"Camden Town" is the grassroots rebrand of Webber Camden Neighborhood
By Kenzie O'Keefe | Editor
Before he built HWMR barbershop on 44th and Humboldt and launched his “Black Excellence” and “BE the Change” movements, Houston White was kid from North Minneapolis who had become a luxury housing developer.
Now, over a decade after the foreclosure crisis forced him off that career path, he is getting back into the large-scale construction game–this time with a community-based mission. By 2020 he hopes to expand HWMR along Humboldt Ave, building a bigger barber shop and retail area and adding a maker space, restaurant, ice cream shop with a youth training model, and a beer and wine bar to his offerings. “I’m trying to bring an asset into the community. This is more than a for profit business,” he said.
His hope is to continue the momentum begun by recent multi-million dollar developments in the area. The new North Market and Webber Library, which have been open for around a year each, are just across the street from his humble but sophisticated shop.
White has begun calling the area “Camden Town.” It’s a nod to both the area’s history and to a quirky, artistic and diverse neighborhood across the world in London with the same name. He is currently working with LSE Architects, who designed both the library and the grocery store, on the concept for his new multi-part building.
White hopes that Camden Town will help solve one of Minneapolis’ major problems: its struggle to retain talented professionals of color. He wants to “create a place in this city that resonates culturally” with young, urban, professional African Americans in particular.
So far, support for his idea has been widespread. White was recruited to join the Webber Camden Neighborhood Organization board (WCNO) just over a year ago. His Camden Town idea has the full support of WCNO Executive Director Roberta Englund. “Camden Town is one of the most promising, totally realistic growth stimulus that could occur in the Webber Camden Neighborhood,” she said. “It has a huge future ahead of it.”
As White begins the long process of look for partners to help finance the $2.5 million project, he’s making small but noticeable moves to raise awareness for the Camden Town brand. Over the summer, he hired artist St. Paul Slim to paint a colorful Camden Town mural on the side of his building.
“These are some small examples and some small things we can do to change the narrative around our community and start to create some new energy and synergy amongst folks who are doing great work,” he said.
He wants Camden Town to focus on the arts. “Street art gives a lively and interesting appeal to urban settings. Also, that art culture helps to break down cultural barrier,” he said. The mural is already inspiring community members to take action in their neighborhood and bring about a new way of being in the neighborhood.
Brandon Burbach, also a WCNO board member, has lived in the neighborhood for 14 years. Soon after the new Webber Library opened, his wife encountered the term “placemaking” there. Quickly, they became invested in that model of neighborhood development.
“Placemaking is bottom up instead of top town and hopefully that’s what Camden Town can be,” he said.
He says White’s creative, transformative ideas for the area have inspired them. “It’s a grassroots kind of spirit that’s driving it,” he said. “I’ve come to see placemaking as the community's hedge against gentrification.”
Burbach has become particularly passionate about bringing a “significant art piece” to Camden Town. “This intersection of Webber and Victory Parkways at Humbolt Ave is really becoming the crossroads of four vibrant neighborhoods,” he said, “and it could have a little something for everyone”. Inspired by the Minnehaha Parkway’s “Cottontail on Trail,” Burbach is exploring the possibility of creating a large metal turtle, perhaps designed by the same artist, to be placed on Webber Parkway behind the library. The two art pieces–a tortoise and a hare–would then exist at both the North and South ends of the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway.
“There’s a symmetry that the tortoise and hare establish,” he said. “It evokes this idea of unity.” Burbach sees a turtle being a fitting mascot for the neighborhood. “We can be known for moving forward. How did the tortoise win? It just kept moving forward.”