Thursday, June 26, 2008

My Theory of North Side Marketing Explained

The sight of a modern skyline can fill me suddenly, overwhelmingly with a sense of civic pride, but in particular my own city's skyline from atop Farview Park, North Minneapolis.

Well, tonight I have an interview with the North Side Marketing Task Force, so I'm hoping I will manage to post my theory of North Side marketing, which I call "Market and Romanticize the Struggle."

The following is a class assignment I turned in to Professor Sally Kenney at the Humphrey Institute. I have polished up and revised the assignment a bit more since I first wrote it, but it's essentially still what I turned in for homework in PA 5012, the Politics of Public Affairs.

Footnotes are at the end of the document.

Encouraging Home Buyers In North Minneapolis

A variety of government and non-profit organizations are involved in "marketing" North Minneapolis, and have settled on four talking points as the most effective strategy. Some of these organizations include the various neighborhood associations and councils, non-profits such as Project Pride in Living, and the city government itself. All appear to be in concurrence about the four talking points.

These points, which are indisputably an example of "framing," are as follows.

1.) North Minneapolis has a surplus of affordable housing stock in the best buyer's market in 30 years. Prices have never been lower due to current market conditions. Now is the time to buy, buy, buy.

2.) North Minneapolis has an abundance of parks, including such treasures as Farview Park. From the top of Farview Park, there is a spectacular view of the Minneapolis skyline. Hence the name "Farview."

3.) North Minneapolis is rich in community organizations, all open and welcoming to new residents who bring positive energy. There is a place for your talents in North Minneapolis.

4.) Last but not least, North Minneapolis is full of businesses. There is fantastic and close economic opportunity everywhere you turn. (FOOTNOTE ONE)

One can't help but think this sounds good. Exposed only this framing, who wouldn't want to get a good deal on a house in North Minneapolis and move there immediately?

The problem is the four talking points aren't the only frame which exists. If you are familiar with North Minneapolis, already numerous counter-arguments must be forming, most of these centered on rampant and horrifying crime and notorious issues surrounding the "abundant housing stock," including break-ins to steal copper pipes and sell the pipes to buy, it appears, crack cocaine. (FOOTNOTE TWO)

What are alternative framings?

One of the most compelling alternative framings comes from the "affordable housing real estate tycoon" who wants to buy my property and convert it to a Section 8 rental using Mexican labor. (FOOTNOTE THREE) He states North Minneapolis will not change because poor and criminally-inclined people have to live somewhere, and this is where they already live.

Furthermore, private entities are buying up housing stock at an amazing rate and turning it into Section 8 rentals faster than slow-moving entities like neighborhood associations can effectively compete with limited dollars. "The slumlords will win every time" says this tycoon, in a variety of ways, and presses his points with rhetoric and examples.

The future of North Minneapolis is a low-income wonderland of Section 8 rentals and gang culture, according to this frame. The media frame is simple and direct: North Minneapolis as a dark pit of social despair, getting worse all the time.

Who controls the framing? And what are the possible frames?

To a degree, all entities and individuals who care to frame the issue control the framing, including [this blog].

Those vigorously attempting to control the framing include the neighborhood associations, other non-profits, and the City of Minneapolis with its "four talking points."

However, the media appear to have their own powerful and convincing frame, which is "North Minneapolis as a scary theme park of crime and social decay." The slumlords appear to have their own frame which is "here comes low-income rental wonderland, better get out of the way."

But through my blog,, I have put forward my own framing which I think is more effective than the four talking points, and can compete on a strong footing with both the "media frame" and "slumlord frame."

How should the issue be framed and why?

My frame--and it is not merely theoretical and academic, but something I have been trying earnestly to put forward--is called "Market and Romanticize the Struggle." (FOOTNOTE FOUR)
There is no effective way to counter the framing of the slumlords and the media with the four talking points. The four points are rooted in "positive thinking" and don't address the compelling question of "How shall we counter the reality of, for example, open air drug dealing and crack-addicted squatters breaking into houses, actually defecating inside?"

Indeed, the four points appear to be "pure spin," and a Pollyanna response to reality. Reality is if you go to the top of Farview Park for an hour, alone, there is a significant statistical possibility you'll be mugged or asked if you want to purchase drugs and/or the services of a prostitute. In a best case scenario, you will spend half your time looking over your shoulder for your safety.

