Archive for April, 2009

Anti-Gentrification Conference

Sushma Sheth, a longtime community organizer and racial justice activist, was keynote speaker for “Stay in Place and Thrive: Community Forum on Resisting Gentrification” at the Lao Family Community Center in Saint Paul on April 16. A native of Miami, born to immigrant parents from India, Sheth was awarded the New Voices Fellowship by the Academy for Educational Development in 2002, a Miami Fellowship by the Dade Community Foundation in 2006, and was named one of Miami’s 25 Power Women in 2006. This year, Sushma Sheth was named a Paul and Daisy Soros New American Fellow.

“Stay in Place and Thrive” was sponsored by the Preserve and Benefit Historic Rondo Committee, the Asian Economic Development Association, and the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability in response to the Central Corridor Light Rail Transit Line.

— By Ashanti Austin

Resisting gentrification

central-corridor-station

Stay in Place and Thrive Community Forum on Resisting Gentrification will be held from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Lao Family Community, 320 W. University Ave., St. Paul. Sponsored by the Preserve and Benefit Historic Rondo Committee, the Asian Economic Development Association/Hmong Business Assn., and the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability. The forum will feature national presenters who will discuss strategies for resisting displacement in low-income communities of color when redevelopment occurs. Dinner will be provided. For more information, call (651) 222-0399.

No place like home

MCASA, a partnership between Model Cities Community Development Corp. and Aurora St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corp., seeks to create affordable home ownership opportunities for low-income families and works with home ownership counselors to provide guidance and assistance to participants in moving toward homeownership. HomeStretch classes, which cost $25, will be held from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Brownstone Building, 849 University Ave., on the following dates: April 18 and 25; May 2 and 9; May 16 and 23; June 20 and 27. For more information, call Brenda Bailey at (651) 632-8350 or email her.

UABA determined to be heard as LRT plans move forward

The Met Council’s Joey Browner and Ax-Man owner Jim Segal discuss business issues along the Central Corridor.

The Met Council’s Joey Browner and Ax-Man owner Jim Segal discuss business issues along the Central Corridor.

Jim Segal knows how important University Avenue is. Owner and CEO of the Ax-Man surplus store, his livelihood comes from the avenue.
“I’d like to keep growing the business … and to make it as sustainable as possible,” Segal says.
Thousands of Twin Cities residents no doubt feel the same way. The Ax-Man has been in business for more than 40 years, offering quirky, rare and just plain weird surplus items to shoppers all over the state. The locally famous shop gives University Avenue much of its unique flavor.
But Segal and other University Avenue business owners are worried about challenges that the proposed Central Corridor Light Rail Transit project might pose to small businesses. A member of the University Avenue Business Association steering committee, Segal and others have been organizing to get their voices heard.
“With the bad economy on top of the fact that we have to deal with the construction, I just want to make [the construction period] the best bad situation possible,” Segal says. “Someone needs to start real solutions.” In an effort to do just that, UABA recently hired a consultant to conduct a peer city study of other rail projects around the nation. The study found alarming statistics about the effects of lengthy construction projects along business-heavy avenues.
UABA is seeking support through community channels, meetings with the Metropolitan Council and with local, regional and statewide elected officials.
“I think that the elected officials are really listening to us,” Segal says with optimism. “[UABA] creates a good forum where a group of people with the same relative interests can share ideas and voice their opinions in one place instead of the elected people dealing with 100 different people. We can amass the main issues of the group and put them forward, which gives credibility to the issues.”
One thing UABA isn’t doing is considering legal action.
“We don’t intend to put the financial resources into legal action — and let me be clear. We don’t intend to stop light rail,” said Segal. “We are concerned about the construction and development issues. We know our business is going to be severely impacted.”

