Citizen participation: blessing turned curse?

City of Minneapolis
In March, an apartment and theater complex that would have spiffed up the Franklin and Lyndale intersection met with so many objections from the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association that it is off the table, for this year anyway.

Lately, we’ve seen a succession of community groups shoot down developments — or modify them into infeasibility.

In February, the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood association prodded the Minneapolis City Council to veto developer Kelly Doran’s bid to raze an old one-story building in Dinkytown because it might be historic. The decision killed his project — a $25 million five-story boutique hotel.

In March, an apartment and theater complex that would have spiffed up the Franklin and Lyndale intersection met with so many objections from the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association that it is off the table, for this year anyway. Similarly, the Cedar Isles Dean Neighborhood Association has pushed developer Trammell Crowe to reduce an 11-story luxury apartment building to be erected on the site of Tryg’s restaurant site near Lake Calhoun to six stories. Whether developers can charge luxury prices for what will now be nonluxury views is an open question.

And let’s not overlook the mother of them all: the Southwest LRT. The objections of local groups both in Minneapolis and St. Louis Park to various aspects of the route have forced the Met Council into proposing a fix that would raise the cost of the line by about $140 million to $150 million. Even so, they are unappeased, and a major piece of the region’s future transportation network is now teetering on the edge of a cliff.    

Top-down flattening — followed by a rebellion

What a far cry all these goings-on are from how things were in the past. In the olden days, developers, engineers and city officials flattened neighborhoods right and left, literally paving the way for roads, hotels, apartments, stadia and shopping centers — often to serve the commercial interests of local notables. Local groups not only had no say; they barely knew what to say.

The results were often far from wonderful. And, so, a rebellion against that city-fathers-know-best planning model — in concert with the civil-rights movement — broke out in the 1960s with groups of every stripe arguing their causes. Even city planning, previously a top-down process, had its change agents, and chief among them was Paul Davidoff, a legendary figure who died in 1984. (His major claim to fame was contesting exclusionary zoning regulations that kept minorities out of most suburbs.)

Davidoff’s idea, outlined in a rather famous 1965 essay, was advocacy planning. He argued that city planners couldn’t and shouldn’t view themselves as neutral technocrats but “represent and plead the plans of many interest groups.” In other words, planning should take community views into account.

I suspect that Davidoff viewed the roles of community groups as somewhat passive; they would channel their opinions through the planners and politicians who represented them. But in the 50 years since Davidoff advanced his ideas citizen participation has become a sine qua non in planning. Federal, state and local governments have embedded community outreach (or community engagement as it is now called) into nearly every stage of every kind of development project. These days, government agencies have to ask local groups for their opinions about everything down to the color of each park bench. Even if they’re not asked, most neighborhood groups are bumptious enough to make their views known, and agencies and politicians who ignore them do so at their peril.

My route to a somewhat jaundiced view

That’s all to the good, you say, and I agree. People obviously should have some say in what goes on in their neighborhoods. But early on as a grad student in the urban affairs program that Davidoff founded at Hunter College in New York City, I came to have a somewhat jaundiced view of community groups and what they bring to the table. They aren’t always representative, and they often don’t consider the greater good — or even what’s in their own long-term interests.

The city planning program at Hunter was far different from that of the typical planning school. Its students rarely built balsa-wood models, colored land-use maps or calculated floor area ratios. Instead they discussed how to incorporate into housing, zoning and transport plans the needs of minority groups, the poor and the working class — people whose interests and neighborhoods were most likely to fall under the urban-renewal bulldozer. 

As a former Peace Corps volunteer (Sumpango, Guatemala), I glommed onto this in a big way. Helping to surface the wisdom of the poor, the downtrodden and the overlooked and blending it with the interests of others to create plans that would serve everybody — or most everybody — seemed like a grand notion.

Such idealism foundered on my first in-the-trenches experience. I learned, alas, that the wisdom of crowds is not always so wise, that the voices of local people, down-to-earth though they may be, are not always worth listening to.   

At issue was the South Richmond Plan, which called for a $6.5 billion ($37 billion today) redevelopment of the southern third of Staten Island, New York City’s fifth borough. Previously, the island had been almost inaccessible to New Yorkers, but the 1964 completion of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge from Brooklyn opened the floodgates to new residents. The result was explosive and uncontrolled growth: congested roads, inadequate schools, overflowing sewers and ticky-tacky suburban tract housing that developers put up willy-nilly without creating sidewalks, parking or driveways.

‘Cities within the city’ plan

To get it all under some kind of rational control, the City Planning Commission asked the Rouse Corporation, which had developed an award-winning new town in Columbia, Md., to make a development proposal. A very thoughtful plan envisioned 12 new communities — “cities within the city” — for Staten Island that would create denser development that would save more land for parks, improve roads and sewers, expand public transit and add parkland. About 17 percent of the housing units would go to low-income residents.