Thus, anybody who is exposed to the four points and contrasts this frame against the media frame or the slumlord frame will say to themselves, "The four points are a lie and the media have it right. My own experience just driving around tells me this."

Instead of pretending the other frames don't exist or are not legitimate, I am putting forward my own talking points which assert brave and adventurous types should leap into the fray to "secure the North Side" because "with risk comes reward." (This is "Johnny Northside Talking Point One.")

Thus, my frame accepts the reality of the "media frame" and the "slumlord frame" but then asserts, "No! We will fight and we will win. What we need are brave risk takers to secure the North Side and share the bounty. With risk comes reward, in this case charming Victorian houses just minutes from downtown Minneapolis selling for $15,900! And this in an era of rising gas prices."

I am suggesting the "first wave" of new residents should consist of "adventurous" personalities who have some security training, such as police, security guards, and current or former members of the military. (This is Point Two) The first wave will see an opportunity to buy valuable real estate on the cheap, and then clear out the crime in the area through vigorous grassroots efforts as one would clear litter and weeds from a vacant lot, thus making their own properties more valuable and opening a safe path for second and third waves of residents. (POINT THREE) (FOOTNOTE FIVE)

The future waves will consist of students (especially grad students) who can't afford places like Uptown and Powderhorn Park for their first homes, and individuals from depressed rural areas who are desperate to gain a foothold in a major metropolitan area and escape pathetically low wages and lack of cultural opportunities in small, dying rural towns. (Point 4)

Thus, for purposes of easy recollection, I describe three groups all beginning with the letter "S," namely Soldiers, Students and South Dakotans. (FOOTNOTE SIX)

I am pointing out to all who will listen that Minneapolis is growing, and now real estate so close to the downtown retail core is too valuable to remain a depressed area. (FOOTNOTE SEVEN) Dramatic change has already happened in North Minneapolis. Even more dramatic change is inevitable. I believe positive change requires grappling with cold, hard reality instead of plugging one's ears to bad news and singing la-la-la-la-la.

Other organizations such as the military use a form of "Market and Romanticize the Struggle" to gain recruits. When faced with negative facts, sidestepping and spinning "alternative facts" hardly ever works. It is far better to somehow turn a negative into a positive. In military recruitment commercials, recruits are shown sweating and struggling, yet emerging triumphant and transformed by their struggle.

These ads work, especially when combined with the economic reality of college tuition payments through the Montgomery GI Bill and a steady, decent paying job in the military, not to mention (in many instances) valuable vocational training. In a similar manner, "Market and Romanticize the Struggle" would work, especially combined with things like the Minneapolis Advantage Program to help individuals buy homes.

Revitalization and renewal of the Central District in Seattle is a model for what is possible in North Minneapolis. Back in 1999, when I lived in Seattle, the Central District was in a situation rather similar to North Minneapolis. However, through the efforts of visionary activists (including my friend Chris Gilmore) that whole area turned around, and folks who had courage and vision obtained fantastic deals on Victorian homes with lovely interior features. (FOOTNOTE EIGHT)

That is my exercise in framing. But, more so, that is my vision.


(Apologies in advance for the tendency of Star Tribune links to go dead, not by accident but as part of a lame attempt to get consumers to purchase articles from their archives. See my opinion column "Avista Capital Partners Is The Devil." )

FOOTNOTE TWO: See Minn Post, "Minneapolis North Side copper theft epidemic adds to mounting house problems."

FOOTNOTE THREE: For the record, I currently have a signed purchase agreement with a "non-slumlord" buyer promoting positive development in my neighborhood. I plan to buy another house on or near the same block with the proceeds from the sale.

FOOTNOTE FOUR: In the original homework assignment, this footnote said, "Indeed, this memo will soon join the content on my blog."

FOOTNOTE FIVE: Marketing appeals might include posters done in the style of World War II propaganda posters, urging individuals to "Secure the North Side" and reminding them "with risk comes reward." Any "Wild West" appeal should be avoided, however, as insensitive to Native Americans.

However, a "gold rush" metaphor might work quite well, something along the lines of "Stake your claim to the riches of the North Side."

