Local Business Is a Two-Way Street (With Bike Lanes)

The experience of living in a city is all about learning to share a small space with a lot of people. Nobody gets exactly the city they would prefer. The very nature of diversity means that everyone’s perfect city would be a little different than their neighbor’s perfect city. So instead we compromise. Much of civic life depends on the act of finding solutions that work pretty well for most people, and balancing the downsides to one group against the upsides to another group.

A crowd outside the Riverview Theater
A premiere celebration outside the Riverview Theater (courtesy of PhotoLogic ~ SightFlight Aerials)

Right now a conversation is happening over the city’s plans to add bike lanes on East 38th Street between Minnehaha Avenue and West River Parkway. Though the specifics are tied to this particular place, the same argument has happened countless other times in Minneapolis and every other city making changes to become less car-centric. Adding bike lanes on 38th means removing parking from one side of the street, and the businesses along 38th are loudly opposed to any plan that removes parking next to them.

Map of resurfacing project route

These are independent local businesses that add a lot to our neighborhood—the landmark Riverview Theater, two cozy cafés, and a lovely garden center. Our neighborhood certainly wants them to succeed and stick around. It’s fair for them to bring their concerns to the table and ask that these concerns be taken into account during the planning process. It’s not fair for them to demand that every single one of their preferences be met.

Right now the four businesses maintain that they support the installation of bike lanes, so long as it is on some other road and not 38th. I posit that this is not a compromise at all. This is demanding that it become someone else’s problem. This is demanding that we trade a certain improvement in the immediate future for a hypothetical improvement at a time and place yet to be determined. This is demanding that they be asked to make no sacrifices whatsoever.

Many of us in Longfellow choose to support our local businesses because we think they are important. We know that we could go to Menard’s, or Starbucks, or Southdale AMC, and we know that we would enjoy certain benefits by doing so like lower prices, more locations, or newer movies. Yet we support our local businesses because we appreciate what they bring to the neighborhood.

38th St, looking east from the neighborhood to the businesses
38th Street, looking east

It would be a mistake, however, to take this support for granted just because it is freely given. If we support neighborhood businesses because we consider them a part of our social fabric, they have an obligation to support the communities that sustain them in return. If we are to treat these businesses differently than the purely transactional nature of chain stores, then by that same contract they become once again subject to the social mores that we place on members of our community.

This is what it means to live in a city. It means sometimes making concessions. It means working with your neighbors to find the solution that everyone can live with, even if it’s not your first choice. It means understanding that you might be asked to make sacrifices in service of something that’s better for the whole community. A safer and more pleasant 38th Street is better for the whole community, and the whole city. If our neighborhood businesses expect our support, they need to demonstrate their commitment to our neighborhood by coming to the table with an open mind and a willingness to truly compromise.