To celebrate MCCD’s 30th anniversary, we are taking time to reflect on past projects, organizations, and people who have positively impacted our communities in the Twin Cities. Over time, the needs of communities can change, therefore, we must be observant and responsive to those changes to implement effective initiatives that leave a lasting impact. To start us off, we will look more closely at 2013 Twin Cities Community Development Award Hall of Fame winner for one of the top projects: Hawthorne EcoVillage by Project for Pride in Living (PPL). The key partners in this project in addition to PPL include: Hawthorne Neighborhood Council, Family Housing Fund, City of Minneapolis, Northside Home Fund, Hennepin County, and Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity.
The Hawthorne EcoVillage is located in the north Minneapolis neighborhood of Hawthorne near Lowry and Lyndale. Completed in 2017, Hawthorne EcoVillage is comprised of new and renovated single-family housing, multifamily housing, a community tree nursery, and a community garden. This project includes 71 units affordable to households at or below 50% of the area median income, and four 4 units designated for recently homeless individuals at or below 30% of the area median income, along with 16 new affordable homeownership opportunities.
PPL’s Involvement in the Hawthorne Neighborhood
PPL’s involvement actually spans back to the 90s when the Hawthorne neighborhood received funding from the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP). After many years of disinvestment in the Hawthorne neighborhood, this large sum of investment through NRP led to an increased engagement from people in the community. Through the NRP funding, the Hawthorne Neighborhood Council developed neighborhood projects such as the graffiti abatement program that hired kids from the neighborhood, community gardening, and other ecological related programs which would later inform the community on what the neighborhood focus should revolve around. However, the Hawthorne neighborhood was still in dire need of investment as vacancy rates and crime rates were particularly high in this part of the city. To mitigate the high vacancy rates in Hawthorne, the Hawthorne Neighborhood Council became interested in the Lot Reduction Program that essentially gave them gap money of $25,000 to assist a developer in building new homes for sale. Consequently, organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and PPL became involved to help construct single-family homes. Most of the newly built-homes were spread out across the Hawthorne neighborhood, and the city believed these new homes were not impacting the neighborhood to the degree they desired. To encourage focused investment in Hawthorne and across the Northside, developers, with guidance from the City and from neighborhood groups, employed the cluster concept where neighborhood redevelopment occurs in a small geographic area to better support home values and reduce crime on a block-by-block basis. Even though the cluster concept targets only specific blocks, this approach creates positive externalities that spillover to the rest of the neighborhood.
Community Design Input
In the summer of 2009 community input was heavily utilized and incorporated into the design plans through a series of Hawthorne EcoVillage Design Workshops. The goal of these workshops was to listen to the needs of Hawthorne residents to help shape the future of the EcoVillage, understand the values that the residents share, establish green building standards, and to revise plan accordingly to the neighborhood’s values and sustainability goal. Some of the values such as gardens, yards, open spaces, and designs that fostered a tight-knit community, were incorporated throughout the project. For example, participants highly favored preserving Hawthorne’s existing outdoor assets while pointing out those that did not fit well with the mission of Hawthorne EcoVillage. While looking at the design of streets and public spaces the residents made sure the sidewalks were smooth and less barren to make it a more walkable community for all. Housing types were also a hot topic during the workshops. Seemingly small design details such as screen porches received disapproval as it would prevent neighbors from making casual conversations with passersby more difficult. Naturally, opinions varied amongst the participants, but it was a necessary step in the planning process as it voiced perspectives that would not have been heard otherwise.
In the end, consensus was reached and implemented into the design plan of a four-block Hawthorne EcoVillage. Faith Cable-Kumon, Project Manager at PPL, emphasized that the organization utilized a localized approach where planning and design should always empower the residents in Hawthorne neighborhood. As a result, people who lived in the four-block cluster previously, were not displaced after the 16 new homes were constructed and many other rehabilitated homes were completed. Many people from the area also became first-time homeowners of new, high-quality homes. Not only were many of the homes almost custom-built, but many of the new homes were also now energy efficient and now meet nationally recognized sustainability standards. Together, the Hawthorne EcoVillage came together in a way that was shaped by the residents’ needs and tastes.
Impact and Success
Community development is not an isolated endeavor, rather it is a journey that changes shapes and forms as the community itself transitions into new phases. With that in mind, PPL has continued developing the Hawthorne neighborhood. Through community efforts and the construction of new homes, homeownership rates doubled between the years of 2007-2012. The increased rate of homeownership created enough trust between PPL and Hawthorne EcoVillage residents, so PPL decided to take the leap and add a multifamily piece within the four-block cluster. Overall, this was a successful project and nearly 354 people were on the interest list; many of whom were from the area. Today, the Hawthorne EcoVillage Apartment courtyard and community room serve as safe communal spaces for community events and celebrations. Faith Cable Kumon recalled “it was so great to see the community room be utilized by residents and great to see a woman be excited to throw her daughter a birthday party. That is a little thing kids should have the opportunity to experience in their childhood.”
There is an important lesson to be gathered from this project for other projects moving forward. As Chris Wilson stated, “community development is about investing in a community of people, and developing people's' capabilities.” Community development is a forward-thinking, and holistic ever-lasting journey. It is important that as community developers we too build up the capabilities of communities of people and businesses to ensure sustainable growth.
-Written by Gabriela Olvera, Krussell Fellow
Gabriela Olvera is a Chicagoan with a love for cities and the city-life. She is currently a Krusell Fellow and first-year in the Masters in Urban and Regional Planning program at Humphrey School for Public Affairs.