Kids map the city

Southwest teens picture their neighborhood’s kid-friendly resources – and want more

When kids closed their eyes and envisioned an ideal Minneapolis in say, 10 years, they saw more kids playing together, neighbors barbecuing and people talking outside.

The hopeful picture showed less violence, kid-adult interaction that was more positive and added teen-appropriate programs – right in their own neighborhoods.

Their feedback was part of a six-month-long initiative called the Youth Mapping Project, sponsored by Yo! The Movement with funds from the Youth Coordinating Board (YCB) and the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP).

Kids 13 to 18 years old researched kid-friendly attractions unique to 20 neighborhoods citywide, including Whittier, Lyndale and Kingfield in Southwest earlier this year.

Each surveyor also questioned 40 kids about services available to youth, earning a $250 stipend for their efforts.

After gathering information, some teens’ suspicions seemed true: Few programs were targeted directly at teens, while existing ones lacked accessibility. In contrast, there were plenty of visible and well-attended activities for younger kids or older people.

The project asked kids to identify where do they feel safe? Unsafe? Whom do they go to with their problems? Where do they hang out? Some of the teens and city officials hope the findings will influence city planning and lead to a more kid-friendly environment.

Meg Introwitz-Williams of the Lyndale Crew said, "I do love Lyndale. I love how I know about all of the programs, and I know my neighbors. But I can see how some kids wouldn’t like Lyndale, not having the resources," she added.

Mayor R.T. Rybak, who met with the mappers in June, said, "there’s a similarity between youth and artists. We’re trying to find a way to use the sensibility of artists. When they identify a place, they make it permanent. Kids need a place they can call their own," Rybak said.

Plans are in the works. The YCB has already taken some of the data and plugged it into Agenda 2020, a platform to inspire further projects. Although some groups’ mapping is still in progress, one thing is clear by now: Kids want the same things as adults. They want to feel connected.

Mobilizing locally

Armed with clipboards, kids bravely approached strangers on the sidewalk.

The street beat was more than a survey; the kids simultaneously performed a sociological study. As they walked, they sized up adults’ strides – and the immediate and physical responses to seeing a group of kids. As adults neared, teens counted how many said "hi," made eye contact or averted their gaze and whether or not the passerby greeted the kids.

Most of the time, the students said, adults were instinctively reactionary. Sometimes they responded politely, but only after the kids made the first move. Others didn’t acknowledge them at all.

The kids got cold and wet as they trudged through residential and business districts. Near businesses and busy intersections, adults were stoical. Said Tyler Salone, who worked with the Lyndale group, "People’s attitudes were lower than standard. Only one person said ‘hi,’ to me before I said ‘hi,’ and just half responded. Most grinned like ‘why are you smiling at me?’"

Nevertheless, Salone enjoyed doing the surveys. His sister Corinne, who also participated in the project, had a different opinion.

Kids were just as resistant as adults, she said: "It was pretty hard to find people who were willing to talk. It was long and hard to target people in the right age range."

She said that some of the survey questions missed the point. For example, instead of asking kids where they like to hang out, she suggested that they should’ve probed more deeply, asking more about what they’d like to see.

"We didn’t have an objective or something to stand on. I thought we should be more purposeful," Corinne said.

The question "Whom can you go to and why?" elicited different responses based on language. "Kids said parents, neighbors, relatives, friends or teachers," Corinne said. "Spanish kids said they could only go to their parents or close friends who they knew spoke Spanish. They said that they liked to hang out at home because they didn’t know where else to go."

In residential areas, people were friendlier. Perhaps that theme was most noticeable in the Kingfield group, which covered a territory between I-35W and Lyndale Avenue South between 36th and 46th streets.

However, the domestic setting bred a more family-like atmosphere, but it wasn’t exactly geared to teens, said Denise Jone, who led the group that doubled as the Central neighborhood surveyors east of I-35W. "We didn’t find any places for kids to hang out, and we hardly even saw any kids outside," she said.

The one place they said departed from the norm was Kingfield Park at 40th & Nicollet, Jone noted.

Wendy Pareene, who directed the Lyndale group, said the lack of kids’ places moved her to establish TC Underground, 405 W. Lake St. She said she knew that people were afraid of kids, which was a big change from her childhood.

"When I was a kid, I knew everyone. Many kids don’t have that anymore. On the one hand, we don’t want them to get into trouble. But on the other, we don’t want to give them anything to do," Pareene said.

