Why the left’s dream is the Twin Cities’ nightmare

Relying on the excellent work of Katherine Kersten, we’ve written before about the left’s big plans for the Twin Cities. The Metropolitan Council, an unelected body, wants to steer new jobs, homes, and economic development to areas within one half mile of major transportation stops. These stops will mostly be in the urban core and inner-ring suburbs.

In these favored areas, tax dollars will be lavished on high-density housing, bike and pedestrian amenities, and subsidized retail shops. The money thus lavished will come from people who live elsewhere.

The transportation needs of the rest of the metropolitan area will take a back seat. Money to improve highways and bridges will shrink. Congestion will grow and traffic safety will suffer. Residents will be pushed into “stack and pack” high-density housing.

As Kersten observes in her latest column on the subject, such a regime “is a tough sell in a democracy in which people believe they have a right to govern their own towns with their neighbors.” Accordingly, it is being promoted as the price the Twin Cities region must pay to remain “economically competitive” with peer regions. The Council insists that without its program — which it markets as Thrive MSP 2040 — the Twin Cities will lose jobs and creative young professionals to more enlightened metro areas like Portland and Seattle.

Intuitively, though, it seems obvious that, in Kersten’s words, people don’t move to a metro area for light rail; they move for opportunity. Similarly, intuition tells us that rigid central planning around a leftist agenda does not promote opportunity.

The facts bear this out. According to the Council’s own data, between 2000 and 2010, while the Twin Cities were was losing population and New York and Los Angeles were experiencing a mass exodus, Atlanta gained 415,000 residents; Dallas-Fort Worth 318,000; Houston 241,000, and Raleigh, North Carolina 190,000.

What do these “people magnets” have in common? Less burdensome government regulation and fewer land use restrictions. Both are strongly correlated with greater economic growth. Thus, Kersten concludes that the Council’s plan will push the Twin Cities in exactly the wrong direction.

In reality, though, Thrive MSP isn’t about competing with other areas for jobs and creative professionals. Rather, it’s about implementing a vision of how, as a matter of leftwing ethics and aesthetics, we should live. People always seem to vote with their feet against this top-down, authoritarian approach.

The Council’s other rationale for Thrive MSP is concern about the economic plight of the region’s low-income households. Here, the Council may be sincere. However, as Kersten shows, these households are likely to suffer most from its misguided policies:

The council deplores our region’s lack of “affordable housing.” Yet its drive for densification likely will significantly increase housing prices, which will harm low-income residents. Rents will rise, too. In Portland, for example, income-adjusted median gross rents in high-poverty areas rose more than 2.5 times the increase in the rest of the metro area during densification from 1999 to 2009.

The “gentrification” that accompanies transit-oriented development often disproportionately displaces low-income households, driving them from the urban core to more dispersed areas with less transit. Low-income families also suffer disproportionately when bus service must be cut to pay for light rail serving well-heeled suburbanites, as frequently occurs.

Kersten reminds us that the Twin Cities already has a very low rate of business formation and, in recent years, taxes as well as labor, property and energy costs have escalated substantially. Thrive MSP seems designed, almost diabolically, to exacerbate these trends and render them irreversible.

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