My class, an advanced seminar on advocacy planning, was to divide itself in groups that would take the case, so to speak, of different entities on Staten Island grappling with the plan. One group was assigned to the Rouse Corporation; another to the office of the borough president. A small group of black students gravitated to the Urban League, which was arguing for more affordable housing, and the tree-huggers among us joined an environmental group claiming that development would destroy oyster beds. My group’s job was to work with the Civic Congress, an amalgam of local taxpayer associations. Although their politics were only slightly more liberal than the Posse Comitatus — the borough had voted for George Wallace the in the previous presidential election — I felt that homeowners had the most dire case: They were fighting to save their homes from condemnation.

So for weeks on end our group crammed itself into a VW bug for the two-hour trip to the home and basement rumpus room of Dorothy Fitzpatrick, president of the Civic Congress. A tough cookie who smoked like a chimney, she wasn’t about to give any ground. To her and her working-class neighbors who had purchased the cheaply built tract houses, Staten Island was a hard-won piece of suburbia safe from the crime, dirt and chaos of Brooklyn from which most of them had emigrated.

Rouse’s plan was a ground-breaker that would have done Staten Island and New York City a great deal of good. It envisioned neighborhoods of 1,000 dwellings grouped around schools, day-care centers and small shops. With more compact development, akin to gated communities you now see in Florida, the city could fit in more people and reap an extra $2 billion in tax revenues. That would be enough to add all kinds of amenities and services — which, it was hoped, would bring business and jobs to the island. Additionally, the cost of delivering services to homeowners would be rationalized and made more efficient, cutting their annual expenses for utilities, water and sewers in half.

An offer to adjust Rouse’s plan

None of the students in our group wanted to see the Rouse plan founder. But we did think that the city would be acting unfairly if it condemned houses that were maybe ugly, but newly built, up to code and cherished by their owners. Instead of the “blank slate” development proposed by Rouse, which would wipe clean practically everything already constructed, we offered to create a plan that would achieve the same density as the Rouse plan but allow it to be built around the houses that were already there. “It won’t be pretty,” I remember arguing. “But it will achieve the aims of the homeowners and the city.”

But Fitzpatrick didn’t buy the argument. The problem was that the new Rouse developments would bring “undesirables,” as she termed black people, and Staten Island would become just like Brooklyn. (Brooklyn may now be the hipster capital of America, but back then, people, especially people from Staten Island, saw it as a crime- and drug-ridden ghetto.) 

“You can’t argue with the Rouse plan on that basis,” I told her. “The city is not going to kill it because you don’t want blacks on Staten Island.” Tirelessly, our group turned out land-use maps showing Fitzpatrick a housing arrangement that would save their homes but allow for Rouse’s communities. Finally she agreed to have our group present our plan on behalf of the Civic Congress at a spring hearing before state Sen. John Marchi, who was shepherding enabling legislation for the Rouse plan through the state Senate.

The hearing room was jammed with angry homeowners who booed, hissed and sneered whenever anybody said one kind word about the Rouse plan. Scorn met our classmates who had the temerity to speak on behalf of affordable housing or oysters. (“They want to save them so they can eat them,” yelled a man from the back of the hall.) Our group’s testimony, while not cheered, brought forth no strident objections.

When we returned to our seats, however, one of our fellow students brought us a flier that members of the Civic Congress were placing on car windshields in the parking lot. I don’t remember exactly what it said, but the gist was: “The Rouse plan will bring blacks to South Richmond and ruin Staten Island.” I tried to ask Fitzpatrick about it, but she waved me away.

Marchi got the bill through the Senate that spring, but it later died in the House. Practically every group on the island had its own reason to say no to not just Rouse’s plan, but to any modification of it. Environmentalists insisted it would wreck the parks and the oyster beds; the borough president’s office did not want to lose any control over permitting and zoning to the Rouse Corporation; the Urban League termed the plan “racist”; and powerful property owners who worried about getting top dollar for their land from the Rouse Corporation also campaigned against the plan.

Rouse gives up

In the face of such virulent opposition, Rouse gave up on the venture. Zoning regulations were passed to keep housing low-density and to prevent the development of what would have been efficent communities.

Supposedly everybody won. Landowners made bundles selling at top dollar to housing tract developers; the borough president’s office maintained control over land use; environmentalists kept the oyster beds — for a while, at least. And homeowners managed to maintain the prevalence of suburban tract housing and to keep blacks out (only about 5 percent of the island’s population is African-American).

But today, Staten Island is an even bigger mess — a sprawl of cheaply built and expensive-to-maintain houses — what one regulator called “the most abysmal housing I’ve ever seen.”

