David Greene, Grant Stevensen: Central Corridor complaint seeks a two-way conversation

  • Article by: DAVID GREENE and GRANT STEVENSEN
  • Updated: June 15, 2009 - 5:30 PM

The community is only asking for a courtesy that was extended to other stakeholders, such as the University of Minnesota and MPR.

The Star Tribune's recent editorial concerning the civil-rights complaint filed against the Metropolitan Council missed the mark ("Central Corridor is not Rondo redux," June 11). The complaint is not simply a laundry list of grievances. It is an expression of frustration by a community constantly and systematically cut off from discussions about its future -- and it presents an opportunity to honestly examine and transform our planning processes.

The complaint arises from an institutional culture at the Met Council and other planning agencies that values technical considerations and cost efficiency above all else. We have seen this culture express itself as poor public process over and over again in our work on transportation equity. The very act of planning and implementing large public-works projects is an expression of collective values. Those of us who have worked tirelessly on such projects believe we need to express a different set of values.

The editorial mentioned numerous public meetings with strong attendance. Meetings in and of themselves serve no useful purpose. It is the content, direction and tone of the meetings that matter. We need a democratic, participatory and accountable process, not simply a series of PowerPoint presentations followed by Q&A sessions. Community members come to such meetings and give their thoughtful feedback but never hear another word from the planning bodies.

That's why the Met Council's varying responses to the University of Minnesota, Minnesota Public Radio and the community along University Avenue regarding the Central Corridor light-rail project are so frustrating. Perhaps the university and MPR didn't get everything they demanded, but they got one very necessary thing the community was denied: real back-and-forth engagement with our public agencies. They very publicly held the Met Council accountable, and while the Star Tribune did not agree with all of their complaints, it certainly encouraged the council to give due consideration. The community dare not ask for the same, lest it incur the wrath of those who, lacking context and understanding, respond with "get over it?"

Members of the community raise very legitimate concerns about the Central Corridor. This is not a matter of blind or misinformed opposition. We fully support a project that increases transit service on University Avenue and benefits the community. But how can one stand by when our public agencies have decided to forgo stations in the most populous, racially and economically diverse neighborhoods in St. Paul, while stations with fewer boardings and alightings receive full funding? How can one stand by when local bus service will be cut, resulting in a net reduction in transit service levels in those same communities? These are not isolated examples. They are symptoms of a larger, more fundamental problem in how we go about building our community.

We're about to spend $1 billion on the Central Corridor, and we have more such projects in various stages of planning. The community's concerns about the project must be addressed. We hope that the Met Council and all of our public agencies will see the civil-rights complaint as an opportunity to step back, examine what happened, admit where improvements can be made and apply those lessons in the future. We need a culture of cocreation, in which all stakeholders in the community come together to speak, listen, resolve differences and create democracy from the ground up. Getting to such a place will require transformation of our public institutions and all of us individuals. It is not the easy path, but it is the one demanded by justice.

David Greene is chairman of transit equity campaign for ISAIAH, a coalition of over 90 churches in the Twin Cities and St. Cloud regions working for racial and economic justice. The Rev. Grant Stevensen is pastor of St. Matthew's Lutheran Church in St. Paul and is president of ISAIAH.

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