Author: Mira Klein

Showcasing The CREATE Initiative: Sharing in the Benefits of a Greening City

Showcasing The CREATE Initiative: Sharing in the Benefits of a Greening City

As social movements leaders remind us, in the midst of all the work that needs to happen in the world, we must celebrate our wins. After over two years of deeply relational research and product-generation, the CREATE Initiative hosted a public showcase to celebrate these “wins”: contributions made by staff, students, and community partners to address the urgent question of green gentrification.  

Hosted at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs in mid-February, the showcase was an opportunity to share all of our work over the last few years as a unified body of research. We highlighted the contributions from our 2019 CREATE Scholars cohort, presenting products that are resourcing our partners in Minneapolis, Atlanta, and Nassau County, Florida. An interactive mapping demonstration allowed attendees to experiment with layering data about housing, racial covenants, environmental toxins, and park investments to understand first-hand how these systems of housing and environmental (in)justice interact across space. Attendees also left with copies of our recently-published policy toolkit for mitigating green gentrification entitled Sharing in the Benefits of a Greening City. 

A panel of CREATE partners from our Policy Think Tank and the Mapping Prejudice Project offered up a series of generative reflections on the importance of community-engaged research, the pitfalls of working inside and with University institutions, and the urgency of centering marginalized forms of knowledge in research. Moderated by CREATE Co-Director Bonnie Keeler, the panelists were particularly adamant about the connection between process and product, a fundamental relationship that has been central to the CREATE Initiative ethos. As panelist, Policy Think Tank member, and professor at St. Cloud State University Iyekiyapiwin Darlene St. Clair told the audience, authentically relational research is essential to engaging the humanity not only of the community research partner, but of the academic researcher as well. In other words, when we forgo attention to process, we lose something of ourselves as well. 

The sold-out showcase presented an important opportunity to step back and view our work as a collection rather than individual products. In doing so, we were able to articulate moments of connection that we had not previously verbalized. Furthermore, this showcase allowed us to reflect as a team on where this project started. As we wrote in the showcase introductory statement: 

When we began this work, some scholars and public officials wondered to us whether there was anything that could be done about the way that green initiatives sometimes displace vulnerable communities. The work we are presenting here is our attempt to answer that question affirmatively: yes, there are things that can be done to ensure that everyone shares in the benefits of a greening city. Our goal was not to offer a one-size-fits-all solution, but rather to mobilize the resources of the research university to take stock of how communities understand these problems and develop creative, if at times partial, solutions, and to support the ongoing efforts of our collaborators to make just, green futures a reality. 

Our ongoing conversations with community organizations, public agencies, and institutional partners have made clear that these questions are not going away any time soon. There is just as much, if not more, demand for clearly articulated and accessible analysis of green gentrification as ever. If anything, CREATE’s collaborative research process has only spread interest in this question through a growing network of stakeholders. 

As CREATE continues to deepen our research into the historical and contemporary relationships between green infrastructure investments, racial exclusion, and housing displacement, we will hold these reflections as a place of re-grounding and, as Darlene wisely insisted, look for ways to make this research a place from which to deepen our own humanity. 

All work products highlighted at the showcase can be viewed on our website. A full version of Sharing in the Benefits of a Greening City is available for download here. If you would like to request a physical copy of the toolkit, to borrow the interactive maps we have generated, or to coordinate a presentation about this work at your organization, please email

For more, you can read, listen, and watch recent coverage of the CREATE Initiative here. 

Popular Education for Environmental and Housing Justice

Popular Education for Environmental and Housing Justice

In fall 2019, CREATE partnered for the second time with the Neighborhood Revitalization Theories and Strategies course to tackle a project related to CREATE’s ongoing work. This class was co-taught by Shannon Smith Jones (CREATE Policy Think Tank) and William Delaney, both of Hope Community, Inc. CREATE had the privilege of working with a group of five graduate students over the semester: Stefan Hankerson, Kelsey Poljacik, Rebecca Walker, Alexander Webb, and Aaron Westling. You can read more about last year’s project here

Minneapolis, like all American cities, is characterized by spatial disparities. These disparities are layered, historically-rooted, and tied to the particularities of local political regimes. CREATE’s research has focused on housing and environmental amenities as two interrelated lenses through which to observe these uneven geographies. 

