Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Yes, the Tree Was Racist and Here's Why That Matters


Photo from Chauntyll Allen, now widespread.

I saw the racism in the Minneapolis Fourth Precinct tree instantly.

So I did what so many of us do in this social media age.  I took a screen grab from a friend's Facebook account, put it up on my Twitter feed with a demand for our elected officials to address it, and went back to my day.  I figured I'd contribute to the chorus of calls for apologies, consequences, and reconciliation.  As it turns out, that tweet was one of the first to spread the image broadly, and became a focal point for many people and news agencies.

(A quick side note:  once it became clear that this was getting way more exposure than I expected, I went back and found the source of the original post.  That was Chauntyll Allen, a Black Lives Matter activist.  From that point on, I directed all media inquiries to her - both because she was the original poster and because as a person of color in Minneapolis, her experiences with what that tree means are much more direct and visceral than mine.)

But what I want to address in this post is how so many people, mostly but not entirely White, didn't see what I and so many others saw.  The denials on Twitter, Facebook, and the comment sections of news reports ranged from a thinking it was in poor taste but not racist all the way to seeing the racism and enjoying it.  If you're on the latter part of the spectrum, this post is not for you.  If you're curious as to how this was construed as not just offensive but downright racist, read on...

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The North Minneapolis Element of 2040 is Finally Here! Sort of.

Stock photo from a previous north Minneapolis 2040 meeting.

Well, it's here.  CM's Cunningham and Ellison have released their joint...plan? proposal? talking points? about how the 2040 Plan will be utilized to benefit north Minneapolis.  It is, without a doubt, a lot of talking points.  But it lacks a certain something.  I will not mince words; this is a series of platitudes that north Minneapolis has heard for years leading up to this plan, and the addition adds nothing of substance to the discourse or concrete actions that may be taken as we move (presumably) forward.  The entirety of the writing can be found in the first link above, and the housing section is quoted here.
The City of Minneapolis will reverse the institutional harms caused to the Northside community by building on the many assets of the community while also prioritizing community wealth building in the form of housing, small business, public safety, youth opportunities, and environmental justice by:
Action Steps
1. Taking actions to stabilize housing stock by increasing homeownership in interior residential areas with a focus on supporting first-time, first-generation homebuyers, and provide “right to return” supports to homebuyers with historic ties to the community, such as those displaced by rising rents or foreclosure or returning home after completing higher education.
2. Increasing access to affordable housing options in neighborhoods, particularly multifamily housing along transit corridors.
To which I respond with the following series of questions...

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Star Tribune Editorial Raises Red Flag on 2040 Plan


The above image is an example of a front porch converted to living space.

Today the Star Tribune published an article titled, "Minneapolis 2040 Helps Address Housing Inequality."  In that article was a startling reference to what the author claims the 2040 Plan can or will do.  In fairness, my interpretation of the article's claims may in fact be incorrect.  I have searched the 2040 Plan website again and it remains a planning document equivalent of trying to find a specific item at a TJ Maxx store.

From the Strib, emphasis mine:
What cannot occur under existing law is exactly the process that would most help those working-class renters: organic, small-scale development, mostly conversions of existing buildings. These developments are unlikely to produce high profit margins — the wealthiest renters are unlikely to trade out gleaming lofts for basement apartments — but they give individual property owners the ability to put another unit or two in an existing house. 
This is exactly the development the 2040 plan seeks to spur, by allowing up to three units on all lots in all residential areas.
 Let's break down why this is bad news...

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Minneapolis 2040 Does Not Serve North Minneapolis




Public comments are due tonight on the Minneapolis 2040 Plan, so by the time most of you will read this, I'm hoping that enough input has already made it clear that the plan in its current form is unworkable and needs a new draft.  I have serious concerns over the 2040 proposal, but first want to articulate what this is and what it is not, for the sake of readers who may not be familiar with how these long-range plans work.

The best comparison in north Minneapolis would be the West Broadway Alive! plan.  And I remember my first reaction to the vision of what to do with the north Minneapolis segment of West Broadway was that this plan was full of political pablum and had no concrete ideas whatsoever.  A fair criticism, to be sure, but West Broadway Alive! was not meant to put forth specific development ideas.  Rather, it was meant to express the community's long-term values and goals for West Broadway.  Then, when various proposals came forward, we could point back to the document and say one of a few things. "Yes, this follows the WBA; yes, it could follow those values with some tweaks; no it does not follow the plan and deserves to be summarily rejected; or no, it does not follow the plan, but presents some previously unthought of ideas that we should now incorporate into Broadway's development."

In the years since, north Minneapolis residents, business owners, investors, and advocates have used the WBA plan to push back against the location of a Hennepin County Services Center, to keep the MPS from creating more surface parking, to preserve historic storefronts before and after a fire, and to guide multi-family housing along the Broadway curve from James Ave to Penn Ave.  That's how I see the 2040 plan's future use, which is why even after the initial draft phase is closed, we need to keep giving our input to city council members and other officials.  Because once 2040 is adopted - and eventually it WILL BE - then for the next decade or more, people will come forward with their detailed proposals for specific developments in specific areas.  And they absolutely will point to the 2040 plan in its final form as a document that was passed with enough community input that its gravitas and credibility should continue to guide city and community decisions for years to come.

So since this document will be used to justify or oppose how our city develops and grows for decades, the time to make our voices heard is now.  Which leads me to my concerns over the Minneapolis 2040 Plan...


