Category Archives: Minneapolis

Sister Cities – A good time to make friends with the family!

It’s probably yesterday in at least one of our Sister Cities, so it’s late but not too late to write and think about Sister Cities Day – It’s tomorrow, July 16, 2017, 1:00 – 5:00 PM at the Nicollet Island Pavilion.

Joining in the festivities will be representatives of all of the Sister Cities, some of which have sent remarks, others have arranged for performances that represent their homeland and especially the music and dance of the Sister City.

The City of Minneapolis produces an outstanding guide to each of the Cities – If can’t attend the Nicollet Island event, do take time to enjoy the digital tour of our siblings – start your digital globe trotting here:  http://www.minneapolis.org/partners-and-community/sister-cities/sister-cities-day/  

 If you can’t attend in person, enjoy a virtual tour of the Sister City community of which Minneapolis is a member.  If you are able to join the Nicollet Island festivities, you’ll out-smart the masses if you did a digital dive first.  You’ll have a chance to meet and greet new friends from around the globe with whom you can share family fun and Ice Cream!  The event itself is free and open!

Northeast Minneapolis Celebrates Independence

NEWS RELEASE: April 1, 2016

By common agreement the residents of Northeast Minneapolis have officially seceded from the City of Minneapolis as of this date. The former Neighborhood has assumed independent status and adopted the less cumbersome name “Northeast”.

This decision is based on the fact that Northeast is 1) separated from Minneapolis by the Mighty Mississippi River, 2) renowned for its rich and diverse cultural heritage, and 3) politically and psychologically primed for independence.

Northeast residents have agreed to the following changes in policies, practices and priorities effective as of this date:

Purchase and rental agreements for Northeast newcomers shall include a requisite “What happens in Northeast stays in Northeast” clause.

Little Free Libraries in Northeast shall be complemented with Little Gluten Free Microbreweries to be allocated and sited in a competitive contest among qualifying residents.

The names of non-represented Presidents shall be applied to neighborhood alleys, beginning with the alley between Washington and Adams Street.

East-West streets (currently numbered) shall be renamed to recognize the non-native ethnic heritage of Northeast, moving West to East according to the year of the immigrant group’s arrival in the community.

The date of birth of each of the nation’s Presidents shall be celebrated (e.g. January 7shall be designated as Millard Fillmore Day. b. January 7, 1800). In the case that two or more Presidents share the same birthday (and thus same zodiac sign) the observance shall be held on the first Monday of the week.

A surcharge shall be charged for beer purchased by non-Northeasters. The surcharge shall be waived for potables brewed in Northeast.

Art-a-Whirl shall be expanded to a year-long event. Seasonal focus will be on snow sculpture with an annual Ice Brewery competition in January.

Volunteers shall construct a natural wall to complement the Mississippi as a dividing line between the cities. The wall shall be erected on the Minneapolis side of the Mississippi to ensure that residents of Northeast shall have full view and access from the East.  The wall shall be of sufficient height to shield Northeast residents from view of the unsightly US Bank stadium. Cost of the wall shall be borne by the Minnesota Vikings.

The Northeaster shall be officially recognized as the Newspaper of Record for all things Northeasterly.

The Edison High School Alumni Marching Band shall be the official musical organization of Northeast. The official motto of the magnificent marching musicians will be “We (heart) the EHSAMB”.

Eat My Words shall be the officially recognized hangout for Northeast bibliophiles.

Dziedzic Drive shall be upgraded and added to the National Highway System.

Northeasters shall celebrate Black Friday with a bike-a-thon to the former site of Apache Plaza with a pit stop at the architectural remnants of Walmart.

Snow days shall be declared only on the occasion that there is more than 18” of snow or the temperature drops below -60 degrees.  There shall be a half day of school declared the instant the temperature at 11:59 AM exceeds +70 degrees.

The Stinson Boulevard property maintained by the Stinson Conservancy shall be duly recognized and maintained as the gem of the Ground Rounds Scenic Byway System.

The official recreational sport shall be bocce ball.

The kolachky (spelling negotiable) shall be the official food of Northeasters.

The motto of Northeast shall be “If you love life, life will love you back.” (Arthur Rubinstein)

The nexus of Central Avenue and Hennepin shall be known in perpetuity as “Where Banks Used to Be (UTB)” and 519-523 Central Avenue Northeast will be permanently recognized as “Where Totinos UTB)”.

Pedal Pubs shall replace environmentally toxic bus transit on Central Avenue. Passengers will cover cost of transit with pedal power.