Hurricane Sandy easily trashed much of it. Roads remain congested, and traffic is horrible. The lack of transportation and other amenities has kept businesses from locating on the island, and Staten Islanders have among the longest commutes in the nation — and most expensive. To cross the Verazzano Narrows Bridge to Brooklyn now costs $15. Task force after task force has tried to attack the borough’s problems, but retrofitting light rail and denser development now would be costly and politically infeasible, given the island’s low population; its people constitute only 3.8 percent of New York City residents.

So much for the wisdom of local interests. For a brief moment, they had an opportunity to shape a plan that could have provided continuing vitality to their neighborhoods, the city and the entire region. But they let it drop, and they’re now paying a steep price.

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Comments (43)

  1. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 04/22/2014 - 09:14 am.

    Here’s your choice

    Some people want to live in a bottom-up, free society where people are left alone to live their lives, while others prefer to live in a top-down, overly-managed society where experts make all the decisions.

    Lack of trust in those experts has influenced people to choose the former while apathy or naivete accounts for the latter.

    • Submitted by Scott Shaffer on 04/22/2014 - 09:55 am.

      third choice

      I like your first choice, but experts have a part to play.

      The third choice I see is to ignore the experts and let a small group of obstinate property-owners block lawful development, which drives up their own property values and keeps renters from moving into their neighborhoods.

    • Submitted by jody rooney on 04/22/2014 - 10:50 am.

      So we should live a world without rules

      I would bet you wouldn’t like your “left alone to live their lives” I would imagine that you would not be happy with a pig farm on the lot next to you, or a shooting gallery, or police who responded with while “that’s your problem buddy you take care of it.”

      Good experts provide data, may speculate to alternative scenarios, and provide options for action, and allow people to choose. But not every person gets to choose on most decisions generally only those with a vested interest which may or may not include the expert.

      If you are in business with employees you go right ahead and let them do what they want at work.

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/22/2014 - 09:14 am.

    I don’t know…

    Marlys, nothing personal but I almost always find myself disagreeing with you when it comes to particular proposed projects. In general we tend to agree on big picture stuff but when it gets down to actual proposals you always seem to support the developers. I’m looking around at what these people are building and where and I see no reason to assume that they are any more enlightened than they were 50 years ago. By and large these project look to me like contemporary ticky-tacky buildings that don’t fit their surroundings and will be quickly dated. The function of neighborhoods isn’t to make developers money, neighborhoods are where people live. For you maybe this has always been an intellectual class exercise for the people living there it’s not, these are more or less permanent changes your talking about, once done, they cannot be easily undone.

    Maybe the wisdom of the masses isn’t always what it could be but we can’t assume that whenever you fail to sell a project to a neighborhood it’s because the people there are stupid or ignorant. It may not always produce the best results but I think we should defer to the people who have to live with a project rather than the people who are going to make money off of it. How many of these developers live in these neighborhoods or plan to live in their developments? Are YOU gonna live there?

    • Submitted by Jeff Klein on 04/22/2014 - 10:03 am.

      Well, the plan in Marlys’ NY example did involve a developer making money, but in the context of a plan that was worked out with planners in hopes of doing the best thing for the city long term in terms of infrastructure efficiency. The land owners, she points out, ended up cashing in, so I don’t think the characterization of the local citizens vs. monied interests is necessarily fair.

      Peoples’ input clearly has value, but I do think the moral of this story — that the mean opinion of a bunch of a self-interested parties gets you Staten Island as it stands today — is one worth consideration. The “people who have to live with a project” tends to include the dozen closest neighbors — not the rest of the neighborhood, or the rest of the city, or the new tenants that will live there. The guy next door may not like the shadow and scream bloody murder, but the rest of the neighborhood will get more density that can support more local businesses that will improve their quality of life, and the rest of the city will get a larger tax base. Those people aren’t there voicing their opinions because the impact is good but spread over thousands of people.

      Your question at the end implies that people are fighting for the good of the new residents, which they most certainly are not. People *are* gonna live there.

      The ticky-tackiness — that is, the unfortunate architecture — is another story, but the citizen complaints are never about that. The complaints are always about the density, and we need density. These aren’t 40-story skyrises, these are mostly 4-6 story developments, which is the reasonable infill we’re looking at as Minneapolis grows.

  3. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 04/22/2014 - 09:25 am.

    the results

    Well, the evidence speaks for itself Dennis. Nobody in their right mind thinks of Staten Island as a success compared to its urban borough neighbors.

    In any case, you could free-market the problem if you wish, but then those Staten Islanders would be responsible for paying for the inefficient land use that drives up utility costs, the excessive road maintenance fees, and the numerous shenanigans the federal government gets into to keep gas artificially cheap. So the irony is that your free-market dreamscape is the most subsidized, un-free-market thing imaginable anyways.

  4. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 04/22/2014 - 10:07 am.


