Many Questions Remain [IMAGE]

by Kent Petterson

A Vision for the Future has been the rallying slogan for Great River Passage. A vision for the next 50 years with specific plans outlined for the 17 miles of Mississippi River Valley in St. Paul. The 300 plus page document has been offered by the Department of Parks and Recreation (Parks) city staff on January 11 as their work product in consultation with citizens and a national team of planners led by Wenk and Associates of Denver.

photo: As the GRP and Victoria Park planning processes continue, Community Reporter dedicates this space to sharing your ideas. Many people are talking about Fountain Cave and other caves long sealed up and forgotten, and how they could provide unique features for the emerging park. This skilled carving is from the abandoned Banholzer Brewery Cave. Credit: Greg Brick.

At the February meeting of the Highland District Council, Park’s lead Don Ganje offered that the plan is a vision for the next 50 years and that it represented a consensus from working with all those involved in the process since August of 2010. This along with a five-minute flyover video and a Q & A session probably was typical of presentations across the city where requested for District Councils. Several District Councils declined to hear the presentation, and of those that heard it, response has been minimal to strong concerns. At this point, approximately a third of the neighborhood District Councils across the city have offered official comment. Some of those available have been posted on the webpage for the Parks Commission on the city site stpaul.gov/parks under Great River Passage.

The Fort Road Federation responded at their March meeting, “The Great River Passage, as we have it now, has too many serious omissions and pending revisions for us to take a position at this time, and we will take a position when these are addressed by the next version of the plan.”

The Highland District Council (HDC) responded with four resolutions specific to the Great River Passage. In a February 29 letter to the Commission by Tim Puffer, HDC President, concerns included a lack of time to properly consider the plan; concern about the lack of clear indication in the plan that specifics would not be implemented before neighborhood vetting; and that Chapter 7 implementation did not consider the potential impact on an already strained City budget. As a result, HDC couldn’t “give its unqualified support to the entire Plan at this time.”

A letter dated March 12 from Executive Director Elena Gaarder of the West Side Community Organization noted, “We cannot endorse a conceptual framework alone. Instead, we feel that we can only fully endorse a complete and final plan that shows our proposed changes reflected.” Mac-Groveland, District 1 and District 4, offered support with qualifications in some cases.

Of those individuals and organizations submitting comment to the Parks Commission as of March 18, by my count eighteen had concerns and five were supportive. That doesn’t sound like consensus to me.

Citizen Response Generates Parks Department Response

Changes in the timeline for study and approval of the Great River Passage Master Plan have occurred after significant community resistance to the original proposal.

First, a new edited and revised version of the Master Plan will be provided in May. The Parks and Recreation Commission will then meet on May 9 (Linwood Recreation Center, 860 St. Clair, 6:30 p.m.) to take action on the plan. For additional information, contact: Saint Paul Parks & Recreation Public Service Manager Brad Meyer at 651-266-6377 or brad.meyer@stpaul.gov. City Council’s public hearing and adoption process is extended to October.

Meanwhile, on the related but separate issue of planning for Victoria Park, the Advisory Committee will be starting its process soon. The Federation appointed Tonya Nicholie and Dave Bredemus. Meanwhile, fill continue to be brought to the Victoria Park site to create a Patrick’s Mound memorial, or to be used elsewhere as things develop.


I would like to examine this claimed notion of a vision plan for the future. My view is that the bulk of the Great River Passage Master Plan work (GRP), six chapters, could be termed vision. Chapter Seven, Implementation, a chapter that was never discussed with the citizen advisory committee, pages 174-180, changed everything from a vision plan to an action plan. Here are some details in Chapter Seven that aren’t commonly discussed.

Quoting from GRP page176, “The majority of funds for operations and maintenance must be provided from the City’s general fund as is the case now.…In the initial years of the park’s development and operations, City funding will likely be the only major source of operating revenue for the park.” We have been told that funding for existing parks and programming will be unaffected by the new River Division. It is hard to imagine how that would be the case given the source of River Division operating money and this budget projection.

Proposed Budget for the New River Division
  • $1.6 million per year for Natural Areas within the River Division.
  • $4.0 million per year for Community & River Parks within the River Division.
  • $3.4 million per year for Downtown Parks within the River Division.
  • $9.0 million per year projected River Division Budget.
This isn’t the first year budget, but if a new executive director of the River Division is hired, what are we going to say, no money? Is it a half or a third of this amount? Last year it didn’t seem the city had two extra nickels for the budget. Raising money is important and that is emphasized. Why is a preferred not-for-profit partner of the River Division described with so little detail on page 178? Why is this partner not named? This partner should either be named or described with detail as to how the partnership will be implemented and what it will cost.

