Some north side residents wary of U partnership

Tom Moran

As the University pursues the University Northside Partnership, it enters a divided community. Most welcome the incoming changes, but an overwhelming sense of skepticism plagues the community.

To calm their fears, residents of the north Minneapolis neighborhood have taken up the creation of a Community Benefits Agreement – their way of making sure the University upholds its side of the bargain.

The UNP is an alliance between the north Minneapolis community, city, county, University and other partners to bring positive resources to north Minneapolis residents.

The University’s most visible role has been an Urban Research and Outreach/Engagement Center and a Child and Family Center, featuring research by Dante Cicchetti, who specializes in developmental psychology.

Sherrie Pugh Sullivan, director of the Northside Residents Redevelopment Council, said her organization has pushed for the creation of a community benefits agreement to hold the University accountable. She said the community needs the guarantee of a community benefits agreement to soothe a distrust of the University that runs deep.

A community benefits agreement is a legally binding contract between a developer and one or more community groups that sets community benefits the developer agrees to fulfill as part of a project.

After a series of short-lived University ventures into the neighborhood, such as public classrooms in a neighborhood library and extension programs offering youth programs that eventually left, Pugh Sullivan said residents have come to feel the University has abandoned them. She said the closing of the General College reopened old wounds and added to the feelings of abandonment.

Pugh Sullivan said the residents are wondering “Are they just going to come in and do their little thing for two or three years and then walk away?”

Twila Brase, president of the Citizens’ Council on Health Care, said some in the community fear the University is driven by a research opportunity and little else. She said vague goals and incomplete disclosure of exactly what research will take place has stirred those fears.

“I’m concerned that they’re coming in because they see this as an easy target for a population that Dr. Cicchetti wants to study,” she said.

Irma McClaurin, director of the University Research and Outreach/Engagement Center, said that isn’t the motive of the University.

She has attended many of the meetings to gather community input on the project, and uses that input to help guide its mission. A priority of the partnership has always been open dialogue and discussion, McClaurin said.

Even with abundant skepticism, Pugh Sullivan said most of the residents are enthusiastic about the partnership, and that is what the community benefits agreement is about. In 2006, 65 percent of the community voted to allow the partnership and research to happen in the neighborhood.

“It’s not about being against the University,” she said. “It’s about insuring a good relationship.”

Pugh Sullivan said that, through several months of town hall meetings seeking residents’ input, four categories have emerged in the CBA: education, health, economic development and research review. The agreement is still in development, she said, but will probably be finished this summer.

She said for every opinion against the research, there is another who advocates it. She said Cicchetti’s previous work at Mt. Hope Family Center had high success rates in keeping children with their family instead of with foster care.

McClaurin said she is unsure how the University will react to the CBA, because it has not been presented yet. She said it may not even be the right approach, because the University isn’t a “developer.”

Despite the difference of opinion, residents and University officials alike look forward to a successful working relationship.

“They want it to be a lifelong learning community, and that’s a pretty powerful statement,” Pugh Sullivan said. “We want to capture that intellectual capital, because that’s how we can rebuild our community Ö education is the key.”