Four years later, little progress on the future of George Floyd Square


Four years ago, after a Minneapolis police officer murdered a Black man named George Floyd at the intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, the location became a memorial to Floyd’s life and to the struggle of Black citizens in Minneapolis.
At first, local people blocked off the area to traffic, erecting art pieces: a sculpture of a closed fist of defiance, paintings on the wood panels that covered business windows to protect them, and a place for visitors to leave flowers and comments.
But after four years, plans on what to do with what is now known as George Floyd Square has taken too long for some people.
At a community gathering of more than 200 people at Sabathani Community Center on March 28, many attending expressed frustration at the lack of progress by the community and the city.
The event, promoted as a dinner/dialogue, began with an elaborate buffet meal with Brother T. Michael, a local gospel singer, there to engage the crowd. People found spaces at round tables and were encouraged to express their feelings about the Square. People who had attended previous visioning workshops introduced each other by name and address and their connection to the intersection.
At the front of the room were large placards (and what might have been a PowerPoint presentation) ready to go. But while smaller versions of the posters explaining “38th & Chicago Visioning” were at each of the tables, these were not addressed.
“What we will have to create is a global destination for social justice,” said organizer Atum Azzahir. “We have to create an historical experience for the 90 years of lived experience on that corner. Part of the next step is to decide how and when we are going to move forward. What is the net result for the next few years? Why do people come from different parts of the world to see this and what do they see?” She encouraged members of the audience to talk about their feelings on what was happening at the Square.
But the emotion that many in the audience voiced was anger, often loudly expressed, about the lack of progress at the Square and about the economics of the Black and other communities in the area. “How can we talk about healing when you are so angry we want to cuss or curse? We’re sick and tired of conversation asking, ‘What do you need?’ What we need is respect for people and community,” said one audience member.
Organizer Anthony Taylor of the Cultural Awareness Center said, “What we see in George Floyd Square has created the single most important response about what we can do, which guides the conversation. This community process is not designed to come up with a vision. What we do is guide the conversation.”
Ideas from past gatherings included addressing community safety, social justice and economics as well as design principles acknowledging the sacred quality of the area. Other concerns included permitting business and residents within the Square to have access to delivery, maintenance and emergency response.
Concepts ranged from creating a pedestrian-only mall to a fully re-opened intersection with full vehicle access.
A former gas station and convenience store at the northwest corner has been purchased by the city. Now called “People’s Way” and covered with protest art and graffiti, organizers said they are still trying to make decisions about what to do with their newly acquired property.
Meet Minneapolis, the city’s tourism department, currently lists George Floyd Square as a visitor attraction. People were asked to discuss with others at their table the experience they had with friends and family visiting from elsewhere in the country and from foreign countries. Some said that the visitors considered the Square a must-see site.
For some businesses in the area, tourists are their biggest customer draw, but many visitors do not patronize the shops and restaurants there, and many locals are avoiding the area. The formerly bustling corner is seeing failed businesses that were once thriving. Some, like restaurants Just Turkey and Smoke in the Pit, are struggling. Cup Foods, once infamous and blamed by some for creating the situation causing Floyd’s death, is now under new management and has a new name, Unity Foods.
Charmin Michelle, a first-time attendee who lives at 32nd and Chicago, found the event baffling. “I wasn’t able to follow what was going on. I did not feel there was an agenda. I went in thinking that people would have ideas and be able to present them and the next meeting would follow through on that.” She attended with her husband and mother-in-law who had been at other visioning events and who told her that this was the first time there was no structure.
“Part of me admires the neighborhood for fighting for this as sacred ground. I’d like it to be a place where people would remember and it would be respectful,” she said. “But one thing I was going to present at the meeting is that they need to get the buses running down the street. There are a lot of people in the neighborhood without cars who depend on the buses.”
For Sandy Berry, who lives a few blocks from the Square, her first time attending a visioning event was an eye-opener. Among her concerns was giving easy access to the closed-off area. “It’s time to do something, so when people come to the Square, they have a place to park. The church parking lot (on the southwest corner) is empty. People can’t park there. And why not use the People’s Way to make a museum or a memorial? The city needs to do something here,” she said.
“It’s insane to think you can have that many people involved in making decisions,” Berry said. “There were 200 people there and people have different opinions.”
“What they need to have instead are representative groups,” she continued. “They’ve had countless surveys, and they have enough information. You need to have people who are involved in the Square. You need neighbors, business interests, our council member Andrea Jenkins. We need to hear from anyone considering developing the area.”
“But we need to know what they are planning. Where is the transparency?” Berry asked.
Michael Smith of the city’s Commission on Civil Rights said that the underlying problem is economics. “Why do we struggle so much? We can bicker and fight, but we have to get our economy under control. We’re getting in contact with people trying to revitalize 38th and Chicago. But I’m concerned that we’re still talking about this four years later.”
“We are thrilled with the great turnout at the dinner dialogue that occurred on March 28,” said Alexander Kado, senior project manager with the Office of Public Service for the city of Minneapolis. “At the event we shared lessons learned from past engagement and also heard from attendees about what matters most to them as we continue to develop a vision for George Floyd Square.”
The project is planning a series of five more visioning workshops. The next is scheduled for April 30 from 5:30 until 8 p.m. at The Square at Chicago Ave. Shops, 3736 Chicago Ave. A final report is scheduled to be released in December.

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