Everyone’s 2040 Plan Sucks

FrogThere have been a lot of posts about the Minneapolis 2040 Comp Plan, including many, many public hearings in which YIMBYs and NIMBYs stand up and fight for more housing, or less housing, or neighborhood character. Every city in the Met Council is supposed to have a 2040 plan.

Meanwhile, we are all frogs in a pot of tepid water. And some people are missing the point that we will eventually boil alive.

On October 6, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report. In it, they discuss a best-case scenario of a 1.5°C increase in global temperature. That may not sound like a lot, but it’s actually a bit more than 2.7°F.

The report compares the impacts of only heating up 1.5°C to that of 2.0°C (3.6°F) — or more.  This is a review of existing science, and not new science. But it sums up the risks and likelihoods of inaction rather starkly.

Per the report:

Human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels, with a likely range of 0.8°C to 1.2°C. Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate.

Hitting this figure relies on drastic reduction of CO2 emissions levels to net-zero by 2055, with extreme reduction starting ASAP.

Even at 1.5°C, the report outlines that many islands and coastlines will cease to exist as we know them today, increased weather events will destroy lives, the Arctic Ocean won’t have ice most of the year, and many ecosystems and humans will be at risk. Nearly all coral reefs will die. Wildfires and heat waves will sweep across the planet annually. Cycles of drought, flood and temperature will create food supply insecurity, including mass famine in less developed regions. All this will happen at 1.5°C, but it’s a lot worse at 2.0°C or higher. To forstall the worst suffering, the report says, requires a transformation of the world’s economy, agriculture, and culture without documented historical precedent. Even the best case scenario is considered a genocidal level of global warming.

Observed Global Temperature ChangeIn other words: Your neighborhood is going to change, whether you agree to a fourplex or not. Today’s “neighborhood character” won’t exist in 2040 as we boil. How character evolves – and how it impacts the lives of others worldwide – depends on how we address the future, today.

Most 2040 plans talk about more density, or more senior housing, and transit “corridors.” We need more than that to hold climate catastrophe at bay. The UN says “Pathways limiting global warming to 1.5°C with no or limited overshoot would require rapid and far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems.

In other words: Upzoning is a start. A very small start. A start that is not even close to radical enough. Right now, we are on track for up to 4.0°C (7.2°F) degrees of warming, which is more than twice as much as most scientists believe is even workable without threatening most of our social and political civilization, and which will make large portions of the planet uninhabitable.

The UN says that everyone needs to be involved to make this work. There is no broad assumption of a technological leap that will support current development and energy use patterns while magically wiping away the CO2 emissions load from them. Current technology is a long way from being able to carry the load; even rapid technical improvement requires significant change in development and lifestyle patterns to make it all work.

What does this mean? Well, it means density is almost inevitable, as coastlines and islands are destroyed. Of course, because going higher than 1.5°C will cause widespread death and more than a bit of conflict as people battle for resources, perhaps some of the haves will be able to hang on. Hard to say. The UN report doesn’t go there, because it focuses on social justice, equity, and collective efforts at all levels, in ways that reflect different circumstances and capabilities, to strengthen the global response to climate change, with goals of achieving sustainable development and eradicating poverty. Kind of an ultimate YIMBY stance, if you will — we are all neighbors, we are all in this together, and this is the only habitable ball of rock in space we have.

As a planet, we are currently on a trajectory that brings us north of four degrees by the end of the century. At four degrees, the global economy will shrink by 30% or more, and grain supplies by as much as 50%.
We need to stop thinking of development solely in personal terms (“me,” “my neighborhood,” “I need to run errands on my way home”) and start using bolder, broader plans, public investment and strong government action that drives density, incentivizes transit, and makes the expense of convenience much, much higher. A recent Nobel winner in economics suggests increasing carbon taxes by 5x; the UN report suggests it needs to increase at least 100x by 2030, and a lot more than that by 2100.
Single-family housing, multi-car families and sprawl are luxuries that cannot be sustained. Our 2040 plans need to hit some of the same panic buttons now being hit by the UN. Everyone needs to stop asking if politicians have “the balls” to stop the 2040 plan, and needs to ask if they have the moral courage to make it much more extreme. We need to make room for more neighbors today — and survival of life on earth tomorrow.
We have three city council terms, at most, to try to save everyone’s neighborhood from unparalleled climate disaster. How much of that time is going to be spent on fruitless public hearings, signs about bulldozers, and concerns about street parking?