    Perhaps you’ve done this elsewhere, but I can’t understand why an eleven story luxury apartment is intrinsically better than a six story building. I also don’t know why not being able to charge inflated “luxury” rent is a bad thing, especially when rents are increasing so fast.

    For that matter, why is a (presumably expensive) five story boutique hotel better than a one story older building? And is “spiffing up” the Franklin-Lyndale intersection just a code phrase for “kicking out the people who are there now, and turning yet another neighborhood into a little slice of suburbia?”

    Sorry, but not everyone thinks more Urban Outfitters and Chipoltles are the way to go. People move to the city to get away from that kind of living.

    • Submitted by David Greene on 04/22/2014 - 10:34 am.

      Some Answers

      In the case of the Calhoun development, 11 stories is better than six because with 11 stories there is room to develop a park, a nice public space right along the Midtown Greenway. The six story building covers the entire parcel. It’s a matter of building vertically vs. building horizontally.

      Dinkytown is a popular area and people want to live there. In general, density will allow that. For the specific hotel proposal, I have been told that there is need of a hotel in the area. Whether we need to tear down buildings for that when there are vacant lots in the area is a good question. Most people give the project a “meh” at best so I don’t think any tears are being shed over it.

      I live in the Wedge and everyone I know, including residents adjacent to the parcel in question,. wants to see the corner of Franklin and Lyndale developed. The opposition is not to the development but its form, so it isn’t a matter of kicking anyone out. Setbacks and height are the main issues. I believe the corner deserves density because it is a gateway to south Minneapolis and people want to live there. It’s near some great amenities and is a primary transit corridor. That’s exactly the kind of place we should be building up. Six stories is pretty conservative for that area.

      All that said, community input is critical. Community input and action got us three missing stations on Central Corridor. Community input got us a better Midtown Corridor plan. Community input doesn’t get everyone what they want and sometimes the result is less than optimal but we have plenty of examples of projects that were very much improved due to the public input process.

      • Submitted by Michael Friedman on 04/22/2014 - 11:54 am.


        I live a few houses away from being adjacent but I do wish to corroborate David’s view that the nearest neighbors are concerned about specific and immediate livability impacts, and are not opposed to site redevelopment. As someone from NYC (and coincidentally an alum of one of Hunter College’s campus schools), I find offensive any association between Staten Island racists and those in Minneapolis trying to give voice towards development which does not harm others. The author’s disdain for community comment about development interferes with her journalistic energy to find out what actually is said about specific developments. The blog (and not just this post) therefore reads like a Comment (i.e. just someone’s opinion) and not as something which generally adds information to the debate in the journalistic manner of other Minnpost columnists.

        • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 04/22/2014 - 08:24 pm.

          Well said.

          The author of this column has a strong tendency to decry undeveloped space, and is consistent in her boosterism. Undeveloped space, for the development crowd, is ANYWHERE a developer sees dollar signs, including YOUR neighborhood.

    • Submitted by Jeff Klein on 04/22/2014 - 10:45 am.


      How is an urban-style apartment building urban? And the only thing that’s there now would be incorporated into the new space. That corner is a surface parking lot. I don’t think we need more Chipotles either but there’s no way that the corner as it sits now epitomizes some kind of urban living ideal.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 04/22/2014 - 10:56 am.

        Thank you and Mr. Greene for the clarification regarding Franklin and Lyndale. When I see someone who is generally pro-developer throw around terms like “spiffing up,” alarm bells go off in my head.

  5. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 04/22/2014 - 10:21 am.

    Look in the mirror

    …the reflection is not always an attractive one.

    What Marlys describes is a fair approximation of my own experience as an amateur, volunteer planning commissioner in two different Colorado cities, one the Colorado equivalent of St. Cloud, the other might be akin to St. Louis Park. That is, one was an “exurb,” while the other was much more intimately connected to the urban core nearby.

    When I say “fair approximation,” what I mean is that, in both communities, “citizen input” was very much a double-edged weapon, often not at all representative of the majority of people affected, and equally often tailored to a narrow set of interests that did not bode well for the long-term prosperity or attractiveness of the community at large

    In one instance, the planning commission was subjected to a tirade from a homeowner who insisted that we ignore local zoning ordinances and require any home built behind his own tract McMansion have a lot that was exactly – to the square foot – the size of his own, and that whatever house was constructed on that lot had to match his own house in terms of amenities, square footage, garage space, etc. His rationale? He insisted that any other style of house would negatively affect his property value, as if property value was the be-all and end-all of human existence.

    In the other city, neighbors rose up in rebellion over a relatively minor expansion of a neighborhood restaurant that most of those speaking to the commission purported to love – but only as it currently existed. The expansion would have remedied some drainage issues that plagued the neighborhood, made the street it was on somewhat more safe by reducing traffic accidents, and the restaurant owner had already agreed to various conditions regarding noise and appearance raised by the neighbors. He’d had a restaurant on that site for decades, but the neighbors would not allow him to adapt his operation to changes in the restaurant business. Eventually, to survive financially, he had to close the business and move the restaurant to a nearby community that was happy to have the additional tax revenue and business traffic. The neighbors then had an empty eyesore on the corner, which prospective businesses tended to avoid because they’d already heard about neighborhood objections.

