Minneapolitans pride themselves in the spaces where people can be together on foot, bikes and otherwise rolling at a human pace. We relish walking around Lake Harriet, rolling along the Mississippi River, playing in our many city parks. But the roads, streets, and sidewalks throughout our city still have a long way to go to being people-friendly.
Highways impose intimidating and polluted barriers, busy avenues are hostile to families on bikes and crosswalks may be few and far between for folks not able or willing to dash through traffic.
In contrast, annual Open Streets events encourage people to imagine a different world, where our thoroughfares are shared peacefully and safely, even joyfully. Organized by Our Streets Minneapolis, Open Streets events close down lengths of major Minneapolis streets on different days throughout the summer to allow people on foot, bikes, scooters, wheelchairs, walkers, skateboards and rollerblades to fully occupy the streets, taking in their city and one another at under 25 miles per hour.
Last year, volunteering at Lyndale Open Streets, I witnessed universal curiosity on the faces of so many of my neighbors who were happily taking in their cityscape, unencumbered by the otherwise omnipresent danger of large motorized vehicles. The Open Streets concept originated from ciclovia events organized in Colombia in 1974, and has since morphed into a worldwide movement, which allows people to envision a future where our metropolises are not held hostage by cars. This vision is consistent with Minneapolis’ own development goals towards greater density, increased usage of bikes, transit and non-car means of getting around and vibrant, people-first spaces.
Our Streets Minneapolis, an independent non-profit with a small staff, has been the sole organizer of Open Streets since its inception more than a decade ago in 2011. From its start with 5,000 attendees, it has grown to multiple events per year, and was attended by 103,500 people in 2019 – a quarter of the city’s population.
The event engages 700 volunteers and over 150 community partners each season.
While the City of Minneapolis dedicates public works and police time to the event, it has yet to commit funds towards the event. In 2022, Our Streets Minneapolis is asking the City’s Department of Public Works to amend the 2022-2024 Public Service Agreement to include yearly compensation of $100,000 for the Open Streets Minneapolis events, sourced from the Public Works discretionary budget. Our Streets is also seeking the inclusion of $100,000 of ongoing funding in the mayor’s 2023 budget to support Our Streets Minneapolis.
This amounts to $.25 for every Minneapolis resident to support one of the city’s flagship events, an event embraced by the city on its own official website as one of its “programs and efforts to improve our City.”
Many Minneapolitans look forward to these welcoming and inclusive events as the high point of the warm weather season, even more so than the State Fair. But the lack of city funding has constrained the route selection process and puts Our Streets Minneapolis in a position to charge a registration fee that creates a financial barrier for disadvantaged vendors and participants or forces the organization to altogether exclude a community in the route selection process. In order for Our Streets to continue to offer these events and make them fully accessible and equitable to all, financial support from the City of Minneapolis is essential.
Nina Clark is a board member of Our Streets Minneapolis, a Minneapolis resident and professional in the field of arts and culture.