Monday, April 23, 2018

The Future: Minneapolis 2040

At a community meeting for a street reconstruction last year, a young mom made a passionate argument: it would be a generation, she said, before the street was reconstructed again. This was our only chance to create a neighborhood street where she could safely push a stroller, or walk and bike with her kids. It was an argument that stayed with me, not just for its passion, but because it so obviously placed the question in the right context: we were about to lock in a reality that would endure for decades.

I admit that mothers and children make for unreasonably sympathetic figures, but even if you're not a fan of moms and babies, the underlying argument is compelling. The city plans things, often years before acting on those plans. And when plans are enacted, we live with the results for a generation. It's easy to let short-term fear of change overtake the politics of planning for the kind of future we want for ourselves and our children.

Minneapolis is currently in the middle of a multi-year process to update its comprehensive plan -- a big picture blueprint on "housing, job access, the design of new buildings, and how we use our streets." The update is mandated by the Metropolitan Council, and it only happens once every ten years. The current draft comprehensive plan is called "Minneapolis 2040," and the name is more than just empty, futuristic branding.

In every sense, Minneapolis 2040 is a long-term plan. On zoning in particular, the process of updating the city's code would begin some time after the comprehensive plan is adopted by the council late this year. And zoning by itself does not transform neighborhoods overnight. As I have written previously, the pace of change in built-up neighborhoods is very slow, even under permissive zoning.

This is all to say: the plan called "Minneapolis 2040" is really, truly, and literally about Minneapolis in the year 2040. The people of 2040 will live with the biggest effects of decisions we make this year. The year 2040 is about the time that babies of today will have jobs, homes, and families of their own. As I write this the day after Earth Day 2018, those grown-up babies of 2040 will also probably wish their parents' and grandparents' generations had taken big issues like climate change more seriously.

Are we giving the people of 2040 the chance at a transportation system that moves significantly more people in ways other than private automobiles? Are we making it possible for every Minneapolis neighborhood to affordably accommodate considerably more people than live here right now? Are we promoting increased access to jobs, housing, and transportation in ways that serve everyone equitably?

I have my own ideas of how we get to Minneapolis 2040, and I believe this draft plan is a good start. But mostly I want to encourage you not to consider these questions with anxiety and fear about how the plan will affect you personally over the next few years (answer: hardly at all). These big, long-term questions should be considered with an eye towards the Minneapolis we need to become 20 years from now. It won't happen overnight, but it won't happen at all unless we start planning for it right now.

The Minneapolis 2040 draft comprehensive plan is open for public comment through July 22. The city is also hosting a series of open houses in May.