We can revitalize our community. It’s time to support the East Phillips Indoor Urban Farm. 

Ninety-eight percent of Minneapolis residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park. By contrast, East Phillips residents will live within a 10-minute walk of a massive parking ramp if the Minneapolis City Council continues down its current path, an expansion to the City of Minneapolis maintenance facility, including the construction of a 400-space employee parking facility. 

This contested area sits in the heart of south Minneapolis, an industrial brick building located on a 7.5-acre site, nestled between 26th and 28th Streets and surrounded by some of the most affordable residential housing in the city. Its iconic “Roof Depot” water tank can be seen from the Greenway’s Sabo bridge.

The East Phillips Indoor Urban Farm promises a better future for the site: a dynamic hub for local businesses; the creation of affordable housing; and an urban farm growing fresh, healthy food. The City of Minneapolis vision for this parcel of land ensures more of the status quo: more traffic, more pollution, and a continuing disregard of those who have borne the brunt of environmental and societal injustices. 

At 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, August 18, the Policy and Government Oversight Committee will vote on whether to end the City’s expansion of the Public Works maintenance facility, dubbed the Hiawatha Campus. Seven council votes are needed. If this measure passes, additional funds will be needed to continue realizing the vision of the East Phillips Urban Farm. These costs pale in the face of the environmental and public health externalities associated with moving forward with the original City of Minneapolis expansion plan.

East Phillips—home to one of the state’s most diverse neighborhoods and the largest Indigenous community in Minneapolis—already suffers from major sources of pollution and contamination. The neighborhood is crisscrossed by busy county and city roads. The traffic menace leaves bus riders, pedestrians, and bicyclists to say a prayer for their safety when crossing streets like Cedar Avenue or 26th Street. In 2007, the federal Environmental Protection Agency officially placed the south Minneapolis residential soil contamination superfund site in East Phillips on its national priorities list, requiring the clean-up of more than 50,000 tons of arsenic contaminated soil. 

A tangle of jurisdictions controls the area around the Roof Depot site. Hennepin County, MnDOT, the City of Minneapolis, and even the Metropolitan Council own different parcels of land. All of them have neglected—perhaps abandoned—the East Phillips community. This summer, that abandonment feels particularly apparent. 

For example, on the Metropolitan Council parcel east of the Sabo bridge, a fenced-off meadow bars neighborhood residents from entering some of the little green space that exists. On Hennepin County land next to the Roof Depot site, newly planted trees suffer from poor maintenance. It seems unlikely they’ll survive past this summer drought. Because of the lack of tree cover, the average outdoor temperature in East Phillips is often 10 degrees higher than it is in wealthier neighborhoods. 

The idea brought forward by the City of Minneapolis would bring a parking ramp for 400 cars, increased traffic, two 12,000-gallon oil tanks, and diesel equipment into an already polluted neighborhood. If the City of Minneapolis has its way, East Phillips neighbors could see arsenic released from the soil and into the air through the demolition of the Roof Depot building. And community health will continue to suffer with increased exposure to pollutants, leading to asthma, cancer, and cardiovascular issues.

We are at generational crossroads. We can either allow for environmental injustice to rampantly run over our working-class BIPOC communities or we can use every single tool in the toolbox to deliver an invaluable community resource that will benefit generations of Southsiders to come. The residents of East Phillips deserve better. Community-driven initiatives such as the East Philips Indoor Urban Farm deserve to be recognized and brought to reality. 

East Phillips residents deserve more green space, cleaner air to breathe, and hope for a better future.

Jason Chavez is the DFL-DSA-Labor endorsed candidate for the Minneapolis City Council 9th Ward and was born and raised in the East Phillips Neighborhood. He serves as a Committee Legislative Aide to the...

Becky Alper is a candidate for Minneapolis Park Board District 3, an area of south Minneapolis which stretches from 35W to the river and Cedar–Riverside to 36th Street. She is a Seward resident, mom...