Northeast shall extend Sister City status to adjoining communities including St. Anthony Village, Columbia Heights and Minneapolis.

Northeast shall invite  the Polish government to share BFF status. A Polish consulate shall be established on the site of Nye’s Polonaise where a polka-and-piano themed monument shall be erected to designate the BFF relationship.

Viva Northeast!

 

Walking historic Minneapolis — There’s an app for that!

Seldom have we known such a summer for strolling Twin Cities neighborhoods – enjoying the magnificent gardens, the unique architecture, the cool breezes, the friendliness of your own neighborhoods, and the stories of neighborhoods waiting to be explored.

Good news – there’s an app for that!!!

Check out the Minnesota Historical walking tour app now available for iPhone and Android users. The digital guide will enlighten your tour through the Marcy Holmes and Old Highland neighborhoods in North Minneapolis, home of the City of Lakes earliest residents.

Some background: The earliest residents of these neighborhoods were Native Americans for whom the waterfalls on the river were sacred. Father Louis Hennepin, a Franciscan priest, is credited with being the first European to see the falls in 1680. He was so taken with their beauty that he named them after his patron saint, St Anthony of Padua.

The accounts of Father Hennepin helped make this a destination for adventurous travelers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The falls became the center for logging businesses so that by 1850 census records show the town of St. Anthony Falls with a population of 656. The first store was opened in 1847, at what is now Main Street and Second Avenue SE; the first frame houses were built in 1848 and the first school was opened in 1849.

Eventually the town of St Anthony Falls incorporated in 1855, and was later named St. Anthony. It merged with Minneapolis in 1872.  Fifth Street became the premier address in the city. It was home to flour manufacturers, lumbermen, merchants and other civic leaders who built the town of St. Anthony. The Old Highland neighborhood was originally part of the Fort Snelling Military Reservation, claimed for the US in 1809 by Zebulon Pike

Start with the Old Highland neighborhood. The elegantly preserved neighborhoods feature Queen Anne and Victorian architecture built during Minneapolis during what is known as the “Golden Age.” Before venturing out you might want to start with the online walking tour designed by the Old Highland Neighborhood Association (http://www.minneapolishistorical.org/tour-builder/tours/show/id/3#.U9g5ucZQZ4N)

There you’ll find in-depth descriptions of 30 homes, their history, architectural features and the stories of former residents. You’ll find the stories of Ascension Church, built in 1890 and of the Ascension school, begun by three Sisters of St. Joseph in 1897, of the home of Vincent Schuler, founder of the Schuler Shoes Chain, of Frank Gross, the second Minneapolis Parks Commissioner (for whom the golf course is named), churches and homes of Norwegian and German immigrants, The list goes on…

Moving right along, check out the Marcy-Holmes website (http://marcy-holmes.org/neighborhood/map-tours/) The site includes a published guide to the neighborhood, Hiding in Plain Sight by Penny Peterson.  Again you’ll find descriptions and stories of the history, the houses, the people – especially the “musings” of local residents.

Now that you’ve got the idea, take the new app as your guide as you walk the walk through the Mill City’s first neighborhoods. The Marcy Holmes section of the app features 24 historical sites while the Old Highland Neighborhood offers 29 featured sites.

The app is available free on the iTunes App Store and Google Play.

“Minneapolis Historical” was created by Preserve Minneapolis (http://www.preserveminneapolis.org) and the Old Highland Neighborhood Association (http://www.oldhighland.org) with software developed by Cleveland State University. The project was funded with Legacy funds administered by the Minnesota Historical Society.

Handy Guide for Mixed-Up Minneapolis Voters

Minneapolis voters, their friends, family, colleagues and neighbors, carry a heavy challenge this season – trying to unravel the complexities of ranked choice voting while faced with a roster of candidates that would befuddle the most ardent observer of the election process.

E-Democracy has created a handy tool that might ease the pain, or at least steer the hapless voter in the right direction.   The voter guide is a gateway to the process and to the candidates themselves.    It provides links to the candidates’ websites, a listing of voter guides, issues discussions online and the basics about voter registration and voting sites.   All you’ll need is time to do the research, read the materials, think about it and decide!  This will make the job easier.

Click here for the E-Democracy election guide:

 http://pages.e-democracy.org/Minneapolis_elections

 

Technology Access Grows for Some, Not All, Minneapolitans

Do you want to apply for retirement benefits?  Check your bank balance?  Talk back to the TV?  Look for a job?  Help your kid with her homework?  Keep up with the news?

