Changing the character of Minneapolis in the name of diversity and equality

Zoning neighborhoods for single family houses now is being held to be racist. A politically diverse group, of race- and equality-obsessed leftists combined with freedom-loving libertarians, is heralding a radical change in zoning for the entire city of Minneapolis. I beg to dissent.  Basically, a city that has mostly been zoned for single-family houses will become a city characterized by three-family houses and larger apartment buildings.

Photo credit Ron Reiring

Notice that outside of the downtown built-up district, you see a sea of tree-tops, reflecting the leafy neighborhoods of single family homes that predominate, but which now will come to host apartments and multiple family dwellings.

Ilya Somin, writing in Reason Magazine’s Volokh Conspiracy, hails the formal adoption of “Minneapolis 2040,” which he calls “a major blow for both property rights and affordable housing by enacting the most extensive reduction in zoning restrictions adopted by any major US city for a long time.” He cites Henry Grabar of Slate summarizing the change:

Minneapolis will become the first major U.S. city to end single-family home zoning, a policy that has done as much as any to entrench segregation, high housing costs, and sprawl as the American urban paradigm over the past century.

On Friday, the City Council passed Minneapolis 2040, a comprehensive plan to permit three-family homes in the city's residential neighborhoods, abolish parking minimums for all new construction, and allow high-density buildings along transit corridors.

"Large swaths of our city are exclusively zoned for single-family homes, so unless you have the ability to build a very large home on a very large lot, you can't live in the neighborhood," Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey told me this week. Single-family home zoning was devised as a legal way to keep black Americans and other minorities from moving into certain neighborhoods, and it still functions as an effective barrier today. Abolishing restrictive zoning, the mayor said, was part of a general consensus that the city ought to begin to mend the damage wrought in pursuit of segregation. Human diversity—which nearly everyone in this staunchly liberal city would say is a good thing—only goes as far as the housing stock...

A lot of research has been done on the history that's led us to this point," said Cam Gordon, a city councilman who represents the Second Ward, which includes the University of Minnesota's flagship campus. "That history helped people realize that the way the city is set up right now is based on this government-endorsed and sanctioned racist system."

Blaming single family housing zoning on segregation impulses is ridiculous in Minneapolis, a city that had less than one or two percent of its population black until the State Department decided to resettle Somali refugees in Minnesota because of the high level of social services. This statement Somin quotes is not convincing:

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey notes that "Minneapolis has a long history going back 100 years of redlining and intentional segregation. We literally have maps at the city that identify north Minneapolis as a slum for blacks and Jews."

Exactly who made that designation on a map? Was it handwritten? My father grew up in that North Minneapolis neighborhood so identified, and lived on a street that had nothing but single family houses. The neighborhood was not some designated high density housing area.  

The article states that 75% of Minneapolis consists of neighborhoods limited to single family houses, meaning that the basic character of the city is to change, making it far denser in population, and probably meaning tenants will replace property owners as the dominant group of residents.  

Yes, zoning is regulation, and yes, it can impose costs. But it also permits the existence of desirable characteristics in specific areas. People get to choose from a variety of neighborhoods.

I grew up in one of those leafy Minneapolis neighborhoods whose tree-lined streets were filled with single family houses. Later on, I started living in Cambridge, and then Somerville, Massachusetts, cities that were characterized by three-family houses (a style dubbed “triple-deckers”) and suddenly discovered that parking a car could be a challenge, and that fires were a greater hazard in densely populated neighborhoods. Advantages included a shorter walk to a convenience store or bus line, but disadvantages were noise, parking, transient residents (including me at the time I was a student), and the loss of greenery, sunlight, and physical beauty.

This will drive out to the suburbs families who want their own detached home, while the city will become home to more poor people.

It’s funny how people that claim to champion diversity don’t seem to want to have a diversity of neighborhoods including those characterized by single family homes. Sooner or later, people wanting to live in Minneapolis won't be able to find such neighborhoods.