Urban Ag + Housing Development = A Rose in the City

Despite the unrelenting rain, more than 100 people congregated on the corner of Franklin and Portland Avenue in Minneapolis last Tuesday to celebrate the launch of the South Quarter IV development project, which included a heartfelt speech from Mayor RT Rybak. The ceremony was hosted by Aeon, affordable housing developers and long-time partners in Hope Community's mission to provide diverse housing options and welcoming public spaces in the Phillips neighborhood. The development will include 120 mixed-income, high-quality apartment homes, with a percentage serving formerly homeless adults and families.

Aeon's program on Tuesday also paid tribute to Hope's humble beginnings over 35 years ago as a small, temporary women's shelter on Portland Avenue. The new apartment building will be named “The Rose,” a nod to the late Sister Rose Tillemans, the founder of Peace House and a close ally of Hope's original founding members. It is an apt name for a building that aspires to provide not just housing, but “a place to belong” in a neighborhood once heavily plagued by drugs and violence. Construction is expected to begin this spring and apartments will be available to rent in 2015.

“South Quarter is a larger and inspirational, community-centered development model that fittingly builds on the historic transformation of this neighborhood,” says Mary Keefe, Hope Community’s Executive Director. “We’re very excited that we are as close as we are to moving forward on the fourth phase.”

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The site will host a new, 4,000-square-foot urban agriculture space for residents and community members. This space is being designed in close collaboration with Land Stewardship Project members and a strong team of dedicated community leaders, who currently farm two urban agriculture spaces on land owned by Hope. LSP and Hope began an innovative partnership more than three years ago, teaming up around the shared missions of place-based grassroots organizing, and an ethic of responsible stewardship for the development and preservation of land.

Hope's dedication to building housing with complementary urban ag space is an innovative and timely model for building infrastructure in a city that encourages healthy, local food, activity and sustainability. Residents of Minneapolis are demanding plans for smarter growth and density that incorporates not just green space, but an interactive space that encourages a connection to the land. Often, urban agriculture is regarded as a cheap solution to fixing up (oftentimes temporarily) unsightly scraps of land, instead of being valued as a long-term, integral part of the city's growth.

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Pressure is being put on elected officials to champion a regulatory framework in the city that support urban farmers and fosters acquiring land for urban ag in the city. The urban agriculture text amendment to the Minneapolis zoning code that was approved in 2012 is a great first step, but it doesn't go far enough.

We need an investment in community that fosters a relationship with land, and the heart of the city is where we need this vital connection the most. Several organizations are hosting an Urban Agriculture Mayoral Candidate Forum on Wednesday, Oct. 23, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., at Sabathani Community Center. The event is free and open to the public, and will be a great opportunity to hear from candidates regarding their views on the future of urban agriculture in Minneapolis.

Anna Cioffi is an organizer with LSP's Community Based Food Systems Program, and works with community leaders at Hope to develop programming around urban agriculture, good food and strong community. Cioffi can be reached at annac@landstewardshipproject.org or 612-722-6377.