How Members of the African American Community are Impacting the Light Rail Project
It has been nearly 50 years since St. Paul's tight-knit Rondo community was split in two by the construction of I-94. Nearly 50 years since the project caused the destruction of 750 homes and the displacement of more than 1,000 families. And now, nearly 50 years later, JUST Equity, a coalition of African-American groups advocating for equitable development in the St. Paul Light Rail project, is working hard to ensure that history doesn't repeat itself.
St. Paul's Central Corridor Light Rail line is designed to provide quick transportation service from Minneapolis to St. Paul along University and Washington avenues, but JUST Equity's project manager Veronica Burt is concerned about the underlying economic effects the new line will have on the surrounding neighborhoods, especially the often overlooked low-income communities of color. As compared with the story of Rondo, Veronica states, "the new light rail will have more of an economic impact rather than a physical taking or destroying of property, but there is still a displacement effect. We have been trying to reverse the proposals to say, "Okay, if this is something we have to live with in this community, then it should be something that works for this community, and the needs and the aspirations that the community has."
JUST Equity is getting policy makers to acknowledge the LRT's adverse impacts on surrounding communities such as residential gentrification/displacement, escalating rents and property taxes, reduced bus service and long distances between some light rail stops. The organization is taking action by partnering with organizations from the surrounding communities to hold public education meetings and more recently, filing a civil rights complaint against the project. Says Burt, "It's not about not wanting public transportation, it's really about, 'how will this interface with our community?' The project planners didn't start by asking that question and without asking that question, you can make a lot of wrong moves."
Though JUST Equity still has a long road ahead of them, committee member Dr. Rose Brewer stresses the importance of community support and engagement in response to this issue, "I like Ella Baker's notion of the extraordinary potential of ordinary people. A lot of it is building leadership within folk because a lot of people don't see themselves in that way, don't even imagine themselves as leaders. In many ways we all are leaders, it just needs to be cultivated and nurtured."