    Mr. Tester, of course, knows not whereof he speaks in an urban planning context, but I’m disappointed by a couple aspects of Paul Udstrand’s response, as well. I certainly agree that the function of a neighborhood ought not to be exclusively to make the developer a fortune, but much of what Paul objects to – I’m inclined to object to the same things as far as “ticky-tacky” is concerned – isn’t the function of planners, it’s what the developer presents to the city, and the City Council approves. It’s a mistake, I think, to frame the discussion as an either-or kind of disagreement. Neighborhood concerns, while genuine, are also often strictly parochial, or the product of their own naivete, or some combination of the two. Let’s also not forget the long, long history of “red-lining” and other forms of racial and economic segregation that have characterized many an urban area – specifically including Minneapolis – for a century and more.

    As an old retired white guy, I’m sensitive to the crime and degradation concerns of other old white guys, and girls, and younger people too, but routine and unthinking deference to the local prejudices is, to phrase it as politely as I can, not always in the best interests of the community as a whole, nor does it provide those who are the objects of that prejudice the sort of freedom that Mr. Tester says he values so highly.

    I certainly agree with Paul that it’s a mistake to assume that any and all objection to a development proposal stems from stupidity or ignorance, and I also think he raises an excellent point about developers putting their money where their mouth is in terms of living in – or with – their own developments. Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing that as a requirement of development.

    Mostly, what Marlys’ column and the response to it so far suggests to me is that there’s more nuance required: from developers, who are often oblivious to neighborhood issues; from professional planners, whose job it is to not only take those neighborhood issues seriously, but to find ways to solve or mitigate undesirable results; and from neighborhood citizens for whom the acronyms NIMBY and BANANA (and several others) too often are accurate representations of a kind of blind resistance to change in almost any form. Instead of “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” we have “What’s the Matter With ‘X’ Neighborhood?” including the fact that sometimes – not all the time, to be sure, but sometimes – people are, in effect, working against their own best interests.

    Very rarely is a development proposal all bad or all good. Tradeoffs are almost always required, and often the people who yell the loudest are the ones who have devoted the least thought to the multiple interests and viewpoints that – I’d argue – ought to be part of the discussion.

    • Submitted by jody rooney on 04/22/2014 - 11:05 am.

      You may be an “old retired white guy” Mr. Schoch

      but your my kind of old retired white guy (well actually my hubby is my favorite old retired white guy). Your points are well taken. While I avoid municipal planning like the plague I have participated in a lot of planning meetings and I rarely see dialog.

  6. Submitted by elliot rothenberg on 04/22/2014 - 11:12 am.

    Rampant stupidity

    The Lyndale-Franklin project should have been a no-brainer. It would have replaced a parking lot and some rundown blighted shacks. Opposition to it by organized no-nothings represents the same sort of rampant stupidity that blackballed Trader Joe’s from building a new store a few blocks away.

    • Submitted by David Greene on 04/23/2014 - 12:58 pm.

      Trader Joe’s

      The Trader Joes situation was very different. Many people objected to the suburban style of the development, not to Trader Joe’s. People wanted to see *more* density on that parcel, not a one-story building next to a large parking lot.

      People didn’t want to repeat the mistake of the design for the Wedge co-op.

  7. Submitted by David Markle on 04/22/2014 - 11:13 am.

    Questionable quasi-governmental process

    For many years, redevelopment projects took place on the West Bank as a collaboration mainly between three parties: a small group of political activists who got benefits, three city council members, and one developer who had recently headed the Minneapolis Housing and Redevelopment Agency and who got one city-subsidized contract after another in a manner that excluded competition. In other words, the official citizen participation process served to shield a questionable process.

  8. Submitted by Cordelia Pierson on 04/22/2014 - 11:14 am.

    Citizens – Informed by Experts – Advocate for Growing Dinkytown

    Thankfully, citizen engagement has come a long way since Marlys Harris’s graduate school experience. MHNA voted to implement the Dinkytown Business District Plan – a plan well-informed by expert, technical analysis. Stantec economists advised that preservation of historic character is essential to Dinkytown’s competitiveness, as the other University commercial areas will be served by LRT. Design experts also provided guidelines for new development, complementing that historic character. Land use planners recommended expanding the commercial footprint to welcome larger retail spaces that complement Dinkytown’s small business retail.

    Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association continues to advocate for growth in Dinkytown: growth with preservation. The Dinkytown Business District Plan reflects that placemaking growth strategy. Developers are being encouraged to site new commercial development – like a hotel – in the expanded commercial area, retaining the core crossroads to preserve Dinkytown’s historic character.