About Julie Kosbab

Julie Kosbab is an online marketing consultant and active transportation advocate living in Anoka County, Minnesota. She was one of Minnesota's only League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructors when certified in 2005, and is no longer lonely in that calling. A past member of the National Bicycle Tour Directors Association, she has 2 children and a garage full of bicycles. Find her on Twitter as @betweenstations, or read her (seldom updated) blog at Ride Boldly!

31 thoughts on “Everyone’s 2040 Plan Sucks

  1. tmart

    Now we’re talking! So much breath and energy in this state, and even on this site, seems to be wasted fighting over parking and yards and highway interchanges and bus routes without even remotely considering carbon impact, which is the dominant issue of our generation whether we confront it or not.

    CO2 needs to be the headline on damn near every long-range plan we make. Every alternatives analysis for every transportation project–transit corridor, highway, street repaving–needs to rigorously evaluate the emissions it will generate, the emissions it will prevent, and how it can transition to zero carbon operations in the foreseeable future. Every permit we issue for a McMansion on an existing lot needs to account for the carbon produced by wasting more materials and energy. And every time we choose not to upzone, we need to be accountable for the new housing that gets built somewhere else instead, in a sprawling exurb with much steeper environmental consequences.

    1. Monte Castleman

      I’m not convinced a person that buys a single family detached house in Otsego would live in a fourplex in Minneapolis if only one were available.

      1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        Perhaps not, but maybe they’ll buy one in Anoka that’s available because someone else bought one in Osseo that was available because someone else bought one in Crystal from someone who moved to a fourplex in Minneapolis.

        We’ve got brand new neighbors next door. They moved in from Rosemount, replacing the old neighbors who moved to Edina.

      2. tmart

        I totally agree, actually. But even just looking at people who would like to live in Minneapolis, dense urban housing is clearly supply-constrained–just watch the rent skyrocketing if you need proof–and that pushes everyone further out.

        The person who would be happy buying a unit in a fourplex might instead buy a bungalow in Minneapolis, because frankly it’s way easier to find one for sale. That puts unnecessary pressure on the supply of detached houses in Minneapolis. As those prices go up, someone who would like to live in a nice urban cottage might choose St. Louis Park or Richfield instead. And the pattern continues–when inner-ring suburbs get expensive, second-ring suburbs look more attractive. Today we’re watching even second-ring suburbs become mature, competitive markets, and people looking for affordable housing turn to exurbs. I’m not saying someone who’s supercommuting from a ranch on a new subdivision in Lakeville would instead live Uptown if only they had the choice. But maybe if we had planned our growth better for the last ~70 years, they’d be able to get an affordable suburban lifestyle in Bloomington instead of 15 miles south of the River.

        1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

          Right, the “mistake” in hindsight was not building a lot more housing 40, 30, and 20 years ago.

          Granted, 40 years ago the city was losing population and seeing the future need was perhaps not possible. Except that we did downzone a bunch back then so…

  2. Monte Castleman

    Minneapolis can do what they want, but rather than absolutely destroy the modern, , convenient comfortable lifestyle we’ve worked so, so hard to achieve for the last 100 years, I’m assuming that electric cars and / or atmospheric sulfur injection will come to society’s rescue as a whole.

    1. Dan

      Or maybe that is a load of complacent dreaming that is totally selfish and works to threaten the lives and basic living standards of those of us young enough to actually deal with the problems of the future, so you don’t have to give up even a little bit of luxury in the present? Also its not as though living in multifamily housing and using transit isn’t a perfectly modern, comfortable, and convenient lifestyle-it just isn’t the exact one you are accustomed to.

