Beyond Apocalyptic Yard Signs

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.

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.

5 thoughts on “Beyond Apocalyptic Yard Signs

  1. Cobo R

    I hate strong rhetoric, I don’t trust anyone who uses it, and and I am deeply disturbed when anyone is influenced by it.

    Yard signs can be just the worst, they are the equivalent of shouting but at the same time demanding that you say nothing back (just like all the Jehovah witnesses screaming into megaphones downtown during the super-bowl about how doomed we are).

  2. Matt EckholmMatt Eckholm

    You’d think that the hyperbolic, over the top sign rhetoric would be a clue to anyone seeing them that they represent a disproportionate reaction to the plan.

    Or at least, you’d hope.

  3. Stu

    The signs, I think, are the only real link from the world of Nextdoor/online opposition to real world opposition, so far at least.

    My wife doesn’t often read Nextdoor/Twitter or and knows nothing about 2040. But she did ask me about it after seeing a sign in the yard of a friend of hers in the neighborhood. (To Adam’s point, the house is in Fulton and is one of those new $950K “craftsman” houses that look like all the other new “craftsman” houses in the city.) After a 5 min summary she responded “but why would a person be against other people having a place to live?” Which, I think is the right response.

    Some time ago I wrote a comment about how our transit corridor home could be, ZONED FOR EXTINCTION [scary music] [echo] [flash of lightening and crack of thunder]. At the time I thought that those who felt a little bit of fear when first encountering 2040 should be given a bit of grace. I don’t feel that way anymore, at least not to the extent I did before.

    Since then it has be come abundantly clear that there is very well organized and financed fear campaign going on. The rhetoric is out of line. The personal attacks and conspiracy theories are multiplying and pushed unrelentingly. Everyone who doesn’t immediately condemn 2040, is a developer or works for one or knows one or smells like one or owns a hammer. It is all getting more frantic and sad.

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