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In a recent podcast, Ezra Klein of the New York Times talked about two dueling visions of environmentalism. In one version of environmentalism are things that improve and preserve the local environment, like reducing air pollution, reducing polluted water runoff, preserving habitat, and expanding green space, trees and plants.

Another version of environmentalism is addressing climate change by reducing our carbon footprint. Environmentalism in this sense supports policies like concentrating new housing in urban cores, because people who live in urban cores travel less distances by automobile. It argues building more multifamily housing because multifamily housing uses less energy than single-family homes. It supports demolishing old buildings and replacing them with higher density energy-efficient buildings.

Klein labels these two paradigms "green environmentalism" and "gray environmentalism" because the second vision often results in places with a lot of concrete and little green space, tree canopy, habitat or other hallmarks of a healthy local environment. In many ways, "gray environmentalism" is incompatible with "green environmentalism" because lots of large buildings and concrete may be more utilitarian globally, but at the expense of the local environment.

The city of Minneapolis passed the 2040 Comprehensive Plan in 2018 that went all in on gray environmentalism. It changed its zoning laws to accommodate a 75% growth in population. This meant buildings had to be bigger and taller and cover an entire lot, with no green space, trees or places to filter water or provide wildlife habitat. The certitude of the righteousness of the 2040 Plan proponents is reflected in their Machiavellian approach to plan approval and implementation. There would be no time for meaningful debate or scrutiny.

The 2040 proponents created a false equivalency that if we do not accommodate housing in large, dense, faceless blocks, those same consumers will move out to Greenfield or Forest Lake. Development had to occur everywhere in the city rather than concentrated at thoughtfully designed, vibrant, safe, transit nodes and enhance existing walkable neighborhoods. Think Toronto. Instead, examples depicted in the 2040 Plan show large swaths of homes replaced with concrete and blocks of apartments. It was a gray plan, with Chernobyl-inspired streetscapes.

Residents filed a lawsuit under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act (MERA), which requires development that harms the environment to disclose those harms and then mitigate them. Moorhead and Seattle have both completed their comprehensive plans with similar environmental disclosures and mitigation plans. Minneapolis neither disclosed nor mitigated. The courts, including the Minnesota Supreme Court, repeatedly sided with residents who would experience environmental harm if the city developed as the plan envisions. But the city did an end run to the Legislature to override MERA, slipped into the controversial 1,400-page omnibus bill and passed in the final minutes of the legislative session. Minneapolis residents are now left to endure the environmental harms that come from the city's plan with no recourse. Our environmental quality has been compromised with a new law made retroactive to 2018.

It is neither fair nor right to ask Minneapolis residents to shoulder the environmental harms from reckless development. It is also not right to free the city of Minneapolis from having to actively mitigate the environmental harms from their development plan. The 2040 plan does not take account of the irreversible preferences of drivers for hybrids and EVs. There is no reference in the 2040 for the city to transition its vehicle fleet to hybrids and EVs. Even more ironic is we have a 2040 Plan building bigger, taller and grayer market-rate apartments that is completely unnecessary because the Metropolitan Council forecasted the city to grow by only 11% in the next 20 years. We are needlessly compromising our local environment.

The mitigation of carbon need not be the only environmental consideration when we develop community plans. Minneapolitans deserve a plan that inspires beauty in our public and private spaces, not a concrete jungle. Over 100 years ago Daniel Burnham energized early generations of planners with his founding of the "City Beautiful Movement." Planners were inspired to design spaces that were well-planned, incorporating art and landscapes to elevate our spirits and sense of community pride. But instead, we got gray.

This never had to be an either/or discussion. We can have an environmentally responsible city, both globally and locally — and a beautiful city. The city should follow MERA. The city should disclose the environmental harms from the growth it is planning and mitigate those harms in ways that enhance the city. It is possible to both reduce carbon emissions and not desecrate the local environment — and create a more beautiful place we call home. If our Minneapolis leaders would just make the effort.

Tim Keane, of Minneapolis, is a land use attorney and planner.