    Saying no to a hotel in the heart of Dinkytown is saying yes to a long-term, positive growth vision for our thriving business district.

  9. Submitted by Mike Schumann on 04/22/2014 - 11:40 am.

    Citizen Participation

    The fundamental problem is not Citizen Participation, but rather how much and how it is implemented.

    Our current political establishment has an attitude that the more opportunities for public input, the better. In reality, this is totally counter productive. Most people are busy. They work, have families, and aren’t particularly interested in attending endless meetings.

    The more meetings you have on a given topic, the less willing normal people are to participate, leaving the process open to being taken over by the lunatic fringe.

    In many cases, all of this “citizen participation” is a coverup for the unwillingness of our political leadership to do their jobs, which is to make decisions. If you don’t like the heat, get out of the kitchen.

  10. Submitted by Erik Baxstrom on 04/22/2014 - 01:53 pm.

    The pendulum has swung so far back… Here is a great article on how public involvement above all else has affected the planning field –

    I would also add that when direct government involvement in the project through incentives or eminent domain, is limited, the public should also have limited input in the project as the property owners rights become tantamount to the desires of a community organization or neighbors.

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 04/23/2014 - 11:00 am.

      THANK YOU for your link to this terrific piece.

      It explains a lot by fleshing out some history I knew little to nothing about.

      It gives a fascinating background to an ongoing identity crisis of the urban planning profession, unresolved to this day.

  11. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 04/22/2014 - 06:18 pm.

    One more thing

    One of the reasons why “citizen participation” is so often negative in tone is that – either by mistake or design – citizens generally don’t find out about a project until the development process is well underway, with some of the more basic decisions already made. Zoning, for example is a term that frequently makes the eyes of ordinary humans glaze over in a matter of a few seconds, but zoning usually determines fairly precisely what kind of development can take place on a given plot of land. Most people aren’t aware of that, so they pay no attention to zoning, and when they show up at the meeting, especially if they don’t like the proposal, the legal wheels have already been turning for some time – though they are unaware of it and weren’t informed when the development application first took place.

    My experience was that a big part of the reason why citizens often seem angry at these kinds of neighborhood meetings is that only THEN, with the process well underway, and numerous business and political decisions already made, do the neighbors begin to grasp what’s going on. Most people don’t react favorably to the impression, whether true or not, that their input is a mere formality. If you don’t care what I have to say because those decisions have already been made, don’t bother to invite me to give up my evening at a meeting that, in practical terms, means nothing.

    However, another side of that is what Eric Baxstrom suggests. At some point, the right (remember “life, liberty and property” was the original language of John Locke, and property rights have a history in this country at least as long as the First Amendment) of the property owner to do what s/he wants with the property needs to be given due consideration and weight. Property rights don’t trump all other rights, but the reverse is equally true.

  12. Submitted by beryl john-knudson on 04/22/2014 - 06:37 pm.

    ignorance is everybody’s bedfellow at times…

    As long as the discussion suggests that citizen participants are to be viewed at times as poorly informed or possibly one sided in their dissent – which certainly happens…but what also happens are planning departments unaware of the full scope; history that makes or breaks a neighborhood sense of place?

    Ignorance arrives from all sides too often I suppose if that is the suggestion given here for the weakness in citizen/neighborhood rejection of planning/developer ideas for change.

    Ignorance and self-centered points of view exist in all phases of the planning process. Planning departments, mayors or developers often are devoid of the history of a place. That may be what too often triggers a negative response to their proposals?

    Ignorance or one-sided thinking is not just found in the citizens protesting or proposing to accept such or any new development?

    Might as well go all the way and consider…yes sir, might as well question the expertise of any attendant planning commission’s role also who often weigh in before or after the public meetings and council input. Appointed planning commission members do also at times are willfully ignorant or have a sense of ‘togetherness’ in their actions? And in that synchonized state of denial do/can negate or approve for not too rational reasons…thus, reflect too often may reflect ignorance of the issue/variance etc. Planning commissions as appointees for whatever reason, are not infallible; sometimes haven’t done their homework and could be ignorantly rejecting or accepting for consistent/ inconsistent or arbitrary persuasions?

    …and so I register my own ignorance too, so it goes.

  13. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 04/22/2014 - 09:21 pm.

    It’s the age-old conflict of neighbors–you feel you should be able to live the way you want and you also want your neighbors to live the way YOU want, not the way they want to.

    You may temporarily own or rent a parcel of land–but it’s definitely not yours for all eternity. Two weeks or two months or two years from now, for what ever whim strikes you, you may want to sell and move. That’s your right also.

    But in the end, uses conforming to zoning rules and regulations are permitted for everyone.

    Just be aware of that whenever you live somewhere.