It is interesting that innocuous claims of power are made for the plan, when the plan is clear about its ambition that the plan “will have the fortitude to withstand changes in administrations and governmental policies.” These are special provisions being requested for the Great River Passage. Staff wants to be protected from changes and to have the power to implement its vision. This is very dangerous for democratic action in a town I thought believed in fostering the ability of citizens to affect government policy. In addition, the plan proposes and implements a Great River Passage Action Committee. This committee is not needed and it should be removed from the plan. It is no coincidence that this body is called an action committee for an action plan.

On page 178 where plan implementation is proposed with the aid of these support partners, it is interesting that it says nothing about consultation with neighborhoods and citizens — only with institutions and government entities. For whom exactly are we proposing this effort?

The new River Division, the fund raising arm, and the action committee have been compared to Como Park and its structure. I have yet to find anyone that can give me the features that are comparable to the action committee at Como. The comparison also weakens when considering the relative size of an isolated city owned campus at Como with the 3,500 acres of the great River Park, which consists of lots of interlaced neighborhoods, disparate interests, land uses and land ownership. I think patience and modesty of proposal are in order before implementation occurs. An easy partial solution might be to remove Chapter 7 from the plan until funds are available.

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Healthy West 7th Initiative Blossoms into New Opportunities [IMAGE]

by Lynda Anderson

The Healthy West 7th Initiative began as a project of the resident physicians at United Family Medicine. Initial stages of the project included discussions with community residents about their priorities for health improvement. Many ideas emerged for ways we all might work together to improve health in the neighborhood (see Community Reporter articles from June 2010 and June 2011). One of the areas identified by community members was nutrition. Particularly, a need for increased access to affordable fresh food, as well as the desire for more community gardening space.

A group of community residents and organizations (United Family Medicine, West Seventh Community Center, Mississippi Market, St. Paul Public Libraries, Ramsey County Master Gardeners, Sholom Home, St. Paul Department of Public Health, and Allina Health/United Hospital) have been meeting to work on ways to address the community’s desire for affordable fresh food. Gardening was quickly identified as one part of the solution.

The Healthy West 7th group identified three potential ways to make growing food a part of the community — backyard gardens, community gardens, and container gardens in public spaces. Gardening education classes will be offered to community members by Ramsey County Master Gardeners and will be hosted by Mississippi Market (see schedule below). Mississippi Market’s board agreed to help fund the Healthy West 7th project. This support is directly in line with Mississippi Market Co-op’s mission to create positive change in the community. These gardens will increase access to fresh, healthy, organic foods in our neighborhood and encourage physical and social activities that engage residents of all ages. Gardening classes will be open to both community gardeners and to people who want to try their hand at gardening at home. Topics will include everything from planning a garden in a small space to building healthy soil to managing bugs and weeds organically.

The community garden at Jefferson and Victoria has been very successful and has had a waiting list since it began. Sholom Home has agreed to allow community gardeners to use some of its land for the next five years. Thanks to financial support from Allina Health and Mississippi Market, there will be topsoil, compost and building supplies delivered to make several raised beds. Compost and soil will be available for all of the gardeners at this site. In addition, a demonstration garden will be located here for those interested in learning more about growing their own organic vegetables.

The West Seventh Community Center will also be installing raised beds as part of this project. The produce from these beds will be used for programming at the Center and will be included in Meals on Wheels deliveries.

The project is looking for gardeners, volunteers to build garden plots, and for people interested in developing a Local Food Resource Hub (a local network to support improved food access). We’re also encouraging people who want more land or who know of land available for gardening (in your yard, business, or open lot) to place a listing on Yards to Gardens website: y2g.org. This website pairs interested gardeners with available land and will be a great resource for the neighborhood if we all utilize it! For more information or to volunteer, please email: healthyw7@unitedfamilymedicine.org. To sign up for a class visit the Mississippi Market web page at msmarket.coop.

Class Dates and Topics:
Apr. 1: Growing heirloom tomatoes.
Apr. 16: Planning your urban garden/gardening in small spaces: Part I.
Apr. 22: Composting and organic soil preparation for organic gardening.
Apr. 30: Planning your urban garden/gardening in small spaces: Part II.
May 5: Organic lawn care.
May 14: Vegetables basics.
June 4: Edible landscaping.
June 18: Dealing with pests and weeds organically.

Yard to Gardens
Are you a homeowner with gardening space to share? Or a would-be gardener with no yard? Gardening Matters’ Yards to Gardens website may be for you. Homeowners can register their available space on the website and be matched with aspiring gardeners looking for a plot of land. People can also list tools and things like compost or soil they need or want to share. Visit Y2G.org for more information and to register as a yard owner or as a gardener.

Web-based Resources for Gardeners
The University of Minnesota Extension website contains a wide variety of research-based information for gardeners. You can search a database that will help you identify weeds, bugs, and plant diseases. You can research the best plant varieties for Minnesota weather and catch up on the latest gardening news in the Yard and Garden newsletter. You can even submit a question to the “Ask a Master Gardener” e-mail. It’s a great, free resource: extension.umn.edu/garden.

