Privilege: Racism, Ableism, Classism, and Sexism with the Greenway Project

Rather than recap this month’s Greenway council meeting (Which can be summed up as “More of the same disorganization, lack of direction, ‘I didn’t bring that information with me’, etc”), I’d like to address a major problem with this entire project – privilege.

This greenway manages to be a perfect storm of many of the biggest forms of privilege/isms, all in one.  The entire project is based in privilege: Classism, racism, ableism, and sexism. It’s to the point where I’ll feel the need to yell “bingo!”, should homophobia present itself at some point.

Where should I start?  Let’s go alphabetically.

 

Ableism     

As someone who can barely walk from my car to the front door some days, I will NEVER forget one of the greenway proponents telling me that I can “just” park half a block away (direct quote), like it was no big deal, for some imaginary, entitled “greater good”.  I live halfway up a hill – getting to my house from either end of the block would be a huge ordeal on the best of days, never mind things like snow, ice, hauling groceries, and personal safety… and I have friends who are worse off than I am.  They would no longer be able to visit, should this greenway happen.

The idea that I should take that much of a hit to my home’s accessibility, just so she can have unfettered, exclusive access to my street (she doesn’t live on the route) – one that she can already cycle on – is incredibly offensive.

Along the 2.8 miles of residential streets that are proposed to be affected by this greenway project, live MANY elderly and disabled people.  There are handicapped parking signs, houses with ramps out front, as well as those who aren’t so obviously labeled. (Disclaimer: I fall into the “not so obviously labeled” category, myself).

This greenway will severely restrict access to homes for everyone on the route, but this is especially problematic for those where mobility is a concern. This is a problem that has been all but shrugged off by the greenway council – the closest I’ve seen to it being addressed is being told that Metro Mobility would still be allowed to drive on the greenway to pick people up… with absolutely no plans on how that would actually work, or ANY input form MM on how feasible this is.

Even if that ends up to be a possibility, it still requires those along the route to adapt their home accessibility to re-purpose their back door (and, in many cases, their whole back yard) to become an accessible “front” door.

To illustrate what this would mean, I will describe my own home, as that is what I am most familiar with.

Should I ever need to put an accessibility ramp in to my own home, that would be a fairly simple thing to do in the front. As with most frontage, it’s a simple layout to work with.  The back of the house, however, would require significantly more cost, destruction, and labour to accommodate.

To start, there would need to be significant alterations made to our deck.  Half of the patio would then become unusable from the ramp, we would have to invest in landscaping, etc.  From there, our steeply sloped driveway – which runs parallel to the alley and doesn’t get used, as we get “trapped”, should our neighbours be using THEIR driveway – would need to be ripped up and repaved – at minimum – to be at ALL accessible.

This would not be a cheap fix for anyone along the route, even before considering the income issues that tend to coexist with disability.

… and it’s an imposition being pushed so that able bodied people have even MORE cycling space.  They have all the roads, bike lanes, and dedicated paths they could ever need – Minneapolis is rated #1 for cyclists for a reason, after all.  That’s INCREDIBLY ableist.

Classism

The proposed greenway is slated to run through some of the poorest neighbourhoods in the entire state.  That, in itself, should be a huge red flag.

When you look at the way it’s being set up, it becomes even more problematic.

First of all, there is the money being thrown at forcing this project through.  There are people being paid actual salaries to make sure this project goes through, though they don’t like to advertise that fact.  At the meeting this week, the question of who was being paid came up. As one council member stuttered about how “everyone is a volunteer”, around 4 others raised their hands as being paid.

Beyond that, there is the money being put into holding events to promote it (In a generally biased and misleading fashion, at that).

Most of the promotion, to date, has been directly to bicycle interest groups (whose membership resides predominantly OUTSIDE of the area) and almost exclusively online.   As you can imagine, people in very poor neighbourhoods don’t tend to have the time, money, inclination, or access to join cycling interest groups.  Many have limited – if any – access to the internet.   As such, the marketing of the greenway, to date, has been extremely exclusive of economically disadvantaged people… which make up a large portion of the residents living on the proposed route.

In addition, it’s very much a “David and Goliath” situation in fighting against this encroachment.  We have to organize against people who not only have city money to “play” with, but are also being PAID to promote the project.  We have to take time to work, unpaid, to protect our property.  Gathering so many people – 2.8 miles of residential streets! – requires money. Printing, postage – it adds up.  It’s money we  – as private citizens – have to come up with somehow… in one of the poorest neighbourhoods out there.  The deck is absolutely stacked against us, and that is hugely classist.

As a quick mental exercise, picture this happening in, say Edina.  Imagine a special interest group going in to an area that was highly dependent on using the frontage to their homes, and telling the residents that they will be taking that access away.  That now people will have to rely solely on their back alleys, even for having visitors over. That although they bought a home with frontage access, they would now lose that use, and should somehow be thankful for it.

How long do you figure that proposal would be on the table?

To add insult to injury, our access to our homes is being threatened under the guise of making this area more attractive for people to come from OTHER AREAS of the city, to come cycle on.  People on the route are being intentionally left in the dark, while time and money is being spent on selling this harebrained idea to people who don’t live anywhere near here.  People who live in “better” neighbourhoods, with more income.

