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Everything about the 2040 Plan you want to know but are too afraid to ask

What is the 2040 plan, and why is everyone yelling?

What is the 2040 plan, and why is everyone yelling? Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

On Friday, the Minneapolis City Council voted to approve the city’s comprehensive 2040 Plan, which, according to the press release sent out by city government, “will help shape how the city will grow and change over the next two decades so all residents can benefit.”

Maybe you’ve been following the coverage of the plan’s fraught journey to this moment. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase “2040 plan” and seen some yard signs and that’s the extent of your knowledge. Either way, you can use this handy guide to understand the plan, its origins, and what happens next for Minneapolis.

1. What is this thing supposed to do?
The 2040 plan is a set of guidelines intended to steer how the city grows in the next 20 or so years.

2. Wait, why? What does that even mean?
Unless you’re talking about downtown and a few spots scattered across the city, most of Minneapolis is reserved for single-family homes. The city sees that as a problem, because most of that housing isn’t affordable and Minneapolis is in the middle of a housing crisis. Our vacancy rate is low, we’re struggling with how to handle homelessness, and we have one of the worst economic and racial gaps in the nation. The plan is supposed to upzone the whole city and add more housing options, access to transit, and even some policies that are supposed to make the city more “resilient to climate change.”

3. Cool, cool. What’s in it?
The 2040 plan is broken up into 14 goals and 100 policies. It’s a lot to go through. The goals range from “reduced disparities” to “affordable and accessible housing,” and they include policies spanning increasing early mental health resources for children ages 1 to 5 and helping the city’s small businesses adapt to a changing economy. You can go through the whole thing, edits and all, here

4. Okay, all that sounds good -- so why are we yelling?
Mostly because of the rezoning thing. Some of the people living in those single-family homes really like their neighborhoods the way they are. The prospect of “upzoning” their pockets of the city to allow denser housing options -- mostly duplexes and triplexes -- has them concerned for the future of their neighborhoods.

Some have called these fears thinly-veiled racism against the young black and brown renters that might be tempted to move in. Concerned homeowners say their fear is that developers will have an excuse to snatch up all their property and bulldoze them for gigantic, shiny apartment buildings.

5. Hold on – is that going to happen?
Probably not? There are guidelines in the plan that prohibit buying up multiple lots in low-density neighborhoods and clumping them together, so whatever triplexes end up there probably won’t look very different from single-family homes. Still, it’s impossible to say at this point how the market will react to these new guidelines.

6. I get that we need affordable housing, but who’s making sure any of these new apartment buildings and triplexes will actually be affordable?
That's a legitimate question. Developers, after all, are out there to get as much money as they can, and inviting them to do a massive overhaul of the city runs the risk of wiping whatever affordable-ish single-family homes we have off the map for high-end apartments.

The good news is that while density doesn't guarantee affordability, it makes it more possible, according to Director of the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs Ed Goetz.

“We’ll never get out of our affordability crisis unless we build more units,” he says.

Does he think density is going to solve the housing crisis? No. Density, he says, is “necessary” for affordability, but it’s not “sufficient.” There are other sections of the plan that address affordable housing specifically, like using government funding to provide housing for folks below 30 or 50 percent of the area median income. Plus, it’s good for better transit systems and neighborhood commercial districts.

But again, Goetz says, none of that can happen unless we can build more housing.

7. So this plan thing is happening now, right?
Not really. The City Council approved it 12-1 (with City Council Member Linea Palmisano opposed) but now it has to go before the Metropolitan Council and get an okay from them. They have at least four months to look at the plan and suggest revisions.

8. But then it’s happening, right?
Yes and no. We don’t actually know how or when these neighborhoods will start changing. All we know is that this plan will “be used to inform future ordinances, zoning code revisions, and the City’s strategic racial equity plan.” And we can expect city officials to start making changes to the city’s zoning ordinance as early as next year.

9. So, what now?
Now we wait and see how neighborhood associations, the city, and developers interact with these guidelines as they’re considering new projects. This plan has gotten a lot of national attention for its approach to rezoning and trying to fit more Minneapolitans comfortably in Minneapolis. We won’t be the only ones keeping tabs on it.