You know that feeling when you walk by a vacant storefront in your neighborhood and spy carpenters inside, saws whining? Who’s moving in? What will it be? It’s a sign of vitality, of hopefully positive change, and that people think your community is worth investing in.
While we don’t have a storefront (yet), and our tools are all digital, we’ve been toiling away for the last several months building the foundations for a new information service for this community. You picked the name Southwest Voices, and we couldn’t be more excited to bring it to the world … soon.
We’re both experienced digital media workers, having managed large digital media and advertising budgets, built digital tools to forge stronger local news ecosystems—and have consulted with hundreds of newsrooms around the world. But not until the Southwest Journal closed, and our community shuddered after the murder of George Floyd, did we feel urgently called to create something in our own backyard.
This moment, this place, we felt, called for a new approach that rooted local news in the needs and perspectives of residents; that was continually evolving to meet those needs, because it’s the product of continual listening and outreach to all residents of Southwest Minneapolis, not just the loudest or the most opinionated.
Over the last several months, we have listened to neighborhood associations, local business owners, and hundreds of residents of Southwest Minneapolis through a mix of surveys, interviews, and informal chats. Through that work, a few key needs and themes emerged:
- Above all: Residents have told us they want a news service that both celebrates what they love about this area (proximity to nature, walkability, transit options, shops and restaurants, interesting neighbors) and reveals its challenges and shortcomings (lack of diversity, crime, lack of support for renters). There’s a lot of love for this community, and also a sense of urgency about making it more welcoming.
- Residents want better visibility into public meetings, and how decisions are made. Whether it's the future of policing, bike lanes, zoning, or who gets a liquor license—a prevailing theme among those we listened to was that even if they’re not “in the room where it happens” they want us to be there, and they want to relate what’s being discussed, and how they can weigh in.
- Residents want to know what businesses are opening and closing. It’s not just about where they might shop, it’s about commercial activity as a proxy of the community’s vitality, and a kind of weather vane to know which way trends are blowing.
- They want to get to know neighbors doing interesting things. Sure there’s NextDoor, and Facebook, etc. etc. but time and again, we heard that people don’t feel like existing digital spaces afford a sense of connection or empathy with their fellow residents. One long-time Linden Hills resident put it well, saying he wants "opportunities—with a purpose—to connect as communities and broaden our sense of communities."
More broadly, people want, as one Kingfield resident put it, “better snow-plowing, community activities, a great local paper that drives community engagement and activity.” We can’t do much about the snowplowing, yet (but stay tuned for ways in which we’ll help you get involved), but we’re all about sparking engagement and activating our readers.
“I love the nature and access to parks and relationships with neighbors. I dislike how it sometimes feels exclusionary and disconnected from the reality of the rest of the city.” - Lynnhurst resident
Here’s a perspective from East Harriet: “I love the location and convenience to tons of amenities by transit. Certain parts (e.g., East Harriet) are VERY unwalkable and practically require a vehicle and a lot of the single family homeowners in the area look down on me as a renter and actively make me feel unwelcome.”
A Lynnhurst resident: “I love the nature and access to parks and relationships with neighbors. I dislike how it sometimes feels exclusionary and disconnected from the reality of the rest of the city.”
And one from Kingfield: “As a recent transplant (returning to MPLS after 10 years away) I was surprised at the resistance to change coupled with self righteousness that I find both annoying and unproductive.”
A view from Lyndale: “I'm a recent transplant, moved here last March (yep, great timing) so still getting to know the area. I love the city, instinctively, and the lifestyle. If I'm honest I do not love that there really is something to the stereotype of Minnesota as an insular place where it can be hard to make friends with people who aren't fellow transplants or wanderers.”
A 34-year Kenny resident: “Living in SW Minneapolis is a wonderful privilege. And it is generally based on white privilege. We need to be more aware and more inclusive of neighbors (or potential neighbors) who do not feel comfortable, or cannot afford to buy or rent in SW.”
A 5-year resident of Whittier “I love the people. Artists, immigrants, students, families, activists, cooks, long-time residents, wide-eyed new neighbors, and everything in between. I love the ways in which we organize ourselves and create the systems for which we see a need, whether it's community safety outside policing, mutual aid, or creating new spaces to gather and spend time. I also love the food, art, and music that so many of us create to share with one another.”
These are just a few of the hundreds of perspectives we’ve gathered to begin what will be a process of continuous listening to, and lifting up, the voices of Southwest Minneapolis. We hope you’ll join us, speak up, and help us build a truly great news and information service for the whole of Southwest Minneapolis.
- Andrew Haeg & Charlie Rybak