How did we get here? There are many ways to tell this story. Recognizing that housing and environment are experienced and embodied realities, it is important to understand historical and statistical information not only as an analytical tool, but also one that can serve the interests of community mobilization. Information becomes transformative when people can see themselves in it. It holds revolutionary potential when it makes space for people to imbue their own knowledge in it, seizing agency over the content itself. This is the power of popular education. 

Using popular education models as a guide, the mandate of this project was to produce a set of visual resources that can mobilize people in their Minneapolis neighborhoods around environmental and housing justice issues. Popular Education for Environmental and Racial Justice in Minneapolis is a report detailing findings from this request. 

Crediting the groundbreaking work of 20th century Bazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Friere, the report grounds its understanding of popular education in Friere’s critical pedagogy, defining popular education as “the effort of mobilizing and organizing the popular classes with the goal of creating a popular power” (Torres, 1992). Friere approached education explicitly as a tool for raising class consciousness and seizing power for the oppressed. 

Thus, it is important not only to understand maps as an educational tool but as a tool of power in context. Popular education means that maps need to account for how they will be used, who they reflect, and what stories they tell – both in process and outcome. Community mapping and participatory mapping are two methodological approaches that have emerged to address these imperatives.

The power of maps as a visual tool is well-documented, and Mapping Prejudice is an excellent example of that power coming to life. The simple yet poignant spatial renderings of racial covenants in Hennepin County (inspired by similar work in Seattle and Virginia) has interrupted and reshaped local narratives about the lasting legacies of institutional racism. 

The power in the Mapping Prejudice data is in peoples’ ability to recognize their stories in it. Racial covenants map onto the real way that people experience different neighborhoods in the Minneapolis Metro. The data tracks the spatial contours of exclusion and privilege, confirming existing anecdotal, observational, and emotional knowledge. As noted in the report, “By mapping the specific properties that contained racial covenants in Minneapolis, Mapping Prejudice gives users the chance to personally examine this history of racism in their particular neighborhood and discover for themselves the impact of this history on the city today.” In particular, white homeowners can observe the ways they have financially benefited from racial exclusion, right down to the individual property lot. These maps strike an emotional nerve. And in doing so, Mapping Prejudice has become an invaluable educational tool to talk about institutional racism beyond covenants alone. 

Knowing that CREATE, in partnership with Mapping Prejudice, had an extensive stock of Minneapolis-specific maps, this project offered an opportunity to visually complicate and complement the story of race, exclusion, and wealth-building in Minneapolis. What spatial patterns of investment and disinvestment in environmental infrastructure laid the groundwork for current processes of green gentrification unfolding? How are current housing conditions connected to these historical patterns?

Kelsey Poljacik (MA, Natural Resources Science and Management) was one of five graduate students working on this report. As she commented, it was a project about connecting environmental and racial histories in Minneapolis to lived realities. “This was an opportunity to see first-hand how previous actions (i.e. the implementation of racial covenants, redlining, and otherwise acting on unfounded fears and bigotry), and the larger context we are all embedded in, produce a disproportionate impact on specific individuals and communities,” Poljacik said.  

Using existing datasets ranging from park amenities to property values, there are many ways to tell this story. But the biggest ask of this project was not about the data itself, but rather: what forms of data will help people tell the stories they want to tell about themselves and their own neighborhoods?

The maps included in this report reflect a semester of consultation with three community organizations: the South Minneapolis Public Safety Coalition, the Southside Green Zone, and Parks and Power. The maps are organized into several categories: historical maps, environmental quality maps, and housing affordability maps. Example overlays include racial covenants and park quality, demonstrating possibilities for visual relationships between datasets. 