      1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        It is also the only one we’ve built infrastructure to support for far too long. When we build complete neighborhoods with transit access that are bikeable and walkable, people seem to show up to live in them, suggesting that at least some people would make a different choice if they could.

      2. Monte Castleman

        Having a car and a single family detached house is not “just a little bit of luxury”, It’s the major advance of society in the past 100 years.

        1. tmart

          > Having a car and a single family detached house is not “just a little bit of luxury”, It’s the major advance of society in the past 100 years.

          The United States, and to a lesser extent Canada, is the only developed country that believes this. All other developed countries–many with higher standards of living than we enjoy–believe an advanced society with a high level of well-being is compatible with multifamily housing and modes of transportation other than private automobiles.

          1. Andrew Evans

            “The United States, and to a lesser extent Canada, is the only developed country that believes this. All other developed countries–many with higher standards of living than we enjoy–believe an advanced society with a high level of well-being is compatible with multifamily housing and modes of transportation other than private automobiles.”


            Go to France sometime. Everyone in the country outside of large cities has cars, and quite a few in cities have them as well. Other than although they have a pretty decent passenger rail network, their road system isn’t nearly as simple or as safe as what we have here – and that’s not even talking about the differences in our hiway systems.

            We would be similar too if it wasn’t for our grid system for cities, and that a lot of our growth happened in the 1900’s where we planned for larger streets.

            I haven’t been to Germany but they seem to be about cars there, or at least with the brands that they have.

            1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

              “their road system isn’t nearly as simple or as safe as what we have here”

              Um, what?

              Road fatalities per billion km:
              France: 4.8
              US: 7.1

              Regardless of whether people own cars, Europeans cities pretty uniformly are characterized by multifamily housing as among the most desireable and using options other than driving a personal car as the primary modes of transportation in the city.

              As one example, cars per 1,000 people:
              US: 910
              France: 479
              Germany: 555

        2. Wilj

          Monte, forgive the formatting as I’m posting this from a phone, but I see that the other replies to your post are unsatisfactory (as I read them anyway)…

          Hopefully, you will find this rebuttal more cogent and comprehensive in dispelling the myth of any fundamental progress of our automobile society.

          //block quote

          The model American male devotes more than 1,600 hours a year to his
          car. He sits in it while it goes and while it stands idling. He parks
          it and searches for it. He earns the money to put down on it and to
          meet the monthly installments. He works to pay for gasoline, tolls,
          insurance, taxes, and tickets. He spends four of his sixteen waking
          hours on the road or gathering his resources for it. And this figure
          does not take into account the time consumed by other activities
          dictated by transport: time spent in hospitals, traffic courts, and
          garages; time spent watching automobile commercials or attending
          consumer education meetings to improve the quality of the next
          buy. The model American puts in 1,600 hours to get 7,500 miles: less
          than five miles per hour. In countries deprived of a transportation
          industry, people manage to do the same, walking wherever they want to
          go, and they allocate only 3 to 8 per cent of their society’s time
          budget to traffic instead of 28 per cent. What distinguishes the
          traffic in rich countries from the traffic in poor countries is not
          more mileage per hour of life-time for the majority, but more hours of
          compulsory consumption of high doses of energy, packaged and unequally
          distributed by the transportation industry.

          The harm done by contemporary traffic is due to the monopoly of
          transport. The allure of speed has deceived the passenger into
          accepting the promises made by an industry that produces
          capital-intensive traffic. He is convinced that high-speed vehicles
          have allowed him to progress beyond the limited autonomy he enjoyed
          when moving under his own power. He has allowed planned transport to
          predominate over the alternative of labor intensive
          transit. Destruction of the physical environment is the least noxious
          effect of this concession. The far more bitter results are the
          multiplication of psychic frustration, the growing disutilities of
          continued production, and subjection to an inequitable transfer of
          power-all of which are manifestations of a distorted relationship
          between life-time and life-space. The passenger who agrees to live in
          a world monopolized by transport becomes a harassed, overburdened
          consumer of distances whose shape and length he can no longer control.

