It’s St. Paul’s turn in the 2040 spotlight

It’s St. Paul’s time in the spotlight. The St. Paul 2040 plan [read and comment on the plan here] heads to the Planning Commission next Friday, January 11, and is on the road for adoption by the City Council in June. A group of pro-housing St. Paul residents is starting a Neighbors for More Neighbors chapter.

Even though significant portions of our two cities are separated by a big famous river, people underestimate the degree to which both Minneapolis and St. Paul share the same global climate — and will continue to do so as late as the year 2040.

If you recall the debate about Minneapolis 2040, the stakes are the same: global-scale misery, death, and destruction threatened by climate change. And we should do something about that. Creating dense, pedestrianized cities is the cure for our current land use patterns that force us to burn untold barrels of oil to get ourselves from one coffee drive-thru to the next. My grand theory of all this is the stakes are high enough that people should be made to feel uncomfortable enough about these issues that some of them are inspired to put out yard signs opposing your plan.

There’s also the issue of where people are going to live. Both cities are places people want to be, with St. Paul alone adding more than 24,000 new residents over the last eight years. Both cities have dangerously low vacancy rates that drive rents higher than they’d otherwise be (and our region will become increasingly desirable as a destination for those displaced by climate change). Will St. Paul take a bite at undoing a legacy of exclusionary zoning that walls off wealthy, white, high-amenity neighborhoods from everyone else? Part of the Minneapolis approach was to legalize triplexes citywide. Or to put it more sensationally: Minneapolis ended the scourge of single-family zoning.

The politics in St. Paul aren’t as favorable for producing the kind of nationally-heralded plan Minneapolis just approved. St. Paul is just, well… St. Paul. And 2019 is an election year in St. Paul — who would dare be bold in an election year? And Lisa Bender can only do her Presidenting in one city at a time.

But if we’re talking about half-measures, maybe St. Paul could try something similar to the parking reform implemented by Minneapolis 3 and a half years ago? Easing parking minimums was a good idea. Our world didn’t explode. It made a difference. It checks the climate box and the make housing cheaper box. (Here’s a good outline of the current approach to parking regulation in St. Paul.) If you try, I’m sure someone could cobble together enough half-measures to make an entire comprehensive plan.

St. Paul residents should send the city their ideas.