Taking the use of low income property away from the residents, to give to those who are better off – extremely classist.

Racism

This is going to be a sticky one for me to address, as a pasty white girl… but it needs to be said.  White supremacy actually came up at the meeting this week.

In this neighbourhood, white is definitely the minority. I recently read that something like 70-80% of the neighbourhood identifies as African American.  On top of that, there are many Hmong families, etc.  (And the usually-large Hmong families are going to be EXTRA screwed by the lack of parking).

However, in contrast…

By my observation at the two meetings we’ve attended, the only people of colour (POC) on the greenway council are those who are PAID to be there, whether directly (those representing the City of Minneapolis and non profits associated with the project), or indirectly (those representing a neighbourhood bike shop). The possible exception to this is Alexis Pennie, as I’m not sure whether or not he is one of the handful being paid to be there.

By and large, this is a project that is being forced on a predominantly poor, largely African American neighbourhood, by white people who do not even live on the route.

To their (halfassed) credit, the Greenway council is attempting to address the problem… but in an extremely problematic way – and it’s something that needs to be discussed.

At this week’s meeting, they discussed hiring a business plan consultant for $35/hour.  They declared a preference for women and POC. They said that it was absolutely important that this consultant would “be well connected within the POC communities of north”, and actually placed a higher preference on that, than actual experience.  They said that IDEALLY the person hired would have relevant experience, but that – barring that – they would have to “be able to demonstrate having the skills necessary”.

The thing is, business plan consultants run from $50-150+ per hour.  I would expect that hiring one for such a project – a multi-million dollar civic venture – would run closer to the $150/hour range.

… but they want to specifically hire a person of colour (and/or woman, more on that in a bit)… for pennies on the dollar.

Pay equality is a huge issue in today’s day and age, both for women AND people of colour.  It’s incredibly disturbing to see that this project is looking to so egregiously apply those pay scale inequities.

At BEST, they can try to claim ignorance/ineptitude… but why would an organization looking to implement such a huge project NOT have a better idea of what such a consultant would cost?   Also, how do they not see it as problematic to not require actual business plan development experience on a project of this scope?

The person presenting this information – and the $35/hour figure – was a woman representing the City of Minneapolis Health Department.

I would have expected better.  We ALL should expect better.

Sexism

I suppose it’s appropriate that sexism is last in this post, as it’s one that I need to specifically address in terms of this week’s meeting, and not as much in the grand scheme of their planning.

I was seated at the table – this is indoors, mind you – with my chair tucked in, and my cane resting on the arm of the chair.  All of a sudden, my chair was violently jerked backwards. This caused shooting pain in my foot.. And then it happened again.

One of the council members – Scottie Tuska – had brought a huge bike/trailer setup *into* the room, and had caught part of it on my chair. Rather than stop and try to disengage his bike from my chair, he just yanked.  It was extremely disrespectful – and painful.  He kind of laughed it off.  I didn’t know who he was at the time… I actually have him blocked on Facebook.

As I was live blogging the meeting, I summed it up as such:

“I can’t help but feel that getting my chair YANKED out from under me by an entitled cyclist (taking up FAR more room in this small room than he should) is HIGHLY THEMATIC”

Throughout the meeting, he was EXTREMELY hostile towards me, and to my friend (female) sitting next to me. Constantly rolling his eyes, using an extremely combative tone, and more.  It was so bad, that later on Facebook, the lady sitting next to him (who I also didn’t know) brought it up to me on a neighbourhood group:

“Are you talking about the guy that was rolling his eyes at you, if so that will be me because I notice all the attitude/animosity being sent your way. My ? to him was do he live a long the proposal streets…which was NO, and about the demo that they set outside home and NO one bothered to speak to my husband or myself….so all this door knocking and getting the ppl who this would affect involved is total bull….”

“2nd time at one of those meetings and I feel they are full of bullshit! As I said before I noticed him continuously rolling his eyes and shaking his head at you.”

At one point, they were discussing how they would send letters, collect data, etc leading up to and during the demo.  I raised my hand, and was called upon. I had the floor, I asked about the wording – if they would be push polls again.

Immediately, I was interrupted and shouted down by 2 or 3 male council members. Extremely angry, yelling that it was “just (my) opinion” that they had used push polling before (no, push polls vs non-biased polling is not a matter of opinion), etc.  They refused to let me speak, the refused to let the FEMALE City of Minneapolis rep answer my question.  As I tried to reiterate and actually get an answer, one of these men had the nerve to tell me:

“I suggest you read the rules again”.

… That’s gaslighting behaviour.  I raised my hand. I was called upon, and I asked a question.  They were the ones yelling and interrupting, yet somehow *I* was the one who was out of line.

This behaviour was not repeated when any of the male opponents to the greenway spoke up.   One of the other male attendees would go waaay off on tangents, and was still treated with nothing but respect.

