Ababiy: Neighborhood organizations need the student voice

The Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association has a direct hand in development, yet still lacks student participation.

Jonathan Ababiy

Developers have had their eyes on Dinkytown for a long time. One Minnesota Daily article from 2013 reported that “more than half of Dinkytown property owners surveyed by the Minnesota Daily have been approached by a developer interested in their land.”A look at Google’s Street View shows these developers have been successful.

Toggling between the 2009 and 2018 photos of the 14th Avenue SE and 5th Street SE intersection — where Target currently stands — is a jarring experience. Gone are a beautiful high school-turned office building, a former family-owned grocery store and a pair of houses. Now, The Marshall apartments and the Venue at Dinkytown apartments rise colorfully above Dinkytown’s quirky strips of commercial space.

These changes have transformed Dinkytown. After all, the Dinkytown Business Alliance website does say, “the one constant in Dinkytown is change.”

Now is a pivotal moment in Dinkytown history. Four homes near the Southeast Library are set for demolition to make way for a proposed apartment building. The development is a crucial reminder that students should become involved in the Dinkytown planning process, particularly through the Marcy Holmes Neighborhood Association (MHNA). We are the people who eat, shop and sleep in Dinkytown every day, so we need to make sure our voice is heard as the neighborhood undergoes change.

Bill Lindeke, a local writer and St. Paul planning commissioner, shared in MinnPost that neighborhood groups “are a required stop when trying to build in Minneapolis or St. Paul.” Without approval of the neighborhood association, he added “it can be a nearly impossible road for a new building or project.” Every apartment complex that sprouts up in Dinkytown or Stadium Village has faced the questions of a local neighborhood association. The neighborhood associations holds developers accountable to key topics topics like size, design and parking.

In addition, the neighborhood associations have a hand in planning the future of the neighborhood. Every several years, the associations create masterplans and small-area plans that guide development for the coming years. Key issues like transportation, housing, parks and building design are codified into guidelines for the neighborhood. They set the vision for what the neighborhood will be.

In this role, the associations also interact with the city and other government agencies. For example, this summer, the City of Minneapolis, Hennepin County and Minnesota Department of Transportation will resurface University Avenue and are considering adding protected bike lanes to this project. The agencies have been debating whether to create a two-way, protected bike lane on University or to build separate, protected one ways on both 4th Street SE and University Avenue. The MHNA has been involved in this process from the beginning by holding meetings and asking for citizen input.

But students haven’t showed up. Their input is lacking, and the association isn’t fully representative of students. Tuesday night, at the biannual MHNA Board of Directors meeting, no students were elected to the board. In the general members meeting prior, I felt like the youngest person in the room.

MHNA is not getting the student participation it needs. Many of the neighborhood associations across the city are mainly composed of homeowners, even if the actual neighborhoods are a renter majority. Planning decisions can’t keep being deprived of the neighborhood perspective.

As Dinkytown changes, we, the students, need to make sure our voice is heard. We can’t make change go away, but we can make sure it makes an impact in a positive way. It’s our neighborhood, so let’s make sure the next crop of Gophers will want to live here too.