Can there be any doubt the neighborhoods around the University are going to hell in a handbag? Let’s review the criteria, shall we?
High-speed vehicle chase and foot pursuit? Check. Family-run businesses knocked off by armed robbers? Check. Carjacking? Check. Muggings? Check. Graffiti running wild, litter everywhere? Check, check. Bike theft and vandalism? Check, check. Run-down rental property with few fixes in sight? BIG check mark.
Yes, crime and crappy rental property have always been a problem, but lately it appears the neighborhoods around the University have turned quite a negative corner. It hit me one morning when I saw empty six-pack containers scattered all over and fresh graffiti wherever my eye happened to fall.
I’ve lived in half a dozen states, with twice as many homes; so I’ve learned to develop the concept of community very quickly or always feel like an alien. (Except, of course, in North Dakota, where outsiders with fresh genes are never fully accepted.)
The first step is usually registering to vote. But if I make half a dozen purchases at a cool and quirky neighborhood store like Santana’s, then it becomes my store, and I feel the joy and sorrow of its ups and downs. If I bike down a path half a dozen times, then it becomes my path, and it annoys me when garbage clutters my path.
If I should be walking, and a piece of litter is in my path, and 10 feet farther along is a trash can, many times I will take care of the litter. This is my neighborhood, damn it. When I lived in Seattle, a brief rainstorm managed to flood a low-lying street, and in a fit of civic-minded duty, I waded in up to my knees and began clearing a storm drain of leaves and branches knocked down by the wind.
My civilization, I thought. My storm drain, my gutters. My duty. Drivers honked and gave me thumbs-ups. Another pedestrian rushed over and assisted. We began seeking out the other drains, extremely careful not to get sucked down by a rush of water. We felt like Romulus and Remus, pulling up Rome from the mud with our bare hands. The floodwater went down to the point that cars no longer stalled in it. Civilization continued to flow like a river of steel and vulcanized rubber.
Now Minneapolis is my home at least as much as other places were. I look at the skyline and feel a rush of civic pride. My city. My skyline. My home. So when the neighborhood around the University is hurting, my home is hurting, therefore I am hurting.
I see pieces of bikes still locked to objects, rusting away, and I perceive how this creates an atmosphere of lawlessness, a sense that anything can happen to bikes with impunity. I have mixed feelings about graffiti as a form of expression, but I’d much rather see inspiring murals than inarticulate wailing of pretentious self-proclaimed nicknames. (Here’s a message for you, Mr. “Low Flow,” or whatever you call yourself. See your urologist. I don’t want to hear all about your very personal problems spray-painted on the back of a metro bus bench.)
To turn the University neighborhoods around, we need inspiring leadership from our city government. It isn’t enough for a member of the City Council to merely vote the right way or try to kick off a few pilot projects like, for example, stings aimed at bike theft or parking meters that will take money credited to U-Passes. The hurting neighborhoods around the University require inspirational grassroots leadership to convince individuals, one-to-one, to get involved with transforming our surroundings for the better.
There are weedy and litter-strewn pockets of emptiness which could, potentially, be beautified with flowers. Several nights ago, members of a fraternity helped police chase down a fleeing suspect. I see this as evidence of a vast, untapped pool of civic-minded energy willing to risk life itself to help our neighborhoods; needing only to be inspired and pointed in a particular direction.
In order to help kick-start this wave of grassroots civic mindedness, I am going to give away one of my precious tickets to see Willy Wonka Ö I mean, Bill Clinton. Yes, I have a single extra ticket to give away to the best essay of at least three double-spaced pages, addressed to Ward 2 City Council candidates Cam Gordon (Green) and Cara Letofsky (DFL). Write an essay for Gordon and Letofsky on the following subject: What sorts of very specific projects could inspire a college student to pour effort and energy into helping the neighborhoods around the University? Be as specific as your street, your apartment building, the sad patch of weeds in your alley hereby named Little North Dakota.
Do NOT suggest a day where everyone picks up litter. Do NOT suggest yet another internship opportunity. Those are good ideas, but you must be more original and creative. E-mail to my address below by 11 p.m. Friday.
John Hoff welcomes comments at [email protected]