          //end block quote

          This is a quote from Ivan Illich’s 1978 essay “energy and equity”, like all of Illich’s work, it’s worth the read.


        3. Chris Gilbert

          The last 100 years has been a mistake we are finding out. Down the wrong rabbit hole. This happens throughout history: a society digs itself into a hold and can’t get out. Read Jared Diamond’s Collapse. Unfortunately, we’re talking the whole world now. And it’s not too late, but….

    2. Julie Kosbab Post author

      FWIW, the UN scientific team behind the paper think “atmospheric sulfur injection” and similar technologies are decades from true feasibility. We do not have decades.

  3. Leslie MacKenzieLeslie Mackenzie

    You’re reading my mind, Julie. We need to be honest about the reality of unavoidable climate change, and its devastating effects on population centers and natural systems.

    Right now, though, it feels like we are pushing for density without a clear picture of how much density and why (growth for the sake of growth). We could look at resilience research. What size cities are most resilient in the face of crises? What size, what qualities and what services maximize the quality of life and social cohesion of residents? How much land is needed nearby to grow food for that size population?

    We could plan to reach that level – and smaller cities in our region could plan to grow to that level – creating a network of optimally sized small and mid-sized cities surrounded by (and maximizing) food growing, water conservation, and biodiversity.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if our plan also included social resilience strategies to realistically prepare people for the changes that lie ahead?
    – Our culture tells us what constitutes success and a good life. How do we change that story? – We are planning for economic growth. What happens when our economy contracts, when jobs become fewer and needs become greater? That is inevitable.

    How might we plan differently if we operated from a realistic timeline for climate change?

    1. Tim

      You make a very good point about the importance of smaller cities. I’ve often thought that making these places more viable now (jobs, transportation, etc) will go a long ways towards helping us in the future. Plus, many of them already have good “bones” for this sort of thing in terms of form and layout. I’m not so sure the megacity approach is the way to go.

    2. Janne

      The research is clear that in the United States, NYC residents have the smallest carbon footprints of any city. I’d never argue that we should all aim to live in NYC-scale cities, but we don’t need research to figure out “the most sustainable,” because we know with absolute certainty that MF buildings are more energy efficient than SF ones, that living closer to more stuff and not driving (and even not owning a car) is better for the climate than personal car ownership and use.

      Is that attainable today? No.

      But we don’t need more research. We need action to shift us in the direction we KNOW is better, and as fast as possible.

      1. Leslie MacKenzieLeslie Mackenzie

        Super cities are neither sustainable nor resilient. When we face climate crises, they will not fare well. If we are thinking realistically about the future – not just energy efficiency, but also quality of life, creation of community, walkability, access to food – a smaller city fares better.

  4. Lou Miranda

    Part of the problem is how land use (and climate change) is so tied to transportation.

    We could build all the fourplexes and residential skyscrapers in the world, but without re-prioritizing our streets for pedestrians & cyclists (scooters, etc.), de-emphasizing (de-conveniencing) car travel, and adding BRT/streetcars/light rail, this is mostly for naught.

    It seems most city governments as well as the Met Council and Metro Transit are trying to go down the right path, but county street engineers (hello, Hennepin), MNDOT, and the state legislature and federal government are preventing quick, major progress for safe, slow, calm streets and transit options.

    I cringe every time I see an announcement of a new/upgraded highway from MNDOT. I cringe when I learn about state laws that prevent speed limits less than 30 mph. I cringe when county road engineers prevent safe streets. I cringe when the federal government doesn’t disburse monies for transit projects.

    And I cringe when friends & neighbors refuse to see the future impact of their I-don’t-want-any-change attitudes to city & suburban growth.

    We’re all in this together, and the sooner and more vigorously we act, the better off we’ll all be. Especially future generations.

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