FOOTNOTE SIX: It should be noted I have been a member, in the broadest sense, of all three groups. 1.) Grad student, 2.) Former soldier and security guard, 3.) Desperate to avoid ever living in a depressed rural area ever again, albeit I lived in North Dakota instead of South Dakota.

I also considered adding "Southeast Asians" and "some gay people" to the frame. However, there appears to be no need to convince Hmong to move to the North Side--they are already doing so--and if gay people are convinced to move to the North Side it is my belief that direct marking appeals will backfire.

Either the North Side is the next happening place to get a great deal on a Victorian or it isn't. Low key, individual, one-on-one efforts are more likely to be successful than a semi-official marketing strategy which boldly announces "We're going to reach out to gay people to revitalize our neighborhood."

One can predict a backlash from conservative churches. It would get ugly. Gay people would get caught in the middle. Best to avoid that scenario, according to my best calculations.

FOOTNOTE SEVEN: Anderson Mitchell has articulated a good theory about how gas prices will drive North Side revitalization due to proximity of North Minneapolis to the downtown core. Again, the real estate is too valuable to remain in a depressed state. Now is the time to "buy stock."

Additionally, a new trend of "walkable urbanism" is emerging, according to CNN.

FOOTNOTE EIGHT: See this article in the Seattle times. It should be noted that, unfortunately, an incredible amount of diversity was lost in the Central District, with black residents pushed to outlying towns like Renton, Washington. Such a mistake should be avoided in North Minneapolis and the "Central District" of Seattle should serve as a cautionary tale.

(Do not click "Read More")


kd said...

This marketing of North Mpls. by community organizations has been a huge, sore spot of mine for years and I live here. Every time they attempt this, it’s the same old crap. Maybe I should be grateful that “easy access to the freeways” didn’t make the top four this year. It has in the past. Except for #1 of the 4 selling points listed, the other 3 are laughable. I’m sorry, I’m not going to mince words. They are.

Do the people working on this marketing campaign really believe no one is going to notice the pesky, little crime issue or perceived crime issue we have? How many people got shot at the recent Juneteenth celebration? How many people have gotten shot at past Juneteenth celebrations? How as a nice contrast, how many people have been shot at the Uptown Art Fair – EVER?

Ain’t going to work folks. The word is out there. Has been for years. North Mpls. is the hellhole of the city. I’m not saying I agree with that statement, but that’s the perception. I’ve known way too many people who have moved to this part of the city not knowing what they were getting into and moved right back out as fast as they could. A plethora of nail salons on West Broadway wasn’t enough to keep them here.

We desperately need another approach and I think you may have hit on something worth pursuing. The only group you might want to revisit in your 1st wave of people is the police. From what I’ve heard in the past, it’s almost impossible for them to live in the inner city since once folks find out who they are and what they do they become prime targets of the criminal element. Maybe it’s not true, but that’s what I’ve heard.

You’re also right on about the problem of marketing to gays. Unless they would appear in significant numbers, all at the same time, all in the same area they would be huge targets of the black youth around here. Yup, I said it - the black youth. I’m not taking it back. The next time you have the opportunity to hear some of their angry and heated exchanges on the street, notice how many times the word “faggot” rolls off their tongues. And no, it’s not used in a respectful way.

I once had a couple of gay guys living in my upper duplex. When word got out on street they were living together, they were harassed every time they walked outside. It was really ugly and really sad. This isn’t something that’s talked about very often, but I think it’s well known that the black community in general is very bigoted when it comes to gays. I’m sure that statement is going to ruffle a few feathers out there, but so be it. Do a bit of research and you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

OK, so how would such a plan be implemented around here?

Great work by the way.

Johnny Northside said...

Like it wasn't hot enough on my blog. Gee, thanks for turning the heat up several notches.

I will address your question of how such a marketing strategy would be implemented.

I imagine you implement it the same way as the "four points." The principal players who agree on the four points would have to reach a consensus and say "the four points isn't working...we want to try MARKET AND ROMANTICIZE THE STRUGGLE."

After that, one does logical implementation. I imagine a website with an overwhelming amount of crime data, block by block, so home buyers could be assisted in making tactical choices about which blocks are "secured" and which ones are "struggling" when making decisions about where to move with their families.

Marketing would be tied in to the struggle. This already happens when you read articles about, for example, neighbors gathering to toast the demolition of the "Big Stop" store.

