Mayors from Minneapolis and St. Paul, along with their City Council members and top staff met Friday in a historic forum to join forces against the most daunting problems the often-quarreling cities face.
The four-hour meeting, held at the headquarters of Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul, sought to identify six “big ideas” on which the two cities could collaborate, and while the ideas came fast and furiously, the most tangible result of the summit could be much simpler: a consensus that the state’s two largest cities are both in the same boat.
“The Twin Cities region has incredible resources,” said St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman. “We have the ability to solve some of the problems we are facing.”
The gathering was sparked by the post-election lunch Coleman and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak enjoyed in November, a welcome conversation between city leaders after four years of chilly relations between Rybak and Coleman’s predecessor, Randy Kelly. “This is about the two city governments working together,” Rybak said. “The civic context of this region is being re-invented.”
Friday’s event was organized by MPR as part of its civic engagement initiative. Participants took part in one of six small groups covering specific areas of interest—Quality of Life, Infrastructure and Environment, Public Safety, Economic Development, Education, and Government Innovation—and spent time brainstorming ways the two cities could collaborate.
The various groups came up with six “big ideas”:
• Promote a regional approach to capital infrastructure budgeting, including a joint economic development plan for the Central Corridor, the Southeast Minneapolis Industrial area, and the riverfront.
• Expand the coordination of public safety, focusing on guns and drugs.
• Speak with one voice on transit and work together on the development of transit corridors.
• Coordinate regional arts, entertainment, and recreation initiatives, celebrating the beauty, vibrancy, and traditions of the Twin Cities.
• Extend the school day through parks and library services, and increase the quality of early childhood development opportunities.
• Use University Avenue as a test area for zoning, design, and transit by establishing a governance structure for the area, including a joint project office on University Avenue.
“I love hearing about housing and jobs,” said Minneapolis City Council Member Robert Lilligren.
“I’m pleased to see a focus on University Avenue and the river,” added his colleague, Council Member Paul Ostrow.
For all the consensus, however, plenty of obstacles remain. Staff from both cities cautioned participants that big ideas wouldn’t become tangible results without some follow through. And both Coleman and Rybak acknowledged that differences in the cities organizational structures would present some obstacles. St. Paul’s “strong mayor” system will allow Coleman and his various departments to move more quickly than the Byzantine organizational structure in Minneapolis.
“It may make it a little harder for Minneapolis to respond quickly,” said Coleman. “But it shouldn’t be prohibitive.”
Rybak agreed, noting that “It’ll be different in different areas. In some areas, it’s really complex.”
But the forum did demonstrate that the cities at least have an interest in working together, and that’s not insignificant, said Coleman—especially as it relates to how St. Paul and Minneapolis operate at the Capitol. “With the two legislative delegations and a regional mayors’ council,” he said, “it becomes pretty darn powerful.”