At one point, I spoke up about the constant eye rolling coming from a COUNCIL MEMBER, towards me – a homeowner on the route. (This council member – Scottie Tuska – does NOT live on the route, btw).
The conversation had turned to one of hostility in meetings, specifically with regards to white supremacy.  I raised my hand, was called upon, and brought up the fact that the constant eye rolling from this member was absolutely hostile, and that I was pretty disgusted by it.

That turned into more yelling, and I was once again shouted down. I don’t understand why they would want to address hostility, on paper, but then lose their minds when someone who is the victim of that hostility speaks up.

To his credit, Alexis Pennie DID apologize on behalf of Scottie… who then attempted a non-apology. (“I’m sorry, but..” is NOT an apology).

At the end of the meeting, Scottie referred to the mid-thirties female next to me as my “little friend”, which was extremely rude, condescending, and infantilizing.  All present in our group agreed that he would NOT have referred to a male friend in the same way.

Both of the women in our group walked away feeling gross from having been subjected to such an obvious display of double standards and sexism.

Of course, the Greenway proponents would be quick to point out that I have a “hostile tone”, myself.  I’m arguing against the encroachment of my property – an act that will have HUGE financial and access implications for me.  Of course I’m going to sound hostile at times.

As the organization who is coming in and looking to take away our home access, however, they have a duty to be as respectful as possible to those of us that they are taking from. As a board, they have a duty to remain professional.

… and the fact remains that we were not the only women disrespected there.  They even interrupted the two women on the board, repeatedly.  It was just a really gross environment.

When you couple sexist overtones to that meeting, with the earlier-mentioned issue of looking to pay women/minorities PENNIES on the dollar for specialized business services… it’s something to be discussed, and to be condemned.

In closing…

Given that the City of Minneapolis is the body that will finally give approval to this nonsense, we need to hold them accountable for the mind blowing amount of oppression and privilege woven throughout this project, its planning, and its proposed implementation.

Please consider writing to your city council member – anywhere across the city – and let them know that this project is NOT ok.

7 comments

  • Rachel

    I sat through this meeting and “shit show” doesn’t even BEGIN to describe what a ridiculous experience it was. This is the most half-assed, poorly thought-out proposal I’ve ever heard. I’ll also add to this that at one point someone asked for hard numbers on how many people on the route had been notified of losing their frontage access, and they said they had the numbers but “hadn’t come prepared” and didn’t have access to them. Is that seriously not something they could access online via the numerous phones and laptops in the room??

  • Monica Marier

    Cycling is a privilege not a right. Nothing excuses the arrogance of able-bodied hobbyists and their political cronies in saying that they should have more right to access other people’s neighborhoods at the expense of the actual residents. This doesn’t even promote gentrification. What benefits will the neighborhood see as the trust-fund set wheel past their front doors?

    • Cindy

      How many “trust fund” bikers will even ride through our area? They aren’t going to come into the “war” zone to ride. We have a beautiful parkway just a short distance to the west where they don’t have to worry about dodging gun fire or being knocked off their bike to have it stolen from under them. If they are so persistent about making a bikeway, why not do as they have on some streets in other parts of the city where they have marked the street as a shared road on the entire street? This option would leave the residents with their parking and access to the front of their homes.

  • Hate spandex

    I would object to this abhorrent takeover of public property on aesthetics alone. EVERYONE looks ridiculous in spandex! Visual pollution ..

  • Carrie

    This whole project is ill-conceived. All the bike lanes we already have in this area are barely used. I drive Fremont and Emerson daily during rush hours and non-peak times and have seen a grand total of three bicyclists since they put the blessed lanes in. Let’s not do this. How about we spend all the money on glaming up the parkways? Or put the greenway on Victory Memorial Drive. Carve a chunk out of all that, I dunno what it’s called, maybe, green stuff? Yeah, that’s it, grass! Good spot for a freaking greenway.

    • Cindy

      Carrie, They used to have separate bike & pedestrian paths on the drive. When they put in new lighting a number of years ago, someone had a brain fart and combined them into one path. It was much safer for everyone when they were separate.

  • Rob

    In response to Monica – You seem to have a skewed view on who will be using these facilities. I am going to make an assumption and say that the main users are actually people like yourself. People who are regular people on regular bikes doing regular things. The problem with the “bike community” right now is that the spandex, “trust-fund set” stick out way more and cause way too many of the perception issues. They are using these facilities as their personal race tracks and that is wrong. But, they are not the majority. The majority are the recreational riders who want to explore their city. They are the new to our community residents who may not have the resources to own a vehicle and rely on bicycles to get from place to place. They are the granola crowd who want to lessen their impact on the environment by not burning fossil fuels. They are like you and me.

    Addressing the disgusting behavior by the “leaders” of our city and those presenting in favor of the Greenway in this meeting – Shame on you. How you treated the others in this meeting is disgusting! If ANYTHING, go and sit on the Sabo Bridge or near the Midtown Bike Center and watch who is riding by. There is a HUGE WTF presence on the bike trails and these citizens can become your allies if treat them like human beings. I would have had a real issue if I had been at this meeting and seen this in person. Disgusting.

    In all, as a cyclists, I see the value in this project to make non-motorized use a bigger part of our community. But, we need to balance the wants and needs of those already in the community to ensure that we don’t diminish their quality of life in the process.

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