The Saint Paul Area Association of REALTORS® has created two fair housing-based placemaking projects—one temporary and one permanent—that support underserved communities and promote diversity, equity and inclusion.
SPAAR’s temporary fair housing placemaking project began in the summer of 2022, and featured an innovative approach to placemaking. The association created a movable gathering place with fair housing message flags that could be utilized in multiple locations. This was important because of SPAAR’s large footprint.
SPAAR’s territory includes 12 counties and 200 cities. Often, SPAAR’s attention and resources are focused on Saint Paul, as it is the largest city and the leader in housing policy changes in the jurisdiction. To spread resources around, SPAAR launched a project called the Key Communities Program. The program is designed for three municipalities each year to be a Key Community, and helps SPAAR to foster relationships with REALTORS® and communities outside of Saint Paul. In 2022, the City of Burnsville in the Southern Twin Cities was chosen by SPAAR’s Government Affairs Committee as a Key Community.
The placemaking project that the city collaborated on with SPAAR focused on the commitment to inclusion that the city had already been working on. “You Belong Here” is Burnsville’s motto, and they wanted that message to be visible to current and potential residents. The city designed 11 feather flags that had that motto written on them in different languages to highlight the city’s inclusivity and openness to residents of all different backgrounds. In the words of Burnsville City staff, “Burnsville is a vibrant city, boldly leading and welcoming to all.”
With the assistance of a $1,500 Placemaking Grant from the National Association of REALTORS®, mobile, durable flags with the city’s motto and SPAAR’s Key Communities logo were manufactured. The flags can be used year-round at multiple events to create a welcoming gathering place, and are kept inside during severe weather and the winter to increase the lifespan of the flags.
The flags were used throughout the summer at various city events that REALTORS® and community members attended. The events included but were not limited to Burnsville's Juneteenth event, Pride events, Public Works Open Houses, and Burnsville’s local City Day. REALTORS® are very active in this community, so there was pride when they saw the SPAAR logo on the flags. There were many opportunities for the flags to be used throughout the summer and into the fall and winter. The city created really timeless flags, so we believe that they will be used for years to come.
The project had a hugely positive impact. Burnsville’s "You Belong Here" message is very indicative of SPAAR's own messaging. It was a great partnership, and we hope to help other cities’ diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Members and staff of SPAAR are really proud to have been involved with this project and feel that this was very worthwhile. The project impacted the community through ensuring that people of all walks of life felt that they could put down roots in this city.
SPAAR also has a permanent placemaking project in the works: creating a parklet in an underserved neighborhood. The Rice and Larpenteur Corridor is a unique neighborhood in the SPAAR territory. The corridor is at the junction of three of SPAAR's largest municipalities: Saint Paul, Maplewood, and Roseville, and is home to a concentration of immigrant and low-income families, drawn to the area by the availability of affordable multifamily housing.
Unfortunately, the area’s commercial strips are aging, and it has a history of being underfunded and underserved by local resources. Negative perceptions of the area have limited business and developer investment. For these reasons, the cities teamed up to create a cooperative, the Rice & Larpenteur Alliance, to revitalize the area. The Alliance is made up of members of the community, elected officials, businesses, nonprofit representatives, and representatives from SPAAR. This group has very important housing stakeholders and elected officials, so it is really vital for us to remain involved and in good standing with them.
Since the Alliance began, the group has coordinated community events to draw attention to the area; led a community-driven rebranding and redevelopment plan; and has begun to implement this plan through placemaking projects. These efforts are beginning to pay off and the area is poised for successful redevelopment.
Recently, one of the businesses at this intersection received funding to redesign and renovate its parking lot, adding pedestrian walkways and improving grading, lighting, and striping. With the changes that were already being made, the Alliance decided to help further optimize the space. Included in the parking lot redesign is a corner parklet, which will consist of planters, benches, and a welcome sign that locates “Rice and Larpenteur” as a community. SPAAR received a $4,500 NAR Placemaking Grant to create the welcome sign, which will adhere to branding specifications developed by the Alliance, in partnership with residents. SPAAR added an additional $1,000 and presented the Alliance with a check for $5,500.
While the project has yet to be completed, there have still been various events around the space in which the sign will be visible. There have been meet and greets, "Get to Know Your Elected Officials" events, and seasonal winter/summer events.
This project and the subsequent placemaking has had a hugely important impact on REALTORS® and the Association. As mentioned, this area is really well known and people in the area are really excited to continue the work to bring it productive use. When the sign is finally installed and the parklet is finished, this will be something that Realtors® will be able to look back on and be really excited about SPAAR's involvement.
This parklet has been a great place for community members to meet safely. It has become a central point of the intersection that doesn't have a lot of available community space. There have been many expressions of appreciation from residents, business leaders, and elected officials who believe that this is a visual representation of the hard work that is being done behind the scenes. Changing the culture of a neighborhood is no easy feat. Helping change that culture through placemaking, branding, and beautifying is so important, and we believe that the community sees that as well.
We are really proud to have been involved and believe that this has been a great way to introduce Realtors® and SPAAR into the area and build extremely valuable relationships with local folks. SPAAR cannot wait to see the sign installed and continue the grassroots work!