How do we create activation and vibrancy in all neighborhoods?

Dear Neighbors,

I grew up on River Drive in South Fargo, a quieter neighborhood compared to the Hawthorne Neighborhood I now call home. The streets and sidewalks here are active with children walking to and from school; people commuting by foot, bike, and car; and friendly faces of neighbors and friends greeting one another along their ways. This neighborhood is vibrant and activated, filed with energy and life. 

My vision for Fargo is one where there are many vibrant neighborhoods like this one.


How do we create activation and vibrancy in all neighborhoods?


SCHOOLS: 

Hawthorne Elementary, near my home.

Hawthorne Elementary, near my home.

Seeing children walking and playing around my neighborhood can be directly linked to the fact that Hawthorne Elementary School is down the street from my house. The presence of these young people brings a youthful energy to the neighborhood. Though the school is a most welcome source of vibrancy, enrollments ebb and flow with the long cycles of each neighborhood. We are currently in an up cycle, but as many know well that hasn't always been the case, and we had to fight to keep these schools up for another rising tide.

To ensure that our neighborhoods remain vibrant, we need more than just schools to attract people to live in them. 

 

GREEN SPACES: 

The view of Island Park from Hawthorne Elementary

The view of Island Park from Hawthorne Elementary

Public parks are a way for a city to invite its citizens to recreate and enjoy being a community together. For me, nearby Island Park provides endless opportunities to gather with friends to throw around a frisbee, sway in hammocks, or take leisurely strolls. Look at any of the world’s greatest cities and you can attribute some level of their vibrancy to green spaces that host its citizens moments of respite and activity within a walkable distance of their work and living places (i.e. Central Park in New York, Hyde Park in London, Millennium Park in Chicago, etc.).   

 

COMMERCE:

Shops on 8th Street.

Shops on 8th Street.

Something our neighborhoods have lost are neighborhood shops. If we saw neighborhoods as more than places where we go to sleep and/or go to school, then we would begin to consider how our neighborhoods could also be places where we would want to spend our free time and run errands. For example, North Fargoans, around NDSU and the FargoDome, report having to drive 15 mins to buy basic items. A diversity of shops and restaurants would provide these residents with the opportunity to grow grow their neighborhood through economic exchange.     

Unfortunately, the current city zoning codes don’t allow for commerce to spring up in our neighborhoods, but it wasn’t always like this. My grandma, Katherine Burgum, shared stories about people having small convenient stores in their homes. We used to have neighborhood commerce.  

 

COMMUNITY AS COMMERCE: 

Vendors and patrons interact at the Red River Market.

Vendors and patrons interact at the Red River Market.

People don’t go to the grocery store to socialize, but when you go to a farmer’s market it’s like a social gathering. You grab coffee, slow down, and meet with friends. What if we began to view the presence of commercial opportunities in our neighborhoods as developers of community? With this mindset, we would begin to see local shop owners just like we do vendors at a farmer’s markets, and running errands would be a way of more deeply connecting to the places we call home. 

 

HOW DO WE ENCOURAGE NEIGHBORHOOD COMMERCE AND ENTREPRENEURS? 

  • Identify appropriate locations, like busy intersections, that might be outliers as residences but perfect locations for small neighborhood businesses. 
  • Implement form-based code. If we adopted form-based code then it would be easier for entrepreneurs to open a shop in a neighborhood. Form-based code would enable us to convert existing structures into commercial sites. Rather than seeing commerce as requiring us to bulldoze existing buildings in order to make way for cinder-block box stores.

What are some ways that you recognize vibrancy where you live? I’d love to hear what brings your neighborhood to life. 

Until next time,
Joe