Lynda has lived in the West Seventh neighborhood for about 20 years, is an avid gardener, and volunteers as a Ramsey County Master Gardener.

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Project Zawadi Grows from West End Roots [IMAGE]

by Rick Hansen

Something beautiful is growing right here in our West Seventh neighborhood. This thing of wonder goes by the name of Project Zawadi. Founded by West Seventh local, Brian Singer, Project Zawadi is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing educational opportunities to orphaned and vulnerable children in Tanzania. To fully understand this project and what it is trying to accomplish, though, one must journey back years to before it even began.

The origins of Project Zawadi go back to 1993 when Singer, who was then in the Peace Corps, was working in Tanzania. It was there that he met a couple of orphaned children and took them under his care. When the elder of the two, Adam, expressed a strong desire to attend school, Singer decided to sponsor both Adam and his younger brother so that they could get an education.

photo: A student at Nyamuswa A Primary School receives a Project Zawadi packet.

In 2000, when Singer returned to Tanzania, he wanted to put the boys in a higher-quality boarding school. Lacking the necessary funds at the time, though, he made a down payment toward their education and then returned to the United States to seek out donations to cover the remaining costs. Singer succeeded in gathering enough donations to cover the costs and had money to spare. With these excess funds, he was able to sponsor a third child.

Seeing how successful his donation drive had been allowed for the possibility of seeking out further donations in order to sponsor additional children. Singer, however, needed more people involved in this endeavor for it to be successful. He worked to gather a Board of Directors, and together they began the tasks of defining a mission, refining the program model, and working to raise more funds. And so it was that the nonprofit organization known as Project Zawadi was born.

Project Zawadi is led by ten Board members, Singer being the president. Their mission is “to provide educational opportunities within a nurturing environment to orphaned and other vulnerable children in Tanzania so that they can become self-reliant and active members of their communities.” They operate under three guiding principles:
  • Every child deserves an education.
  • Children belong with a family in their community.
  • Local communities know best what is needed for students to succeed.
[IMAGE]To help meet with these guidelines Project Zawadi works with a nonprofit organization called Zinduka as well as a new organization called Okoa, both based in Tanzania in the two villages that the Project is assisting, Nyamuswa and Mugumu respectively. Collaborating with these organizations allows Project Zawadi to more easily identify which children are in greatest need of support as well as ensure that all donated money gets to the proper recipients.

Funds are used in part to buy uniforms, shoes, textbooks, book bags, and various school supplies for the children being sponsored, and also help to cover the costs of building newer classrooms, dormitories and housing for teachers. The Project provides the means for the sponsored children to receive an education and will sponsor them as far as they are able to advance in their academic careers, and the students in turn put in the effort to further themselves along in their education. In the ten years since its founding in 2000, it has experienced major success both in Tanzania and in the United States, with around 400 children now being sponsored

photo: Brian Singer with some of the packets for Project Zawadi.

All this is thanks to the generous donations sent to the Project, which is a success story all of its own. Project Zawadi now has over 1,000 regular donors and raises roughly $100,000 per year. Along with giving money, donors are now able create small care packages to be delivered to their sponsored student. The Project took part in “Give to the Max Day” sponsored by givemn.org, and took 10th place among the division of small nonprofit organizations with $33,000 donated plus an additional $5,000 dollars for being in the top 10.

Looking ahead at the next ten years, there are still goals that Project Zawadi would like to reach. They of course want to continue sponsoring individual children and improving education as a whole in the villages with the help of their partners Zinduka and Okoa, but they also want to deepen their commitment even further. The Project is hoping to start an educational program for teachers to further improve the quality of what is being taught to the sponsored students. As the students grow and eventually prepare to make the transition to self reliance, Project Zawadi wants to make the process as easy as possible. They also are introducing a computer training program. A computer lab with 10 newly refurbished computers will open the door for technology into the villages and hopefully widen the opportunities available to the people living there.

One obvious question still remains, though. What does Zawadi mean? It’s a Swahili word meaning “gift” and it also happened to be the name of one of the first children to be sponsored by the Project Zawadi program. In one sense it’s a sort of dedication to that child and to all the children that the Project seeks to help. In another sense, it represents the gift that is being given to the children and the community through the Project. Singer’s work, and the work of everyone involved in Project Zawadi have gone a long way to improve the lives of many people in these villages, and Singer’s work continues. He visits Tanzania once a year, usually at the beginning of January when the school year starts in the villages, to help distribute the school supplies as well as to deliver the care packages from donors collected throughout the year. Singer and Project Zawadi as a whole are “gifts” all by themselves, gems to the world that just so happen to be located right here in our West Seventh neighborhood.

If you would like to know more about Project Zawadi or wish to make a tax deductible donation, visit projectzawadi.org or call 866-589-6116.

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