This unelected body would play disruptive games with the daily lives of Twin Cities residents, favoring rail over roads and driving up housing costs.
The Metropolitan Council, led by Chairwoman Susan Haigh, discussed the Southwest Corridor light-rail project before a vote last week. Rail transit is part of the council’s long-term goals as outlined in its Thrive MSP 2040 plan.
The Metropolitan Council sees economic storm clouds on the Twin Cities’ horizon. We are in danger of losing jobs and creative young professionals to more enlightened metro areas, like Portland and Seattle, the council warns.
Its proposed solution? “Thrive MSP 2040”— the council’s new 30-year comprehensive plan for development in our seven-county region. The council has released a draft for public comment and will vote on the plan in May.
In fact, Thrive will likely do the opposite of what the council promises. It will raise our cost of living, lower our quality of life, and drive people and jobs to less-regulated regions, like Atlanta and Houston, which are already growing much faster than the Twin Cities.
Thrive MSP 2040 will give the unelected Met Council the green light to play “Sim City” with the lives of Twin Cities residents. Its unprecedented, top-down controls will transform many neighborhoods; push us increasingly into “stack and pack” high-density housing, and reorganize our region around mass transit. The plan will pour huge sums into light rail, increase congestion, and limit parking to push us to give up our cars and take public transit, walk or bike to work and leisure activities.
Intrusive, expensive change imposed from on high by unelected bureaucrats is a tough sell in a democracy in which people believe they have a right to govern their own towns with their neighbors. Perhaps that’s why the council and its allies are framing this power grab as the price the Twin Cities region must pay to remain “economically competitive” with peer regions. We’re all in favor of prosperity, right?
Thrive’s premise is that in the future, social planning by supersmart unelected bureaucrats will be the key to economic growth. But the facts on the ground tell a different story.
One of the best measures of a region’s economic vitality is domestic migration: the number of people who move there from other parts of the country vs. the number who leave. People don’t move to a metro area for light rail. They move for opportunity.
Which metro areas are attracting people today, and which are not?
Between 2000 and 2010, Met Council data indicate that 132,000 more people moved away from than moved to the Twin Cities seven-county region. By comparison, the Census Bureau indicates that Los Angeles lost 1.3 million and New York City lost 1.9 million. At the same time, people flocked to other metro areas: Atlanta gained 415,000; Dallas-Fort Worth, 318,000; Houston, 241,000, and Raleigh, N.C., 190,000.
What do “people magnets” like these areas, mostly in the South and West, have in common? Less burdensome government regulation and fewer land use restrictions. Both are strongly correlated with greater economic growth.
If we aim to compete with the nation’s most economically dynamic areas, the Thrive plan will push our region in exactly the wrong direction.
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Thrive’s first pillar is increased densification. It will require much more “compact” development in both developing and mature suburbs, with a special focus on cramming people into tiny areas around train stations in the urban core and first-ring suburbs.
If the plan follows typical “smart growth” ideology, it will place significant restrictions on land use beyond the urban fringe, though details are not yet clear. This will artificially restrict the supply of buildable land and drive up housing prices well above historical norms — along with the costs of retail and commercial development.
The measure of housing affordability is the median multiple — the median house price in a region divided by the median household income. In the Twin Cities, the median multiple is 3.1, while in Atlanta and Indianapolis — both thriving metros with little land use regulation — it is 2.7.
On the other hand, in Portland and Seattle — which have stringent urban growth boundaries and strict densification policies — the median multiple is 4.8 and 5.3, respectively. In San Jose, Calif., it is a breathtaking 8.7.
Over time, the Met Council’s densification crusade will likely drive up Twin Cities-area housing prices, reducing discretionary income and the standard of living for all. Our region will become less attractive to businesses, which will have to pay workers more to get them to come here.
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The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.