It is difficult to understand the logic or motive behind the Feb. 10 editorial (“Hitting the brakes on Minneapolis growth”). The conservation district (CD) approach to smart development is described as an undesirable threat to increased urban density and to much-needed increases in tax base.

However, residential density is defined and controlled by the city’s zoning code, which cannot be altered by a CD. Moreover, CDs would be established only in selected areas where the property owners desire the designation and where it can be justified to the City Council.

The proposed designation would be a tool with strong citizen participation that could help to assure that new development doesn’t simply throw away current structures in the name of progress, without thought of current and future value.

We saw this movie before — it was called urban renewal. In the 1960s, we tore down the old in favor of the new to provide for more density and increase the tax base. In the process, we lost some of the defining character of our city. CDs take a more measured approach in trying to retain some of the elements that define the character and livability of a neighborhood, without freeze-drying it in the guise of historic preservation, and they are not likely to succeed in preserving residential areas that are not worth preserving.

But who decides what is worth preserving — the property owners who have already invested there and have a stake in the neighborhood, or a developer who is trying to make a profit by imposing his values on the neighborhood?

Maybe sensible development takes both inputs, but the CD allows the neighborhoods to express their aspirations in the form of design guidelines for development. It’s one way to make clear that the cheap and often unsustainable development we see happening in this city is not wanted.


Dick Poppele lives in Minneapolis.