These visuals are meant to be malleable, made easily applicable to neighborhood-level meetings or topic-level organizing. While deeply connected to CREATE’s other work, the maps can be consumed independent of CREATE’s more academically- and policy-oriented products. 

Of course, this type of mapping tool has utility beyond community organizing. “As a natural resources student, I think it’s so incredibly important that we examine the connections between people and the environment through an intersectional lens that considers the tough issues of race, gender, and class,” Poljacik said. “Unfortunately, the environmental sciences have a tendency to neglect the reality that we are part of the natural world, and that the [unequal] distribution of natural resources results in impacts on human communities, too.” 

Turning Inward: the politics of knowledge production and figuring out what we have to offer

Turning Inward: the politics of knowledge production and figuring out what we have to offer

Seasonal transitions are a good time for reflection. For CREATE, this reflection was kicked into gear a week after the fall solstice through a green gentrification learning exchange. 

The trip brought together all the geographically-disparate members of our Policy Think Tank from Minneapolis, Atlanta, and Nassau County, Florida. The purpose of the gathering was to share experiences and build relationships through the lens of greening and displacement. With interpersonal exchange as a foundation, the secondary goal was to discuss a recently-completed full draft of Sharing the Benefits of a Greening City, CREATE’s anti-green gentrification policy toolkit which has been in development for the past year. 

This document, some of which can already be found in digital form online, is a container for all of the research and wisdom our partners have shared over months of collaboration. It is an attempt to build a collective and context-aware understanding of green gentrification across a multitude of audiences: community organizers, environmental organizations, public agency staff, and municipal policymakers. In doing so, our goals are twofold: to validate the environmental and housing justice concerns that communities of color, working class, and indigenous communities have long expressed, and to provide an actionable resource based on existing strategies that can help shift some of the fundamental social and economic relations that produce such deep injustices in the first place. 

In true academic form, these ambitious goals led to a document that ballooned to a cool 75 pages (prompting some joking complaints from Policy Think Tank members). But the length and density of this toolkit led to one of the most important questions raised during the learning exchange: how does your body feel when you read this?

It was a pointed challenge, and a creative one. How does one understand academic reports – no matter how accessible the language is – through somatic experience?

In the spirit of this challenge, I have spent the week and a half since reflecting on the learning exchange as an embodied experience itself. 

Learning Exchange participants listen to Erica Holloman with the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance share stories about Black and indigenous histories in southwest Atlanta. We gathered at Grandfather Beech, a tree who’s birth dates just two months before Union General William Sherman ordered “the Burning of Atlanta” during the Civil War. Interacting with this place-based history and its contemporary ramifications offered a somatic grounding for the workshop that followed.

During the feedback process, our partners were able to surface some of the deepest tensions in work with amazing precision. 

These tensions include between process and product, ideological commitment and inclusive collaboration, and harm reduction and harm eradication. How do we build authentic research partnerships with collaborators who hold a variety of positionalities and strategies? How do we maintain our central commitment to knowledge redistribution while leveraging our resources to do work in the world? 

These questions are not new – to CREATE or engaged-research in general – but they still forced a timely turn inward to reflect. 

Community-engaged research inherently recognizes the fluidity between how people and knowledge shape one another. In that recognition, there are deep pedagogical lessons for academics to learn from how community organizations approach the people-knowledge dialectic – and reasons to question the traditional academic approach to this relationship. 

At the same time, community-engaged research must recognize that there are distinct strategies that academia and community organizing use. Community-engaged research does not magically turn academics into community organizers. This means taking the lead from organizers, identifying where to develop new skills and where to set limitations, and holding humility when those boundaries are inevitably crossed. 

It also means that merging community-based and academic strategies into a singular approach is not necessarily effective nor desirable. Rather, using a diversity of tactics asserts that groups with different strengths, backgrounds, and positionalities can leverage distinct assets through differentiated yet aligned strategies. 

CREATE’s job is not as a social justice trainer. We are not experts in somatics or interpersonal mediation or trauma-healing. We are academics and researchers, so what do we have to offer?