  14. Submitted by Neal Gendler on 04/22/2014 - 11:43 pm.

    Ray & Elliott

    Thanks for your thoughtful observations, Ray, but please, while I get the general idea from NIMBY, what is BANANA?

    And while I like Trader Joe’s, Elliott, I seldom go to one, in no small part because the nearest is in St. Louis Park and with a postage-stamp parking lot. A TJ on Lyndale would be about four minutes from my house were there little traffic. But there is — lots of it. A good deal of the tie-up on that part of Lyndale is from people turning into the Wedge co-op. That’s not meaning to say anything negative about the Wedge or its member-customers. The problem is too many vehicles for the proper capacity of the roadway. A TJ, with more people trying to turn off of Lyndale, would make things even worse.

    If Minneapolis somehow could solve that problem on Lyndale and elsewhere (realistically — not some pie in the sky about we all use bikes even when it’s -20), several development-density problems might diminish.

    • Submitted by Ray Schoch on 04/23/2014 - 06:54 am.


      “Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything” – BANANAs are typically people who oppose not just a particular development, but ANY development. It’s usually a strong expression of “I don’t want change of any kind in my neighborhood / region / city / state.”

  15. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 04/23/2014 - 07:26 am.

    Here’s an example

    of why ordinary people despise and resent the bureaucrats and “planners” in our midst. I just received this today when we went to the neighborhood clinic that we’ve used for the past 30 years:

    We at Parkway Family Physicians wish to register our strong objection to Metro Transit’s proposal to install a BRT station immediately in front of our medical clinic.

    We have served the Highland Park community for 31 years at this location and provide care for many of its residents. Some of these individuals are elderly or have mobility impairments. Others are parents with small children in tow. Since we opened in 1983, our patients have always been able to park directly in front of our office and then walk right in without having to cross Snelling Avenue. With the proposed BRT installation, all of our street parking will be taken and our patients will have to either park a considerable distance away and/or cross a very busy and dangerous intersection at Snelling and Highland Parkway (where one elderly patient of ours was killed as a pedestrian while crossing not long ago).

    The reason given for moving the new and expanded 80 foot bus stop from its current location on the other side of Highland Parkway to the location directly in front of our clinic is so buses won’t be slowed down by the traffic light as it departs the station, saving perhaps seconds of time. This rationale gives us pause, and we are appalled, as physicians, St. Paul property owners and taxpayers, at the lack of consideration, foresight and planning evidenced by such a ridiculous decision when compared to the harm and inconvenience it will bring. If priorities were rightly placed, such a decision would not stand.

    We were first made aware of this project 4 weeks ago, at which time we verbally and then later in writing, informed the project manager of our concerns regarding the loss of convenient and safe parking for our patients. We have received no subsequent reply. We were never given any prior notice nor offered any opportunity for input into the process before decisions were made. Ironically, on nearly the same day we received our substantial property tax statement, Metro Transit workers began flagging and marking lanes for the “proposed” bus stop – implying that this decision is past the “proposal” stage and is rather already a “done deal.”

    In response, we seem to be left with only two options of litigation and/or of trying to rally public support for rescinding this decision. We find the decision and the whole process both disrespectful and unfair. There is no rational excuse for placing the convenience of those who ride the bus over and above the safety and convenience of the people whom we care for at our medical clinic. And in fact, this level of inconvenience for our patients is likely to adversely affect our business, possibly to the point of putting us out of business after nearly a third of a century serving this community. This decision by Metro Transit would cause a world of difficulties for us, our 15 employees, and for the many thousands of patients. We believe that we, and most importantly our patients, deserve much better than this.

    We await your response and request that you reconsider/change your plan and continue using the bus stop location on the north side of the Snelling/Highland Parkway intersection, where it presently exists, a site which has served the community well without problems for many years. Indeed, even if there were some minor perceived inconvenience , in this case, changing your plans would be the right thing to do.

    Parkway Family Physicians

    • Submitted by Wayne Coppock on 04/23/2014 - 08:25 am.

      Shouldn’t they be more focused on safety improvements to the intersection than on something that actually improves mobility for people unable to drive (because of age or infirmity)? Oh right they think they “own” the public good of street parking that they’ve been profiting off of for years. Protip: the property line ends where the sidewalk begins. Everything beyond that is supposed to be owned by and used for the public good, not just so a single business can profit from it.

    • Submitted by Erik Baxstrom on 04/23/2014 - 09:22 am.

      I’m confused, there is no street parking on Snelling currently, so what are they talking about? All of “their” free, tax subsidized, street parking looks to be on Highland Parkway.

  16. Submitted by Wayne Coppock on 04/23/2014 - 08:30 am.

    online polls

    Community input meetings are not representative of the public sentiment for the same reason that online polls are completely unreliable: self-selection. Whenever you have an opportunity to give feedback it will be strongly biased towards the negative because people with strong feelings are more likely to put in the effort to participate. This is just basic statistics and polling, yet the planning process doesn’t seem to understand it yet.

