Regarding a case before the Minnesota Supreme Court this week (“Court hears views on 2040 plan,” Oct. 8): The 2040 plan and the issue of increased density is complicated and many folks seem to prefer to see it in a binary way (like many issues these days) — either you are for it or you are against it.
In my view, not all density is created equal. While I agree that density and zoning changes can be important and necessary tools for creating affordable and equitable housing options, making walkable cities and for reducing carbon emissions, density built without study has the potential to create more environmental and social justice problems than it solves. Proponents of the 2040 plan claim that they are the “real” environmentalists and yet insist that there is no need for any environmental study of the plan’s massive land-use deregulation with its possible negative cumulative effects on our city and beyond.
Increasing density in flood zones, in already-polluted areas and within the Shoreland Overlay District is not good city planning. Allowing building developments that encompass many city lots to go forward with no required study of water runoff (contaminant load, rate and flow into storm sewers) or contribution to heat zones is not good city planning. Creating incentives for developers to outbid first-time homeowners, tear down existing affordable housing and drive gentrification is not good city planning. This is why Smart Growth Minneapolis filed suit against the city of Minneapolis. Because it does not have to be a binary choice: We can use science and real metrics to determine what is “good density,” and we can change the 2040 plan.
Rebecca Arons, Minneapolis
VICE PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE
Not many direct answers given
Darn! Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris both did the thing in Wednesday’s debate that drives me nuts. Despite the moderator’s carefully phrased questions, the candidates did not answer the questions. Instead, they answered with their party lines and prearranged spiels. I wish the moderator could have said at the ends of their two minutes, “That’s very nice; now will you answer the question?” I had hoped that my candidate would do better, but she was just as remiss as he. Darn!
Judith Starkey, Wayzata
• • •
Why is it that so many in the political media feel so strongly the pull of “bothsiderism”? The most recent example of this both sides-are-equally-at-fault syndrome was on display on the editorial page of the Star Tribune on Friday (“A more civil debate,” Oct. 9). The editorial correctly noted “there were too many interruptions and time violations” while completely ignoring the fact that it was Pence, not Harris, who was the principal violator.
What set this debate apart, aside from the two minutes of airtime garnered by a housefly, was that one participant, Pence, was allowed to exceed the time limits and did so enthusiastically while assuming all the characteristics of a classless, mansplaining jerk. Pence used his perceived entitlement to address topics that the moderator had moved on from, while Harris answered most of her questions within her time allocation.
And while it is true that Harris dodged a question about what she might do regarding the Supreme Court, it hardly measured up against the diversions employed by Pence when he was asked a question he didn’t want to answer — which was pretty much all of them — he obfuscated, lied and rope-a-doped for his full time quota and then some, continuously steamrolling right over moderator Susan Page’s meek objections.
So obvious was it that Pence was abusing his privilege that at one point after watching him for the umpteenth time continue to yammer on over the moderator, I turned to my wife and asked, “Do you ever get the impression white men don’t have to follow the rules?”
Stephen Monson, Golden Valley
• • •
After watching the vice presidential debate Wednesday night, and knowing that the vice president is only a heartbeat away from the presidency, could anyone who viewed the debate have any doubt that the best person on that stage to fill the seat of the president is Pence, hands down?
He was calm, collected and laid out his facts in an articulate manner while not showing that nasty, peevish edge that Harris exhibited.
It definitely showed the difference between a veteran statesman and a not-so-ready-for-prime-time newcomer.
Brooke Taney, Burnsville
• • •
I believe it was Mark Twain who said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
And even statistics can lie.
Repeatedly in Wednesday’s debate, Pence stated that the average U.S. family received a $4,000 tax savings from the Trump tax bill. Let’s assume it’s true and then examine “damned statistics” at work.
Suppose there are 10 American families. The top-earning family receives a tax savings of $40,000 under the Republican tax law changes enacted in 2017. The other nine families receive zero benefit. Under this scenario, the average savings is indeed $4,000 per family.
Now widen the argument, and assume each of these hypothetical families represents 10% of all U.S. families. The top 10% get all the tax savings and 90% get nothing — close to the macro reality.
This is an important, if wonkish, point: Averages say nothing about distribution and that’s why medians are almost always a far better measure.
And what is the median tax savings in this example scenario? Zero. Nada. Nothing.
It was the continual reliance on statistics showing rising average incomes that for decades obscured rising income inequality. When we started looking more at median incomes, the evidence of rising inequality became quite clear.
Beware of both damned lies and damned statistics.
David Peterson, Duluth, Minn.
• • •
Joe Biden and Harris couldn’t be more disingenuous and evasive. Neither one will answer the question if they will pack the Supreme Court if elected. Biden says he will answer the question after the election. The point of campaigning is to let voters know where you stand on issues. It’s time for the Biden/Harris campaign to answer the question honestly: Will you or will you not pack the court if elected? The American people deserve to know before the election.
Steve Hayden, Eden Prairie
This climate refuge needs them
Curious Minnesotans ask, “Where are Duluth’s bike lanes?” (“If Duluth is a great outdoor city, where are the bike lanes?” Oct. 4.) We’re wondering the same thing. Transportation is the No. 1 cause of climate change pollution. So, if Duluth is going to serve as the region’s climate refuge, as Harvard Prof. Jesse Keenan predicts, the city’s leaders need to step up and establish real climate solutions, such as investing in and expanding safe, accessible walking, bicycling and public transit. Many of us don’t know that our highest polluting trips in a motor vehicle are our shortest trips, before our vehicle is running efficiently. Additionally, the American Lung Association reports that for those living near high-traffic roads, there is an increased risk of a multitude of harmful health effects attributable to traffic pollution. The good news is that the majority of our trips are less than three miles — a distance that can be biked in about 15 minutes. But in Duluth, like in many cities across the state, parking is often at odds with safe bike lanes, even though costly parking spaces are often underutilized and sit unoccupied.
We’re in a climate crisis and a public health crisis. It’s time city leaders prioritize active transportation and support safe, affordable and people-centered solutions.
Prescott Morrill and Chris Rourke, Duluth, Minn.
Morrill organizes for We Walk in Duluth. Rourke is a Sierra Club volunteer.
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