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Why I Stood on a Chair and Shouted at the Riverview Corridor Open House

Way back in 2013, I was walking around the St. Paul downtown skyway looking for some lunch. During my walk, I ran across a table staffed by perky young urban planners intent on telling us all about this thing known as the Riverview Corridor. “What is this Riverview Corridor?” I asked, “What’s it going to be?” 

Having caught a live one, the young person smiled back at me and proclaimed, “It’s whatever you want it to be! It’s a new vision for the future of St. Paul!” 

What followed was a conversation where I asked questions about the project, she flashed smiles back at me, and regaled me with the enthusiasm of a carnival barker on the wonders of this New Thing. It was glorious; it would transform life as we know it; this was going to rebuild the transportation infrastructure and would be ready for all of us to hop on board in 2024. “Well, I have some thoughts and concerns,” I said. No problem, she assured me, this time around the planners were going to seek public involvement and feedback! She then handed me a 3×3 sticky note and told me to write down all my questions and concerns.

Fast forward almost a dozen years and over 11 million in Riverview Corridor planning dollars later. I’m at the latest of hundreds of listening sessions/open houses/community input gatherings, this time on a nice May evening at a local recreation center. What do I find?

First thing I see is the chair of the Riverview Corridor Station Area Committee, outside in the hallway with information about what he has learned about the project. 

“Joe, my friend, what are you doing out here? The open house for the public is inside!” 

I quickly learn that he is not allowed inside with the information about his view of the project, and has been asked to leave because his ideas were not on the agenda. 

“But you know so much and you’re a member of the public.” 

He shrugs.

I venture inside, where the now familiar dog-and-pony show is in full swing. Tables with information are set up, staff are everywhere, and we are all given the opportunity to give our thoughts on – you guessed it – 3×3 sticky notes. 

There is no group question and answer session, where we all would hear the same answers to the still unanswered questions. There is no opportunity to as a community express our concerns to those pushing the project. This was no community meeting, this was a chance for consultants to feed us more glossy propaganda without being confronted with our questions in a public setting. 

That’s why I stood on a chair and shouted. I wanted for once to have a meeting where we could talk as a group. Where we could ask the basic questions of why this project has been allowed to drive disinvestment from our neighborhood for the last dozen years as it languished in some planning Purgatory. Why our streets and sidewalks are allowed to crumble while this unbuildable project continues to suck all the money out. So I called for a good, old fashioned community meeting, complete with chairs facing the proponents of the project so we could all talk together. I asked my neighbors to help.

It was as I was attempting to bring some chairs to the table so people could sit and talk when I realized that of the dozens of people in that room, most of them were staff paid to be there to stop exactly what I was calling for. They were arguing that this was their open house and were removing the chairs faster than we could set them up. It was again obvious that they really, really, didn’t want to hear what we have to say.

But hey, every single table had piles of 3×3 sticky notes for us to write down our questions and concerns.

One thought on “Why I Stood on a Chair and Shouted at the Riverview Corridor Open House

  • Cher La Freniere

    Thank you, Diane for standing up, literally, for our West Seventh neck of the woods.

    Reply

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