The learning exchange was the pull I needed away from squinting at my computer in my windowless cubicle. It brought me eye-level with people around me who are researching the same questions I meticulously catalog through Google Scholar with their day-to-day movement through the world. 

These are two strategies that, under racial capitalism, are characterized by vastly different amounts of power and prestige. This relationship reflects that, as CREATE co-PI Kate Derickson said, “the politics of knowledge production lies in a bundle of social relations.” 

This tension, among all the others that the learning exchange raised, is one that I necessarily hold in my body as I navigate this work. It is embodied. Increasing my own awareness of its embodied form will hopefully plant a greater personal stake that will help me relate its content to others in more meaningful ways. I have no idea how to do this. 

CREATE’s attempt to answer the “what do we have to offer question” is located in the primary goal of doing knowledge production differently. Doing it differently for us means in a way that is cognizant of and accountable to context and power. The learning exchange was an important reminder that we need to constantly face and re-face this messiness head on. And remind ourselves of the parts we don’t know how to do yet. 

CREATE weighs in on an anti-racist Green New Deal

CREATE weighs in on an anti-racist Green New Deal

The Green New Deal is a political effort that imagines nothing short of a complete overhaul of the American economy. The sheer amount of public investment that this legislation proposes is to a scale beyond anything seen in decades. If this investment manifests as proposed, a gigantic chunk of the monies will go towards green infrastructure (re)development, including in urban centers around the country. This impending monetary influx is a significant consideration in CREATE’s ongoing research at the intersection of green infrastructure investment, housing justice, and urban displacement.

CREATE has closely followed the unfolding politics around the GND – both nationally and here in Minnesota – because we believe that it has huge implications for housing justice and green gentrification. As we have noted in our research alongside community partners in the Twin Cities and beyond, green infrastructure investments and accompanying environmental rhetoric impact property values, displacement, and ability to stay in place, particularly for low income communities and communities of color.

As CREATE has argued based both on community expertise and academic literature, gentrification forces us to consider housing justice and displacement as a central component in any infrastructure investment. Our work around green gentrification specifically, shows that an anti-racist, anti displacement framework for green investments is a prerequisite for a just environmental future.

Environmental justice movements have long insisted that environmental legislation must recognize both that marginalized communities bear disproportionate exposure to pollution and toxins, but also the ways in which green programs have disproportionately benefited those already in power. As the Green New Deal has attracted increasing national buzz – and vocal support from many 2020 Democratic presidential candidates – environmental justice demands have been aimed at the GND specifically. These calls hold particular historical resonance given how FDR’s New Deal reinforced institutional racism (see: The Color of Law for one example).

In December 2018, the Climate Justice Alliance (CJA) published a press release applauding the GND’s ambitious effort while also issuing a word of caution: As the Green New Deal gains mainstream traction, it cannot leave behind the same communities who have been suffering under existing economic and environmental systems. This statement was supported by other environmental justice organizations including Demos and the Sunflower Alliance. In an interview entitled We Have to Make Sure the Green New Deal Doesn’t Become Green Capitalism, Kali Akuno of Cooperation Jackson (Mississippi) carefully detailed similar GND critiques. The Indigenous Environmental Network also released a carefully weighed but critical response, tearing into the proposed policy for its refusal to explicitly oppose fossil fuel extraction.

There is language in place that applies an intersectional and anti-racist framework to proposed GND programs. For example, as draft legislation to form a Select Committee for a Green New Deal stated:

[the Plan shall] mitigate deeply entrenched racial, regional and gender-based inequalities in income and wealth (including, without limitation, ensuring that federal and other investment will be equitably distributed to historically impoverished, low income, deindustrialized or other marginalized communities in such a way that builds wealth and ownership at the community level).

CREATE is well-positioned to critically consider the GND as its political life inevitably shifts and grows, particularly with respect to housing, green gentrification, and urban planning. As we do so, we take seriously a call in a recent Places article to reconsider the relationship between academic disciplines and politics. As landscape architect Billy Flemming, wrote: “If the gap between our ambitions and impact is ever to be narrowed, it won’t be through declarations of our principles. We must rethink how landscape architecture engages with social and political movements.”

