A Hennepin County district court has put on hold the Minneapolis 2040 Plan, passed in 2018 with 100 policies and 1,600 "action steps" to guide the city in housing, land use, design, greening and much, much more.
Judge Joseph Klein put the plan on hold because the city failed to acknowledge or rebut the plaintiffs' claim that housing density allowed by the plan would "adversely impact" the environment.
The opinion could thus be boiled down to one simple message: Turn in your homework.
So let's review some facts the city should have submitted to the court.
The 2040 plan addresses every concern raised by the plaintiffs, which include complaints about traffic, noise, air quality, tree coverage, stormwater management and increased impervious surfaces.
For example, the plan calls for the city to:
- "Disincentivize driving" by increasing the "availability and attractiveness of public transportation and nonmotorized modes" and "reduce vehicle miles traveled."
- "Improve enforcement of noise [and] after-hours work … ordinances."
- "Reduce vehicle related emissions" and use city cost-sharing to "encourage businesses and residents to use cleaner technologies … [and] reduce emissions from energy sources."
- "Implement … quantifiable goals to increase the tree canopy."
- Implement "localized treatment of stormwater using boulevard swales [and minimize] the extent of paved surfaces."
You get the idea. The Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive Plan is, well, comprehensive. It recognizes that a city evolves dynamically and it creates a detailed road map for environmental stewardship.
But perhaps the single largest environmental benefit of the plan is the increased density it calls for — particularly considering the cumulative impact on the greater metro.
Let's look at impervious surfaces. In Minneapolis, a typical block has 10 to 15 lots on each side, meaning that a 650-foot stretch of street and sidewalk — a set amount of impervious surface — provides access for 20 or 30 homes. If some of the lots feature duplexes, triplexes or small apartment buildings, that same amount of impervious surface can serve 40 or even 60 homes.
Now compare this to a community with a half-acre minimum lot size — a standard requirement in many Twin Cities suburbs where people may go instead if Minneapolis density cannot be increased. There, 650 feet of impervious surface serves only 10 homes, each of which has a driveway, resulting in more pavement per home.
In short, there is simply no way that a denser community will cause more impervious surfaces than a less dense community. The same logic applies to total amounts of green space, tree coverage, potentially impaired waters and more. Every person who cannot live in a denser Minneapolis represents another piece of nature potentially lost at the outskirts of our metro area.
Finally, urban density is a clear climate benefit and a crucial tool to preserve global natural resources long term. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said the world needs "dense, pedestrianized cities" where public transport is viable, along with "changes in urban design that encourage walkable cities, nonmotorized transport and shorter commute distances."
The Minneapolis 2040 Plan is an environmental plan. It is also crucial for the region's long-term success. People need places to live, and we are in the midst of a rising, metro-wide shortage of homes. As long as people must outbid one another for a place to live, many will struggle to afford a home — this is the central message of Neighbors for More Neighbors.
The 2040 Plan allows for more homes and reduces the risk of losing naturally occurring affordable homes long term. Combined with renter protections and affordability investments, the plan provides a road map for long-term equity and prosperity.
Minneapolis faces a housing shortage, and the world faces potentially catastrophic climate change. But the Minneapolis 2040 plan provides a way to address both. Let's stop being afraid of change.
Anna Morrison Nelson is a co-leader of Neighbors for More Neighbors. Sam Rockwell teaches land use law at the Humphrey School and was a member of the Minneapolis Planning Commission from 2014 to 2021.