The informed citizens of Minneapolis’ Southwest quadrant are typically conscious of calories when contemplating desserts in their neighborhoods’ many fine restaurants. But their reaction to the Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive Plan represents an indulgence rich in hypocrisy.
These folks give lip service to the familiar shibboleths of “sustainable growth,” “containing sprawl,” “higher-density housing” and “reducing carbon footprints.” Their true worldview, however, is controlled by a less-flattering familiar phrase: “Not In My Back Yard.” What is good for no-cost virtue-signaling does not always carry over when it affects the signaler’s own neighborhood.
Southwest’s refined citizenry suddenly began to resemble townsfolk with torches and pitchforks when the 2040 comprehensive plan proposed to rezone the area to permit potentially subsidized fourplexes that would not require additional off-street parking spaces. Yard signs decrying the plan sprouted like kale, and there has been much huffing and intemperate foot-stomping at public forums.
The plan, however, is exclusively the product of political leadership for whom the progressive citizens of Southwest voted by wide margins. It was created by bureaucrats working for the City Council and a monolithic Metropolitan Council, which, given that every one of its 16 members was appointed by DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, can be said, without hyperbole, to have more than a whiff of a politburo to it.
These political actors have never hidden their commitment to the shibboleths listed above, particularly higher-density housing and fewer cars in the city. The voters of Southwest got what they asked for — or at least what they deserved.
Although they are quick to look down their noses at anything associated with “the suburbs,” the reaction of the people of Southwest reveals that they really just want their own little suburbia in the city: an idyllic, semi-urban playground replete with single-family homes, fenced yards, cute shops, cafes and like-thinking, nondiverse neighbors with whom to share life in a bubble.
The playground is typically walled off by high property values from the realities of a real city and the policies of its politicians.
The reaction to the 2040 Plan demonstrates what happens at the slightest sign of a crack in that wall.
In search of a scapegoat separate from the progressive politicians they elected, the citizens have targeted the dark specter of … “developers.” Hence, many of the yard signs opposing the 2040 Plan direct their rage at this predictable bête noire. Seeing such a message in front of a house valued at $1.5 million, I was tempted to ask its owner: “What exactly did your family do to get rich, and why is it so much more noble than being a developer?”
Developers are already profiting in the area by tearing down modest houses and replacing them with single-family luxury homes consistent with current zoning and market demand. They make greater profits off those market-driven projects than they would with purportedly affordable subsidized fourplexes. The developers are probably satisfied with things as they are.
There is a history of hot-button issues — school busing being a classic example — on which urban progressives have offered lofty support to fashionable causes so long as the impact is felt by someone else.
The reaction to the 2040 Plan by the gentry of Minneapolis reflects no break from a mentality that is at once cynical and obnoxiously high-minded.
Jonathan F. Mack lives in Minneapolis.