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“The Watchers” is a film adaptation of the 2022 book of the same name by A.M. Shine.
Review: “The Watchers”
Published June 13, 2024

Opinion: Don’t be afraid of downtown Minneapolis!

The best way to improve downtown starts with spending time there yourself.
Image by Pooja Singh
Despite its imperfections, downtown Minneapolis is a beautiful and rewarding place to explore.

Every day at the University of Minnesota students eat, sleep and study within sight of one of the largest urban centers in the country. Yet many of us fail to engage with downtown Minneapolis frequently, if at all.

Whether due to concerns of crime or a general lack of familiarity, most students keep their lives confined to campus, with downtown serving little purpose beyond a backdrop for some scenic photos.

However, ignoring downtown means leaving a massive untapped potential for social, cultural and economic experiences.

According to Adam Duininck, President and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council and University of Minnesota graduate, many other universities do not have access to an urban area as unique as downtown Minneapolis.

“My biggest draw to a campus like U was its proximity to downtown,” Duininck said. “It’s a big differentiating factor. Most of the Big 10 schools are in smaller towns like Madison, or at least not areas with large downtowns — thriving downtowns — like ours.”

Yet for many residents and students alike, downtown Minneapolis is immediately associated with one immense negative connotation: crime.

Bryan Weber, a downtown Minneapolis resident who moved to the Twin Cities in 2022, said he appreciates downtown for its variety of public spaces, such as Nicollet Mall and Government Plaza.

“There are a lot of people who do drugs and sketchy stuff,” Weber said.“They’re unpredictable, but you just don’t walk right next to them.”

Weber’s concerns reflect those of many locals who steer clear of downtown, dissuaded by assumptions and generalizations about crime. Ultimately, Weber and thousands of others choose to spend time downtown anyway, and most of their worries fade when considering the actual crime rates, simple safety protocols and potential benefits of downtown life.

The true statistics of crime in downtown Minneapolis show that it is far safer than many assume, and continues to improve with every passing month, according to Duininck.

“We watch these statistics and the reports very closely,” Duininck said “Crime is down here in this first quarter of 2024, anywhere from 15 to 20%, depending on the category.”

According to Duininck, the decrease in crime coincides with a greater law enforcement presence downtown in recent years.

“Our city has been through some tough times in the last few years,” Duininck said. “But I think what’s emerged is a significant commitment from the Minneapolis Police Department and some of the other bodies that oversee safety, such as the Metro Transit Police Department. Our own Downtown Improvement District is active in the public safety space.”

The effectiveness of law enforcement, plus simple mindfulness of one’s surroundings while downtown, are echoed by Twin Cities residents.

Darcy Frank, a volunteer for the Jehovah’s Witness church located downtown, spends time with her colleagues exploring the streets and skyways of Minneapolis.

“I definitely wouldn’t want to be walking around alone in a lot of it,” Frank said. “But we usually pair up, and so I’m not too worried about it.”

Similarly, Weber practices personal safety by avoiding certain parts of the light rail while traveling downtown.

“If you’re afraid of downtown Minneapolis, just don’t get off at the Franklin or Lake train station, and you’ve probably got nothing to be afraid of,” Weber said.

Downtown Minneapolis holds dozens of attractions for people as close as the University or as far away as international countries.

For many people, including Frank, Weber and myself, the best parts of downtown lie in its simple beauties, such as the relaxing sound of an ornate water fountain on Government Plaza or Nicollet Avenue, the astounding architecture of locations such as the IDS Center’s Crystal Court, the massive network of skyways or the diversity of thousands of people coming together in a single location.

Amid these unique locations also lie a wide variety of opportunities for anyone seeking entertainment or cultural experiences. For many years, downtown Minneapolis has been a hub for sporting events and massive concerts, which have only increased in popularity.

“Our attendance of events is through the roof,” Duininck said. “We had over 9 million people attend concerts, sports events and other things — conventions, conferences. We had the highest hotel occupancy last year that we’ve had since 2019, and the highest transit ridership.”

Downtown Minneapolis is an equally good location for smaller outings. Duininck said some of his favorite memories from his years at the University included going to bars, restaurants and theaters downtown.

