Berg leaps in!

Steve Berg comes through today with the Quote of the Year:

the Met Council is a little like Pakistan. It says all the right things to America, but ends up helping the enemy because without the enemy’s approval it cannot exist.

Ok maybe you have to be a mega-nerd to think this quote is as great as I do.  And maybe the quote needs some explanation.  He’s talking about how the Met Council talks big about equitable growth in the Twin Cities, but basically stands back and lets all the growth happens in the fringe communities that have the land price and tax advantages.

This all comes back from his article today, which follows on the response from his article Wednesday of the last three Met Council chairmen to the comments of Myron Orfield in his article Monday (which I posted about Tuesday).

Berg starts out trying to stake out a compromise between Orfield and the chairmen, who contend that political reality ties their hands from using the statutory tools they have to curb sprawl and direct growth.  In a memorable phrase, Berg agrees with them, saying

The outer suburbs, with their hefty growth aspirations, have become the tail that wags the dog.

[I’d like to interject here with my belief that the political heft of the suburban fringe is overstated.  Not only are the central cities, with a quarter of the region’s population and close to half of the region’s jobs, tremendously vital to the region as a whole, they have good representation in the legislature:  19 house seats, which is 26% of the metro’s 72 house seats and 14% of the total 134 seats; and 10 senate seats, which is 27% of the metro’s 36 seats and 15% of the total 67 senate seats.  The fringe has pretty much the same representation: 13 house seats (18% of the metro and 10% of the total) and 11 senate seats (30% of the metro and 16% of the total).  So the power is in the inner and outer suburban ring districts, and the central cities should have more in common with them than the fringe does, since the inner suburbs have a similar form and increasingly similar social makeup, and the outer suburbs have to deal with Minneapolis (for work, Twins games, etc) more than they do with the fringe.  Maybe this is a case of familiarity breeding contempt.  But I wonder if Minneapolis is doing enough to network with Richfield, Crystal, Brooklyn Center, Columbia Heights, Roseville, etc.  You certainly never hear about any networking activity.  Anyway, back to Berg.]

In a stumbling bit, Berg dreams about what Maple Grove would do if the Met Council were to stop a planned office development, confusing the Council’s power to approve comprehensive plans and thereby influence zoning, with actual police power.  But he dusts himself off in the next section to smash Bell’s blind devotion to ideology regarding concentration and perpetuation of poverty.

And the rest of the article throws compromise aside and goes with Orfield’s “fact-based” assessment of the metropolitan situation.  I wonder if Berg knows how revolutionary is his suggestion to reverse the ratio in the Met Council’s development location goals of “70 percent of development to occur on fresh ground and only 30 percent in older areas.”  It is questionable whether American cities have ever achieved 70 percent infill development, except for Manhattan, though of course it is common in other parts of the world.

And Berg brings up the Met Council’s benchmarks, which he points out have not been reached, and rightly points out that the failure to direct growth towards the Hiawatha line should “deeply embarrass” them.   I would add that the council’s historical directive to develop rapid transit has also been a thorough failure, and it is likely due to their lack of accountability.

Berg doesn’t wade into the question of whether the Met Council should be elected.  Ted Mondale doesn’t think so, but fails to provide evidence for why.  I would say that is the one reform that could be reached: voters understand that direct elections make officeholders accountable, and continuing prevalence of judicial elections is an example of that.  In addition, that is one thing that everyone I’ve talked to – exurban or street rat – has agreed on.

Berg’s post ends with a raft of goals that he’d like to add to the Met Council’s benchmark, all of which are laudable and none of which will be considered as long as a Republican is governor.  Let’s all thank Steve Berg for the contribution he makes to public discourse in this state, and try not to forget November 2nd.

One comment on “Berg leaps in!

  1. Ok, a couple of random thoughts on the subject…

    * Direct election of Met Council officials is a neat idea, but I’m not in support of it. Back in Ohio, we elected everyone! Judges, county coroners, etc. We all suffered from voter fatigue. We need to be able to elect a few folks and trust that they–via their appointed intermediaries–can fulfill the will of the electorate.

    * Development in the ‘burbs seem unabated. At least it takes place on well-established highway corridors, and doesn’t stretch out infinitely away from the city. (Again, I can tell you all about Ohio: they don’t have a beltway, so development just goes out and out and out…). My more realistic hope is that we can establish really could BRT routes on 494, 694, 100, and 169. Those are clearly the development corridors at this point.

    * The Met Council only has as much power as it chooses to exercise. I don’t know what a showdown would look like, but it would be interesting to witness. Most likely, it would fizzle. The suburbs would withdraw their support, and the governor would have to backpedal. Dayton’s got enough to worry about as is.

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