Chicago’s clout extends to receiving more news coverage of cold even as Minneapolis was colder

Despite concerns at times, Chicago is indeed a leading global city. This week suggests another way this might play out: the cold temperatures and wind chill in Chicago received a lot of media attention while the colder temperatures in Minnesota and north of Chicago received less.


There are several ways to think about this:

  1. People expect Minnesota and places north of Chicago to be colder so when they are extremely cold, this is less noteworthy.
  2. Fewer people live in the cities north of Chicago so the cold affects fewer people.
  3. Chicago is a much higher-status city and any news in Chicago is going to outweigh news in Minneapolis.

Perhaps all of these factors may be at play and interrelated. Reasons #2 and #3 are connected: Chicago has a higher status in part because of its larger population. Similarly, leading global cities tend not to be located too far north or south (connecting reasons #1 and #3).

This may help Chicagoland residents feel better about the severe cold: people throughout the United States and even the world note the cold you are experiencing because of your city’s status.

Argument: regionalism = “play[ing] Sim City with residents’ lives”

One critic charges new regional plans in Minneapolis-St. Paul threatens a democratic way of life:

Here in the Twin Cities, a handful of unelected bureaucrats are gearing up to impose their vision of the ideal society on the nearly three million residents of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro region. According to the urban planners on the city’s Metropolitan Council, far too many people live in single family homes, have neighbors with similar incomes and skin color, and contribute to climate change by driving to work. They intend to change all that with a 30-year master plan called “Thrive MSP 2040.”…

While minority residents have been streaming into the Twin Cities’ suburbs for the past 15 years, the Met Council wants to make sure there is a proper race-and-income mix in each. Thus it recently mapped every census tract in the 2,800 square-mile, seven-county region by race, ethnicity and income. The purpose was to identify “racially concentrated areas of poverty” and “high opportunity clusters.” The next step is for the council to lay out what the region’s 186 municipalities must do to disperse poverty throughout the metro area…

The Thrive plan’s most radical element may be to evaluate all future development policies through the “lens” of climate change. Over time, this could give the council a license to dramatically remake the entire metro area…

Once implementation begins, however, Twin Cities residents will likely realize that Thrive MSP 2040’s centralized decision-making and Orwellian appeals to “equity” and “sustainability” are a serious threat to their democratic traditions of individual liberty and self-government. Let’s hope that realization comes sooner rather than later.

This is an argument several conservatives (another example here involving the UN) have made in recent years: the government wants to use urban planning as a means to control people’s lives, forcing them to live in denser areas with people they would not choose to live near. It violates property rights, individual liberty, local government, etc.

Here is an issue with these arguments: they tend to ignore the real issues present in metropolitan areas that involve both cities and suburbs. Adopting a free-market approach to planning, growth, and mobility leads to the outcomes we have today: ongoing residential segregation (both by race and class, affecting everything from school districts to health outcomes to location mismatches between employees and jobs), a lack of affordable housing, local governments that are numerous (and possibly inefficient), often can’t agree with each other and thereby hold up helpful projects or promote unhelpful competition (like a race for the bottom in tax breaks), transportation options that are expensive (whether maintaining a car or trying to make mass transit work in the suburbs), and a general defensive crouch of not wanting to deal with any problems outside of one’s immediate community. All of this reinforces existing inequalities in society: those with resources can afford nicer communities while those with less live in places where it is more difficult to move up.

Is there some middle ground here? To be honest, government is already heavily involved in local and regional decisions and conservatives probably like some of this (such as zoning). And some of the regional options allow for higher levels of efficiency by leveraging certain resources in effective ways. Maybe the real issue is that few residents of urban areas – whether conservative or liberal – want to live near public housing or affordable housing and/or want to retain the right to use their money to move to a more advantageous location should something not work out (like the neighbors).

