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, www.johnnynorthside.com, 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.
FOOTNOTE ONE: http://www.startribune.com/local/minneapolis/11823016.html
(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")