70s-Era Planner Confesses Role in Decades-Old Downzoning Plot

In commenting on the city’s current plan to downzone the Wedge neighborhood, former Minneapolis city planner Perry Thorvig has given us some historical perspective. He starts off by celebrating the results of the 1975 downzoning:

The zoning scheme adopted in 1975 must have worked. It was gratifying to me and I’m sure many neighborhood residents, including former council member Meg Tuthill, that the recent study by city planner Brian Schaffer found that very little new development has occurred in the neighborhood since that rezoning was done forty years ago.

(note that while Mr. Thorvig appreciated the 1975 downzoning, he worries the 2016 proposal may go too far in creating non-conformities.)

Message from a historical city planner.

The kind of housing the city and activists stopped from being built decades ago–the 2½-story walk-up–is what is now referred to as naturally occurring affordable housing (built with private rather than public money). As a result of what we did way back then, we now have less affordable housing.

Today, there’s lots of local renter advocacy happening around the 1970ish 2½-story walk-up. Many such buildings are being sold and renovated with rents higher than current tenants can afford. This has led to local government allocating money to purchase these buildings in order to preserve some tiny portion of what’s become a dwindling supply of affordable units in the region. To the extent we devote public money to saving them, we value the benefits these buildings provide. But are we moving towards a zoning code that matches those values?

Look at these headlines and the very similar buildings pictured underneath:
After all these decades we’re still pursuing a policy (restrictive zoning) aimed at pleasing low-density property owners who would very much not like to have their beautiful, desirable neighborhood “destroyed” by dense multifamily housing; and on the other end we’re forced to mitigate the effect of that policy (painfully expensive housing) by spending a woefully inadequate pool of public housing money.

What are we doing?

It’s 2016 and we’re still downzoning.

If you’d like to weigh in on downzoning the Wedge, it’s item 5 on the agenda for the next meeting of the Minneapolis City Planning Commission, Tuesday, Nov. 1st, at 4:30 PM.

Who gets to live on our nicest streets?

Alex Cecchini has written a nicely comprehensive post outlining all the reasons it’s a bad idea to force dense housing out of neighborhood interiors and onto the most noisy, polluted, dangerous streets in the city.

It’s a timely post because the Wedge neighborhood is about to be downzoned. As Alex writes, the last time the neighborhood was downzoned, in 1975, it was happening in parallel with an equally successful movement to force dangerous high-speed car traffic out of the neighborhood’s interior (a good thing). In other words, the city and neighborhood activists were making the neighborhood interior nicer/safer at the same time they were telling a certain kind of person in a certain kind of housing they have no business living there.

Read Alex’s post for all the reasons why that’s a problem.

Lisa Goodman hates your minimum wage study

The Minneapolis City Council hired some economists from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs to produce this study on the impact of raising the local minimum wage. The study showed that raising the wage would not lead to economic apocalypse. The study did show that raising the wage to $15 would help a lot of people who need it–at the cost of an extra 50 cents to $1 for a $25 restaurant meal. Council Member Lisa Goodman was not happy with the results.

Goodman started her comments at yesterday’s hearing by accusing the University of Minnesota researchers of bias, asking whether if she were to “Google your names” she’d find evidence they’d written in support of the concept of raising the minimum wage. She made fun of their findings that a higher wage would alleviate the problem of food insecurity: “I don’t have to have an economics degree to figure that out.” She went off on a riff about expensive ice cream cones. She asked if the authors talked to business owners, as if to say a rigorous economic analysis needs plenty of anecdotes.

At a City Council meeting in 2015, Goodman called the idea of even studying the issue a waste of money because, in her estimation, an actual Minneapolis wage increase had no chance of ever passing with a majority (the City Council voted 10-3 in favor of paying for a study; Yang, Barb Johnson, and Goodman voted no). Her comments indicate she believes most of her colleagues are as impervious to evidence as she is:

If there were seven votes to create a minimum wage in Minneapolis only, we’d be doing it. So I’m just wondering why $175,000 for a study, what is that, like a political out? I’ll vote for a study but I wouldn’t really vote for the change itself?

Lisa Goodman just knows things. She doesn’t need studies or experts to help inform her opinions. Now that the minimum wage study is complete we get to see whether Goodman was correct in assuming her fellow Council Members operate the same way.

Lisa Goodman to economists: you’re all biased, and I could probably use google to prove it.

Your study is crap. Your economics degree is dumb. Here’s something I just made up about expensive ice cream cones.

Numbers are great, but where are your anecdotes? Have you talked to business owners?

Last year: opposes a study, on the grounds that evidence won’t influence the City Council majority.