The April 10 meeting of the Boys Totem Town Workgroup involved a lengthy discussion of the March 25 community workshop, which is summarized in an earlier blog. Each of the four groups' facilitator teams reviewed the discussions in their groups and then commented on what worked and didn't work in the format and process of the workshop. We also outlined what type of information still seems to be either lacking or misunderstood about the objectives and process of this work. Our summary of the workshop tries to address the misunderstandings that remain.
The rest of the meeting was a presentation about housing issues in the Metropolitan area, and goals for meeting future housing needs by the City of Saint Paul. The purpose was to educate the work group members on housing issues, NOT to say that we are looking at housing for the BTT site specifically. We heard a history of the interaction of race, poverty and housing and how this history has resulted in the concentration of low income and "affordable housing" within certain neighborhoods. We reviewed the results of the predatory lending practices of financial institutions during the housing bubble and its aftermath on communities of color and low income communities. We looked at the City's Comprehensive Plan (2010 version) related to housing, at the District 1 Community Plan related to housing, and at data in the City's Consolidated Plan that sets HUD housing goals. The latter identifies roughly 50 new low income housing units needed in District 1 as a whole, with an emphasis on such housing being along transit corridors. Looking at people's housing AND transportation needs in combination is vital to creating successful housing.
This presentation was one of many that provide background to the work group as it assesses input it gets from our community workshops. Previous presentations have included one on the Highwood Plan and on demographic change in District 1.
The fully transcribed notes to the meeting are a downloadable file on this page. All of these comments have been recorded for analysis as this process continues. What is presented here is a summary of the workshop based on comments from the small group facilitators.
The workshop had about 45 attendees who had an opportunity to tour the Boys Totem Town site in addition to working in one of 4 small groups. The guiding questions for each of the discussion groups were:
1) What does community mean to you?
2) How do you envision this area for your grandchildren?
3) What makes a community a good and healthy place to live?
4) What are some opportunities for our community to work together?
5) What is it that you would like to know about this site and this process?
We had also hoped to ask participants if there were any surprises for them as they toured the site for the first time OR with new eyes/perspective after participating in this process. However, due to programmatic issues within the Totem Town facility, the tours took longer to get started, and longer to finish, so there wasn’t time to ask this important question.
If you went on the tour, and there were any surprises for you, please let us know by emailing us at email@example.com. We hope that even long-time residents took the opportunity to tour with their eyes opened to new perspectives given our discussions.
Essentially the four themes identified in our first meeting – preserve the natural character, develop a community gathering space, increase access, and include all ages – were still evident in the comments in small groups at this gathering. However, the emphasis was somewhat more slanted toward community building and a gathering space than previously. The attendees included both those who were at the January meeting, and people brand new to the process. The general sense from the facilitators was that, although this workshop was not as diverse as the earlier one, the spirit of it was far less confrontational and far more collaborative.
Responses to the question about grandchildren – thinking about this area in the future – focused on increased access to an essentially unchanged site, but one located within a neighborhood that was better connected and more active socially. Respondents were interested in community gatherings, both structured and unstructured (i.e., organic), that were participated in by all cultures and ages.
A lot of questions remained about how this work fits into a process that is, itself, not well understood. There were a lot of requests for detailed information that implied that the city has begun, and is deep into, a planning process already.
This latter assumption is simply not true. THERE IS NO FORMAL CITY PROCESS UNDERWAY. NO DECISION HAS BEEN MADE YET BY THE COUNTY ABOUT WHAT IT NEEDS TO DO FOR THEIR JUVENILE CORRECTIONS PROGRAM. So let’s try to clear up what is happening now and how it relates to what may happen in the future.
NOW – 1) Ramsey County is researching what is the best plan for matching their Juvenile Justice program with its correctional facilities. They HOPE to have some decision made by their summer budget-setting deadline.
2) District 1 is in the process of building community in the Totem Town area by holding workshops and meet-ups for different segments of the neighborhood. This community building focuses on discussions of general visions of the neighborhood and is not a formal planning process – more preparatory.
3) The City is doing nothing at this time about this site. They have a general format for a formal planning process SHOULD THE COUNTY DECIDE TO SELL ALL OR PART OF THE SITE. This format is similar to what it has done at the Ford Plant and the Soccer stadium sites – but on a shortened timeframe.
SOON (within 1 year) – 1) Ramsey County decides what kinds of facilities it needs for its programs and where those facilities will be located. IF they decide to retain all or part of the current site, there will be a review of their plans to build by the City. IF they decide to sell all or part of the current site, they will wait for a city planning process to play out before “putting out the for sale sign.”
2) District 1 continues with its community building process with a stronger focus on defining DISTRICT 1’s recommendation to the City about use of the site. It also works to identify leaders within the community who it would recommend to serve on any City task force.
SOON (within 1-2 years) – 1) The City establishes its Totem Town planning group as a part of its formal planning process. The planning process will include a zoning study of the site done by professionals but open to comments from interested parties (individuals and organizations). This formal process will include formal public outreach efforts and hearings.
2) District 1 makes its formal organizational recommendation for the site to the City planning group as a part of the public hearings.
FUTURE (3-5 years) – 1) Ramsey County builds new juvenile justice facilities and fully institutes its juvenile justice program. It may or may not sell all or part of the current site.
2) Outside developers (IF THE SITE IS FOR SALE…) would purchase and any plans they proposed would go through a formal city review process with a public hearing.
It is important to understand that District 1 is NOT responsible for deciding how the site will be used. It has only an advisory role in that decision-making. Individuals also are encouraged to give their input. District 1’s formal responsibility at this time – specifically funded by the Saint Paul and Bigelow Foundations – is to build community in this area of changing demographics. Our formal responsibility once the City begins its process is to advise about use of the site based on the whole district of which this neighborhood is one part.
SouthEast Community Org Staff