Thursday, March 29, 2018

Where Will We Put All Those Fourplexes?


After my initial foray into the citywide fourplex proposal, I began to take a closer look at my own surroundings.  And as much as I want to exercise caution I became quite surprised at how little of north Minneapolis is zoned for multifamily housing compared to how much this part of the city could use such development.

For instance, from my place on 26th and Penn up to 30th Avenue North (which is only three blocks because the 2800 and 2900 blocks get jumbled together here), there are at least twenty-three city- or county-owned vacant parcels of land.  All of them are zoned R1 residential, so without a variance only single-family homes can be built.

Penn Avenue North is a community corridor.  It already has a mix of multi-family and single-family homes along the route, especially in this three-block stretch.  North Minneapolis has bled density and needs to add more people back to our community.  In fact, you can't rightly call Penn a commercial corridor because there isn't enough of a population to drive much commerce here.  When Metro Transit surveys their ridership to see where its ridership is most dependent on busing as their primary mode of transportation, Penn's route (the 19) and its tributaries and parallels (the 5, 22, 14, among others) consistently come out near the top.

When you talk about areas that need density, we're it.  When you talk about building housing for those without cars, the northside is not some trendy place where young college grads use the Uber to Lyft their Car2Go or whatever the kids are doing nowadays.  People are riding the bus to do their laundry and grocery shopping because that's what they need to get by.

So looking at this zoning proposal in terms of racial equity and access to an affordable infrastructure of housing and transit, corridors like Penn and Lyndale, Emerson and Fremont Avenues North absolutely have to be the cornerstone of how communities can benefit.  Because the next carless micro-unit building for college grads making sixty grand is not going to cut it.

With that in mind, my next round of number crunching was centered around this query: Were it not for the R1 zoning restriction throughout much of north Minneapolis, would we see an influx of multifamily investment?  Or as some council members have posited, would that investment be focused in other areas even at the expense of existing housing stock?

Some of what I found seemed to support my predispositions and other data was more than a bit surprising.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Who Would Benefit from Relaxed Citywide Multi-Family Zoning?

Vacant land, multi-family, and single-family homes.
These parcels are likely already zoned for multi-family housing, but there are plenty of vacant lots around me that would benefit from the addition of 3-4 unit properties.

"Well, the cat's out of the bag," said Council Member Lisa Bender regarding a proposal to relax zoning requirements practically citywide.  The change could result in there being virtually no barriers - from a zoning perspective - to building a four-unit house throughout much of the city.  To be honest, the prospective change excites me more than just about anything I've seen from our new council.  But it is replete with possibilities to further exacerbate some of Minneapolis' worst problems even while it addresses rental housing shortages.

CM's Johnson and Gordon raised some of their own concerns, namely that the new ordinance could result in starter homes being priced out certain markets as the land beneath the home becomes worth enough for investors to purchase, demolish, and build anew.  While this would add a net gain of housing units, it would come at the expense of first-time buyers and would not be the ideal way to roll out such a change.

I share those concerns, and worry that otherwise viable housing will be demolished in favor of new construction of fourplexes.  If that dynamic becomes widespread, then I also worry that we will have a housing change that prices more owners out of south and northeast Minneapolis while passing over the swaths of already-vacant land in north.  And then let's talk about who benefits and how.  Obviously renters benefit from having more options available to them at (hopefully) affordable rates for quality housing.  The communities around the new units get the benefits - and let's be honest, the drawbacks such as they are - of increased density.  And the largest beneficiaries would the the new owners of the four-unit housing expansion.

I will be focusing on those two aspects of the proposal as this post proceeds - how to incorporate a zoning change in ways that minimize the demolition of viable homes and how to ensure that the largest windfalls that ownership provides are aimed at people and communities that have been historically marginalized.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Minneapolis Needs a Second DFL Party



As elections get ever closer, the level of vitriol keeps escalating.  The crisis du jour happens to be a set of mailings that have gone out from Minneapolis Works! that have been in support of some of the less liberal candidates for city council.  The hints of big, downtown money swaying the election has even brought out the most dreaded word imaginable in Minneapolis elections.

Republicans.

Now realistically we don't have Republicans as a political force in Minneapolis.  Sure, we had one run for mayor in 2013, but to borrow from the legend of Keyser Soze, and like that he was gone.  Underground.  Nobody has seen him since.  He becomes a myth, a spook story that DFLers tell their kids at night.  Run against a more liberal candidate, and the Republicans will get you.  And no one ever really believes.

So this mailer comes out, and to be honest, the real story ought to be that these really rich political action groups had to crib campaign photos without permission and used poorly cropped Getty image photoshops.  With that much money, if you want to be progressive with an actual 'p' then hire a northside photographer from a minority-owned business or a local arts group to take actual photos, and then get another such business to design the postcard.  Instead, the uproar is that the less liberal candidates were called "progressive," when the new crop of left-wing candidates thinks that word belongs to them.

And the problem with that is that the DFL in Minneapolis is essentially the only path to political legitimacy (Sorry, Cam Gordon, but until we get more Green Party representation, I stand by the assessment).  So ascendancy within the DFL party, and the DFL endorsement at conventions is not a consensus by Democrats of who represents their values.  It is instead a tool to be used to gain the appearance of credibility.

Contrast that with statewide DFL conventions and endorsements...