As a final note, earlier versions of SimCity didn’t allow much control over the lives of individual residents. Similarly, the game was geared toward more urban environments as sprawling communities were more costly and didn’t provide the kind of density that would lead to better things.

Suburbanites who don’t like proposals for affordable housing in the Twin Cities region

The Metropolitan Council for the Minneapolis-St. Paul region is working on plans for affordable housing but a number of suburbanites are not pleased with where the affordable housing might go:

The Met Council sees a growing problem. Its own newly available data suggest that annual production of affordable housing has dropped by hundreds of units since 2010, even as market-rate housing has rebounded.

An advance peek at the Met Council’s proposed goals, to be released late Monday, shows that communities considered to be prime locations for adding affordable units include upper income suburbs, such as North Oaks and Eden Prairie, and cornfield’s-edge fringe communities such as Minnetrista and Lake Elmo…

The target numbers — released this week for public comment, with adjustments possible from now to July — are part of a once-per-decade planning process that will begin in every city this fall. Each must start to figure out how to accommodate the additional units.

The Met Council is under heavy fire for allegedly pushing too much affordable housing into areas with plenty of it already, intensifying concentrations of poverty and perpetuating racial segregation in the Twin Cities.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. The region has a history of metropolitanization, a rare occurrence in American cities, as well as an openness to immigrants, yet advancing affordable housing units in middle- to upper-end suburbs may be going too far. As some of the suburbanites in the article note, they moved to these communities to escape issues like this. But, the quality of life concerns they tend to express (good school, low crime, sense of community) seem to be inextricably linked with race/ethnicity and social class. Just a reminder that part of the benefits of having money in the United States is that one can move to such a place that insulates you against interacting with others.

Twin Cities’ Metropolitan Council tries to project 30 years into the urban future

The Metropolitan Council for the Twin Cities region in Minnesota is working on a new plan that tries to project urban changes in the next 30 years:

For example, he noted, the Twin Cities region will have 900,000 more people, with twice as many elderly. Also, by 2040, 43 percent of the region’s population will be people of color, up from today’s 24 percent.

Big changes are already being seen in housing patterns. The share of building permits issued in developing suburbs has been declining since 2008, when they had 66 percent of the total. But by 2011, less than half were issued in the second- and third-ring suburbs for the first time in a decade…

“But what we’ve seen in the few years is that employment did not increase between 2000 and 2010. Employment dropped in the seven-county area, so growth management isn’t the issue it was before,” she said.

Instead, the new plan will likely focus more on “what the transit system means for our region, thinking out how new light-rail lines will influence new development and thinking about water supplies.”

A quick summary of these predicted changes: a more diverse population, slower or less growth on the suburban fringe, a struggle to create good-paying jobs, preserving local natural resources, and looking to build more effective mass transit that might also boost local development efforts. I suspect a lot of regions, particularly ones without high levels of growth, will have similar concerns. As cities and communities age, infrastructure will cost more, regions will continue to compete with each other for high-tech and white-collar jobs, and new populations might challenge the existing character of places and regions.

A note: if you have read the work of Myron Orfield (for example, see American Metropolitics), you will have heard of the Metropolitan Council. Compared to other metropolitan regions, the Twin Cities has a metropolitan agency with some teeth:

The Metropolitan Council or Met Council is the regional governmental agency and metropolitan planning organization in Minnesota serving the Twin Cities seven-county metropolitan area. The Met Council is granted regional authority powers in state statutes by the Minnesota Legislature. These powers can supersede decisions and actions of local governments. The legislature entrusts the Council to maintain public services and oversee growth of the state’s largest metro area. This agency is similar to Metro in Portland, Oregon in that both agencies administer an urban growth boundary…

In 1967 the Minnesota Legislature created the Metropolitan Council in response to growing issues of septic tank wastewater contamination. During that time, it was recognized there were systematic problems which transcended coordination of any one agency. There were more than 200 municipal agencies in existence then.