And so we ask: What might a rethinking of how planners, geographers, and ecologists engage with social and political movements look like with respect to the GND? How can we build authentic relationships and stay grounded in co-developed research when we are talking about state-wide and national legislation? What would an academic case for an anti-racist, anti-displacement GND entail?

Even as CREATE interrogates these questions, there are many other ways to plug into carefully critical conversations around the GND’s strengths and weaknesses – including many right here on campus! Just last month, UMN Environmental Justice Students hosted a campus-wide teach-in to educate the campus community about the GND through an environmental justice lens. Look out for future blog posts as CREATE’s analysis of the GND in relation to our work takes shape.

Graduate Students Help Build an Analysis of Green Gentrification

Graduate Students Help Build an Analysis of Green Gentrification

Examining Green Gentrification is a report produced on behalf of CREATE through a semester-long partnership with six graduate students in the Humphrey School’s Neighborhood Revitalization Strategies and Theories course in fall 2018. The purpose of this report is to analyze the green gentrification literature, discuss how this process manifests in Minneapolis, and explore some existing policy tools to respond.

For CREATE, the importance of green gentrification came into focus through a conversation with community collaborators that started at the intersection of water and equity. As Initiative Co-PI Kate Derickson explained, “As the mission of CREATE began to take shape, it was clear that the communities we were working with wanted to see investment in the environment that wouldn’t result in displacement. We were also finding that the state and local agencies and environmental NGOs we spoke to weren’t clear on how environmental amenities might contribute to negative impacts for low-income communities.”

This report is a first step in building a common analysis of green gentrification, following the priorities set by CREATE’s community partners. The analysis is rooted in a definition from Melissa Checker (2011) where she describes green gentrification as “the convergence of urban redevelopment, ecologically minded initiatives and environmental activism in an era of advanced capitalism. Operating under the seemingly a-political rubric of sustainability, environmental gentrification builds on the material and discursive successes of the urban environmental justice movement and appropriates them to serve high-end redevelopment that displaces low income residents.”

A working visualization of green gentrification processes overtime

The course brought together graduate students from a variety of academic backgrounds, expressing an understanding that interdisciplinary education is vital in analyzing such a decidedly interdisciplinary set of social and political processes. This multidisciplinary background was reflected among the six students who worked with CREATE on this report.

Julia Brokaw, a PhD candidate in UMN’s entomology program, was one of those students. Throughout the semester she found some (perhaps unexpected) intersections between green gentrification theory and more familiar conversations in scientific literature. For example, green gentrification raises issues of who benefits and long-term land use implications. “Sometimes, scientists are asking the same questions,” Brokaw said. But the course also provided a space to engage in crucial conversations that are situated outside the traditional purview of her own disciplinary background. Seeing the intimacy of the intersections between housing justice, green space, and her own PhD research “sparked an urgency to bring these conversations into science spaces,” Brokaw said.

Neighborhood Revitalization Strategies and Theories was co-taught by Shannon Smith Jones and William Delaney of HOPE Community Inc., a Phillips neighborhood-based organization that engages in a wide range of community development programming. To have instructors who are embedded within a community organization was instrumental in shaping how students analyzed course content. This is particularly significant because questions about “neighborhood revitalization” – a phrase which itself holds a complex and controversial history in American urban space – have deep implications for community institutions and the people they serve. Moving beyond calls to simply offer inclusion for wide range of voices, this course made space for community practitioners to set the framework for how knowledge is presented and analyzed in the first place.

As Kowsar Mohammed, a Second Year Master’s Candidate in the Urban and Regional Planning Program at the Humphrey School reflected, “The politics of knowledge production is that often academia and professional setting decides what forms of knowledge are acceptable…The CREATE project allowed our group to experience how the transformation of knowledge production from academia to the community helps decolonize narratives and source policies that best-fit members of the community that face the challenges at hand.”