Stuff like that is already an example of "Market and Romanticize the Struggle." How cool is it to stand with your friends after winning a battle and toast with champagne? I have done that ONCE in my life, in Seattle, when I helped save a historic 8-story apartment building from a wrecking ball.

We fought...we struggled...we weren't sure if we would win, if all would be lost...then somehow we pulled out a crushing, total victory. It was so cool. In a neighborhood where everything is perfect, people have to fight over dog poop and garage doors which are just a bit too...ORANGE.

Can one possibly drink champagne over those kind of neighborhood victories? Ridiculous! But shutting down a crack house? Oh, it definitely calls for champagne.

I imagine hiring some professional videographers like my friends Jake and Gabe of 612 Authentic to make a promotional video...sort of a parody of Starship Troopers...which would "recruit" individuals to "Win your share of the riches...join the struggle to secure the North Side!"

Posters done in a tongue-and-cheek World War II propaganda style would spread the message. For example, a picture of a crack dealer being busted while a citizen looks from behind a curtain, cell phone in hand.

Like the old World War Two poster, the message would say in big letters: SOMEBODY TALKED!

My marketing strategy requires a fundamental attitude shift to simply say: You know what? Truth hurts.

It's time to quit rationalizing, making elaborate defensive excuses, putting on rose-colored glasses, singing happy Pollyanna songs, and blaming the big bad media for telling it how it is.

If the North Side is going to have a marketing strategy, that strategy should find a way to take what is actually there and market it to people who find it attractive.

The "first wave" is the key to making the thing work. Only by getting as many "security minded" people in the mix can the area be secured, so the other groups can start to find the area attractive and follow.

However, I think one must market "block by block." In fact, I think EVERY NORTH SIDE BLOCK SHOULD HAVE ITS OWN DISTINCTIVE NAME and it should be named after the person who is the most involved in keeping that block "safe, secure and orderly" or (if the block is already "SSO") keeping the block pretty, prosperous and thriving.

If some areas of the North Side are wonderful, and other areas are tough as hell, then let us take a more granular view and market what is going on with INDIVIDUAL BLOCKS.

That way, people can say, "Oh, that murder? Well, that's (fill in the blank) block, which historically has always been tough. But my block, (fill in the blank) hasn't had a murder since 1888!"

By the way, I talked to a young cop who said he'd love to buy cheap and move in to the Eco-Village area because, as he said, "I'm young and I have a lot of guns." But he said he couldn't convince his wife. (It's in another one of my blog postings)

Tell the average person they'll be "targeted" and that scares them. But tell a cop they'll be "targeted" and you get a different response.

Warriors grow bored when there is no fight. Their psychology seeks a fight and an opportunity to be victorious, to be a hero.

The United States military branches have succeeded for years with "market and romanticize the struggle."

Like the mystique attached to a soldier who has been in battles, there is a certain romantic mystique about somebody who can stand in front of their home and point out in their neighborhood and say, "That used to be a crack house. We got it shut down. Now the city owns it, and a nice refugee family from Laos lives there."

This kind of appeal will, I am convinced, work with young graduate students. But how will young graduate students respond to something like "lots of businesses."

Hey, they're young and have graduate degrees. The world is their oyster. They can go anywhere and have jobs.

The question is what will make them want to go to the North Side? I think it must be the opportunity to have an impact and tell tales of one's victories and adventures. As well as (of course) the chance to "buy low" and work to push the value of the stock higher.

Anonymous said...

Hey john n

I have been reading all of this info regarding tj waconia forever.
I worked for them for 3 years managing or trying to manage these properties. I would love to talk to you regarding buying and renting section 8 with a investor.
We would be the landlords with the most regards to providing the right rentals with the upmost respects to providing the right home for section 8 people.I would love to hear back from you on your input.

Johnny Northside said...

Yes, T.J. Waconia is a particular obsession of mine. I suppose you know Jim W?

If you want to talk to me, email me at

Camden Northsider said...

Johnny - I appreciate the work you're doing in your locale and think you offer a unique and novel approach to community activism/ revitalization - to be honest, I've really enjoyed reading your blog and think you have a ton of great insights and enjoy the humorous approach you take in tackling serious issues.

