"Reimagining the Future of the East Phillips Roof Depot" (senior capstone project by local high school student Rowan Jack Freeman)

"Indigenous-led occupation of Roof Depot site begins, organizers issue demands to city"
(by healingmn)

"An 'Arsenic Plume Rests Beneath the Surface' of the Upcoming Roof Depot Demolition"
(written by Ellie Zimmerman with video and images by Akičita Šunka-Wakaŋ Ska, published February 19th in Unicorn Riot)

"Environmental Justice for East Phillips!"
(8-minute documentary video)

"Time to Activate An Uprising of Support Around East Phillips"
(written by Andrew Fahlstrom and published February 13th in The Alley, a Phillips neighborhood newspaper)

 "Minneapolis City Council vote on Roof Depot demolition harms communities of color"
(written by Maxime Groen and published February 7th in Sahan Journal)

"Roof Depot Comic"
(submitted anonymously)
Factual edit: The Roof Depot building was not itself used to produce pesticide (which has arsenic), but the building next door to it did, which is why the soil beneath it is contained with it. This means the building itself could still be remediated and used for an indoor urban farm, because the arsenic isn't in the building itself, it's beneath it.

Submitted anonymously by a 12-year resident of the Twin Cities, currently living in South Uptown:

I just want to add my voice to the chorus of community members who are saying we DO NOT WANT this demolition to take place. The systematic destruction of indigenous communities and working-class neighborhoods that has taken place since the founding of this state and continued through the construction of I-94 and I-35 leading up to now has got to stop. The so-called "liberal" leaders of this city are carrying on the work of decades of environmental racism and genocide. It's disgusting and we can't let it continue to happen.

* * *

Reflections from Kieran Morris, a Twin Cities-based land and food sovereignty organizer:

If you’ve ever said a land acknowledgement, if you’ve ever taught a class on the conquest of Indigenous peoples (or taken one for that matter), or if, like me, you wish you’d done more to get involved in supporting organizers facing Enbridge Line 3 and the Dakota Access Pipeline, please read this reflection. The same I think, goes for Twin Cities residents, and specifically our extended family of growers, urban farmers, environmentalists and people who simply love the land and its gifts.

On Thursday, the 26th of January, City Council voted to demolish the Sears-Roebucks Roof Depot building, striking a decisive blow against a movement of East Phillips residents, community organizers and concerned allies who have been rallying to protect the community from the demo’s toxic repercussions for just shy of a decade. In a neighborhood already rife with respiratory issues and underlying health conditions due to proximity to major thoroughfares and a history of earthborne toxins from industrial waste, this is also a decisive blow against the people in the neighborhood themselves.

The East Phillips Neighborhood plays host to local businesses and cultural centers, supported by an extremely diverse base of residents, the majority of which are people of color, and nearly a quarter of whom are immigrants. It hosts the Little Earth Community of United Tribes, a vibrant Indigenous housing project with over 38 tribal affiliations and a host of community programs. Though Little Earth’s residents face food and financial insecurity, there is a strong sense of warm companionship and shared purpose, to work together to overcome a history of destruction and neglect. I will never forget the day I helped an elder move into a unit over there with a group of other volunteers, telling jokes as we worked and sharing frybread tacos from a popup sale after.

For all its beauty and life, East Phillips sits beneath a shroud of ash and metal particles spewed from the Bituminous Roadways Asphalt Plant, and the Smith Foundry, and sits on an area of the city named the ‘Arsenic Triangle’ for a leakage caused by the redevelopment of a major roadway. If you’ve driven down Hiawatha towards downtown, or gone south on Cedar, you’ve no doubt seen and smelled the smog. These factors have contributed to increased asthma hospitalizations, and lifelong health problems for the neighborhood’s children. The place is like a flower in the concrete, blooming defiantly against the creeping wilt. There are wounds and illnesses there that need intentional healing and close attention, guided by the wills and needs of the neighborhood’s residents and not the hunger of industry that inflicted them in the first place.

Yet that is the shadow that falls upon East Phillips today, and has since the mid 2010s, when the city’s Hiawatha Campus Expansion Project set its eyes on the site and acquired it to create a centralized complex with a four story autopark and facilities for heavy equipment and fleet refueling. This land grab boxed out an effort by residents and neighborhood groups to turn the property into a year-round indoor urban farm, market, affordable housing and youth-led cafe, among other ventures in community resilience and sustainability. Many efforts have been made to fight this decision, including a lawsuit, countless hours of community organizing and calls on the city to uphold their decrying of racism as a public health crisis.

