You wouldn’t know it by listening to the locals. But in the judgment of the national media, Minneapolis has become a beacon of innovation, a dragon slayer of segregation, the new heavy-weight champ of affordable housing.
That’s the gist of the coverage in the more high-minded corners of the national press, which is practically slobbering over the city’s 2040 plan.
The plan encourages the building of triplexes in single-family neighborhoods across the city. By creating more housing, the logic goes, prices will fall, renters can move to the fancier parts of town, and the city will be less segregated between the haves and have-nots. (You can get a basic refresher course here.)
Locally, the concept wasn’t met with such universal acclaim. On one side were residents worried their homes would be bulldozed and their neighborhoods brought to ruin. They, in turn, faced shouts of racism and NIMBYism.
Yet in coverage afar, Minneapolis is being talked about as nothing short of a pioneering new model for the American city.
“Minneapolis 2040: The most wonderful plan of the year,” read the headline from the Brookings Institute, among the country’s most prominent think tanks.
“By doing away with single-family zoning, the city takes on high rent, long commutes, and racism in real estate in one fell swoop,” announced Slate.
The attention is derived from a simple proposition: No one else has taken steps this brazen to combat the housing woes of the modern city. Perhaps the most important was reducing single-family zoning, which leaves cities segregated by income, and served as a historic method of keeping blacks from white neighborhoods.
The New York Times quotes UCLA professor Michael Lens, who gives Minneapolis props for confronting its segregationist past, an act most towns are loath to do. "‘Minnesota nice’ in action,” he called it.
“Minneapolis Voted to Pass a Plan That Would End Single Family Zoning,” read the headline in Esquire. “The Rest of the Country Should Follow Suit.”
Then comes Curbed, a site covering all things housing: “Can Minneapolis’s radical rezoning be a national model? Here’s what a plan to tackle climate change, density, and affordability looks like.”
The most laudatory words arrive from Reason, the magazine of the libertarian intelligentsia. Slogan: "Free minds and free markets."
Reason has never been a big fan of progressive governance. “Sadly, liberal Democratic cities ruled by political coalitions supposedly committed to helping the poor have some of the nation's most severe zoning rules,” writes Ilya Somin.
But… “Minneapolis' new plan is a welcome break from this sad state of affairs. Having criticized other blue jurisdictions for their failure on this issue, it is only fair that I give full credit to Minneapolis' overwhelmingly liberal Democratic city government for achieving a major breakthrough.”
Though praise is high, no one seems willing to guarantee 2040 will actually work. That’s the nature of heading into uncharted waters.
But whether it works or not, you have to give Minneapolis its due. At least it’s not sitting at the back of the pack, waiting for someone else to make a move.