Author: Doug Benton

“Adapting to Urgency”

“Adapting to Urgency”

My experience as a CREATE Scholar this summer taught me new ways to listen, and new ways to show up for the social movements that our research hoped to support. As many of us have learned over the past year, our research with CREATE and Pillsbury United Communities (P.U.C.) taught us how to adapt to constantly changing circumstances. 


Co-creating an interdisciplinary, community-based research project this summer was going to be a challenge for me even before the pandemic hit, because co-creating research questions and building trust is an evolving, iterative process even in non-crisis times. First, the pandemic changed the possibilities for how we could form those relationships with our community partners. Then just as we were adjusting to socially-distanced, remote communications, and our partners’ reduced capacity to engage in a co-creative research process due to multiple pandemic-driven crises, the Minneapolis Police Department murdered George Floyd, setting in motion the Minneapolis Uprisings that dramatically shifted community priorities towards more urgent needs like securing safe shelter, food, and taking care of our neighbors. We started using our project team meetings to process, reflect, support each other, and think about ways we could shift aspects of our project to help respond to some of the pressing community needs we were witnessing here in Minneapolis. This manifested itself in a few ways for me.


I knew that despite the on-going pandemic and national guard occupation of the city, I would still find ways to learn through engaging in community this summer. This came in the form of attending protests and vigils, supporting local mutual aid organizing work that seeks to address the State and non-profit infrastructures’ failure to provide for our basic needs. As a future planner–and especially as a white planner–its critical that I use my resources and time to learn in the community–not just behind a desk at the computer. It’s critical that I support and show-up for racial and housing justice movements, and build relationships that will influence how I show up in traditional decision-making spaces, whose voices are present or amplified in those spaces, and what, ultimately, is on the agenda for a planning meeting. I’m not sure I have a full picture of what it looks like to be an anti-racist planner in practice yet, but after this summer I believe it starts with listening to the right people–people who, traditionally, have never been meaningfully listened to or given control of making decisions about urban redevelopment, housing, or economic development in our city–and letting those movements drive the process. 


In some ways, I believe our group’s research around property vacancy and gentrification was made more important by the confluence of multiple crises this summer. The problems and questions that our project partners, P.U.C., had about ownership along West Broadway will persist after the urgency of this moment subsides and are connected to the roots of the crises of white supremacy and pandemic we are witnessing today. The disproportionate number of vacant and condemned property in predominantly Black and P.o.C. neighborhoods like North Minneapolis is the direct result of government policy that systematically disinvested in these communities. These same policies then allowed financial institutions to target many residents with predatory loan products and then buy-up and sit on the vacant, foreclosed properties (Immergluck 2011). Areas that are the most disinvested, are those that become the most profitable through the new capital flows of gentrification processes (Smith 1979). We know that the Louisville police murder of Breonna Taylor, was likely partially the result of an effort to accelerate a multi-million dollar redevelopment plan for her block (Bailey & Duvall 2020, Beck 2020). We need more research that works towards addressing and calling out the connections between policy and root problems like racism and settler colonialism. Co-creative, community engagement research models like CREATE’s, that focus on relationship building and leveling the power imbalance between academia and marginalized communities, is one way to meaningfully approach this. 


While our final story map and co-creative process could have been improved by more conversations and qualitative interviews with community members and property owners along West Broadway Avenue, we had to adapt to the moment. Traditional research methods often  unnecessarily demand the limited time and energy of folks in marginalized communities and extract those invaluable resources for the net benefit of researchers and academia rather than the community itself. 


We experienced this first hand as part of the CREATE Scholars experience. All three of us on the Minneapolis team (Adam Moskowitz, Stuart Deets and myself) helped with data collection for a ragweed project helmed by post-docs Amanda Gorton and Hillary Waters, in which we were assigned particular blocks to walk and collect data on the prevalence of ragweed, a plant which grows well in disturbed areas like boulevards. Many homeowners and community members were extremely interested in what we were doing and why we were doing it, and when we explained, they expressed that they had seen researchers like us before. These other researchers were like us–they came into the neighborhood that they didn’t live in or spend time in on other occasions, and many of the people that we talked to were uncertain about the benefit that all of this research was doing. What was the research doing to improve their lives? Building meaningful, trusting relationships with neighborhoods and community members takes time, something that we learned repeatedly over the course of the summer. 


As a result, we chose to focus the time we had on being more intentional in our communications with P.U.C. and honoring CREATE’s on-going relationship with them. We engaged with them in the iterative process of co-developing possible research questions, deciding what a mutually-beneficial product might look like and sharing draft versions of our maps and story-map content. 


Whether or not community members’ seeking to influence development changes use our web map and story map as the tool we intended, my experience engaging in this co-creative community research project this summer has undoubtedly shifted the way I intend to show up for racial and housing justice and build meaningful relationships in my role as a planner and community member.

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