When talking about government and public life, the things that often come to mind are the issues we work on together. As I’ve been hearing from people in the early stages of the 100 Conversations for a Resilient Minneapolis, a few issues have already regularly started to surface including affordable housing, police/community relations, structural inequity and climate change. These issues will be an important part of the resilience strategy. However, two conversations I had this week have me thinking about something deeper than issues. I’m thinking about our capacity as a city and community to work on our challenges together – to hear each other out about what’s really happening and come together in big ways to move forward together.
I think of this capacity to do things together as a community as civic infrastructure. Civic infrastructure supports our ability to connect with each other, engage in conversation, dream together, and realize our collective hopes for our future.
Last week, I got to meet Greg McMoore. Greg currently lives in the Central neighborhood of Minneapolis. He grew up nearby, and after spending some time elsewhere he moved back to his home neighborhood and is retired. We spent two hours together at the St Peter’s AME Church, and he graciously shared the history of his beloved neighborhood and his hopes for its present and future. He talked of a vibrant 38th Street and 4th Ave of his youth, a place with shops and people, a black middle class, and adults in the community who would ask about what he was learning in school. In the 1960s the construction of Interstate 35W happened, splitting his community. It’s an example of government making physical infrastructure decisions that negatively impact civic infrastructure, in this case especially impacting minority communities. Since then, the civic infrastructure of Greg’s neighborhood has changed over the years, and Greg is excited about the future of his community.
When Greg talked about what he is excited about in his community, he mentioned diversity and described his hopes about how we can learn to live well in multicultural communities. He also emphasized how important it is to recognize the assets lower-income people bring to our neighborhoods and city. What does the civic infrastructure look like that would support a future in Minneapolis where these dreams become reality?
I also heard from Dr. Laura Bloomberg, the new Dean of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. We covered many things in our conversation. When I asked her what she is most concerned about looking twenty years out, she answered simply, “civic infrastructure.” Going more in-depth, she described the need to figure out how we as a community in Minneapolis bring together all our assets, whether they are in the private sector, government, philanthropy, academia, or somewhere else, and use them to make our city stronger and better.
Laura discussed how Minneapolis is losing a generation of civic leadership, most recently with the passing of former Minneapolis Foundation President Marion Etzwiler. As we celebrate these folks and the impact they’ve had on our community, we also need to recognize this impact does not just come about by happenstance. Rather this civic infrastructure has to be intentionally built.
In thinking about what will make our city more resilient in the face of increasing complex, fast-paced challenges, we need to be intentional about building a civic infrastructure that meets our needs in this time. This civic infrastructure is in neighborhoods like Greg’s, where we want kids from many different cultures to be connected to caring adults asking them about school and their futures. It’s also in our institutions. We need to recognize our city’s longstanding institutions and leadership will look and operate differently as we come together to make our city stronger and more resilient in the face of the challenges and realities of our time.
In addition to Greg McMoore and Laura Bloomberg, I also heard from Jonathan Weinhagen, President of the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce, last week.