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Community Progress in the Root District

The Minneapolis Root District project is still in the works, with district guidelines in progress and large-scale community engagement on the horizon. But its journey is one worth following to watch a more equitable, sustainable community take shape—one that’s responsive to what its citizens are seeking.  

To enable a community-based approach to creating district guidelines, a team of diverse stakeholders were brought together by NūLoop Partners. For two years, residents, business owners, and design professionals have come together with the shared goal of creating a destination district that is centered on art, food, and culture. Three core working groups were created: one focused on climate change, one on equity, and one on creativity. Each overlaps the other and all address various aspects of racial, economic, and social equity. The committees have consulted with local government agencies, local universities, nonprofit and for-profit agencies, and individuals who live and work in this district to share knowledge and ideas.   

As each committee’s framework has been developed, greater community engagement will occur by way of “talking circles,” presenting a better opportunity for local voices to be included. But even the initial groundwork has shown a clear area of importance: food. 

Stakeholders have voiced the importance of the history of the Minneapolis Farmers Market and the idea of a food-oriented incubator hub and destination district. The voices heard thus far have emphasized the elimination of food deserts, which would give the district access to local, affordable, and healthy food choices. Urban agriculture, then, seems like a straightforward solution.  

One of the Minneapolis Farmers Market murals created by artists from Juxtaposition Arts demonstrates the focus on art, food, and culture as part of the Root District’s vision to bring vibrancy and attract new potential to the area. (Image: Dan Collison)

When you start with what the community needs, development experts can then think in terms of targeted solutions. With the common theme of food access having risen to the top of the community’s interests, other stakeholders can begin to formulate plans related to accessibility as planning and development begins — all while keeping the overarching goal of sustainability top of mind.  

If community engagement is part of the redevelopment process, district guidelines, and urban agriculture, then the question of “What kinds of foods and for whom do we grow?” is paramount. For example, the stakeholder team will need to consider the different types of urban agriculture options that would best serve the community, such as an on-grade community garden or large-scale indoor vertical garden. 

Once these questions are answered, it will inform energy, water, soil, and even structural needs.  One consideration for policymakers—in addition to creating urban agriculture zoning guidelines—is alternative ownership and funding resources to provide a more equitable redevelopment.   

Through the City of Minneapolis, the Root District has an opportunity to become what is known as an Innovation District. The intention of which is to “employ district-scale infrastructure and systems and to implement flexible policies and practices that allow for experimentation and innovation consistent with City goals.” This sort of flexibility opens the opportunity for building a community from the ground-up, one that explores what the neighbors need before redevelopment plans are set in place.  

With a Net Zero Imperative grant from ULI Minnesota, the Root District also has the potential to be a case study that offers prototyping of district guidelines and a community based-approach to land-use planning and redevelopment of the built environment that enhances equitable and sustainable communities. It’s not enough to build sustainably, we need to design with the needs of those living in the communities in mind as well — needs that they vocalize themselves.