In his final State of the City address this week, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak envisioned a bright future for the city: a thriving North Side, a larger population, more mass transit, and narrowed disparities between citizens of different races and incomes.
The three-term mayor used his annual address to project Minneapolis in 2025, arguing that it was more interesting to look ahead than to get ‘‘nostalgic about the past.’’ But Rybak also outlined how his current priorities would provide a foundation for the future.
He cited four general areas — running the city well (managing the money and improving public safety), growing the city, improving transit and building for the next generation. Each included elements of this theme: The city’s future prosperity is linked to improving the education and economic status of immigrants and people of color.
Rybak emphasized keeping the city’s fiscal house in order, recalling that his administration had wisely paid down $241 million in debt and reformed a closed pension system that had cost millions.
He also addressed public safety, acknowledging that although violent-crime rates are lower, gun crime and youth violence are ongoing problems.
Looking ahead 12 years, Rybak imagines a Minneapolis with 65,000 more residents, many of them from among the city’s most challenged populations. More employment opportunities, housing and education are the keys to ensuring that those new residents contribute to the tax base and lower property tax burdens across the city.
Rybak wisely highlighted the importance of mass transit and housing development along transit corridors. That includes “doing everything possible’’ to plan for a system of modern streetcars.
He highlighted the city’s role in closing racial disparities by hiring more people of color, contracting with minority firms and utilizing the city’s new small-business technical assistance program.
The city’s youth must see a bright future, and Rybak cited the success of the city’s Step-Up summer jobs program in which most participants come from lower-income families of color. The program has placed about 16,000 teens in summer jobs since 2004 and has helped put many on constructive career paths.
But Rybak acknowledged that Minneapolis still has one of the largest achievement gaps in the nation, which he rightly described as an issue of social justice and civil rights. Closing the gap is critical to the city’s economic future, he said, adding that it could get worse without dramatic action. He said the city must continue to invest in helping families succeed and must support reform efforts in public schools.
Although many of his critics will never forgive Rybak for his role in supporting a new Vikings stadium, this page welcomed his leadership. His legacy, in part, will be determined by the extent and quality of development surrounding the stadium.
To that end, Rybak offered the concept of “Armory Yard,” an area near the stadium that would be used for sports, concerts and other green-space activities. (Disclosure: The Star Tribune owns property near the stadium site that could be part of future development in the area.)
Similarly, Rybak would like to see the Nicollet Mall transformed into the “Nicollet Green,” an urban park with sidewalk eateries and retail.
None of those development goals will matter much, though, if Minneapolis fails to address achievement and income disparities.
As he closed his speech, Rybak called a diverse group of young Step-Up alums to the stage. He introduced the former interns from his office as 2025 mayoral candidates and said Minneapolis would be in good hands.
That’s a vision Minneapolis can rally around, and one that the candidates to succeed Rybak should enthusiastically adopt.