City Council member works to connect U to Uptown

Dan Niziolek says a good transit system is key to building that relationship.

Drew Geraets

Minneapolis City Council member Dan Niziolek, 10th Ward, spent some of his days as a University student chasing professional cyclists around Uptown for exercise.

Now, as the representative for the community, Niziolek gets his legwork keeping pace with the area’s diverse population – one that includes many University students.

“I’ve heard that outside the University area, we have the second-highest concentration of University students,” Niziolek said.

With a large number of students commuting to campus every day, Niziolek said it is important to keep the transit system accessible and efficient.

He said a recent Metro Transit study sought faster routes between major destinations.

“We want to make sure we have a strong connection between Uptown and the University campus,” Niziolek said. “The more we provide good transit, the more we can keep money in the students’ pockets versus them having to put it into a car.”

Niziolek said he remembers the long 30-minute drives from his home in Elk River, Minn., to campus.

“I would never do that again,” he said laughing.

Niziolek graduated with a sociology degree in 1985 and saw his interests shift from law to corrections. After working as a juvenile corrections officer for two years in the late 1980s, he worked as a crime prevention specialist and then settled on community organizing.

“That’s been my mission in life,” Niziolek said. “How do we create these great communities in which people grow up so they’re more likely to be successful?”

For the past three years as a council member, Niziolek said, he has looked for ways to improve the students’ and permanent residents’ lives.

He co-sponsored a change to a city housing ordinance along with fellow City Council member Paul Zerby, who represents neighborhoods around the Minneapolis campus. The change, passed Jan. 30, makes it easier to revoke a landlord’s rental license after multiple violations.

While the two council members have disagreed on several issues – including the selection of a new Minneapolis police chief and housing inspection sweeps around the University – Zerby said the ordinance change was an opportunity to cooperate.

“I thought it was very important for the two of us to come together on this,” Zerby said.

Niziolek said he recognizes the contribution University students make to the community and wants to hear their concerns.

“I think it’s a great mix,” he said. “It’s almost like the University

population blends in. It’s part of the energy of Uptown, which is what I like about having a diversity of people at different places in their lives.”

Lilly Clarken, a retail merchandising junior, said that despite some on-street parking congestion, Uptown fits her well.

“I would totally recommend Uptown,” she said. “It’s good to get a break from campus.”

Clarken said she feels safe in her neighborhood at night, even when walking home from a bus stop several blocks away.

The community will continue to welcome students like Clarken, Niziolek said.

“I’m not seeing any sentiment that we don’t want University students,” he said. “In fact, I’m seeing just the opposite. People really embrace and celebrate the fact that we have a strong University population.”

Kay Alton is a longtime Uptown resident and a first-year graduate student pursuing master’s degrees in youth development and leadership, and outdoor recreation.

Alton – an intern with the Lyndale Neighborhood Association – used to bike to Niziolek’s house to babysit his twins.

She said Niziolek shows up to most of the association’s board meetings and regularly attends summer fish fries and neighborhood garbage pick-ups. His commitment to really know the community is something Alton said she would like to mimic.

“He’s not coming from the suburbs,” she said. “He’s going to be affected by the changes as much as we are.”