Thursday, December 15, 2011

Still Not Enough Answers on Penn Redevelopment Plan

Post and photo by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

Today the City Planning Commission met to discuss several items, including both the Penn Avenue Redevelopment Plan.  I was able to stay only for that portion, but noted that Catalyst people were on shortly after that.  (There was a meeting later in the evening about the Hub site, and that will be reported on soon.)  The commission meeting was not open to public comment, but was open to anyone wishing to attend.  City staffers presented the report and were asked some pointed questions about why the plan was being developed and what the framework was for making decisions on certain properties.

The answer to the first question was, in part, to help the area qualify for more state funding for tornado recovery efforts.  An unsatisfactory and incomplete answer to the second question led me to recall a favorite scene from the Matrix movies - that of the Merovingian.  (If you have not yet seen this glorious mashup of kung-fu, computers, bullet-time effects, car chases, leather, and philosophy, then I just don't know how else to convey my point.  Go and watch "Reloaded," and then continue reading.)

Everyone else has been waiting two and a half hours for you to finish the movie, and now we all know the scene where our protagonists say to the Merovingian...

..."You know why we are here."

"Hmph... I am a trafficker of information, I know everything I can. The question is, do you know why you are here?"

"We are looking for the Keymaker."

"Oh yes, it is true. The Keymaker, of course. But this is not a reason, this is not a `why.' The Keymaker himself, his very nature, is means, it is not an end, and so, to look for him is to be looking for a means to do... what?"

"You know the answer to that question."

"But do you? You think you do but you do not. You are here because you were sent here, you were told to come here and you obeyed. [Laughs] It is, of course, the way of all things. You see, there is only one constant, one universal, it is the only real truth: causality. Action. Reaction. Cause and effect."

Philosophical gobbledygook aside, the parallel to our current Penn Avenue proposal is that the proposal itself is a means to an end.  If city staffers tell us that end is to qualify for funding, that leaves us right where we started.  The funding is not in itself an end; the funding is a means to accomplish...what?

Obviously north Minneapolis could stand an infusion of state funds to help rehab, acquire, and demolish tornado-affected properties.  A community corridor like Penn is as good of a place as any to focus those resources.  So I actually would support the pursuit of the funds as long as there is a clearly defined plan that has been vetted by the communities where it would be implemented.  In the areas along Penn where neighborhood and city cluster partnerships occur, it's safe to say that has happened or will happen.  And the sooner we get rid of Reitman Row, the better.

But when city employees who present the plans say this is "not a specific proposal," don't pin down a definitive goal, and can't explain a framework for deciding what will happen with acquired properties, then we're just not ready to proceed.  The city should be beholden to the constituents in the affected area.  Without a better plan in place, I worry that they will go after state money and then be more committed to their funding application than to the neighborhoods they serve.

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