MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota — The city of Minneapolis is working with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) USA to become one of the country's first child-friendly cities.
The city started the process in 2020. Three years later, UNICEF recognized Minneapolis as a Child Friendly Cities Initiative (CFCI) candidate. Minneapolis is the second city in the U.S. to reach this point — just behind Houston.
"The UNICEF Child Friendly Cities Initiative is a global methodology that communities all around the world have used to really take an inventory of the way our policies, programs and budgets impact children in their community... especially vulnerable and excluded children," explained Michael Nyenhuis, president and CEO of UNICEF USA. "So we work with communities to do that process, inventory... find out what the gaps are and then to deliver an action plan to fill some of those gaps."
The city's CFCI Local Action Plan addresses four top priorities: Emergency management + preparedness planning; youth voice in decision-making spaces; community safety; and child rights education + awareness.
For example, one strategy for child rights education and awareness is to "research and develop a sustainable youth-adult leadership structure for child rights learning and training in Minneapolis."
Another strategy to bring more youth into decision-making spaces is for the city and the Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board to develop a Youth on Boards program where young people are trained, paid and supported to serve as voting members of city boards and commissions.
According to Nyenhuis, the CFCI has two components, saying, "There's actions to improve the welfare of kids but also creating a pathway for their voices to be hard. We talk about the needs and voices of children being the center of the child friendly city process."
"Our children need us. They need us to be great; they need us to listen; they need us to have passion and compassion. They need us more than anything to be there for them," Minneapolis City Council Member LaTrisha Vetaw said.
UNICEF will return a year from now and if the city of Minneapolis has accomplished the goals of its CFCI Local Action Plan, UNICEF will grant the city the designation of a "Child Friendly City."
"It's not just lip service. It's doubling down on the things that we believe will work for young people. Right now, we have an initiative called Stable Homes Stable Schools that has housed over 3,300 kids in our Minneapolis Public Schools system and counting," Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said.
But a group of East Phillips residents attended the announcement in downtown Minneapolis on Tuesday and pushed back on the mayor's commitment to kids. They interrupted the press conference to voice their concerns over the city's plan for the former Roof Depot site, including the building's demolition. The Hiawatha Campus Expansion Project involves combining three public works sites into one and demolishing the vacant Roof Depot warehouse. You can read more background on the issue, here.
Mayor Frey responded to the press conference being interrupted to say, "Everybody, this is a celebratory moment here. This is a really big deal for the city of Minneapolis."
Several times, activists were told to hold their questions until the end of the presentation. After Frey's speech and during Rep. Ilhan Omar's comments, Frey started to leave the room. One person asked him if he was leaving, saying he couldn't leave without answering questions. Frey responded by saying he would talk to people outside but that he was leaving to attend the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives event.
East Phillips residents ended up voicing their concerns after the presentation to Nyenhuis.
"What he's doing is polluting our neighborhood. What he's doing is harming our children. It would be a contradiction of terms for UNICEF to support the mayor and the city in a time when he's doing things like this. He has the power to stop the demolition and he's not doing that. He has the power to not put 500 extra diesel vehicles in our neighborhood that's already overburdened with asthma, heart conditions and cancer, and he's not doing that. So your voice would be really helpful for us in this issue," said Daniel Schmidt, an East Phillips resident.
Nyenhuis told KARE 11, "The public voices — the areas of concern that they have about children in their own communities and neighborhoods — are welcomed and invited into this process. So we hope we hear from them and hope that the real needs and the most important needs of children are brought forward."
About 3,000 cities across the world have been a part of the CFCI. UNICEF brought it to the U.S. in 2020 and now has at least a dozen cities in the nation in the process of becoming child-friendly cities.
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