Education / Entertainment / Lifestyle / Society

High-rise ghettos or urban villages? Riverside Plaza and Seward Towers in Minneapolis

Source: Twin Cities Daily Planet

Are the Riverside Plaza and Seward high-rise apartment complexes, home to low-income residents for more than 35 years, “beyond merely shabby” and filled with crime? Or are they “a vital and fascinating mix of cultures … a series of villages in the city with the opportunity to begin life in the United States among one’s countrymen?”

As rehab plans for the Riverside Plaza buildings go forward, community debate has intensified. Many people object to the design of the buildings, or to the concept of high-rise apartment housing for low-income residents. For others, the discussion is tinged with racism and anti-immigrant prejudice.  One commenter observed: “One person’s ghetto is another person’s village.”

In this series, our in-depth reporting highlights concerns and facts, featuring the voices and stories of people who live and work in the communities.

“Everyone’s so close” at Cedar Riverside Community School in Minneapolis by Karen Hollish • The school’s 2009-10 standardized test scores in math placed its students squarely above state and Minneapolis Public School averages. And overall, the student body’s reading scores improved from the previous year as well.

“So nice to see” – Riverside Plaza residents await reconstruction by Karen Hollish • Improved outdoor lighting, way-finding guides and security cameras are just a small part of the major changes expected from the reconstruction. The nine residential buildings will have their heating, cooling and ventilation systems overhauled, resulting in energy savings for the landlord and more consistent apartment temperatures and hot water access for tenants.

Immigrant business owners thrive in Cedar Riverside and Seward in Minneapolis
by Sheila Regan • The Cedar Riverside neighborhood is a hotspot of activity, with many theater and music venues, as well as diverse ethnic food offerings.  As resident demographics have changed over the years, so have small businesses, which now include a strong contingent of hard working immigrant business owners doing their best to make their way in the thriving, if at times challenging, area.

Move up and move on: Hussein Samatar’s take on Riverside Plaza by Jessie Lieb • “My take is that the new Americans don’t come here to live high-rise. They come here to live American. They come to live to be prosperous. And they are all aware, they believe as America believes, that their children will do better. They are not coming to live in high rises but they find themselves living in high rises because it is affordable. I know when people look at the high rises from outside they try to project their fears on these high rises as if the people who live there created them, as if they are the architect.”

Crime in Cedar-Riverside decreasing by Nekessa Opoti • From trash talk on Facebookto national news, talk about Cedar-Riverside leaves many believing that this Minneapolis neighborhood is among the most dangerous neighborhoods in the United States. The facts? Not even close. While it is true that the neighborhood has suffered several tragedies in the recent past, crime statistics tell a different story.

Riverside Plaza: History in the (re)making by Justin Elston • Of all the landmarks in Minneapolis—from the Cherry and Spoon sculpture to Minnehaha Falls, the Stone Arch Bridge or St. Mary’s Basilica—few are as poorly understood or generate as much debate as Riverside Plaza.  Encompassing several city blocks in the Cedar-Riverside area, Riverside Plaza is a set of high-rise residential towers, built in the early 1970s, that has created its own distinct micro-community of several thousand residents within its walls.

Seward’s skyscrapers: Past and present by Sheila Regan • If you’ve ever driven down Franklin Avenue or Riverside Avenue just south of Interstate 94, you’ve probably noticed two high-rise towers that, at 21 stories high, are a landmark of the neighborhood.  Seward Towers East and West, originally called Bor-Son Towers, were built in 1969 and 1970 and for forty years have provided affordable housing for Minneapolis residents.

“School I like:” Adult ESL at Riverside Plaza by Karen Hollish • Ibrahim Nasir, 76, peered down at his keyboard, perplexed but determined. After a belabored bout of hunting, pecking and squinting up at the screen, it was finally out: “Abraaaaaaaaahiim nasir,” his assignment read.


From school to theater to streets: Youth programs in Cedar Riverside by Sheila Regan • There are 984 youth living in Riverside Plaza, according to property manager Mimi Gibson.  To serve the enormous number of children, many from immigrant communities, a number of organizations provide programming for children from birth  through high school.

The view from Middlebrook Hall to Riverside Plaza by Jessie Lieb • Middlebrook Hall, located on 22nd and Riverside Avenue, is the only West Bank University of Minnesota student housing. When new students arrive, they find themselves in a rich b ut unfamiliar cultural milieu, a densely urban and multi-cultural neighborhood that sometimes seems dangerous.

Worlds away, blocks apart: Student’s journey from Riverside Plaza Towers to the U of M by Jessie Lieb • Ryan Colbert, a first year student at the University of Minnesota, can see his childhood in the distance. Growing up in the Riverside Plaza Towers for the first twelve years of his life and now living on the West Bank again as a student asin the U of M’s Middlebrook Hall dorm, he has seen multiple aspects of the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.

CEDAR RIVERSIDE SEWARD BLOG | Body art and Cedar Avenue to Art • Adrienne Dorn works at Cedar Cultural Center, and she likes Riverside Plaza’s architecture so much that she wears it on her arm.

CEDAR RIVERSIDE SEWARD BLOG | An introduction to ESL at Riverside Plaza • I visited Karen Amit’s English as a Second Language classroom at Riverside Plaza. She uses repetition, encouragement and, as she puts it, lots of big-gestured “Italian talking” to reach her students.

CEDAR RIVERSIDE SEWARD BLOG | The Haight Ashbury of the Midwest? • Randy Stoecker wrote a fascinating book looking at the struggles of the 1970s, from the perspective of the early 1990s.

CEDAR RIVERSIDE SEWARD BLOG | Dealing with “on-line attack fatigue” in the Somali community • As an outreach coordinator for E-Democracy’s Cedar-Riverside forum, Julia Nekessa Opoti writes about the fears she has found in the Cedar-Riverside Somali community. She is also a writer for TC Daily Planet’s Cedar-Riverside-Seward high-rise series.

CEDAR RIVERSIDE SEWARD BLOG | Cedar-Riverside neighborhood: Who lives here? • How many immigrants, and from which countries? Working class or poor? How many families with children and how many elders? Long term residents and newcomers?

CEDAR RIVERSIDE SEWARD BLOG | “Self determination for Vietnam and self determination for Cedar-Riverside!” • Riverside Plaza may spark some controversy now – but it’s tame, compared to the early days.

Coverage of issues of race and race relations, cultural diversity and immigrant health issues is funded in part by a grant from the F.R. Bigelow Foundation.



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