I've also seen that your site has been getting a lot of attention lately in the media and on the web, but I think in some ways you are contradicting yourself - by being just another person lumping the entire geographic area of North Minneapolis into the category of total urban blight, you are doing a number of North neighborhoods an injustice.

As part of your marketing plan, you stated that each block should have its own name - that way there could be a further "comparmentalization" so to speak of various crime stats, etc. I think one thing your blog fails to address or realize, is that there are neighborhoods in North that are low-crime/ high quality of life, and when you fail to differentiate what areas of North Minneapolis you are referring to you, you are doing these areas an injustice and perhaps working to the detriment of them. For instance, Harrison neighborhood has had a lot of new development going on and in some ways looks to be on track for gentrification. The areas along Theo Wirth parkway in Willard-Hay neighborhood are full of large, beautiful, well-maintained older homes and remain pretty safe. There are a number of Camden neighborhoods that exhibit much lower crime rates per capita than the Minneapolis average (this is esp. true for Victory, Shingle Creek, and to an extend Cleveland and Lind Bohanon) - some of which have less crime per capita than some Calhoun-Isle and even SW neighborhoods; a high quality of life can similarly be found as well. And you can find a high per capita amount of adventurous yuppies restoring old Victorians in the Old Highland area.

I have worked in direct service roles at a North Minneapolis-based nonprofit (Jordan/ Near North neighborhoods), so I definitely know that there is a significant area of North - esp in Jordan, Hawthorne (and to a lesser extent Harrison, Near North, and Willard-Hay), where drugs, prostition, violence, unemployment, poverty, and slum-lording is rampant- and I agree that it does not help to sugarcoat some of the problems/ blight in these neighborhoods. But one should also mention that there are also very great individuals and families (like yourself) that live in these neighborhoods that are working hard to provide for their families and maintain or improve their blocks/ neighborhoods.

And I similarly am a homeowner in the Victory neighborhood, which although similarly affordable (as compared to Mpls average), is arguably nicer and enjoys a better quality of life than a majority of neighborhoods in Minneapolis - and I am in no way sugarcoating here, this is my honest belief/ impression, a lot of which can be backed up by stats.

What is my point? My only concern with your blog is that when non-Northsiders see it, in some ways you are perpetuating what the media is already doing a bang-up job in doing - making persons think that EVERYWHERE on the Northside is blighted/ crime-ridden which isn't the case. Is there a larger concentration of poverty and crime in Jordan and Hawthorne (and on a larger scale the "near north" area)? - Yes, but there are also South neighborhoods in Philips that are not far behind if not close to being on par. The neighborhoods of the Northside represent a large diversity in all quality of life indicators that outsiders generally are not aware of unless they come in person. And there are Camden neighborhoods that have always exhibited higher median incomes and lower crime rates (and at times higher property values) than the Minneapolis average - this, in my opinion, is good for the Northside as a whole - it makes it feel a lot less scary to live here for persons not familiar with the area that have only seen negative news stories/ online content.

And regarding marketing to GLBT persons, the Get to NOMI campaign (sponsored by the GLBT Northsiders/ Camden Gay Neighbors League) has been doing a bang-up job with their hometours and marketing efforts - helpful, I think, to this was that there was already a pretty substantial population of GLBT folks in Camden neighborhoods.

Hope my little rant/ two-cents make sense, and I just felt the need to throw it out there and see what your thoughts were on it. Other than that, keep up the good work and activism!

P.S. On another note - I have found the Northside Marketing Task Force to be a stuffy and non-welcoming group - I inquired on more than a couple of ocassions for more information or ways to get involved with them, and felt snubbed or was not given any information on both ocassions - I thought about putting aside my pride and inquiring again, but decided that I'd rather spend any volunteer time/ efforts with a warmer and more welcoming group of people.

P.P.S. - I was born and raised in South Dakota(LOL)!

Johnny Northside said...

Thanks for the long and thoughtful post. I write about the truth and reality of my experience, which is mostly in Hawthorne. The reality of fine old homes in streets almost free of crime is not part of my ordinary reality.

HOWEVER...we are winning. And my blog shows we're winning. And if people want to write long, detailed posts about their own North Minneapolis reality...I'm sure I'd approve the posts. In the meantime, at this very moment, I have to go to my email and see if a picture arrived of a massive police raid on 2207 6th St. N.