The Big Picture

by Mary Pattock

A reporter recently asked me how Minneapolis 2040 would affect me. To tell you the truth, I don’t know how it would affect me directly. I live on Dean Parkway in a 1926 house on a 50-foot lot that, someday after I’m gone, could have a fourplex built on it. Wouldn’t affect me. As I look across my alley I see Xerxes Avenue, which is lined on both sides for two blocks with fourplexes; all fine neighbors, haven’t affected my property value.

But ask me how the plan would affect my community and I have a few things to say, because I care deeply about it. How it is now, and how it will be for the next generation.

Polarizes the community

The first bad thing about the plan that how it positions Minneapolis City Planning as the moral authority of our community that is proposing a plan geared to solve a couple centuries of race and inequity problems — and anyone who doesn’t get on board, for any reason, is racist. This political stance has divided our community as I haven’t seen it divided since the days of the Vietnam War.  Homeowners against renters, young versus older, bikers versus drivers, parts of the city against each other. Just who are these planners who anoint themselves to civic priesthood? Their arrival on the scene has been preceded by decades in which countless good people have worked for social justice in churches, nonprofits, government and neighborhoods; this document is fundamentally insulting to them, and manipulative in the way it positions them as racists. I find this document shameful and divisive in its very conception.

Turns a blind eye to troubled areas

Second, despite all its sanctimony, the plan doesn’t really focus on our city’s problems. Why doesn’t the City use this plan to reimagine itself as the catalyst and coordinator of a comprehensive, holistic effort to improve life in troubled areas, involving the Park Board, School District, nonprofits, neighborhood associations, churches and educational institutions including the University of Minnesota?  Why not focus on providing existing communities the tools they need to improve? I’m talking about jobs and economic development, education — and yes, better housing. I’m talking about public safety, a city endeavor which is currently in a shambles, and is therefore endangering and demoralizing entire swaths of the city, especially our youth. What is the City’s plan for these areas? To vacate and raze them? Instead of a focused, healing vision this plans offers us a game of apple-cart upset, a development strategy that looks to randomness as a solution, an experiment that has never been tried anywhere else.

Damages the environment

Third, I care about what the plan would do to our lakes and the Mississippi River. They are the spirit, the character of our community providing provide healthy, recreational, aesthetic and even spiritual experiences for the millions of people who use them every year. They are ours to protect, and we have done that over the decades. But in kissing off the Shoreland Overlay, the Plan lays them open to development that will spoil them forever, exposing them to runoff, air pollution, and uglification.

Destroys neighborhood character

Next, there is the matter of aesthetics. We have a beautiful city, with beautiful neighborhoods, each with their own unique character: areas of gracious old homes from North Minneapolis, to Milwaukee Avenue, to Kenwood Parkway; vibrant commercial areas scaled to fit into their neighborhoods. The random intrusion of highrises, McMansions, visually disruptive architecture allowed by Minneapolis 2040 would all but destroy the unique character of our neighborhoods. A homogenized city isn’t beautiful, and doesn’t elicit pride or investment.

Blocks growth of the middle class

Finally, and critically, in its orientation to rental housing, the plan discourages the very kind of investment — home ownership — that has always been the key to the development of middle-class wealth. It boggles my mind that the plan actively discourages the specific economic strategy that could lift so many people out of poverty.

This is the thesis of an article on the Federal Reserve of Minneapolis website:

“Perhaps the study’s most novel contribution, however, is in revealing the singular role of household portfolio composition—ownership of different asset types—in determining inequality trends. Because the primary source of middle-class American wealth is homeownership, and the main asset holding of the top 10 percent is equity, the relative prices of the two assets have set the path for wealth distribution and driven a wedge between the evolution of income and wealth.”

These issues of community cohesiveness, neighborhood integrity, economics, and the environment, are core to a successful plan. We need the mayor and city council to slow down the planning process and address them.

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