, who lives there with her grandmother and father, came up and said simple but powerful words. ‘Thank you for making my neighborhood a good place to live.’
"I am just as deeply moved by the commitment of EcoVillage residents and our partners to take a stand with us and make this neighborhood a safe, affordable and sustainable place to live once again. I am thrilled that President and Mrs. Carter’s visit is giving us the opportunity to shine a spotlight on our success thus far," Mayor Rybak concluded.
Published Oct. 6, 2010