U of M: Art-A-Whirl Killed NE

I grew up in Northeast Minneapolis. When I walk on Johnson Street or Lowry Avenue or Fillmore or Monroe, I walk by houses where previous generations of my family once lived. I love NE.

And I hate what has happened to it.

East Hennepin pre-gentrification. 1997. Image courtesy of the Hennepin County Library

I lived in NE before it was an arts district, when the old industrial buildings were still empty and Uptown was still cool. There were abandoned houses near Central Avenue that my school bus passed every day; I use to study them and wonder what lay beyond their boarded windows. I remember when the Grain Belt brewery was this scary hulking thing and the Ritz Theater was all rusted and decayed. Boarded windows and weedy lots -- they were as much a part of the fabric of our neighborhood as our restaurants and parks and churches. They were part of the landscape of the place I called home.

NE was better when it was more rundown. Because it was ours then.

Artists began to take advantage of the empty industrial spaces, which was cool, until moneyed interests started taking advantage of the artists. Now, neither artists nor long-time residents can feel secure in their future -- at least not in NE. That whole process and its impact on NE residents and artists is documented by the U of M.

Of course, gentrifiers never recognize themselves as such. Once, on Facebook, a newer NE resident snarkily said something to effect of "Sure, NE was better when it was all dilapidated" and I wanted to respond, "You know what? It was. Because it was ours."

Going forward, it seems that the only way to protect our communities is to put limits on who can invest in which communities. Jacob Frey wants "cultural zones" in certain areas. Central Avenue is one of them. There is great culture to experience on Central Avenue. Mexican, Middle Eastern, Ecuadoran, Spanish, Thai -- there are so many wonderful immigrant-run businesses to visit there. I just hope that Frey's "cultural zones" don't attract the kind of "investment" that Art-A-Whirl brought to NE, because if it does, those immigrant-run businesses could be priced out. And since so much of what Frey does has the opposite effect of his intent, this is a real concern.

The gentrification of NE Minneapolis was an avoidable outcome. Though it may be impossible to get that particular horse back into the barn, we can stop it from getting worse, and if we act quickly, we can stop it from happening on the North side.

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