What’s going on with Nicollet Mall?  Will it ever get finished?

These are the questions that I hear in almost every conversation I am having these days. And the question doesn’t just come from the downtown business community or new residential dwellers; it also comes in neighborhood meetings at the far geographic corners of our city.

For many, as Nicollet Mall goes, so goes the city, and the news especially from retailers has been challenging of late with the announced Macy’s closing and the subsequent press release highlighting Barnes & Noble’s exit from its current location.

While there has been plenty of discussion about the ‘what’ regarding Nicollet Mall, meaning the quality of the design and whether the vision will be enough to revive the downtown core, the real discussion should be on the ‘how’

This is where most of the frustration seems to be centered. People look out of their offices or glance at the mall while crossing the street and see slow progress and weeks without any activity. Without aggressive communication from Mayor Hodges or their council person, Jacob Frey, they are assuming the worst. Namely, that the project is delayed or off schedule.

 And I believe this underscores one of the differences in this year’s race for Mayor and city government.  It is the ‘how’ we are communicating and engaging our citizens and the appalling lack of both.  

 Most people, myself included, applaud the tenure of R.T. Rybak and point with pride to his championship of being the nation’s bike capital. Rybak was a visible, engaging and over-communicating Mayor. 

However, today these same bike supporters feel like the bike lanes have just appeared and that they have had very no or little say on the timing or the placement. In other words, they feel like ‘the fix is in’ before they ever hear of or see a new bike lane, leaving them frustrated.

Recently, the city announced and spent tax dollars on a listening tour of citizens regarding the $15/hour minimum wage question. While I have been attending most of these sessions around the city, the Mayor and many City Council people are AWOL.  Most of the citizens comment that the Mayor Hodges and City Councilperson Jacob Frey have already come out in support of the $15/hour minimum wage—a flip flop from their previous position against the wage increase--because they are actively running for office.  So many ask, why go through these hearings and spend taxpayer money when the decision has already been made? They sense that, in their own words, ‘the fix is in’.

Nicollet Mall, bike lanes, the $15/hour minimum wage…the issue is rarely really the what. It’s the how.

How we tell instead of ask.

 How we pretend to engage while dictating to others.

 How we simply push down decisions because it is expedient for us.

Where is our Minneapolis plan to harness the collective power and creativity of all of our citizens?  

Let’s lead in how we find new ways to truly engage, collect and review the collective ideas and creativity of our citizens.

Let’s lead by exploring new, real-time ways to communicate like Digital Dashboards.

Let’s lead by setting the bar high with visible, on the ground, 24/7 engagement for Minneapolis—and not as a stepping stone to higher office.

Cities are either moving forward or they are moving backwards. There is no middle. A disengaged, skeptical citizenry that questions our sincerity to engage is a precursor for decline.

Please join these and many other conversations we are having.

Tom Hoch

Tom Hoch