Additional acts of the legislature passed in 1974, 1976, and 1994 expanded the role and powers of the Met Council, merging it with transit and waste control commissions to become a unified regional authority.

In other words, the planning being done could have a big impact on the next few decades in the region.

A $1.1 million eco-home that is not a McMansion

A new house on the Parade of Homes tour in the Twin Cities area is made out of repurposed materials, is not a McMansion, and cost $1.1 million:

“With Excelsior one of the oldest communities in the state, we wanted the house to fit in the neighborhood. This looks like a 1910 farmhouse but it has the energy efficiency of 2012. It’s only a two-bedroom, 2,500-square-feet house; it’s not a McMansion,” he said.

It was built with as many recycled, reused, repurposed materials as possible. The floors, walls and ceilings are made of wood from an 800-square-foot fallen-down cottage that was on the property and from wood salvaged from another dismantled house. The roof is made of old tractor tires and sawdust, although it “looks like wood shingles,” said Shelby.

“It’s triply certified: USGBC Green Building Council LEED Platinum, Minnesota GreenStar and Builders Association Twin Cities,” said Shelby, who noted the residence has a HERS score of 18. “HERS, Household Energy Rating System, benchlines a house built to 2012 code at 100 for energy efficiency. … My house has a HERS score of 18, so it is 82 percent more efficient than a standard house.

“It’s geo-thermal, with electricity coming mainly from solar panels on the garage roof. I’m going to have very few bills; in fact, I become a utility with my solar because when I’m not there and not using electricity, it’s producing electricity and sending it back into the grid, and then they have to pay you the same prices they charge for a kilowatt hour.”

This sounds like an interesting house but several things stand out:

1. A 2,500 square foot home for $1.1 million? I assume that someone might want to buy it for its green features but it reinforces the idea that truly being green is only attainable by people with money.

2. It is intriguing that the owner wants to be very clear that this is not a McMansion. Why would he feel a need to do this? It sounds like he wants to emphasize that while the house was expensive and has some upscale green features, it doesn’t stand out in the historic neighborhood.

3. The owner later says later in the story: “This is not just some fancy home. This is a statement of an ethic…Truthfully, I’ve been standing on my soapbox 15 years talking about these things. I thought it was about time to walk the talk.” This home is not just a place to live; it is a personal statement, one couple’s testament to how they think they and others should live. This feeds into the larger American idea that your house (and many other consumer objects) should express your individuality and your ideas.

Zombies, mindless consumerism, and a $165,000 settlement

This story has been making the Internet rounds in recent days. Here are some of the details regarding street theater that turned into arrests for possessing weapons of mass destruction:

The payout [$165,000], approved by the City Council on Friday, settles a federal lawsuit the seven filed after they were arrested and jailed for two days for dressing up like zombies in downtown Minneapolis on July 22, 2006, to protest “mindless” consumerism.

When arrested at the intersection of Hennepin Avenue and 6th Street N., most of them had thick white powder and fake blood on their faces and dark makeup around their eyes. They were walking in a stiff, lurching fashion and carrying four bags of sound equipment to amplify music from an iPod when they were arrested by police who said they were carrying equipment that simulated “weapons of mass destruction.”

However, they were never charged with any crime…

“I feel great that the city is being held accountable for the actions of their police,” said Raphi Rechitsky, 27, of Minneapolis, one of the seven zombies, who said he and his friends were performing street theater when they were arrested. He is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Minnesota.

While the actions of the police seem overblown, I’m curious to know about the street theater itself: was it comprised of all graduate students? All sociology students? How exactly were the zombies protesting “mindless consumerism”? Is this part of a research project?

Minneapolis and Seattle fight congestion

USA Today reports on successful efforts in Minneapolis and Seattle to cut down on congestion on local highways. Some of the efforts include: building more bus lanes, building more light rail, encouraging employers to have flexible schedules, variable speed limits depending on traffic, high-occupancy vehicle lanes, and more.