Combating anti-development hysteria hysteria

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For the first time since the 1950s, Minneapolis’ population is growing. And the streets run red with hyperbole.

This article is reposted from TCDP media partner Streets.MN. Check out the links below for other recent Streets.MN stories:

  • In one corner we have people who, for various reasons, are unhappy with certain or all planned or existing developments that accommodate this growth. This is not a monolithic group.
  • In the other corner we have people who, for lack of a better word, call themselves urbanists, and generally support new development. I’m in this group, and like Team 1, it is not a monolithic group.

I can’t really speak directly to Team 1. In the same way I apparently only know like two Republicans, I really don’t know many of the people who show up to public meetings and complain, sometimes very theatrically, about the destruction being visited upon their neighborhoods by the redevelopment of surface parking lots and dilapidated rooming houses. But since I am on Team 2, I hear lots of complaints, some very theatrical, about the “NIMBYs” who are single-handedly keeping Minneapolis from blossoming into Amsterdam. This hysteria about hysteria holds that projects are shot down left and right by overzealous neighborhood organizations and other people who show up at City Hall with custom-made buttons to oppose new development.

The problem with this counter-hysteria is that it is incorrect. In the past several years, there have been a handful of projects that haven’t made it among the tens that have. Tracking development projects in the Twin Cities is a hobby of mine, and I can think of three otherwise viable projects that didn’t make it–Linden Corner, 24th and Colfax, and the Dinkytown Hotel. At least one of those will certainly be built in some form in the near future. Aside from those three, there have been thousands of new units built, and billions of dollars in private sector investment. Have you biked the Midtown Greenway since 2010? A handy press release from the City notes that 8,451 new housing units have been permitted since 2010. If we assume 1.5 people live in each of them and pretend that that population growth by itself is a city, it’d be more populous than 26 Minnesota counties.

Like most businesses, real estate and development are risky. Having to spend three to six months going to some meetings is not the end of the world. In fact, you could probably argue that it’s a good thing–the recent Opus Dinkytown project got demonstrably better after the wrangling there. Many businesses have processes that are sort of like this, they just don’t end up in the paper. In the same way that a farmer can’t just slap an “organic” sticker on a crate of apples, it’s reasonable to expect developers to build projects to some standard. I don’t know exactly what that is, but anyone who’s been to the United States since the 1940s knows that building things well hasn’t been a foregone conclusion for a long time. I’m happy (grateful sounds weird?) that developers are eager to build here, but let’s be real: They’re following the money. This is where demand is.

There are people who show up to public meetings and will never, ever support any change. There are those who call their City Councilmember and demand that no one new ever move into their neighborhood…and they’re wrong.

But, let’s put everything into perspective here. I spent the first seventeen and five-sixth years of my life in a military family, moving every few years and desperately wanting a place to call home. I was lucky enough (and it was absolutely luck of the draw) to end up in St. Louis Park from 2003 to 2006, which led me back here for college. Conversely, there are lots and lots of people who show up at these public meetings who have lived in the same house for forty years. Or they have mortgages with twenty years left on them. Many of these people stuck around the city through good times and bad, they didn’t show up when it got fashionable sometime towards the end of the Bush administration. I showed up more recently. As a renter, it’s very easy for me to say, well, Lake and Hennepin is lousy with Kardashians now, so let’s go hangout at Lake and Lyndale instead.

To be honest, when I think about my friends who are really into urbanism and Minneapolis development, almost none of them grew up here. Out of that group, I can think of one person who was born and raised in Minneapolis. The rest of us are transplants, who grew up in the suburbs, outstate Minnesota, or elsewhere. We came to Minneapolis for one reason or another and found that this was the kind of place we want to stick around. It’s a really nice town, crappy Uptown-Downtown bus service excluded.

The value of an opinion shouldn’t be based on how long you’ve had it–the opposite is probably true–but if we’re going to change minds among the people whose minds are changeable, we have to consider messaging and how we’re presenting ourselves. We love Minneapolis. We want more of it. We can sit through some meetings to get it.