“There are no Black people in Minnesota! The only Black people in Minnesota are Prince and Kirby Puckett!” — Chris Rock, “Bring The Pain”
At Decipher City, we spend a great deal of time discussing equity and space because the built environment is where humans make our homes. That unfortunately means we spend a great deal of time talking about the negative effects of policies that are designed to enrich small portions of the population while destroying communities. However, when we hear good stories, we hope to share as many as we can with our followers because those looking to equitably improve their cities need as much guidance as possible. Therefore, this week, we are turning our spotlight on the city of Minneapolis.
Most of what people have heard about Minnesota and Black people in general has revolved around Philando Castile, a Black man who was shot in broad daylight by a police officer who was later acquitted for that crime. With that kind of coverage, it can be very difficult to recover any goodwill from the community, especially once those types of stories become national news. However, this is when equity-minded local government decision-makers can start changing the direction of their constituents. It seems like Minneapolis elected people who actually pay attention to the fact that living in a cold, dark state can be colder and darker for marginalized people and distressed communities.
Making property affordable can be difficult considering the fact that real estate investors tend to buy large portions of communities, destroy the buildings, and then erect unaffordable housing in the name of “density.” The flip side is that even when the structures remain, investors cringe at the idea of keeping their facilities livable because maintenance costs money. Slumlords have reigned unabashedly over several cities, and Minneapolis was no exception, but the city council was looking to make an example of at least one of them. In September, the council found its target and revoked 40 licenses of Mahmood Khan, who had made a habit of keeping his properties rundown while still demanding to turn a profit. Additionally, the city council agreed to buy the properties, and made them available to residents Khan was looking to evict. While still working to acquire the rest of his properties, Minneapolis has demonstrated that it is willing to stand up for its electorate.
Another aspect of living in Minneapolis is that it becomes colder in the winter than many other places, and that can cost people a great deal of money. It gets so cold in Minnesota that there is actually a law, called the “Cold Weather Rule,” which requires that utility companies offer alternatives to shutting off the heat. This would seem a strange place to start working on solar power, but that is exactly what Jamez Staples, a Black man from a Black neighborhood, decided to do in Minneapolis. Seeing that renewable energy is a source of job creation, Staples helped promote education on solar energy and train workers to install them on homes. In fact, his organization produced so much energy that Minneapolis agreed to purchase 20% of its power, making it possible for homes to start sustaining themselves. Forging partnerships with organizations mired in equity can build stronger communities for longer periods of time.
Today, Minneapolis has made history by ending single family zoning. For those who sputter in protest, context is needed. Originally, single-family zoning was a measure designed to provide quality housing for White communities while demanding that Black and brown communities live within multifamily housing. The principle was that White families deserved nicer housing than communities of color, and this zoning tactic alone has maintained segregation for years despite all efforts. By determining that large swaths of land can no longer be zoned this way, Minneapolis has confronted not only racial segregation but socioeconomic segregation as well. Once these issues have been addressed, the city can work on becoming even more hospitable to all populations, not simply the wealthy.
None of these solutions by themselves will solve inequity in large cities, even in Minneapolis, and there is still a great deal of work to do. Nevertheless, Minneapolis is paving the way to solutions for all of its constituents to live with dignity. Cities are made up of people, and Minneapolis has demonstrated that it has not forgotten that addressing the needs of the people is actually the responsibility of local government decision-makers. Good luck, Minneapolis, and stay vigilant.