Returning the Voice of our Neighborhoods

My top priority as a councilmember is to restore the voice of our neighborhoods – in particular, our democratic voice.

I write this in response to a series of events that we have witnessed, and continue to witness across the city, in which our neighborhoods are shut out of our decision-making processes. 

I saw this first-hand in my area of the Como neighborhood with the demolition of the historic St. Andrew’s church building. My neighbors, many of whom I have known my entire life, took their time and energy to engage politically in defense of this building — citizens coming together, researching in the city archives and libraries, and championing our history at the most local of levels… As a political scientist, I’ll say it proudly: This is what democracy looks like! 

Of course, this hardly mattered. Rather than work towards meaningful community engagement, our city leaders instead chose to push their preferred outcome as swiftly as possible. Our “voice” became little more than a box to be checked prior to demolition, and my neighbors – people who I know and love – were branded as outspoken activists and discarded as a “small, but vocal minority.”

This is more than just my corner of Como – it is part of a much larger pattern of top-down decision-making in which our neighborhoods, our communities, and our St. Paul residents are cut off from real, meaningful engagement, and left without a real voice. Perhaps most concerning, our leaders have done this in the most brazen of ways, creating very deep divides across our communities that are even prompting long-time residents to leave our beloved city. Here are just a few examples:

  • Trash – The city fought against our citizens to keep trash off the ballot, eventually losing before the MN Supreme Court.
  • Summit Avenue – The city is currently fighting against our neighbors on Summit Ave to put in place a bike lane that will kill up to 950 trees (estimated).
  • Hamline Library – The city is currently fighting our concerned citizens to demolish a perfected serviceable,  library that is registered on the national registry of historic places.
  • Rent stabilization – The city unilaterally decided to amend the ordinance passed by voters with a series of exemptions that have left all parties unsatisfied.
  • Lexington Avenue – The city gave the OK to the new Lexington Ave development, ignoring the voice of our communities who were concerned about the impact of gentrification and increasing costs of housing in the area.

Ultimately, we need new leadership — people who are truly willing to listen to our neighborhoods, and incorporate their perspectives and understandings into our policies. This requires more than pointing to our district councils. Rather, we need a cultural shift regarding how, and at what moment, our neighborhoods are brought into our policymaking. This will require new leadership, particularly community-driven leaders who are capable of articulating the role of our neighborhoods in relation to our political and democratic values.