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A densifying Twin Cities also means the poor get poorer

Urban walkability has a downside when it's driven almost entirely by private interests. Someone's going to lose -- and lose big.

Urban walkability has a downside when it's driven almost entirely by private interests. Someone's going to lose -- and lose big.

Reader Wyatt Miller responds to Minneapolis-St. Paul is 'densifying.' So what does that mean?

It's clear that urban density needs to increase for sustainability reasons, but talking about density in a vacuum, as a purely cosmetic feature of urban life, as this writer does, obfuscates the socioeconomic realities that current development patterns represent.

As it stands, "densification" is driven almost entirely by private speculation, which is to say that new housing construction happens (or doesn't happen) almost entirely on the terms of private developers and their financiers, who inherently require profits and growing returns on investments.

As such, while there's obviously much money to be made by "densifying" the Twin Cities, private capital will do everything in its power to do so in such a way that keeps rents high and land values rising in the areas it targets. That means increased displacement pressure on low-income and otherwise marginalized people, whom private capital considers to be "underutilizing" the land vis-à-vis its potential real estate value.

Meanwhile, the displaced will increasingly find themselves in areas the speculators see no value in, which means both geographic inaccessibility and weaker access to credit and community investment. And so the cycle continues.

That doesn't mean petty, NIMBY homeowners (who also have a vested interest in rising land values) should get to block all development. But it means that the only situation in which "densification" can be celebrated as progress is one in which land use is truly democratized and steered toward social equality. Otherwise we're just celebrating the aesthetics of new materializations of rampant, deepening inequality.