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Met Council looks to 2040 amid slowing population and job growth

One of the prime responsibilities of the Metropolitan Council is to prepare a long-range Regional Development Framework to guide the "orderly and economical development" of the seven-county metropolitan area.

There's little question that the council members appointed earlier this year by DFL Gov. Mark Dayton are taking this responsibility seriously. On Wednesday, they held their fifth meeting to discuss the broad outlines of the plan, which will look out to the year 2040.

And they don't plan to complete the plan until the end of 2014. So it's not exactly a rush job.

The new plan — being developed under council Chair Susan Haigh — is likely to be very different from the one adopted in 2004 under Chair Peter Bell, an appointee of Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Chair Susan Haigh
Metropolitan Council
Chair Susan Haigh

First, the economic climate has changed dramatically — population growth has slowed and the job supply has actually declined. The Met Council's new growth forecasts — looking out 10, 20 and 30 years — are likely to be much less optimistic than those prepared for the last Framework.

Guy Peterson, the council's director of community development, said Wednesday that the new growth forecasts for the region as a whole should be ready by the middle of next year. Forecasts for individual communities won't be ready until 2013, he said.

Second, the Dayton-appointed council members appear to take a much more expansive view of their planning function than their Republican-appointed predecessors.

GOP criticisms
Reacting to GOP legislative criticisms that previous Met Councils had engaged in "mission creep," Bell and his colleagues narrowly interpreted their role in developing their 2004 Framework. They largely avoided issues that did not fall within the confines of the four regional "systems" defined by state law — transportation, aviation, water resources, and regional parks and open space.

Under the 1976 Metropolitan Land Planning Act, the Met Council is charged every 10 years with preparing a Framework to guide regional development, as well as more detailed plans to govern the expansion of the four regional systems.

Cities and counties then are required to adopt or update local comprehensive plans that are consistent with the council's regional plans. The last regional planning cycle was just completed in 2008.

In 2004, when the council prepared its 2030 Regional Development Framework, the major focus was working with local governments to "accommodate growth" in a collaborative and cost-effective manner. The council projected that the region's population would grow to slightly over 3 million by 2010.

Thanks largely to the Great Recession and the housing meltdown, actual growth fell short of that number by 155,000, or 5 percent.

The council projected that the number of jobs in the region would grow by 2010 to just over 1.8 million. However, the job supply fell short of that number by 272,000 and actually declined by 64,000 over the last decade.

Clearly, Haigh said recently, "our plans must shift from preparation for robust population growth" to policy objectives that will "positively impact our regional economy and quality of life."

On Wednesday, in discussing their "vision" for their plan, Haigh and her colleagues ventured well beyond the four regional systems defined by state law.

Policies and strategies
They talked about developing policies and strategies for safe, quality and affordable housing; economic development; equal economic opportunity, workforce development, quality schools, health care, communications and information technology — and the list goes on.

Of course, the discussions are still in their formative stages. It is possible that the council could use its existing powers to achieve change in some of these areas.

However, the Dayton appointees run the risk of agitating members of the Republican-controlled Legislature, many of whom would like to curtail the existing powers of the council or eliminate it altogether.

Possibly anticipating such a reaction, several council members raised a cautionary note about being too aggressive in pursuing their agenda.

"It's great to throw out all of these wonderful ideas," said Harry Melander of Mahtomedi, president of the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council. But the Met Council has only so much time, he said, that perhaps "we need to focus on our mission."

Gary Van Eyll, former mayor of Chaska, expressed similar sentiments. "We can't do everything for everyone, but perhaps we can focus on some areas where can we make a difference."

The council plans to meet next in January to further refine its vision of the region and invite input from the public.

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Comments (7)

Thirty years ago, in 1981, did anyone on the Met Council or anywhere else predict the conditions of our area as they exist today? Of course not.

So why pay good money for what is essentially an academic exercise with little chance of being right?

Thirty years from now, I predict that we'll need even fewer schools, shopping malls, roads, bridges, and infrastructure in general, not more, because based on the current trajectory in education, employment, shopping, and the cost of energy, people will more than likely be doing all those things from home and not be using transportation in the morning and evening to get there, nor will there be the need for new bricks and mortar infrastructure as destinations.

But I'm not an expert so what do I know.

Something significant is missing from this article. How can the public participate. When and where are future meetings?

@Dennis Tester - Of course, no one has a crystal ball to predict the future and perhaps you're correct. However, for any organization to operate without a guiding "North Star" and a rudder to steer with, you are lost at sea. Minnesota and the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area cannot afford to be lost at sea in this competitive global environment would be foolish. A vision and a strategic plan are basics for moving any organization - or metropolitan area - forward. Perhaps you would prefer to stagnate? That's what you're posting reads like to me.

In response to Mr. Mains, the Met Council has yet to establish its plans for public input on the Regional Development Framework. The council is scheduled to discuss that subject in January.

My point, Mr. Dent, is that the forces of nature will determine the local conditions of our society and they have very little to do with government planning.

Hundreds if not thousands of people in this area work from home every day, for example, a phenomenon that no one foresaw in 1981, and government planning had nothing to do with it.

@Dennis (#5)

Regional planning absolutely has had a positive effect. Before about the mid-'90's the Twin Cities metro area had ZERO segregated schools. It was the only region in the country to be able to say that. It happened because the Met Council had a plan in place to put affordable housing all over the region, preventing concentrated poverty and segregated neighborhoods.

The Met Council doesn't do that anymore and now we have about 150 segregated schools. Why? Because the wealthy suburbs objected? Not at all! Under the Perpich administration the Met Council stopped doing responsible housing investment. Why? I don't know the political details. But it's yet another example that racial equity isn't presently a goal of either party and our region is suffering for it.

Planning does work when done thoughtfully and with care. Unfortunately, we haven't done that in a very long time.

I'm sorry, Mr. Greene, but that's social engineering and should not be the role of government, least of all a non-elected government. It smacks of racism to assume that people of a minority race and culture are better off when government disperses them among the nice, clean white people.

What do you think would be the response if you went over to the West Side of Saint Paul, for example, and announced to the Mexican population there that government wants you to move to Edina because you'd be happier living amongst the Anglos over there? Or any other cultural enclave that has been formed by various racial and ethnic groups who want to live with their own kind?

Good grief, sir.