Beyond neighbors, the mappers found that as kids got older, their relationship and impression of police became negative. They felt censored by cops. One kid said that he’s been penalized at his doorstep with a ticket for trespassing after 10 p.m.

But Johnneth Thomas from the Whittier group brightened when she recounted a positive memory. She recalled policemen giving out baseball or football cards to her and others when they were younger, a tactic that "seemed to work," she said.

Although the kids were dismayed by adults’ resistance to them, other adults who gave them a rare opportunity to open up impressed them.

For example, said Introwitz-Williams, "It was really cool to talk to the mayor [R.T. Rybak] one-on-one and speak my mind on stuff."

She added that she usually didn’t feel comfortable around adults, but the mapping project empowered her. It reinstated the notion that "I have a voice and that one person can do something on their own, even if it’s not a big thing. It made me get a different view of the neighborhood and want to make a change."

The project helped change Introwitz-Williams’ outlook, too. Near her home, she encountered a group of teens she wouldn’t normally mingle with and found that they were surprisingly pleasant. "That changed my outlook on how I view cliques. You don’t have to just stay within the group you feel comfortable with," she said.

Destinations, activities

The Whittier crew labeled places they were "pushed" or "pulled" by as a result of their surveys and personal opinions. They indicated these locations with sticky notes that they mounted on a neighborhood map group Supervisor Delroy Calhoun enlarged at Kinko’s.

They stuck notes on arts organizations that indicated a cool place, such as the Children’s Theatre Company, 2400 3rd Ave. S., Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2400 3rd Ave. S. and Intermedia Arts, 2822 Lyndale.

They also put notes on faith-based places such as Salem English Lutheran Church, 610 W. 28th St.

Kids felt free to patronize Butler Drug, 2600 Nicollet, and the Spyhouse Espresso Bar and Gallery, 2451 Nicollet.

Other times, they weren’t as specific. They liked the store on 28th & Grand, but didn’t like the Laundromat on Nicollet. The Washburn Fair Oaks Park, 200 E. 24th St., was judged to push kids away.

Whittier teens worried about safety at night, litter and disjointed cultures. There were some friendly adults in the neighborhood, such as Freddie and Rose, they said, a talkative couple who had lived in their house for years.

Bookstores and music shops didn’t lure them because they didn’t carry an inventory that appealed to them.

Becki Saito, who also supervised the Whittier group (with husband Calhoun), said the kids had a bias.

They connected positively to businesses where they weren’t shooed away. But many of those places had lots of other problems to deal with, so they were unaffected by the idea of rowdy kids, she said.

Scott Dodge, who participated in the Lyndale group, said the project was rewarding because it gave him a big-picture view of the neighborhood and made him an active part of community life.

"I hope that I can find something to do beyond sitting around, become involved in something. It’s a big step. I didn’t know much about the neighborhood beyond TC Underground. I didn’t know about the YMCA."

Dodge said that teen sports were a missing part of the formula since they no longer relied on park athletics. Even at the parks, adults weren’t there to supervise or interact with teens.

Although Dodge said there were more kids’ programs in Lyndale than other neighborhoods, teens were generally unaware of services or destinations available to them. Many didn’t even know about programs that were only a block or two away because there wasn’t sufficient signage, or nobody personally invited them to come.

Personalizing programs emerged as an important part of outreach. Often, kids were reticent about joining a group or activity unless invited to do so by other kids, such as those of Old Arizona, 2821 Nicollet Ave. Additionally, very few kids have taken advantage of the YCB’s own "What’s Up Line," a phone number that offers information about kids’ activities.

Even participation by informed kids was limited by a lack of money, job conflicts, little parental support, transportation needs and babysitting responsibilities.

What next

The kids brainstormed possible solutions, besides more youth-friendly programs. The Lyndale group suggested publishing a newspaper or offering workshops that guided people on parenting and neighboring teens. Kingfield kids proposed making fliers.

Saito said that conventional advertising doesn’t work because many teens don’t read newspapers. Pareene added that organizations such as TC Underground experienced speed bumps because they weren’t allowed to promote in schools.

Already Whittier is in Phase II, shaping a marketing plan in partnership with the Falls Agency, 2550 Blaisdell Ave., to refine their map. It’ll clearly show parents and youth at least 30 services and destinations available to kids. Soon they hope to move on to Phase III to develop a youth council.

Dodge summed it up: "I had a good time. It was really interesting seeing how the neighborhood works as a whole."