Connections to our cultural backgrounds have a healing power, and we need to create and maintain spaces and areas across our city that honor diverse cultures and support cross-cultural solidarity. The creation of seven designated cultural districts, as part of Minneapolis’s 2040 plan, recognizes the importance of cultural vibrancy in a city’s future. East Lake Street is one of the cultural corridors, which serve as a way to organize investment in an area and build on existing community-driven efforts like Lake Street Alignment.
Rich in cultural diversity, Lake Street has long been a place of hope and entrepreneurism, of community and connection, even with fundamental inequities laid bare. For decades, different cultural communities have established businesses, arts organizations, nonprofits, faith centers, restaurants and homes along this main street. Culture is the heart of Lake Street, and as we revitalize the area, we must proceed in a way that truly centers equity, honors culture and promotes cross-cultural solidarity.
This moment is an opportunity to do community development differently.
It is not enough to reconstruct buildings destroyed in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. We must also repair our social fabric, a truth that becomes more apparent every day. Lake Street Alignment, a collaborative community development initiative, has made strides to do just that.
In fall 2021, Lake Street business and property owners, residents, community and cultural organizations, institutions, business associations, major employers and arts groups participated in the grassroots-driven Lake Street Alignment. With initial support from the McKnight Foundation, we began a process to listen to our fellow community members, align visions and strategies for revitalizing Lake Street, and identify existing projects that promote local ownership and equity — and need funding.
To date, Lake Street Alignment has engaged more than 400 people, 153 organizations, 49 property owners and over 128 Black, Indigenous, African immigrant and Latinx businesses. Broad participation in the process reflected our community’s desire to dig in.
Lake Street Alignment has differed from typical main street revitalization initiatives. As community residents and leaders from different cultural groups that often shoulder the burden of neglect, we felt heard and invited into the strategic planning process. We were not there to affirm an already decided effort. We felt ownership and agency in decisions that would impact our businesses, families and lives.
What has been powerful is newfound collaboration across organizations and cultural communities, particularly around youth development and public safety, both of which are in crisis. For example, MIGIZI, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that provides a strong circle of support to nurture the development of American Indian youth, was introduced to newly established youth organizations in the area serving young Black boys. Additionally, MIGIZI connected to volunteers at Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery, situated between Little Earth and South High, and plans to bring youth together across cultures to learn about Native medicines and healing.
The latter results from Lake Street Alignment’s focus on fostering collaboration, building consensus and solving problems across cultures and socioeconomic status. Through the process, we created an aligned vision for Lake Street with clear values that reflect the process’ intersectional approach. The vision involves prioritizing existing businesses with a legacy commitment to Lake Street. And it reflects a commitment to arts and cultural institutions that make Lake Street a unique celebration of many different cultures.
A new public-private initiative called the GroundBreak Coalition is mobilizing to raise “$2 billion of flexible private, public, and philanthropic capital…to disrupt the status quo, close long-standing racial disparities, and transform communities.” We applaud the effort.
As the GroundBreak Coalition gains momentum and leverages the generosity, community spirit and institutional power of top leaders across private and public sectors, it’s important to listen to and invest in community-based efforts to foster collaboration across cultural communities and help realize the vision people across the city hold for themselves. For our part, we look forward to continuing to lend our voices, our knowledge and our assets to the Lake Street revitalization process. Only together can we achieve equitable outcomes for all and turn the perception of Minnesota exceptionalism into reality.
Authors Abe Demmaj, Kelly Drummer and Alicia D. Smith are leaders in the Lake Street Alignment initiative, a collaborative community engagement and planning process designed to reimagine and rebuild Lake Street with racial, economic and environmental justice at its core. Anna Bloomstrand, Susana De León and Molly Greenman also contributed to this piece.