When you wish upon a city

If you could wave your magic wand and make one improvement to the Twin Cities, what would it be?



A complete and all-encompassing transportation system. We need a rail system that connects the Twin Cities and its suburbs with the communities of St. Cloud to the north and Hastings to the south. Think about how bad traffic is now, and couple that with our winter weather and continued growth of our metropolitan area. I would wave my wand and also fix those frustrating bottlenecks. Also, I would beef up our bus system, which would include busways to key suburbs.


meteorologist, WCCO-TV (Channel 4)

Mandatory public floggings for people who drive less than 40 mph in the left lane. Other than that, don't touch a thing--the rest of it is damned near perfect.


community activist

I'd banish common sense for a day. We've made a fetish of common sense, which has relieved us of the responsibility to think for ourselves. Too often it covers what we would otherwise instantly recognize as irrational, superstitious, prejudiced, or ignorant.

On the other hand, we're not equipped to survive for long in the world without common sense. That much is certain. So I'd banish it for 24 hours in the hope that the experience of living without it would incline us to rely more on our native wit, intelligence, and good will than has been the case hitherto.


Hennepin County assistant public defender

Racism is the most destructive influence in our community today. I see the effect of racism daily as a public defender, but its impact is never quite so personally painful as when I see my grandfather at Thanksgiving. His racist jokes and stories are as plentiful as turkey and pie. He delights in my anger, gleefully announcing that he can "rile me up" by lamenting that Congress should have passed that law sending the Negroes back to Africa.

Unfortunately, the attitude of my grandfather is shared by many members of our community. Potential jurors in criminal trials have told me that they could not be fair jurors because they are uncomfortable around black people. One fellow told me that black boys grabbed his daughter's breast in junior high, rendering him incapable of fairness to an African-American client charged in an unrelated event ten years later.

These feelings, whether the result of a lack of interaction with people of other races and cultures, or whether related to one isolated event, are common. We need to accept the reality that racism flourishes here as it does throughout the country. Unlike my grandfather, however, most Minnesotans keep their racist beliefs to themselves.

So, with my magic wand, I choose to temporarily change the color of my grandfather's skin, and that of every other Minnesotan like him. They will retain all of the things that make them a unique individual, but when they look in the mirror they will see a person of color. What will my grandfather think when women who see him clutch their purses and cross to the other side of the street? What will he do when the police stop him routinely for no legitimate reason? What will he say to those police officers, who in the past were so friendly, when they approach his car with drawn guns and call him names? Will he be angry or hurt when he's asked, for the first time, for several forms of identification when cashing a check? How will he feel when he sees the latest KKK rally on the news? Will he be afraid that he might just be the next victim of racial violence, dragged by a chain behind a truck until he is dead?

If my grandfather and others like him would learn to fully appreciate the destructiveness of racism as a result of this experience, I would have something for which to be truly thankful next Thanksgiving.


executive director, Minnesota Tenants Union

Ditch tenant screening. People are being driven out of the city and into the streets because of profiles that say what makes a good tenant and doesn't include them. The profiles are often misleading, mostly because what goes into them isn't clear.

The main problem is the unlawful detainer--the notation in a file that says a landlord has filed an eviction action, usually for nonpayment. And that could be about anything--a tenant withheld rent because something needed to be fixed, or a roommate ran off, or the tenant's been a victim of domestic abuse, or someone's life fell apart. The more vulnerable the background of the person, the more this kind of screening hurts them and haunts them.

What it does is to subvert the ability for tenants to stick up for their elementary rights--and it works by fear. Tenants are (rightfully) afraid that if they register a legitimate complaint, they will simply be evicted and it will go on their record. That makes it harder or impossible to find another apartment, and it often drives people into overcrowded situations. It creates what I call an "X-Files" situation for tenants: There's this sinister, omnipresent threat they can't quite pin down.


coordinator of Simpson Housing Day Shelter

I'd create enough dignified affordable housing for everyone, especially considering that at least 500 folks will be sleeping outside in Minneapolis tonight. It needs to cover the whole continuum, from enough respectful shelter spaces to next-step types of housing with some support, and then on to affordable apartments spread throughout the metro area.

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