A night out in the neighborhoodby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
National Night Out is a time when people come out of their homes and apartment buildings and meet the neighbors. This year there are fewer people and more boarded and vacant homes on some Minneapolis blocks than in years past, but one group of north Minneapolis residents is keeping the spirit of the occasion alive.
Minneapolis, Minn. — Up and down 6th St. N., between 30th and 31st Ave., there are about seven boarded or vacant homes.
The properties are targets for squatters, copper strippers and other ne'er-do-wells. And that's one of the things that brought Johnny Northside to town.
"I'm attracted to the struggle," said Northside. "To me, I mean, I would be bored to death in a nice suburb, and also I am a cheap, frugal S.O.B., and this is where the affordable houses are."
His real name is John Hoff. Johnny Northside is his blogging name. And here's the thing: He doesn't even live in the neighborhood.
Earlier this spring he bought one of the abandoned homes on the block for $9,000. Hoff planned to either fix it up or tear it down, but instead he sold it to the city.
"I consider myself, a benevolent flipper," said Hoff. "I care about the neighborhood."
Before he sold the property, Hoff walked around the block with a clipboard, taking notes on what he saw and trying to get to know the neighbors. He says that's when he met resident Peter Teachout.
"We must have talked for about five to ten minutes, and he was like ready to hug me," laughed Hoff.
Teachout has lived here since 2002. He's a member of the neighborhood council and active in community issues.
Over the years he and his neighbors have done the things people who live in crime-challenged neighborhoods are told to do. They've held National Night Out parties and other get togethers, but Teachout says their energy had been flagging.
"One thing we experienced in the spring is when John bought that house, we just kind of fed off of his enthusiasm," he said.
Hoff's enthusiasm for the neighborhood led to the creation of a blog called "The Adventures of Johnny Northside."
He spends so much time here, he documents daily life on and around the block. Hoff says sometimes his blog entries attract the attention of city authorities, like the time when a police officer told him, "You don't want to live in this neighborhood."
"I'd blog about it and the next thing you know, I've got the commander saying, 'I want to know which cop said that to you. I want his description.' ... This is a common, everyday experience. But you put it on the internet where the story is accessible to the world and it changes everything," said Hoff.
Hoff says he's also noticed that the city is quicker to board up houses after he's posted blog entries complaining about how long they take to put up boards. However, he's not sure he deserves credit for that.
The Internet has enhanced the neighbors' ability to keep track of what's going on. Through a combination of old-fashioned surveillance and e-mailing, they've been able to get the police to raid and shut down a few neighborhood drug houses.
Peter Teachout says, in some ways, computer technology has replaced the old ways of bringing communities together.
"People didn't remember what their heritage was, unless they sat around a campfire, listening to the old sage, that had the beard," said Teachout.
"The Internet is the flicking campfire around which we sit," added Hoff.
"Yeah. It's a storyteller," replied Teachout. "And if people don't tell their story, if people aren't communicating, you will have no progress. That's what we have here. We have progress."
Actually, the campfire has not been totally forsaken in the name of progress.
For National Night Out, Teachout is holding a small backyard barbecue. And, as people have done for thousands of years, the neighbors on this block will sit around a fire, eat food and will likely be regaled by tales of the Adventures of Johnny Northside.
- All Things Considered, 08/05/2008, 5:55 p.m.