Last year, one of my Downtown heroes, Tom Hoch, president of the Hennepin Theatre Trust, pulled a group of us together to talk about how to keep the city clean.
The idea was simple — remind people that collectively we can make our city better by just taking our mother’s advice to pick up after yourself. It’s the little things — like cigarette butts — that make our city look like we don’t care.
But, we do care. The property owners made that clear when they petitioned to start the Downtown Improvement District (DID) and raise the standard of care and behavior in Downtown.
The goal was clear: make downtown better by making it cleaner, greener and safer. And the results are adding up in just three months.
The hard numbers are important, but it’s the effect it has on people’s behavior and attitudes that really matters. The District’s singular purpose is to make Downtown more vibrant. The services we implemented are simply the means to that end.
Someone recently had this to stay about the DID: “I’ve run into DID folks cleaning and helping people and I truly admire how you’re making downtown Minneapolis a better place to live, work, or visit. Keep it up!”
I know that we are achieving our mission when I hear statements like that.
And, the work we do is impacting people’s behavior. Just the other day, a Downtown resident called to say that the most amazing thing happened — a DID Ambassador was cleaning the sidewalk when suddenly, without any prompting, a man who was sitting in the area actually got up and walked his cigarette butt and coffee cup over to the trash can.
On numerous occasions this man, and others, had simply dropped things on the sidewalk — but not this time. This time, he took the hint that we care about our Downtown and he responded in kind.
Why does this matter? The broken window theory suggests if a window remains broken, or graffiti is unchallenged, or a sidewalk is littered, then people perceive that the entire area is uncared for and unsafe. If we can clean up Downtown, provide friendly assistance to people along the way and change people’s behaviors so that they too are taking care of Downtown, then it will be a safer, better and more vibrant Downtown.
After only a few weeks of DID services, a Downtown employee e-mailed me to say: “The work you are doing is fantastic and makes a HUGE difference. I feel much safer and am very proud to work Downtown.”
So, I guess the answer is that it doesn’t take long at all to turn people’s perception of downtown around.
Meet Christina C., safe ambassador.
Most unique question asked of Christina: “‘Did I get a ticket?’ They assume I’m the meter maid, so I think I should carry a mock-ticket that simply says ‘Have a Great Day.’”
Christina has lived in numerous locations from Michigan to Istanbul. But of all the places she has lived, it was Minneapolis that she wanted to return to and call home. So she and her husband jumped at the chance for him to accept a job offer here.
She loves to give back to the community and wants people to have a great
experience in Downtown whether they are here for work or a visitor checking out the cultural scene.
Sarah Harris is the Chief Operating Officer of the Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making Downtown a clean, safe, green and vibrant place to be.