A “Pro-Family” Comprehensive Plan

One of the common criticisms you hear about the Minneapolis 2040 draft comprehensive plan, if you go to enough public meetings, is that it’s anti-family. People say if you want to support families, you’ve got to restrict the vast majority of city land for single-family homes. This criticism doesn’t hold water unless the only kind of family you’re concerned about is a white family of significant means. It turns out a lot of current Minneapolis families live in something other than a single-family home.

Whittier has almost 2500 children with just over 200 single-family homes. Linden Hills has over 2200 single-family homes with just over 1500 children.

Comparing pro-family credentials of two very different Minneapolis neighborhoods.

If our definition of “pro-family” extends beyond the kinds of families who aren’t exclusively white and financially comfortable, we should be legalizing cheaper housing types — small-scale multi-family homes.

There’s only so much real estate to go around. Did you know the Met Council projected Minneapolis would hit 423,000 people by 2020 and we exceeded that total in 2017? We can’t all afford to live in a single-family home, or a large luxury apartment building downtown. The Minneapolis 2040 plan can be pro-family by greatly expanding the definition of which families matter in our zoning code. It doesn’t mean eliminating or outlawing single-family homes; it just means legalizing the kinds of homes families are already living in: multi-unit houses and small apartment buildings.

There’s another group of critics who take the other side of the “family” argument; they say Minneapolis has too many families already. For these folks, a plan that envisions so many new people is an environmental disaster. A surprising number of people appear to have the mistaken impression that the city’s draft comprehensive plan calls for tens of thousands of new humans to be conceived between now and 2040. To be clear, there’s nothing in the plan that incentivizes baby-making. In other words, if you like your birth control, you can keep it.

(I suppose there are those who would say implementing Chinese-style population control policies is more practical than allowing more people to live closer together, with less parking, and many fewer people driving.)

What these nominal environmentalists don’t acknowledge is that the additional people we’re planning to house in 2040 have largely already been born. The critics ignore the reality that forcing the people of 2040 to live in some as yet undeveloped, far-flung green pasture is bad for the environment. Forcing people to live far away from transit, jobs, and daily destinations fosters the car-dependency that is actually driving climate change.

In 2040, the cost of housing a family in Minneapolis will be painfully high if we don’t actively plan for enough homes of all kinds, across all neighborhoods. Planning for the future means recognizing some basic realities:

  • family sizes are shrinking, single-person households are growing, and many existing neighborhoods lack the housing diversity to serve an aging population;
  • families do actually live in apartments and fourplexes;
  • family means different things to different people, and my family may not match your traditional conception of a family;
  • immigrant families and anyone else seeking opportunity needs our city to be a welcoming place;
  • and, most crucially, humanity will continue to reproduce (pending partly on our ability to adapt to a sustainable future where people drive less by living closer to daily destinations).

I know we all want a comprehensive plan that’s pro-family. A realistic conversation that anticipates and plans for population growth is the responsible thing to do for all of our families, present and future. I hope more people take that approach when they comment on the plan.