City uses students’ work to revamp Cedar-Riverside

A capstone course within the Humphrey School of Public Affairs gives students a chance to address community issues

City uses students’ work to revamp Cedar-Riverside

Megan Gosch

Three streets in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood are getting a makeover — based on the class work of University of Minnesota students.

The City of Minneapolis will use research conducted by three students in a year-long capstone course for master’s students in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs called Cedar-Humphrey Action for Neighborhood Collaborative Engagement.

Last week, the city’s department of public works held its first public informational meeting to present an initial design of the reconstruction and welcome resident input.

The students’ project was selected because of the city’s future plans to repave South Fourth Street and South 15th Avenue, scheduled to begin in 2014. Community leaders also expressed interest in using the students’ work as an advocacy tool for the city’s planning process.

CHANCE students work within the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood to identify and address specific needs using skills and knowledge from class.

Founded in 2007, the CHANCE program has participated in 18 community-based research projects, including the creation of a Somali Data Center, encouraged participation in the 2010 Census and secured funding for various programs within the community.

“This type of course, which involves experiential learning, provides a unique opportunity for students to learn while contributing to this neighborhood through positive community change,” said Greg Lindsey, executive associate dean of the Humphrey School.

“They’re putting the skills that they’ve learned into action,” he said.

Kris Hagan, one of the three CHANCE students responsible for creating the street improvement project, said the course provides students with a hands-on learning experience.

“That’s something that I felt like I was missing earlier on,” she said. “I was so busy with classes and other things to get involved on a deeper level. This class sort of made up for that.”

Last fall, CHANCE students studied neighborhood demographics, attended community meetings and talked with local stakeholders to identify problems within the community.

Through their research and community engagement, CHANCE students identified resident concerns about additional crosswalks, bike lanes and traffic signs, which were missing from the city’s initial plan.

Students drafted several different project proposals and presented them at a public forum for approval.

After a community vote, the students worked with residents, government officials and community leaders to create a comprehensive report to be used as an aid when addressing the city’s plans for reconstruction.

City workers and community leaders said they benefitted from the students’ engagement to better understand resident concerns about the project.

“They were able to get people thinking about this before the city came in to start working on things, which allowed them to be part of the process rather than bystanders,” said Joe Bernard, a senior city planner for Community Planning and Economic Development.

“The students actually listened to our concerns, and they deliver on the results that we’re looking for to make a change in the community,” said Hussein Ahmed, executive director of the West Bank Community Coalition.

Ahmed said the coalition looks at CHANCE research when planning future developments and addressing residential concerns because it is so reliable.

CHANCE projects are often used by the community as a resource when dealing with current neighborhood issues.

“The most successful projects are timely and put information together in a way that helps residents to understand the issue at hand and enable them to be a part of the process going forward,” said Merrie Benasutti, a staff coordinator for CHANCE and the associate director for the Center of Integrative Leadership.

Because part of the University lies within the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, Hagan said it’s only natural that the University would make connections and form relationships within the neighborhood.

“The future of the University and the future of the neighborhood are intertwined,” Benasutti said. “This makes sense that we would engage in this way.”