Community powered planning

Bringing people together to shape the Bottineau corridor

Bringing people together to shape the Bottineau corridor

From a makeshift picnic ground in a Brooklyn Park parking lot last month, Denise Butler flagged down passers-by to join in for supper, games and live music. Brooklyn Park residents and local businesses were celebrating a new bike and pedestrian safety demonstration project, and looking for feedback on the improvements.

The temporary protected crossing was recently installed by Hennepin County as part of planning for the Bottineau Light Rail Transit line (METRO Blue Line extension). This project in the StarLite Shopping Center parking lot leads to the Cub grocery store along with other shops and is adjacent to a future light rail station.

One of several demonstration projects implemented this summer within the Bottineau LRT corridor, Hennepin County staff with the Bottineau Community Works program are teaming up with other residents like Butler, community organizations and local businesses to show ways to make it easier and safer for people to walk, bike and roll between planned Bottineau LRT stations and area destinations.

Connecting the project to the people

Butler is one of many residents who have found a voice advocating for her community by participating in planning along the Bottineau LRT corridor. A layoff from her corporate retail job six years ago steered Butler to embrace a new calling in community organizing. Today, she is the program manager for African Career, Education, and Resource Inc., better known to the community as ACER.

Butler has lived in Brooklyn Park since she was 11 years old. It’s important to her to be a part of moving her community forward and working with government partners to push for equitable outcomes for all residents.

“It starts at home,” she said. “Everything starts in your own backyard.”

ACER is one of more than a dozen community and cultural organizations in the Bottineau corridor who have worked closely with county planners through the Health Equity Engagement Cohort (HEEC).

Through the HEEC, groups like ACER work to connect people from diverse cultural backgrounds to government partners and the planning processes that will shape their communities in the years ahead.

Addressing racial and health disparities through transportation planning

The HEEC was formed by Hennepin County in 2014 with support from the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota. It took shape around the fact that many of the communities along the Bottineau LRT line experience some of the most significant racial and health disparities in Minnesota.

While health disparities are driven by many factors, transportation access and the built environment are important determinants. That’s one of the ways this project can help make a difference. Hennepin County completed the Bottineau Transitway Health Impact Assessment (HIA) in 2013. It found a number of ways the METRO Blue Line Extension offers real potential to improve community health outcomes, including:

  • Creating more active transportation choices
  • Improving access to jobs and education
  • Enhancing traffic safety
  • Connecting more people to health services
  • Improving access to healthy food

Real people, real results

From deciding where the tracks and stations would go, to thinking about economic development and health impacts, the diverse communities at the heart of the 13-mile corridor have been integral to planning efforts, said Joan Vanhala, community engagement coordinator for Bottineau Community Works.

“From the very beginning, Hennepin County has recognized that authentic community engagement is essential to a successful project,” she said. “It’s a unique opportunity to grow the capacity of community leaders to step up and join us in a very complex planning process that can create real opportunity for their communities.”

Butler agreed. “The community is shaping what that conversation looks like,” she said, adding, “What does it look like when you get to invest in residents and invest in their leadership?”

According to Butler, here’s what it looks like along the Bottineau corridor:

  • More than 900 residents from diverse backgrounds involved in vital planning processes
  • 1,600 units of affordable housing preserved along the corridor so far
  • Community members sitting on influential planning committees and groups
  • New voices of previously inactive residents heard at city council meetings and political caucuses
  • Residents using their new connections and empowered voices to pressure absentee landlords

ACER has been active in advocating for recent local policy decisions related to planning for the LRT line. They worked with City of Brooklyn Park council members to move forward on a planned pedestrian sidewalk connection called for in the station area plans. The group has also played an important role in pushing for a new mixed-income housing policy that was unanimously approved by Brooklyn Park City Council in November 2017.

Speaking of one resident who recently became more active in her community, Butler noted, “she realized when something negative happens to them we can work together to change it.”

That type of empowerment is key to the success of Hennepin County’s Bottineau Community Works approach to engagement. And it applies to other agencies, too, Vanhala says.

“We can learn from each other in the HEEC model,” she says. “Government is learning how we can best partner with community experts to improve planning processes and results, and residents are learning how transitway planning works and can benefit their communities for the long term. We all come out ahead when we work and learn together.”

Learn more about Bottineau Community Works at