Better be able to afford and, more important, know how to use technology – not just an old-fashioned computer but a range of technology tools including smartphones, the expanding social media options, email, Internet and whatever comes next.

Again this year, the City of Minneapolis set forth to survey the state of community technology.  Some 3211 residents responded to the survey.  The report is out (online, of course) and a series of community meetings is in process.

The biggest change since the 2012 survey is the expansion of mobile access.  Internet enabled mobile phones is higher in 2013, even among those households less likely to own a computer.  An interesting note is the fact that, of adults over the age of 45, women were much more likely than men to have cellphones with the ability to access the Internet.

A telling fact is that, while 90% of white households have computers, only 65% of Black/African American respondents have Internet access at home. Among the respondents with children in their household who reported their race on the survey, whites are far more likely to have access at home (95%) compared to people of color (73%).

The survey results are reported in geographic terms.  Importance was ranked lowest among residents in Camden and Phillips and respondents who had lived in Minneapolis for fewer than six years were more likely to view having a computer and Internet access in their home as essential.

The full survey report includes much more information about access, attitudes and geographic distribution of technology.  Maps depicting neighborhood access patterns are available here.

Future meetings about the survey are set for Tuesday, May 21, 5:30-7:00 p.m., DevJam Studios; Thursday, June 13, a morning session 7:30-9:00 a.m. at Eastside Food Coop, 2551 Central Avenue NE, and Wednesday, June 19, 6:00-7:30 p.m. at Sabathani Community Center, 310 East 38th Street.

Digital Directories Tell the Minneapolis Story

More open doors to learning – and endless armchair meanderings – from Special Collections at the Minneapolis Central Library.   I know because I have been lost for far too long now in the digital collection of Minneapolis City Directories, now accessible online covering the years 1858-1917.  The collection is accessible remotely, free of charge, no library card necessary.

The expanded access to this treasure trove of local history is made possible in parat  by donations from the former Professional Librarians Union of Minneapolis and a grant from the Minnesota Legacy program..

Cautionary note #1  Don’t let the pedantic title be a turn down – never judge a directory by its title.  These directories are rich with magnificent ads, beautifully engraved and otherwise illustrated attention grabbers, many promoted by enterprises that remain today’s directories.  There is also a wealth of information about city government and services as well as addresses and occupations of city residents.

Cautionary note #2:  Approach your armchair perusal of the directories with an open schedule.  It is absolutely captivating – a joy to explore, especially when it’s displayed  at your leisure and you have time to follow your browsing whim!  Great for genealogists, local historians, attorneys  and any Minneapolitan with a whit of curiosity about the City.

Kudos to Special Collections for their continued efforts to digitize and otherwise expand access to the Library’s holdings – great for scholars and the rest of us!

Minneapolis Gets a Failing Grade in Transparency

In this age of DIY informed citizenship governing agencies at every level have accelerated demand, and cost-effective tools, to assure that the proverbial man or woman on the street can be an independent searcher of truth in government.  At the federal level, advocacy groups, e.g. the National Security Archive, the Center for Effective Government, Open the Government, the Sunlight Foundation, Public Integrity and a host of others have probed the intricacies of the bureaucracies.  Because practices of state governments vary greatly, advocacy groups differ markedly by state, with many states having more than one watchdog group keeping an eye on the laws, regulations and their implementation.

What is new in the transparency arena is a groundbreaking report on current practice at the city level.

In January 2013 the U.S. Pubic Interest Research Group Education Fund issued a hefty report on the degree to which residents have access to information about the use of taxpayer funds in thirty of the nation’s largest cities, including the City of Lakes. Bearing the provocative title Transparency in City Spending: Rating the Availability of Online Government Data in America’s Largest Cities, the study offers a wake-up call to voters in the city of Minneapolis, a metropolis inclined to rate itself as “way above average.”   On the rating score of 1 to 100, Minneapolis rated a 54, which researchers translate to a “D-.”  (That’s D-minus”)

Disclaimers first:  it is important to note that the study pertains to transparency in government expenditures only, not to the range of government operations and services.  Second, the focus of this study is not on cities’ transactions with other governments.  Instead, the study focuses on city government interactions with non-government entities, e.g. contracting, subsidies, financing and service requests.

Third, researchers looked only at online access as a measure of transparency.

The operating principle guiding the researchers is that government at every level should work to achieve a standard of “Transparency 2.0”, a standard briefly defined as “encompassing, one-stop, and one-click.”