The solution to downtown Minneapolis’s problems is twofold. It is not merely the responsibility of organizations like the Minneapolis Downtown Council, which continues to unite businesses and community members to improve downtown through active events and communication. It is also a situation we can help improve just by interacting with the vast opportunities downtown already has.

“Active streets are safe streets, so the more people that are downtown, the more feeling of safety it cultivates,” Duininck said.

Spending time downtown is not just beneficial for your experience, it also sparks a feedback loop that continues to improve the city for us all.

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  • Dan
    Jun 13, 2024 at 5:37 pm

    I moved to Woodbury early last year and one of the things I started doing was taking the light rail from Saint Paul to Minneapolis. I noticed a difference between taking it on a weekday versus Saturday. I have decided never to take the train again on Saturday because it is full of people that don’t adhere to the rules of the rail. Being a 70 year old man, taking the rail on a weekday is not so bad. I would not recommend my 18-year-old granddaughter doing it by herself. I have enjoyed my solo trips to various museums in Minneapolis and St. Paul and various restaurants along the green line. Because of my age, I can travel from Woodbury all the way to Minneapolis for one dollar. That certainly beats paying $20 for parking at various places in and around both Minneapolis and St. Paul.

  • Janet
    Jun 11, 2024 at 12:05 pm

    I find downtown Minneapolis very nice and safe. I enjoy the skyways with its waterfalls and art, and the diversity of restaurants. I liked seeing all the newly married people taking photos in the skyway by the courthouse. I haven’t seen scary people and drugs. I am sure they are there especially late at night, but it is not such an overwhelming problem as the comments suggest. I am surprised at all the negative comments. I guess there really is a population of people plainly scared of the big city.

  • Minneapolis resident
    Jun 9, 2024 at 7:34 pm

    Downtown Minneapolis remains a very scary and dangerous place to visit. I do not want to zigzag back and forth across the street, nor hopscotch from one city block to another block everytime I see all of the shady and criminal activity that exists in downtown Minneapolis. Day time visits are risky enough, night time visits to Minneapolis might increase your life insurance premiums. The real time danger level of downtown Minneapolis should not be so casually dismissed, as posted by this article.

  • Nate W
    Jun 9, 2024 at 7:05 pm

    Here’s this article:
    “Please sacrifice your personal safety in coming downtown so we can maybe outnumber the problematic drug addicts the cops won’t arrest”

  • Keith
    Jun 9, 2024 at 9:31 am

    This opinion piece is straight from The Onion – ‘go to downtown! It’s fine. Just avoid this list of places, ignore the drug users filling the streets because they’ll probably ignore you, and don’t go there alone. It’s great!’

    For real though I went to downtown recently and it was fine, but we were two grown men who knew where we were going, not a couple of college kids out ‘wandering’ looking like targets.

  • Shey
    Jun 7, 2024 at 11:36 pm

    That whole place is down right evil

  • Soze
    Jun 7, 2024 at 1:04 am

    Downtown, the light rail, anywhere in the metro transit loop, is flat out depressing. Why would you recommend “just don’t walk next to” drug users, dealers, and debauchery, when it’s impossible not to!? Until rent prices become affordable, the homeless/drug/crime problem is only going to get worse. The upgrade in police pay in MPLS is a great step in the right direction as well. Hopefully the city can actually fortify it’s ranks and start confronting the omin-present open air drug market, which unfolds along every corner, train stop, light rail car, etc. Wake up people. Spend millions of dollars fighting lost causes and getting scammed by the fraudulent “treatment/sober house” paradigm, but hard working “middle-class” citizens can’t afford stable housing and basics. Why go downtown to put your serenity/safety at unnecessary risk? Why? You want to have a nice day? Find a nice park outside the 494/694 loop.

  • Lars
    Jun 6, 2024 at 10:08 pm

    Not to worry. There are always a few unmanned squad cars for your protection.

  • Tom trask
    Jun 6, 2024 at 1:08 pm

    So many questions about this article!
    1) Which crime statistics are down?
    2) What areas are unsafe?
    3) How is there an increase in police presence when the force is been reduced?
    The list of questions goes on and on!