|[Courtesy of Chris Steller.]|
Newgeography.com - Economic, demographic, and political commentary about places by Rick Harrison / 1h // keep unread // hide // preview
In the next few weeks, the Metropolitan Council of the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul, is scheduled to vote on a vision for the region's housing and transportation future. "Thrive MSP 2040” is the council’s comprehensive development plan for the seven county Twin Cities metro area for the next 30 years. It's a regional growth plan that will result not in a cure for the area's ills, though, but in a virus that will kill its vitality.
The Minneapolis/ St. Paul area is one of the most livable regions in the nation. That's not because residents were forced onto transit and into high density housing, as Thrive will do. Growth occurred in a natural manner, in an area with great schools, because people here had the freedom to choose the size of yard for their kids, and the ability to embrace the natural openness of the region. The vigorous suburban growth that resulted has helped our vitality, despite past decisions from the Met Council to neutralize it.
[Subtext: I live in an all-white suburb and never think about economic disparities.]
The Metropolitan Council isn't alone in adopting New Urbanist plans on a wholesale basis. Their approach, and the problems that go with it, are being repeated by many planning boards nationwide. The 350-page ‘Detroit Future City’ plan, is a tunnel-vision strategy based on the same New Urbanism thought. With the best of intentions — goals of avoiding pre-fabricated monotony and sprawl, and creating affordable, livable communities — municipalities are actually writing prescriptions that will do just the opposite.
[Subtext: Detroit = scary black people.]
I speak with the perspective of a locally-based development consultant, and an observer and resident of the region for 31 years. I've witnessed what has actually helped make this area succeed. At my company, we've designed hundreds of sustainable neighborhoods that don't adhere to the New Urbanist principles of high density and only public transit.
[??????Sustainable LOL "Coving?" Here are some names of Harrison developments: Fairway Estates, Pintail Ponds, Remington Coves, Sandstone Hills... They remind you of theoretical Edina neighborhoods.]
Two decades ago, the Met Council placed its faith in an urban growth boundary, limiting sewer development in the metro area to inoculate itself against “sprawl”. The result was an increase in the very “sprawl” the council sought to avoid, as development leap-frogged outside the seven-county area to escape the high land prices created by the artificial land limitation.
[Note: There’s a big difference between an urban growth boundary and making sure sewer investments aren’t huge subsidies. Conservatives might take note.]
The Met Council hired Peter Calthorpe, the founder of the ”Congress of New Urbanism”, for several million in tax dollars, to provide a singular vision for our region’s future growth. The ‘one size fits all’ approach resulted in projects like Clover Ridge in Chaska, Ramsey Town Center, and indirectly, others like St. Michaels ‘Town Center’, all of which failed to deliver the promises that had been made.
Calthorpe’s attempt to create a ‘sense of place’ failed to attract home buyers. For example, the ‘conventionally planned’ sections of Clover Ridge sold well. But, with their sardine-like density, the housing along alleys remained vacant. Because the development did not attract as many homebuyers as anticipated, among other reasons, local shopping and restaurants did not materialize as the Met Council had promised.
[Question: Is this even true? I’d have to go to Chaska to find out… Someone please let me know.]
More recently, ‘Smart Growth’ projects such as ‘Excelsior and Grand’ in St. Louis Park failed to acknowledge why their retailers were abandoning their spaces. A spokeswoman for Panera Bread cited location and convenience for customers. Yet 'Excelsior and Grand is a model New Urbanism plan, complete with the obligatory central ‘traffic circle’ with a ‘sense of place’ sculpture.
These smart-growth projects are examples of architects preaching a singular growth model that does not work for all people, in all climates. Those who assume the working class will appreciate waiting outside in 20 below zero weather at an architecturally designed “sense of place” bus stop and then coming home to the 14th floor of a high rise are clueless. And the dense projects being built in this region have the same sort of repetition of design that smart-growth planners criticize in suburbia.
[Note: By “singular growth model”, It’s as if he’s describing single-use single family cul-de-sac land use patterns. Meanwhile, apartment demand in places like Minneapolis and Saint Paul are off the charts without sign of slowing.]
Today in the Twin Cities, sales of new, single-family homes are rebounding, creating a catalyst for economic stability. Despite this market reality, some developers are still submitting new multifamily housing proposals. That's due to Met Council density mandates, not because of market demand. The Council’s assumption is that the population will migrate to the urban core for its (expensive) restaurants and its 19th century rail technology, abandoning spacious suburbs and cars. But sales suggest otherwise.
[Note: the opposite is true.]
The Met Council’s ‘Thrive 2040' vision will undermine the American Dream of obtaining an affordable single-family home in an area where one desires to live, with the freedom of travel (and protection from our harsh winters) that only personal vehicles currently provide.
Under the ‘Thrive’ mandates, more workers will need to live in ‘affordable housing’ (mid- or high rises) and take mass transit to their jobs. Yet ‘affordable housing’ remains elusive in ‘Smart Growth’ projects, unless it is heavily subsidized with tax dollars.
[Read: I like my suburb surrounded by white people, not scary high rises filled with poor people who don’t look like me.]
Calthorpe’s Congress of New Urbanism actually boasts of the gentrification it produces. When home prices go up, what happens to the living standard for displaced low-income families? The working class, regardless of race, should be outraged by ‘Thrive’.
[Yes, mixed-use Traditional neighborhood development is very popular.]
Density does not guarantee affordability. We cannot forever throw tax dollars at high-density development solutions in an effort to make them economically feasible. A successful, balanced housing market drives the economy. At their December meeting, let's hope the Met Council recognizes that the 'Thrive' vision is anything but balanced.
Rick Harrison is President of Rick Harrison Site Design Studio and Neighborhood Innovations, LLC. He is author of Prefurbia: Reinventing The Suburbs From Disdainable To Sustainable and creator of Performance Planning System. His websites are rhsdplanning.com and pps-vr.com.
[Read: Rick Harrison is a hack.]