Ronald Reagan in The Bad Man, by Richard Thorpe (1941)

Arguments Against Minneapolis’s Draft Comprehensive Plan, Addressed (Part III)

Phew! The public comment phase of the exhaustively publicized, discussed, and public-feedback-solicited 2040 Minneapolis Comprehensive Plan is over. I don’t know about you, but I am incredibly aware of the existence of this planning process and of my opportunities and methods for learning what the draft plan contains, and for offering my feedback! However, the planning process continues, and opponents of the draft do not seem to be ready to take their foot off the gas pedal of disinformation, so here are some more arguments you might hear from them, along with some responses. (The first two parts of this series are here: Part IPart II )

What Do Residents of North Minneapolis Think?

I am extremely hesitant to touch this one, because I don’t live there. It’s not my place to speak for them. But wow opponents of the draft plan who live in South Minneapolis sure don’t have that same hesitation! Unsurprisingly, they report that residents of North Minneapolis agree with them that density is scary and bad and that’s about it so shut the whole thing down.

I’m not convinced. I want to hear more from actual North Minneapolis residents about what land use policies they think are important or could improve their lives. The stuff I’ve heard isn’t what the Red Scary Signs About Bulldozers brigade is reporting hearing. Let’s let them speak for themselves, and not consider input that has been interpreted, re-packaged, and re-framed by vocal and generally wealthy South Minneapolis residents that have benefited from generations of city and private investment and political favor.

Building New Housing Is “Trickle Down Reaganomics”

Ronald Reagan in The Bad Man, by Richard Thorpe (1941)

Ronald Reagan in The Bad Man, by Richard Thorpe (1941)

Many density opponents have characterized the concept of building more housing units to increase supply as (gasp!) Trickle Down Economics. Invoking the spectre of Zombie Reagan, they’re here to keep us from repeating an economic blunder all good liberals should oppose.

But they either misunderstand Supply-side Economics, and what was wrong with it, or they understand and know how it is different from allowing housing unit density to increase naturally, and are sowing confusion intentionally.

Here is a summary of Supply-side Economic theory, and here is a brief discussion of how shortages of market goods affect prices. I’ll let you reach your own conclusions, but when I read about the two subjects it’s clear to me they are quite different: Supply-side theory was about indirectly reducing prices through giveaways to goods producers, specifically by giving them tax breaks and then wishing underpants gnome style that they’d reduce prices out of the goodness of their hearts instead of just pocketing the money. The price reductions, of course, never materialized.

Increasing the housing supply in a shortage by legalizing new multi-unit dwellings is quite clearly not the same thing. The draft comprehensive plan does not propose any fiscal incentives or giveaways to anyone in exchange for a mere hope they will build. No. The plan provides that either someone builds additional units and supply increases for free, or they don’t and they get nothing and nothing was lost because no public investment was made.

More significant is that this mischaracterization is part of a pattern of behavior from Comprehensive Plan critics. Their arguments frequently have compelling surface-emotional appeal—bulldozers! property taxes! Reaganomics!—but fall apart under even casual critical examination.

In this case, the suggestion that the plan is Evil Reaganomics seems designed to wrongly imply that increasing density is a right-wing proposal simply because there are legitimate supporting economic arguments that, if you cover your ears just right, rhyme with unrelated discredited right-wing economic arguments. But, in fact, the impulse to protect and preserve a Haves/Have Nots status quo, and to craft public policy to benefit the self-interests of the already wealthy over the social good is as conservative as political views come. So calling a legitimate economic argument Reaganomics simultaneously adds confusion and implicitly accuses upzoning supporters of the very thing upzoning opponents are guilty of.

I’m not the sort of person that is impressed by Machiavellian rhetoric, but it’s quite something to see right-wing-style politics of fear and misdirection adroitly rolled out over a matter of municipal land use planning. All’s fair in love and self-interest, I guess. (I’m being sarcastic, my opinion is that it is unethical and irresponsible, especially as it is being led in part by a current elected official.)

I Prefer The Suburb-Within-A-City Lifestyle And It Should Be Preserved

No, it shouldn’t. Though you may find it individually desirable, it is fundamentally incompatible with any form of social responsibility. Just like how we don’t tolerate massive bonfires in city backyards, or dumping motor oil down the storm sewers, only we have been much slower to recognize the harm it does.

Even so, fears of radical transformation are unfounded. Minneapolis legalized ADUs almost half a decade ago, and just a handful a year are built. No density explosion has materialized.

So continue to enjoy your chosen car-dependent lifestyle. Your neighborhood won’t change that much in your lifetime. But it is time to stop expecting the city continue to subsidize and preserve car dependency through maximally restrictive land-use regulations that hurt the city’s ability to house everyone who wants to live here. We need to build a sustainable city for people that doesn’t promote car dependency. This is about the future, not what suits and comforts us today. Thanks.

Christa M

About Christa M

Attorney. I do law stuff, ride bikes, and paint murals. Member of Hourcar & Nice Ride, and customer of Freewheel Bike and The Hub Bike Co-op.