Still on that cold glassy morning, when residents and activists gathered despite their working schedules to make their voices heard in city council, the doors were closed to a majority of those who showed up, including myself, because of a lack of seats. MPR reported the crowd who showed up to speak for East Phillips as mostly white, which I found ironic, thinking back to myself, a black man, standing in the hallway in the midst of Indigenous neighbors and elders, and fellow organizers of African and Latin descent who would have been happy to stand. One of the loudest voices though was Nicole Perez, from Little Earth, who came with tears in her eyes to plead for the health and welfare of her three year old asthmatic granddaughter. Over the ensuing community meetings I attended, the sense of bafflement and outrage never left her, that city council leaders could so callously dismiss her concerns.

It all brought to mind the history that founded this country and bleeds into the present tense, of the land being slowly subsumed by the crawl of industry, as protesting Indigenous voices were shoved to the side, and those members of the settler population who sided with them were deemed radicals and criminals. It is a paradigm that played out in my lifetime, on the windswept plains of Standing Rock and in the cold forests of Northern Minnesota where the black serpents of the oil industry now burrow. The city council did approve a compromise proposal that would set aside three acres of the site for some sort of growing operation and pledge to plant trees and reduce traffic, but these concessions come part and parcel with the demolition which, as was made clear to me at a community healing circle held the sunday after the decision, is the neighborhood’s primary concern. The notion sort of seemed to me like an arsonist saying “I’ll burn down your house, but don’t worry, I’ll leave the garage.”

City Council President Andrea Jenkins responded to an activist saying “we don’t want to compromise,” with the fact that she “recognizes that some people don’t like compromise, but that is how the world works.” And she is in essence, correct. The advancing forces of profit and industry must maintain control, through direct force or subversion. A compromise that looks good for the city in the papers on PR forms but still brings in new hazardous materials and dozens of diesel burning vehicles, that still means sickness and threat to elders and children, that probably means closing preschools and temporary relocation for residents during the demo is nothing new. Reservations are compromises in the eyes of the government.

I’ve always thought of urban farms as oases in the concrete jungle, points of flowering defiance against the death machines of industrial society, groups of ordinary people centering their communities around the creation and sharing of life. Because as we all know, there are so many policies in place that inhibit or limit urban farming, growers in the city become activists as well as gardeners, shaping pieces of sprawl into green spaces that nurture our bodies, minds and connections to one another. I’d wager that almost everyone reading this has had to fight for the space in which they grow, and wouldn’t have succeeded without help from broader networks and communities. The fight for East Phillips is no different, and at the aforementioned healing circle, I was lucky enough to hear speakers who’d traveled from the White Earth and Pine Ridge reservations to weigh in on how the threat to Little Earth would ripple across the wider Indigenous community. However, this pollution will affect everyone with lungs in the radius of the site and beyond, and the time to act is now.

As it stands, the demolition of the Roof Depot is scheduled for February. Residents and organizers, such as the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute are holding meetings and dialogues to determine and execute next steps to protect the neighborhood, the court case against the city is still active, and as always, scores of ordinary Twin Cities citizens are ready to step up to support them as needed. This is a struggle that can be plugged into on all levels, and I believe there is a unique niche for the urban farming community to fit into. We have far-reaching connections and support from many sources who can supply resources and apply pressure. There are ample opportunities to get into dialogue with organizers in the neighborhood, especially through their community zoom meetings every wednesday, a link to which can be found on their Facebook page. So I urge you, if you acknowledge the genocide that created America on any level, and want to do your part to stand up to its modern incarnation, stand with East Phillips.

* * *

Reflections from a community member, submitted to us anonymously:

Destruction of the depot would be a continuation of gross patterns of injustice and cruelty that has been evident in the foundation and development of Minneapolis. Too often in this day and age we see the chemical runoff f projects such as this drastically underestimated and ignored. This will not only effect east Phillips, this has implications for the metro and dare I say the state of sacrificing the public well-being for money. I submit this testimonial begging the state and the contractors to reconsider how they want the history of this site to play out. There is an opportunity here to do better, and not repeat the malice of the past such as was seen in the development through rondo and the continued violence of the city against its citizens.

* * *

Email us at with your testimonials!