During the summer, residents and business owners in the Lake Street corridor, West Broadway business district in North Minneapolis, and along Franklin Avenue may have noticed an increase in the presence of City of Minneapolis employees exploring projects and areas in need of attention to improve safety and livability. This concentrated focus is not coincidental, but an intentional part of a pilot program called Bettering the Block. City Coordinator Heather Johnston said the City and Hennepin County partners took a grassroots approach to understand the needs of the three areas.
“My office and CPED [Community Planning and Economic Development] went with a small business team to chat with folks. We spent time on Lake Street and then on the North Side. What we wanted to do was all-hands-on-deck,” explained City Coordinator Heather Johnston. “The philosophy being, if we improve livability, that has an impact a positive impact on public safety.”
For Phase 1 in June, the City gathered data from 911, 311, and other service calls relating to safety, neighborhood needs and complaints. Neighborhood and Community Relations and other staff engaged community groups, businesses, and residents on what improvements they deemed critical for a better quality of life and what long-term improvements they would like to see.
Inspired by the Block by Block initiative that began in 1995 in Louisville, Ky., which transforms downtowns with cleaning, safety, hospitality and outreach services, Interim Minneapolis Police Chief Amelia Huffman wanted to pursue a way to incorporate public safety differently and improve communities in a tangible manner.
“All of the City departments have services that we provide that make people's lives better. Looking at specific areas of the city that have been impacted by violence and violent crime in a particularly concentrated way and then asking what can all of the City departments do to make the quality of life better for [those] who are living and working in these areas.”
After a meeting between Mayor Jacob Frey and City leadership, every City department reviewed what they do for residents and then looked for opportunities to provide those services with fellow departments in a more deliberate way in those three identified geographic areas for a focused period to determine the outcomes.
William Zahn and a Public Works Department street sweeper prepare to clean streets in North Minneapolis.
Assessing the Block
With additional data on safety history and needs, departments worked together for the pilot program to improve the safety and livability of three communities through the delivery of services and improvement of infrastructure. To provide infrastructure and safety improvements to each selected area, Public Works Deputy Director and City Engineer Bryan Dodds said the City relied heavily on data.
“The choice of the locations was organic with discussions of public safety, Public Works, 311 issues, geography, etc. Chief Huffman suggested areas of heightened safety issues and provided a map of the areas, and I volunteered to overlay the crime map with our 311 complaints,” Dodds explained.
Better The Block Projects* (June-July 2022)
(N 25th Ave to Fremont)
(35W to Minnehaha Ave)
(S 14th Ave to S 20th Ave)
|Lane lines and crosswalks have been repainted.||Lane lines and crosswalks have been repainted.||Performed enhanced sweeping in the corridor.|
|Lighting in corridor reviewed, 55 lights in corridor can be upgraded to LED. Fixtures ordered. Anticipate delivery of fixtures for fall 2022 or spring 2023 installation.||
Cleanup under LRT and 55 bridges
-litter pickup, flushing, street sweeping, and graffiti mitigation.
|Enhanced sweeping continues.|
|Picked litter under Lake Street Station prior to the long 4th weekend.|
|96 lights identified for upgrade to LED. On the same timeline as W. Broadway.|
*Examples for some projects Public Works did in collaboration with other City departments and partners.
Pilot in Action
With the feedback and City data in hand, Public Works and other departments shifted into Phase 2: implementing work orders and providing focused services. One tangible impact: residential street sweeping.
“Keeping the streets clean and keeping the streets free of debris has a better effect on the neighborhood,” said William Zahn, a 28-year-employee of Public Works. Zahn manages sweeping and other street matters in District 1, which includes the North Side. “It has the effect [of showing] you care that we are doing all that we can to keep debris and litter out of the catch basins and out of our lakes and waters. It’s very important.”
Other necessary improvements being addressed include street striping, evaluation and replacement of neighborhood lights, and public safety partnerships with Metro Transit, Hennepin County, and public safety efforts by the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD).
Another unique aspect of the Bettering the Block pilot is funding. There was no additional or new funding for this three-month program. Instead, departments rearranged their service deliveries to approach the challenges collaboratively to make a more noticeable impact. This includes the county and transit.
“For a business, it literally is your lifeblood for the environment to feel safe enough for your customers to come. Whether that means people who walk to your store from the nearby neighborhood or whether that means you're drawing in customers [as] many of our restaurants do from neighboring communities,” Huffman shared about the essential services applied.
An upcoming Bettering the Block event is scheduled for Friday, Aug. 12. The City will team up with Metro Transit and Hennepin County to clean the Lake Street-Midtown Light Rail Transit Station at Hiawatha Avenue before the upcoming East Lake Open Streets event. This cleanup will involve dozens of staff on the team focused on delivering services in a concentrated, high-traffic area.