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Map of Minneapolis showing Northside.

The Northside of Minneapolis (shaded area) is home to about 63,000 residents.

An urban agenda for the 21st century

University Northside Partnership comes into focus

By Rick Moore

From M, summer 2007

Throughout the course of its 156-year history, the University of Minnesota has established a strong tradition of public engagement with rural communities. But as the 21st century unfolds, the U is widening its view on problems facing contemporary urban communities, and in particular, the broad swath of Minneapolis known as the Northside community.

Home to some 63,000 residents, the diverse Northside continues to face a host of challenges, including some striking economic and health disparities. The unemployment rate is 10 percent (compared to 3 percent for the city overall), and about 36 percent of children 5 and under live in poverty (compared to 11 percent for all of Hennepin County), with the number doubling from 1990 to 2000.

To help address some of these social and economic challenges, the University has teamed up with the community for a collaborative effort known as the University Northside Partnership (UNP). The U's many partners include NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center, the Northside Residents Redevelopment Council, Northway Community Trust, City of Minneapolis, Hennepin County, and the Coalition of Black Churches.

"The [Northside] has tremendous untapped assets and resources," says Taylor. "This is a great opportunity for the U to assist that community in actualizing its potential. And that's exciting."

According to Robert Jones, the U's senior vice president for system administration, the vision for the partnership is to create a first-of-its-kind urban equivalent of one of the University's highly successful research and outreach centers (ROC), which are hubs for public engagement with rural communities.

"We need a coherent 21st century urban agenda," Jones told the U's Board of Regents in a preliminary presentation about UNP in February. "Why? Because we live in an urban age." The ROC model, Jones adds, is "a good way of thinking about this, and better coordinating our resources to bring about systemic change."

The U will bring a host of resources-along with a prized recruit-to bear on the partnership. One issue greatly affecting the Northside is the number of children in foster care. To help address this concern, the University hired Dante Cicchetti as the new McKnight Presidential Chair and professor in the Institute of Child Development and Department of Psychiatry. Cicchetti developed a program at the University of Rochester in New York that significantly reduced the number of children placed in foster care, and he will bring his groundbreaking expertise in developmental psychopathology to the new Child and Family Center on the Northside, which will partner with NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center.

Darlyne Bailey, dean of the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD), will be the academic lead of the partnership, and faculty in CEHD will have extensive involvement, including Scott McConnell from the Center for Early Education and Development (CEED), and Geoff Maruyama, associate vice president for system academic administration and professor in educational psychology.

While in the past, University faculty from numerous colleges and departments have been involved with specific projects on the Northside, "It hasn't been what I would consider to be an organized, collective effort, where the University has intentionally marshaled a large amount of its resources to go in and accomplish certain objectives," says Craig Taylor, director of the U's Office for Business and Community Economic Development and a long-time north Minneapolis resident.

Taylor feels that over time, the U's collaborative efforts on the Northside could pay big dividends in terms of community health and educational attainment. And he feels UNP's potential to yield economic dividends should not be overlooked, since a stable economic platform underlies the ability for children to succeed.

"The [Northside] has tremendous untapped assets and resources," says Taylor. "This is a great opportunity for the U to assist that community in actualizing its potential. And that's exciting."