It’s a maddening time lately, with political actors denying obvious truths and using scare tactics to sidestep honest dialogue. In any debate about change, political winds favor the side with the simple message: NO. It’s easy to fearmonger, deceive, and put words on lawn signs that conjure impending annihilation.
I like to think Minneapolis is better than that. In Minneapolis we recognize real problems and act to solve them. We recognize that housing is in short supply and unacceptably expensive for too many of our neighbors. We recognize that climate change is real, and is driven by lifestyles made necessary by our region’s sprawling, auto-oriented development patterns. We recognize that nobody should have opportunity limited by the fact they can’t afford to live in the right neighborhood.
To foster an honest conversation about the Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive Plan, let’s focus on this widely recognized fact: Minneapolis doesn’t have enough homes. MPR reports that the fabled “starter home” is disappearing from the Twin Cities due to a combination of factors: “land, laws, labor, and lumber.” For the sake of conversation, here’s a few examples of things affecting the cost housing:
- Energy efficiency standards substantially add to the cost of a new home
- Land on which to build new homes is made more expensive because of growth boundaries
- Restrictions in zoning codes all across the Twin Cities forbid anything that’s not a single-family home on the vast majority of residential land.
- Car parking requirements add to the cost of every unit of housing, especially when it’s a massive parking structure
If we can agree to the facts (that these things affect the cost of housing), then — and only then — we can move to what should come next: an actual conversation about what we value.
No doubt, there are trade-offs: someone who values action to fight climate change will probably support energy efficiency standards and growth boundaries–believing sustainability is worth the added housing cost. Sometimes an action can tick off multiple priorities at once: easing density restrictions and parking requirements will move us away from the expensive, auto-oriented, exclusively single-family neighborhoods that dominate most of the Twin Cities. It’s not unheard of — even for a person with a garage — to list abundant street parking as their number one value (because we’re having an honest conversation, please don’t be ashamed to say it out loud).
What are the values served by saying the most walkable and transit-accessible areas in the state of Minnesota must be dominated by low-density, auto-oriented uses? What are the values served by saying these areas must always and forever be reserved for ever-larger single-family homes?
We’ve inherited a system, a legacy of redlining, that’s left us with increasingly exclusive neighborhoods. It’s a system where not being able to afford the neighborhood you want means you can’t afford access to a good public school; or to be near grocery stores and other amenities; or to keep yourself and your family safe from dirty air, soil, and water. It’ll take a lot more to undo that legacy, but ending exclusionary zoning is a necessary step.
To put a finer point on it: they're worried about the "extinction" of single family homes, but seemingly not worried at all about the ACTUAL extinction of real, climate-threatened species.
That's a special sort of cognitive dissonance.
— Robin Garwood (@RobinGarwood) June 28, 2018
I’ve previously written that the Minneapolis 2040 plan is bold. But it’s only bold when judged against the low expectations set by generations of misguided policies. We’ve been numbed into thinking what we’ve been doing for decades is our only choice.
Allowing up to four families to live in a house the size of a large single-family home isn’t bold. It’s not bold to legalize three-story apartment buildings in neighborhoods adjacent to downtown. It’s not bold to allow many more people to live along major transit corridors. These are all modest changes, and the very least we should be doing to give ourselves a fighting chance at a better future.
Instead of rejecting the idea of change and holding dearly to an unsustainable status quo, I hope you’ll seek out facts about the Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive Plan. Tell the city council what you value.