Based on that Transparency 2.0 Standard the researchers employ twelve scoring criteria to measure availability, accessibility and searchability.  The 2.0 Standards were formulated by U.S. PIRG Education Fund analysts and researchers based on conversations with city and state officials, U.S PIRG’s past work on government online transparency and accountability, and an inventory of current city transparency features across the country.  They are defined this way:

  • Encompassing:  A user-friendly web portal provides residents the ability to search detailed information about government contracts, spending, subsidies and tax expenditures for all government entities.  Tools also allow residents to track online how well public officials respond to requests about quality-of-life services. For example, cities that follow Transparency 2.0 standards  for contracts, grants, subcontracts and discretionary spending with nonprofit or private vendors would:  Open their checkbooks to the public, allowing residents to view the value of payments made by city government to specific vendors;  Disclose details on the goods or services provided or a copy of the contract for each payment;  Extend this disclosure to every cit office, as opposed to a side project for a few departments;  Disclose all spending, without a minimum or maximum threshold for the amount spent on the good or services;  Disclose contracts and expenditures from previous years, along residents and officials to track patterns in awarding contracts and to measure current contracts against benchmarks;   Disclose timely information…. Disclose all bids for each contract rather than just the winning bid …Disclose spending information at the city’s quasi-public agencies, such as water, transit or housing authorities. …
  • One-Stop: Residents can search all government expenditures on a single website.
  • One-click Searchable and Downloadable: Residents can search data with a single query or browse common sense categories. Residents can sort data on government spending by recipient, amount, granting agency, purpose or keyword.  Residents can also download data and conduct detailed off-line analyses.

Thus measured, Minneapolis is one of eight of the thirty cities that falls (literally) into the “lagging cities “ – D- range.  ‘Laggers,’ as described in the study,  “provide residents with basic spending documents, such as the budget and Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAER) – a document that reports on the city’s actual spending and financial solvency.”  While lagging cities also provide residents with service request portals “these cities provide little other spending information.”

The PIRG study acknowledges that cities are strapped for funds and that access to information must compete with a host of essential municipal services.  Still, they maintain that “as cities are forced to make difficult budgetary decisions in tough economic times, it is even more important for the public to be able to understand how tax dollars are spent.  This includes spending through the tax code and subsidies that would otherwise escape public scrutiny.”

This exhaustive study goes on to describe the methodology in detail.  It also expands on the basic tenets of “Encompassing”, “One-Stop” and “One-Click Seaarchable and Downloadable”.

Based on the premise that  a system design’s reach should exceed its grasp, the study offers some intriguing thoughts about “cutting edge transparency features.”  Researchers describe projects in which cities disclose details on city government revenue including disclosure of details on tax collections.  Other cities post information that may reveal and thus prevent conflicts of interest.   Still other cities provide public searchable information about how city leaders spend taxpayer dollars.

Several case studies profile the state of transparency in major cities.  It is no surprise that the largest cities fare well in the comparisons.  The authors are forthcoming about the obstacles and challenges that city governments have in design and implementation of transparency systems.  First on the list is limited financial resources; Minneapolis respondents indicated that “given the costs, it would not be in the best interest of our taxpayers to dramatically increase our level of transparency.”  It is worthy of note that New York City, a model Straight A municipality, plans to open source the code for its system later this year, a likely boon to cities that can save a bundle on system design if the NYC model fits their needs.

Cities are also hampered by antiquated technology, by privacy and legal concerns and by poor coordination among departments.  Each of these obstacles is described in some detail with specifics related to individual cities.  In conclusion, the researchers observe:

Public budgets are the most concrete expressions of public values – articulated in dollars and cents.  AS cities grapple with difficult decisions in an effort to make budgetary ends meet, transparency websites provide an important tool to allow both citizens and civil servants to make informed choices.  With continued progress toward online transparency, citizens will be able to access information one very dollar of their city’s spending – so they can actively and constructively engage in public debates about how these dollars are spent.

Some Minneapolis city officials and staffers will no doubt bristle at the D- grade.  It’s hard enough to show a failing report card to parents who love you just the way you are; taxpayers who care about transparency may not be so understanding.

At the same time, many officials and staffers who are responsible for system design and funding will welcome the nudge.  This support for the Transparency 2.0 Standard affirms their efforts to ensure open city government.

The U.S. PIRG study underscores the fact that transparency is the hallmark of an A+ city, which all Minneapolitans know that we can be if we just try a little harder…..

Note:  The complete study with appendices and references, notes on specific ratings and more is available online