For the past year, the Midway Chamber of Commerce has been working on an initiative called Reimagine Midway. The thought behind this effort came after civil unrest in May 2020, as we looked at potential threats and opportunities to our neighborhood. On one hand, there was an opportunity to renovate and rebuild buildings in need of repair, which could serve the community better than in the past. But there was also a threat that future development would not have the best interests of the community. Ultimately, our intention is to find what works best for the current residents and businesses who make up the Midway, with as much input as possible from as many residents, employers, community groups and others who help build a stronger Midway. The word “Reimagine” is used because we don’t view this as a rebuild to exactly what it was like, but to hopefully create a neighborhood which works better for more of us.
To help with this effort, we contacted a professor at Concordia University, Renata Mayrhofer. She is the Department Chair of Undergraduate Business and charges her seniors with working on a semester-long project with a particular organization. Usually a small business, the students work on a specific issue of concern, and offer solutions in a final presentation- this is their capstone project.
While not one of their usual assignments, Mayrhofer agreed Reimagine Midway would be an interesting challenge for one of her classes. The class had two student leaders designated as the project leads, with the rest of the class divided into three categories based on their major: management, financial, and marketing. At the end of the semester, they presented to our task force as the president of Concordia University and other campus leaders also watched.
Their work is intended to set our task force off on the right direction, thinking of ways we can bring the community together, identify grants and facilitators, branding, effective outreach, data gathering, and more.
Going into the semester, I did not know what to expect. Would these young adults, who have only lived in Saint Paul less than four years and were born after I first started spending time in the Midway, be able to deliver the perspectives we needed?
The short answer is yes, they did. It was fascinating to watch them think from a younger adult, outside perspective. As you can guess, views and opinions can be hard to reimagine if you’ve spent years living and/or working in a community. They were able to offer a fresh outlook, and perhaps also give us a glimpse of what could be more important for future generations. Like many others, the Midway Chamber strives to get a diverse collection of perspectives. We think about different cultures, community organizations, business size, and other ways we can find a unique voice. But I must confess, we have not looked enough at a youthful voice.
In the research, the class was able to create a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) of the Midway. Some of the strengths they discovered were our diverse community, transit options, density, and location in the middle of the Twin Cities. The proximity to universities was an opportunity, which we have seen when we’ve heard of businesses choosing to locate in the Midway to be closer to younger talent. The Reconnect Rondo project, while not directly in the Midway, was also an opportunity.
As for weaknesses and threats, the perception of safety haunts many and the students realized it. They also picked up on how, through major projects and decisions at the city level, not everyone in our community agrees on the major issues. While this is a weakness and a threat to the future, it is also part of why we have created Reimagine Midway – the hope we can bring more people together.
Perhaps the most exciting idea from the class was to create a Big Idea. This Big Idea would be something which is an amenity to the neighborhood which could also attract visitors. Think of the Como Zoo or Harriet Island. What would this Big Idea be? That remains to be seen, and perhaps it isn’t just one site but many. Many of the examples given have a lot of green space; is it a park or other outdoor space? How could it be ensured it is used by the community for good, and often?
There are a lot of questions as we start to visualize next steps. The work, like the students, have a bright future.
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