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Why Open Streets is invaluable and must continue in Minneapolis

The event was a relief: This was the Minneapolis we moved here for and the community we wanted had finally started to feel possible.

People at Open Streets on East Lake Street in August 2019.
People at Open Streets on East Lake Street in August 2019.
MinnPost photo by Bill Lindeke

As a resident of Ward 8 with my partner and our dog, I urge the Minneapolis City Council and the Department of Public Works to maintain the city’s partnership with Our Streets. Keeping the community building of Open Streets alive and thriving means the world to us. You might think I’m being hyperbolic when I say this, but Open Streets is the reason we continue to choose Minneapolis as our home. Allow me to explain.

We moved to our current place from Chicago in the summer of 2021 in search of a city and neighborhood where we could put down roots: raise a family, potentially own a home, and just generally find community we could be proud to invest in and grow with.

The move away from a city filled with highly walkable neighborhood hubs to a city where those areas were new to us and harder to find has been a tough adjustment for us, especially the first few months. We had heard that there were cool things to do and folks to interact with in the neighborhoods, but we were not sure how to go about finding those things. Without an obvious hub, we didn’t know how to learn about our neighbors or neighborhood or how we fit into it all. We spent that first summer unsuccessfully searching for a connection to our new home, and it felt like finding that community here was not going to be possible for us.

But in the fall of 2021, we attended our first Open Streets on Lyndale just a few blocks from our home and I cannot express the pure joy I felt. What we knew as a heavily trafficked thruway was magically transformed into a place that contained everything we love about city life — walking long stretches of neighborhoods outside with plenty to do and see, browsing and shopping at small businesses, listening to local music, sampling new foods, hearing about important organizations and programs, witnessing strangers connect about interests they care about — genuinely feeling a sense of solidarity with our community.

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On top of that, it was an election year, so we got up to speed on the candidates and issues. I have volunteered for campaigns in the past so it was super important to me to listen and learn about the election.

We had never seen anything like Open Streets and spent hours walking until we watched the booths that made up our newly discovered community turn back into an artery through our neighborhood. But the joy remained. As did relief — this was the Minneapolis we moved here for and the community we wanted had finally started to feel possible. We felt like we belonged here.

Since then we’ve been to every Open Street (except Franklin last summer when we were out of town, which we were bummed about) taking advantage of a curated way to explore the places and folks that make up Minneapolis. We’ve also brought with us friends — most fellow transplants like us — so that we could share that joy and sense of belonging.

Any time someone asks me what Minneapolis is like, I tell them about Open Streets and urge them to visit when one is happening. Whenever I meet a new friend here, I suggest meeting up at the next Open Streets. We also gain things to do throughout the rest of the year; we revisit restaurants and stores with new and visiting friends and family, we go see bands play, and we attend events we learn about from emailing lists — all things we’ve become connected to at Open Streets.

I even got into a new hobby last year, becoming a F1rst Wrestling fan after seeing them outside of the Up-Down. That’s an item I did not see on my moving to Minneapolis bingo card, but has since brought me even more connection to and affinity for Minneapolis.

When leaving the Cedar-Riverside Open Streets this past Sunday having purchased homegrown/homemade pickles, eaten ice cream from MN Nice Cream and sambusas from the Red Sea Ethiopian Restaurant, enjoyed passion fruit juice from TAMU Grill, donated to and learned about the amazing work being done by a local nonprofit to support families, heard an awesome set by the band The Pretendians at the KFAI stage, seen families play on the Southside Battle Train, bought a hat from Midwest Mountaineering, and pet a camel, I said to my partner “I really wish they could do these every weekend of the summer.”

This is why it was extra devastating to learn the next day of the news that it might not happen at all next year.

As a transplant to Minneapolis, my sense of place and belonging in this city is tied to these Open Streets events. Nearly everything I love and have learned about Minneapolis happened at an Open Streets and I am so grateful that we’ve been able to benefit from the hard work of so many organizations and folks willing to participate in creating these community hubs.

I deeply urge Minneapolis to do everything to keep the Our Streets partnership going so that these amazing community-building and strengthening events will continue. I ask this not just for me and my family, but for the connections that are made by the small businesses, organizations, musicians, artists, candidates, campaigns, residents,and future transplants like me who attend — all striving to be part of and strengthen a community we can be proud to invest in and grow with.

Elaina Boytor lives in south Minneapolis.