The unrest in Minneapolis has come in response to decades of entrenched, structural racism in the systems that govern day-to-day lives. It is clear now that racism is a reality in Minneapolis and systematic changes are required to move our city to a better place.

The ownership and development of land and buildings is firmly anchored in this structural and systemic racism. Black and brown communities have been systematically denied the opportunity to build wealth through ownership of real estate by racist policies including redlining and block busting.

The Upper Harbor Terminal project in north Minneapolis — 48 acres of city-owned property — can either continue the practice of real estate development as an extractive wealth process or it can become a model for community wealth-building and ownership.

The proposed use of $20 million in state bonds to construct a 10,000-seat performance venue would be a continuation of public funding for white-owned business wrapped in the holy cloth of equitable development.

As currently structured, this project would create generational wealth predominantly for majority-owned businesses outside of the north Minneapolis community. The bulk of the jobs created by the performance venue would be part time, minimum wage and seasonal.

If the global COVID-19 pandemic has shown us anything, it is that the economic realities of our city, country and world are far from equitable and black and brown communities are at the bottom of the ladder.

We do not have to follow this familiar playbook. We can redesign the underlying inequitable real estate development and economic development systems that are a significant source of frustration and anger in communities of color.

Currently, several models of community wealth-building are successfully operating across the country, including the Community Investment Trust in Portland, Ore., and the Neighborhood Investment Corporation in Los Angeles. A recent call sponsored by the Kresge Foundation gathered over 80 people from across the country to learn about these and other community wealth-building strategies.

The Upper Harbor Terminal project could also be a national model of wealth-building and ownership. This is not a question of “Can we do it” but of “Do we have the will to do it?”

It would start with the Legislature denying the city of Minneapolis’ request for bonding dollars and become successful when black and brown people are the ones benefiting from an equitable process of ownership.

We have an opportunity to rethink and redefine the issue with Upper Harbor Terminal. Most important, we believe our political leadership has the moral courage to leave a legacy, a counter narrative. A project that is structured from the bottom up with economic strategies that will develop wealth with the north Minneapolis community.

Do we want to leave a narrative for our young people growing up in north Minneapolis to live with, a strategy that will create additional individual suffering and social misery? We are all living with the impacts of systemic racism. The events of recent weeks have shown us how deep the problem is. When we have an opportunity to change that dynamic we must.

 

The Rev. Robin R. Bell is minister of Racial Justice and Equity, Redeemer Lutheran Church, Minneapolis. Paul D. Bauknight Jr. is an urban designer/design activist affiliated with the Minnesota Design Center.