The course was structured around collaborative projects with community organizations in Minneapolis. When it came time to find “clients” for the students to work with, CREATE emerged as an obvious choice. In addition to complimentary pedagogical approaches, HOPE Communities Inc. had already built a relationship with the Initiative as a member of the Policy Think Tank. As Jones put it, “There was a natural alignment.”

Embedding course material in the context of community collaboration also fostered a more intentional examination of power and hierarchy within the classroom. For example, rather than viewing the class as a “neutral” space, the students established a system for deciding who would get first dibs on projects by considering race and gender, among other factors – a process which Jones was very impressed with. “Watching the group dig into the work the way they did was extraordinary,” she said.

As Derickson added, “The phenomenal work that these students did in this class has already informed how we understand the relationship between neighborhood change and green infrastructure.  The passion and dedication the students brought to this project represents the enthusiasm that graduate students have for community-engaged, problem oriented research. Shannon and Will also did an excellent job guiding them through the research process.”

A two-page visual summary of report findings can be found here. You can also view the final Green Gentrification report in its entirety via this link.

CREATE is grateful for the work that Leoma Van Dort, Kowsar Mohamed, Savina Proykova, Yi Wang, Kevin Ehrman-Solberg, and Julia Brokaw put into this project, as well as for the leadership of William Delaney and Shannon Smith-Jones.

Atlanta in Review: actualizing co-generated research

Atlanta in Review: actualizing co-generated research

Fayola Jacobs and I did not plan on making a trip to Atlanta five days before the city was set to be overtaken by the Super Bowl. But after a few schedule hangups and a general disregard for the National Football League, that’s when we went. Luckily, a few shouted airport greetings was the extent of any football-fanaticism we encountered, and an impending snow forecast stymied fears of pre-Super Bowl traffic.  

For both Fayola and I, this trip was our first opportunity to meet in-person with the Atlanta-based members of CREATE’s Policy Think Tank, a group of community partners whose experiential and organizational insights have been a driving force in CREATE’s work around environmental gentrification. Our Atlanta Think Tank partners are leaders of two local environmental justice organizations: Na’Taki Osborne Jelks and Erica Holloman with the Western Atlanta Watershed Alliance (WAWA), and Yomi Noibi with EcoAction. We were also joined by Think Tank member Glenda Jenkins, a representative of the Gullah/Geechee Nation from Nassau County, FL.

Policy Think Tank in Atlanta
From Left: Glenda Simmons-Jenkins, Mira Klein, Erica Holloman, Na’Taki Osborne Jelks, Fayola Jacobs

The Policy Think Tank is at the heart of CREATE’s commitment to co-generated research, re-envisioning the University research process wherein authentically engaging community expertise and democratizing knowledge production are at the core. In order to put these ideals into practice, The Think Tank brings together community-based practitioners and academics to consider research questions and work products that actually address community needs and desires related to, in this case, the intersections of water and equity.

It was these community partners that pointed to the importance of examining green gentrification in the first place; as they pointed out, any discussion of water and equity must consider the interconnected layers of race, access, and displacement. The CREATE Anti-Green Gentrification Toolkit is what emerged from that insight.

In December, Fayola and I began working on building a first draft of what this toolkit might look like. Reflecting the initial guidance from the Think Tank, we imagined its purpose as a resource for clarifying how environmental infrastructure and gentrification interact, and to suggest some policy strategies for combating the green gentrification process.

By mid-January, we had written almost fifty pages of policy tools, case studies, and definitions – but still had some big questions: Who is the appropriate audience for this toolkit? How do we avoid reinventing the wheel and create something that will be both useful and actually used? What does it look like to make something that is both particular and general in terms of applicability? These were some of the questions that we had in mind when we went to Atlanta to solicit our Think Tank partners for feedback.

It turns out that these questions are relevant, but missing the most important consideration: How do we make information about green gentrification actionable?

As Erica Holloman of WAWA said, we don’t want this to be a case of “death by toolkit” – and fifty pages of policy overview would probably do just that.

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