Steer clear of fear over Met Council

  • Article by: JIM HOVLAND, SANDY MARTIN and ELIZABETH B. KAUTZ
  • Updated: August 12, 2013 - 6:14 AM

Twin Cities-area challenges can be addressed without partisanship.

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Counterpoint

A recent column by Katherine Kersten (“Sticking it to the suburbs,” Aug. 4) raised the specter of a Metropolitan Council on steroids, forcing outer-ring communities to live by “rules” of the urban core cities and inner-ring suburbs that focus on equity and sustainability. Kersten called this “regionalism” — and she didn’t mean it in a good way.

We see regionalism differently. Among the three of us, we’ve served 44 years as mayors of very different Twin Cities-area suburbs. We are proud of our cities and are laser-focused on helping them to be successful communities in which to raise families, work, do business and enjoy life.

We know that in order to do that we need to be part of a successful metropolitan area.

The dynamic engines of economic growth in the 21st century are metropolitan regions. Bruce Katz, vice president at the Brookings Institution and coauthor of “The Metropolitan Revolution,” says that metro areas — not the federal or state governments — will build the foundation of the new economy. “Cities are starting to take control of their economic future,” he said. “They aren’t waiting for Washington.”

Since 2004, we have been part of the Regional Council of Mayors, a unique organization in that it is nongovernmental and without any kind of rigid structure. Basically, we are a group of metro-area mayors who get together once a month to work on regional issues. We are committed to candid dialogue in a nonpartisan setting, and we find agreement on more than we ever would have expected.

Just a few years ago, the Metropolitan Council was looking at how to help manage expected burgeoning growth in the suburbs. That was where everyone thought growth would happen. Changing demographics, changing lifestyles and changing economics have made the future look different.

Important observations include:

• Our population is changing; we’re getting older. In the next 20 years, we’ll add as many people over the age of 65 as we did in the last 40 years. Much of our new growth over the next couple of decades is expected to come from new residents — and many of them are likely to be from different ethnic and racial groups.

• The region is going to grow, although less than we thought 10 years ago. It makes sense to provide for that growth, especially in communities that already have varied housing opportunities, public amenities and multimodal transportation.

• If we want to be attractive to entrepreneurs, established companies and international corporations — in short, almost any kind of future-oriented business — we must produce, attract and retain the educated, talented workforce businesses need to prosper.

• Our kids, or grandkids, those born between 1979 and 1996, are more interested in urban environments and multifamily housing than are their parents or grandparents.

• Seniors also want to live in areas that allow them to get out and about. They want transit and walkable communities, whether they live in a suburb or a core city.

• Not everyone wants to buy a home. The American Dream has changed, at least for the foreseeable future, in part because of the housing crisis, in part because of new lifestyle choices. Nationally, homeownership rates have declined and rental housing has grown.

• Environmental concerns, from energy and water use to waste disposal, impact not only quality of life but costs for individuals, businesses and cities.

• The Minneapolis-St. Paul region already has many assets that have drawn major companies to it and that keep them here, but competition is increasing, and the area must step up as a region to remain globally competitive.

The Regional Council of Mayors and Urban Land Institute Minnesota are working on four core initiatives to help communities plan for a better future: housing, transportation and land use, environment, and jobs and workforce solutions. These initiatives have provided everything from an online guide to state and local housing policy, to the (Re)Development Ready Guide of policies and practices that local governments can use to attract investment and growth, to the Regional Indicators Initiative, which has measured five years of energy, water, waste and vehicle miles for 20 cities.

Recently, the two organizations also began the GreaterMSP Ahead Initiative, designed to determine regional priorities and ways to accomplish them.

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