— By Jake Kulju

Community Reporter: Jake Kulju

Jake

Jake

When Jake first walked in the door, his sincerity struck me first. He had long brown hair managed loosely into a ponytail and a smile that kept everyone smiling. He was sporting a Timbuk2 messenger bag and dressed like he knew winter. It was not clear if he showed up on a bicycle, but I later discovered he rode a 1980 Italian Choirdia.
Contrary to his claims, Jake Kulju is not that nerdy. Jake hails from a small town in Minnesota west of Duluth called McGregor. This 27-year-old English major and teacher is both charming and extremely intelligent.
As a seasoned freelance writer writing for outdoor magazines, adoring all things green and the Twin Cities, he has his own way of conveying his obsessions with a kind of skill that would make the hippest hipster pause. His writing style is clever and funny. He openly admits that the very first story he ever wrote — in fourth grade — was a sequel to Shel Silverstein’s, “The Giving Tree.”  Jake laughs as remembers that his story, “The Talking Tree,” “was about an evil tree that stole things from people.”
However, his personality on paper and quirky jokes are just part of the picture. After I met his wife there was something obvious about Jake that I missed earlier. So I asked… and he said:
“It was a spring day in April. I was wearing a pair of old jeans with holes in the knees and a white tank top. We were sitting on our fire escape in Providence, Rhode Island, drinking beer (which he brews himself), watching the neighborhood after the sun went down. I asked her if she wanted to spend our lives together and be married. I gave her a necklace with silver wings on it. She said, ‘Yes.’”
Jake Kulju is the addition to the Nonprofit Newsletter Partnership that brings to bear seriousness about our community and the kind of temperament that balances wit with skill. He is concerned about historical perspectives, and his sincerity draws the reader in with ease. He has many more stories to tell. Read more from Jake in upcoming newsletters and visit him at http://www.jakekulju.com.

— By Ashanti Austin

Community Reporter: Ashanti Austin

Ashanti

Ashanti

Minnesota doesn’t get a lot of visitors from Los Angeles. Although California and Minnesota are both border states, the comparisons stop there. Our subzero temperatures, long winters and flannel shirts put a crimp in the Hollywood Style. But Ashanti Austin doesn’t care. She likes it here — and get this: She’s from L.A.!
After teaching in Oakland for three years, Ashanti decided to hop on a plane and check out the Twin Cities. She hasn’t looked back since, immersing herself in all manner of things Minnesotan, and loving it.  “I ended up staying, even after I was frostbitten,” she says.
Not long after her first brush with a Minnesota winter, Ashanti got involved with the Sibley Bike Depot Cooperative in St. Paul. She learned how to work on bikes and was asked to join the board of directors, a position she still holds.
She loves music and its role in her life. “I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s where my relationship to music became a way of life. I learned to think critically, ask questions, dance and write through music culture,” Ashanti explains. Hip hop is her genre of choice, “but I don’t mean mainstream radio station play,” she emphasizes.
There no doubt of her sincerity — if you ever get the chance to see her dancing in her red stiletto boots, you’ll know what I mean.
It’s a long road from L.A. to St. Paul, but Ashanti walks it with grace. Her new role as a community reporter and journalist is well suited to her inquisitive, thoughtful and optimistic mind.
Look for her articles in upcoming issues!

— By Jake Kulju

FRAN has a plan

Nieeta Presley of ASANDC

Nieeta Presley of ASANDC

A new initiative led by nine community organizations is focusing on high-impact projects along University Avenue designed to bring prosperity to the people of the neighborhood as state and local governments prepare to build the Central Corridor light rail line. The Frogtown/Rondo Action Network, funded in part by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, or LISC, and serving an area from Rice Street west to Lexington, and from Thomas south to St. Anthony, is made up of:
•    Aurora/St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation
•    Community Stabilization Project
•    Greater Frogtown Community Development Corporation
•    Hmong Business Association/Asian Economic Development Association
•    Jewish Community Action
•    Just Equity
•    Selby Area Community Development Corporation
•    University Avenue Business Association
•    University United
Although planning for the Central Corridor LRT in Saint Paul includes strategies to mitigate negative  effects of the project on community members and small business owners, the Aurora/St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation is concerned that the project might not be focusing enough on the real needs and issues of the community as expressed by the community members and business owners.
“If the underlying premise is to ‘spur’ economic development, then the building of the LRT must be done right from start to the finish,” said Nieeta Presley, executive director of ASANDC.
FRAN’s goals are to direct resources toward community-based projects already under way that would otherwise be constrained by limited means and abilities. The idea is to have ASANDC, which has been serving the community since the 1980s, to center the coordination efforts in order to aptly prepare, strengthen and help residents and businesses not only survive the Light Rail changes but any changes that present themselves to our community.
LISC has committed three years of support to FRAN and hopes to raise and leverage additional resources both for support and implementation of FRAN projects, which have a total budget of about $7.5 million.
— By Ashanti Austin