Is Mayor Hodges the Wonder Woman of Urbanism?

Where’s Wonder Woman, and what will she do about urbanism in Minneapolis? Several recent reviews have appeared in the press regarding Mayor Betsy Hodges’ first 100 days in office. She has been deliberative in hiring key staff positions, preferring instead to build relationships and simply listen. In the Star Tribune’s coverage, it was noted that she has not yet engaged on density and development issues. I look forward to her doing so. Hodges also likes Wonder Woman. I don’t know a lot about Wonder Woman, except that like most superheroes she fights for peace, love and equality. When it comes to density and development issues, I hope Hodges thinks like Wonder Woman and uses her Golden Lasso of Truth to inform decisions for the greater good, even if those decisions are difficult to make or cause lots of shouting at meetings.

Actually, it can be argued she has waded deep in to the density and development debate already, given her stance against the current Southwest light rail alignment (what would the Golden Lasso say?) and her support for rebuilding Nicollet Mall. But rather than get bogged down in individual projects, (we know how I feel about Nicollet Mall), let’s talk about larger principles.

Car dependency is a cost no matter if you drive a new Volvo or a secondhand Camry. The ability for cars to move freely through Minneapolis may seem like a good idea, but it not exactly a sign of economic health, and the cost of owning a car is significant for households. A little congestion is a good thing. Moreover, someone on foot or bike isn’t necessarily harmed by congestion, and nor is a transit vehicle in a dedicated lane. The Golden Lasso would advise that every transportation decision should consider cars, but do so after pedestrians, transit and bikes in that order. That said, I’d reconsider every one-way street in the city, and not whether a bike lane should be added (perhaps) but whether that street should be one-way at all.

Regarding development, the density debate just skips around and the city is no closer to providing the tools to solve it. It was in Linden Hills when Hodges was councilmember in Ward 13, and it moved to Dinkytown and The Wedge as controversial developments are fought. It will continue to move until there is real leadership on urban development. The Golden Lasso would advise to double the CPED budget, get planners out there in advance of development issues, and use a form-based code to make the development process more reliable for neighbors and developers. Encourage Better Block and other tools to be at the disposal of neighborhood groups to calm their streets and encourage local investment. Debate density all you want, but it’s hard to argue against good urban design and a more beautiful city.

Transportation and development are intricately linked, and one decision cannot be made without addressing the other. No street should be rebuilt as more pedestrian-friendly or with a streetcar running down the middle without taking a long look at the zoning along that street. A form-based code applies to both buildings and streets. I hope Hodges hires a CPED director who understands this and together they can take a step back and reconsider how we approach both transportation and development decisions in a more holistic way.

The good news is Hodges is a self-confessed nerd, and very willing to make decisions based on facts and statistics. That’s great, because urbanists have an arsenal of facts and statistics to back up the case for the benefits of making good urban decisions, even if they are painful in the short term. She’s also willing to listen, and that is good because there are a lot of people worth listening to, here and elsewhere, when it comes to good urbanism. Lastly, it is reported that Hodges has a sense of humor, which I’ve found to be a salvation when fighting urbanism battles in this city.

While there are increasingly more ways to prove urbanism done right has huge economic and social benefits, it is also a feeling. We need self-professed nerds to help make thoughtful decisions, but creating a great city is also an art and the mayor must make some gutsy decisions as well. A beautiful city is a more equitable city. A walkable city is more equitable. A city that treasures its public spaces (parks and streets) is more equitable. (A city without skyways is also more equitable.) Transportation and development decisions impact the city more than most of us realize. I challenge the mayor to rise above the legacy of her predecessors and help transform Minneapolis in to a more beautiful and equitable world class city. It’s time to hear from Wonder Woman.

This was crossposted at Joe Urban.


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