How to make the Twin Cities the best region in America

The good life in Minnesota: A 12-step plan to greatness in the Midwest

Daunting as the problem may be, trends can change in relatively short order, says Joe Nathan, the director of the Center for School Change at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute. He was involved in an effort in Cincinnati, Ohio, that eliminated the graduation gap between white and African-American students in seven years.

The strategy involved everything from setting up several small schools in larger high school buildings, helping teachers deal with the problems of urban kids, partnering with teachers unions and the private sector, and setting community groups up with offices inside the schools.

"We saw young people as resources themselves," says Nathan, "We didn't just see them as empty vessels into which knowledge has to be poured."

He invited first-generation college students from low-income areas back to their high schools to encourage students to challenge themselves academically.

Wiping out the achievement gap would do more for the Twin Cities than just creating a globalization-ready workforce, Nathan says.

"We'd spend a lot less money on negative things like prisons, and we'd have a lot more to spend on more positive things, like reducing college tuitions. We'd also have less chemical abuse, because right now, we have a lot of really unhappy people who have not found a way to fulfill themselves, so they turn to drugs. And we'd have healthier people overall and lower medical costs."

11. Support local artists

Though we lack a new transcendent, zeitgeist-defining artist like Prince, we're still going strong in the arts, says musician Mike Michel. He has done everything from writing tunes for Target and Subway to playing with local hip-hop luminaries such as P.O.S., Desdamona, and the late Eyedea. Through his music networking hub, the Rock & Roll Therapy Room, he is a one-man incubator for new acts.

The problem to Michel is that people outside our area vaguely know we're a scene, but we're hard to define.

"This is a hotbed of creativity. How many big cities are like that in the U.S.? Seven or eight? We're the Mecca of the Midwest."

In the arts, too, large groups of people and swaths of the city perfunctorily get overlooked, says Toki Wright.

"There's an Uptown crowd, and there's everybody else. A lot of the attention goes to the Uptown crowd, and everybody else just fights for scraps."

Too often, artists of color end up leaving the Twin Cities, because they see no way to get ahead here, notes Chaun Webster. He points out that people of color are chronically underrepresented at local culture temples like the Walker, the Guthrie, and the Ordway.

"This place often becomes graveyard for forward-thinking artists of color," he says. "The 'official' spaces that facilitate artistic advancement are not representing indigenous communities and communities of color. We are in need of thinking creatively about building our own infrastructure and developing our own spaces where we are not on the periphery."

"This is why we have to create our own institutions and our own ways of expression," says writer Nimo Farah. "People that are not of color often come in and use the community as guinea pigs. They will come and ask you for connections and then you never hear from them again. It's not really sustainable or beneficial."

Meanwhile, photographer Alec Soth would like to have a true arts district.

"You can't really have a gallery crawl here. One of the great things about New York City is that you can walk around Chelsea and there are endless galleries. Here, you've got the Weinstein Gallery over here and you've got the Soap Factory over there, and you have to schlep yourself from one place to another."

12. Make a 100-year plan

So where do we want to be 10, 20, or even 50 years from now?

"Let's say it's 2043, 70 years after the Time magazine cover on the state that works," says Dane Smith. "Time magazine comes up with a new front page article. Minnesota is held out as the state that is showing the rest of the nation how to achieve racial harmony and equity. That's the dream. And instead of a governor of Swedish ancestry, you have another governor, maybe a Somali-American woman, holding the same fish."

Although she isn't thinking about the governorship, Nimo Farah saw a glimpse of that future at the recent mayoral inauguration in Minneapolis, where she performed as a poet. Betsy Hodges's "One Minneapolis" celebration was "very diverse, very beautiful," Farah says.

"It honestly made me feel happy. I think that was foreshadowing what's to come. But unless we do the work, it would be an illusion to think that that's what's going to happen."

To get there, we have to stay in touch with what made us special in the first place, says John Adams.

"One of the things that this place has going for it is the idea that, at least traditionally, things were done here on behalf of the group, and that ended up making the place quite agreeable for the next folks that came along."

That's how, in time, we ended up with philanthropists and foundations who funded everything from the parks and trails system to museums and theaters.

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