There is an old saying with many variations and authors; “To whom much is given, much will be required”.
Our city is blessed with an abundance of natural resources, which bring both opportunity and responsibility. Many thoughtful, well intentioned and talented people have participated in the ongoing conversation about the Minneapolis 2040 plan. It sometimes appears that most of those voices are on the side of the citizens of the city rather than the planners who drafted their vision for the future. Meetings inviting comment were, in our experience, too few and too short to fully give voice to people who came with honest concerns.
2040 seems to nod at some of the essential building blocks of a vibrant, thriving, successful metropolitan area; transit, jobs, affordable housing. A closer look finds not much concentration on education, historic preservation or environmental health. The draft plan appears all about real estate and little about what really makes a community.
The things that make our city beautiful, livable and unique are undermined by many of the policies and land use proposals in the Plan. Respect is lacking for long standing and thoughtfully articulated environmental ordinances in favor of developers’ favorite buzzword, “density”. The plan theorizes that all social problems will be solved if Minneapolis would only build enough apartments in some strategically identified “transit corridors”, and existing residents and neighborhoods silenced.
Many have testified in general terms about the negative impact on some of the city’s most beautiful, historic neighborhoods. I will put my perspective into much more personal terms. After a year long search, my husband and I purchased a condo that we hoped would be our home until we could no longer live independently. We considered Downtown, with its energy and corresponding density. We decided that we wanted a place that offered closer proximity to lakes and access to nature. We are not young. We are not bikers. But we love to walk for fun and exercise. We walk whenever we can to shop, use the public library, do our banking and just appreciate being outdoors.
When we moved into Calhoun Isles, a historically significant building, a representative from the Assessor’s office came to inspect our property for tax evaluation. He walked in and had the same “WOW” reaction we did when we decided to buy this condo. His comment, when he told us our assessment would increase, was that we have a “million dollar view”. Subsequently we learned about the already approved Brickstone Apartments which will block a large portion of that view of Bde Maka Ska between the Excelsior Executive Office Building and the Lake Point Condos on the corner of Dean Parkway and Lake Street. A hotel proposed for the site of the current BP gas station will block another portion of the view. I continue to be infuriated that the Shoreland Overlay ordinance is ignored and variances granted for projects that threaten the health of our environment and contribute to unmanageable traffic congestion and public safety. We understand the nothing stays the same, but building a wall of concrete around Bde Maka Ska was honestly not on our radar.
One of the main things that attracted us to Minneapolis from Madison, WI was that this City has historically protected the lakes from development on the perimeters. We came from a place that was a city of lakes… all surrounded by privately owned homes and businesses. Aside from a relatively small number of public beaches, the private sector controls and limits access to Madison’s most wonderful assets. We loved that the lakes in Minneapolis are wide open to the populace. Everyday, year round, people are out on the paths enjoying the legacy of Theodore Wirth. MPLS 2040 threatens that heritage.
Congestion and lack of infrastructure to support the development proposed in the 2040 plan will devastate the environment near our condo. It is already a game of “chicken” to cross Lake Street at Market Plaza (Calhoun Village and Whole Foods). There are daily close calls between pedestrians, bikes, motor cycles, cars and buses at the Dean Parkway-West Calhoun intersection. Where is the plan for getting people from one side of Lake Street to the other? I have heard from many neighbors in West Calhoun and CIDNA about total avoidance crossing Lake for any reason. This is not acceptable. Traffic in the area defies the imagination during rush hours that now extend from mid afternoon in to the evening. The geography and some short sighted development in the area have created a situation not easily rectified. The problems will not be solved by adding a cluster of 30 story apartments to the Excelsior and Lake intersection.
Pretending and wishing it to be otherwise is not going to get people to give up their cars. The Twin Cities are spread out with desirable destinations many miles from home. We have taken public transportation from home to St. Paul. It takes 2 hours by bus from home to the Green line onward to St. Paul. We spend more time on the transit than we do at our destination. Even if the SWLRT becomes a reality, it will not be a practical solution for all trips. The bus rapid transit won’t succeed when the roads can’t handle what’s already there. The infrastructure has to precede the intense development proposed by 2040. We aren’t seeing a plan for that beyond the poorly sited SWLRT.
I am only one voice, but there are many more like mine, who feel that City Planning is owned by Ryan, Doran, ESG and Bader. When we attended West Calhoun’s meetings presenting the hotel plan, we saw no impassioned defense for the neighborhood, just a complicit nod of the head for the proposal, and some minor quibbles about aesthetics.
When the environment is destroyed by careless development, there will be no going back. People with everything to gain financially are not going to serve the public good. That’s what the officials of Minneapolis were elected and hired to do. It’s time to step up to the plate and do better for the citizens of this great city. Much is expected.