Downtown Minneapolis has always been the core of the city for me, not just physically. As a transit rider, downtown is one part of the city that I have to go to. Specifically, I spend a lot of time on Nicollet Mall. As I’ve spent time there, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the changes going on in the city, and how to build the future of Downtown that includes everyone, no matter what we look like or how much or little money we have.
I moved to Minneapolis after graduating college in St. Paul, and Downtown was the logical place to go. Really, it was the library that drew me; the old one with the planetarium dome on it. I spent a lot of time downtown, and I’ll admit it, I have a somewhat romantic view of the area – back when City Center was full, Block E was lively, Dayton’s was Marshall’s, then Dayton’s again. So I’m not immune to the ‘back in the day’ reminiscing.
It’s still the core of the city for me, outside of my own neighborhood in Northeast. It’s where I feel the most welcome – the most Minneapolis. I don’t just want it to be thriving, I need it to be.
Over the years, I’ve waited for a lot of buses on Nicollet Mall and I’ve seen a lot of changes.
Some changes are good – better lighting, increased service, the Downtown ambassadors. Some, not so much. There’s less seating on Nicollet Mall, less access to bathrooms, the bus shelters aren’t so much shelter as they are a poor attempt at windbreaks. There are more police cars parked on the sidewalks.
There’s a lot of conversation about revitalizing downtown, especially in the context of work from home picking up and some corporations moving their offices out. There are a lot of ideas coming out, like Nicollet Mall being turned into a pedestrian boulevard, or turning empty buildings into housing. Some are long term, some short; and we should be considering all of them.
What worries me about the future of Downtown is that it ends up being almost curated. There are decisions being made by a handful of people about who is welcome on the sidewalks or what kind of behavior is allowed, often by those who already have more wealth or influence. They are increasingly becoming the deciders about who's welcome and who isn't, and what behavior is and isn't acceptable.
I worry we're taking the diversity and randomness of city life away, by design. Tables and chairs come out, but only for certain times of the day, only on certain stretches of Nicollet Mall. Bus stops have limited seating, and that's awful for riders who are waiting for them. Or, really, for anyone who just wants to sit down for a bit to rest.
I don’t have all the answers; no one person does. But what if revitalizing Downtown is part of the overall growth of the city? What services and shops does our whole city need that could be Downtown? How do we move our whole city to more pedestrian-only blocks, not just Nicollet Mall?
I’m hopeful about the future of Downtown, and as someone that not only wants it to be better, but needs it to be better, I’m hoping that conversations about the future of the area include a joyful version of the city that welcomes everyone in.