May 8, 2015
Kalia Vang, Program Assistant, Central Corridor Funders Collaborative (CCFC)
When describing Polly Talen, the most popular words from colleagues and community partners are: enthusiastic, authentic, and community-oriented. For many of the nearly 13 years that Polly worked at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation as the Saint Paul Program Director, she served as co-chair of the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative alongside Ann Mulholland of the Saint Paul Foundation. Polly was pivotal in shaping and implementing the Funders Collaborative investment strategy while also bringing the Knight Foundation Green Line Challenge program to Saint Paul. Polly worked with countless others to secure Saint Paul’s deep participation in other signature programs of the Knight Foundation, including the Arts and Cities Challenges.
Before her departure at the end of April, I sat down with Polly to reflect on the defining moments during her tenure and hopes for the future of the the Central Corridor.
As co-chair of CCFC, you were integral in forming the concept of the Collaborative as beyond the rail and community-oriented. When you look back at the years since CCFC’s beginning, what moments or accomplishments are you most proud of?
I’m very proud of the time that the Funders Collaborative spent learning to inform our strategy. This included learning about city and neighborhood plans for development, the field of transit-oriented development, similar projects and other funder collaboratives in the country, and how small businesses and communities could benefit from infrastructure investments, rather than be harmed or displaced by it. All of these perspectives shaped the Funders Collaborative’s work.
Second, I am extremely proud that we hired Jonathan Sage-Martinson to be the first Program Director. He was the perfect person for what CCFC would require: he had been a community developer and was very good at coordinating with neighborhood stakeholders, city leaders, and county officials who all came together to make this a success.
Another proud moment was the announcement that the three stops – Hamline, Victoria, and Western stations – would be part of the initial construction instead of being added later on and seeing the neighborhood activists declare victory. We were only one part of that but it was a celebration for everybody. It was an emotional moment for me that still gets me choked up today.
If you were to offer a piece of advice to other place-based funder collaboratives what would it be?
In the beginning, we made a strategic decision to be a funders-only collaborative. It was important to us because we knew that our non-profit partners would be leaders and implementers– and this arrangement allowed the funders to make grants to them to do the work without fear of folks feeling like they had inside access to the Funders Collaborative. We, the funders, intentionally played an intermediary role shining the light on the many partners and the working groups who were doing the real on the ground work that had to be done.
We also built a continuous learning agenda to inform not just funder members, but also for community partners to learn from each other and other organizations doing similar work.
What’s happening along the Green Line today that excites you most? In 10 years, what would you wish to see more or less of along the Green Line?
The amount of new development: new businesses, construction-that’s exciting. I’d like to see fewer vacant lots and more dense development, amenities and green space to attract pedestrians in the neighborhoods and those getting off of the line itself. I’d like to see the businesses continue to thrive and be able to remain successful with the opportunity of having transit outside of their doors. I want to see more activity on the sidewalks that connect the stations where there may not be as many engaging places for pedestrians. This includes more arts and culture.
What words describe the impact the Funders Collaborative has and will make in the Twin Cities?
The Funders Collaborative aimed to convene diverse stakeholders and build shared solutions. This helped to ensure that Green Line neighborhoods and commercial districts were positively impacted rather than harmed, as they had been by I-94. Working with public sector and non-profit partners, we were able to institutionalize a way to work collaboratively over an extended period of time. This received both regional and national attention.
Is there a story or moment working with the Funders, members of the community, and others that resonated with you or that you take with you as you depart the Funders Collaborative?
I’ve mentioned this before, but the press conference about the three missing stops remains a defining moment. The initial plan to have the three stops be constructed in a second phase had so much potential to reinforce the opposite of why the Funders Collaborative came together. The inclusion of the three stops was a victory for the neighborhoods, for the Twin Cities; this enabled us to do this project the way we all in our heart of hearts and our values, knew it needed to be done.
Do you have any words of wisdom about the 2015 Knight Green Line Challenge?
I am excited that the Green Line Challenge will be returning for a second year. Knight will be looking for ideas that will help neighborhoods take advantage of the fact that they are now part of a major transit corridor. What are those ideas that can help make these neighborhoods even more vibrant places to live, work, play, and visit? In the first year, Knight received a tremendous number of applications and I am confident that the second year will see the same response.