  17. Submitted by beryl john-knudson on 04/23/2014 - 09:02 am.

    Be thankful for a place to debate, eh?

    As an Alice-doesn’t -live-here-anymore listener I find the input from varied perspectives totally intriguing.

    Certainties of a point-of-view by one citizen conflicts with another; so be it. This is a great forum of ideas to ‘watch’.

    However, one issue that thankfully has not risen here is a planning department or a mayor influencing the rights of any developer by changing the zoning codes etc. Be thankful for that anyway…and this time may I remember to punch ‘preview’ before ‘save’ so corrective surgery is made on my sentence structure, ah yes!

  18. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/23/2014 - 09:04 am.


    Ray, you wound me sir 🙂 I also live in St. Louis Park, and have done for 51 years. In the last decade we’ve built a lot of high density housing and commercial space in this city. I don’t know which corner restaurant you’re talking about but let’s not pretend that parochial interests delivered some kind of economic body blow to the city, and we’re certainly not oppressed banana’s of any kind. If you want to look at the big picture fine, but don’t give us tunnel vision under the guise of big pictures.

    I don’t know what happened in NY 40 years ago and frankly, I don’t care. What I do know is that the NY project bears absolutely no resemblance to the projects we’re discussing here in scale or nature. Furthermore we can’t assume that Marlys et al were right 40 years ago in any event, we don’t know how well their plan would have actually worked. Folks like Marlys thought Cedar Square West was a brilliant idea while most everyone else thought it was ugly, where are we now? Sure a lot of people there but a lot of people lived in Cabrini Green until they decided to tear it down.

    Jeff Klein, let me clarify, I’m not talking about future residents who will live with these projects, I’m talking people living there now. The fact is developers are no less self-interested than residents and it’s kind of bizarre to assume that a developer is a better representative of community interests than the community itself. And again, we’re talking about one building on one corner, I don’t know why you guys think that four stories instead of six and a design that fits it’s surroundings is some kind of assault on the community at large.

    Seriously, are you guys actually saying that 7 stories instead of 11 and one less Trader Joe’s is somehow damaging the city if MPLS? Do you NOT see all of the building that’s taking place all over the city? Ride down the Greenway.

    Look, these neighborhood groups don’t actually have veto power over these projects, they go to meetings like everyone else. Elected officials eventually end up making the decisions so I don’t know why all the ire is being directed at neighborhoods. And I remind everyone that we don’t actually know what the neighborhood complaints are here, Marlys tells us all about NY 40 years ago but absolutely zilch about the project on Lyndale and Franklin aside from the fact that there were objections.

    And finally, someone want’s a park instead of a 7 story building on Lake Calhoun? Dude, I ride there all the time, you’re 300 yards away from Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles, and the Grand Rounds Parkway, how many parks do you need? Not only that, but there’s plenty of room and existing space for a new park on the west side of the lagoon maybe a 150 yards down on the south side of the lagoon. You want a new park, put it there, who needs a park next to the shopping mall?

    • Submitted by Wayne Coppock on 04/23/2014 - 10:52 am.

      Regarding the residents being just as self interested as the developers that’s a really good point. However as I was saying you don’t end up getting the full picture of actual resident opinions, only the shrillest ones with free time to attend the poorly-scheduled meetings. The fact that the elected representatives take their opinion so seriously is what really irks me. Maybe it’s time to make objective public polling a part of the planning process instead of assuming the people who can actually find time to attend the meetings are representative of everyone in the area.

      There are many times I’ve wanted to attend public meetings for projects but because of my inflexible work schedule and commute there’s no way to reasonably do so. Therefore in the current process my opinion effectively doesn’t matter.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/23/2014 - 03:55 pm.


        You can write, call, and e-mail, you don’t have to get to the meetings. Seriously, politicians sometimes take feedback much more seriously than many people assume. I don’t think it’s correct to assume that only shrillest voices get represented, I’ve seen a lot of projects go through despite very shrill opposition.

        • Submitted by Wayne Coppock on 04/23/2014 - 06:31 pm.

          That’s a good point and I should look into it. However I still think they need to explore the option of professionally conducted polling in the area. Sure it costs money but so do countless meetings where the same people keep showing up. Maybe make the developer pay for a “neighborhood sentiment study” to go along with the other impact studies they have to do and review the methodology ahead of time to make sure it’s neutral.

    • Submitted by Jon Lord on 04/24/2014 - 08:55 am.

      Just wondering

      The building of dozens of apartment buildings near and along the greenway are for the expected flood of well-paid skilled people moving to Minneapolis and who will all work downtown right? And will use the greenway to bike to work? Did the greenway itself inspire all that building? Certainly it’s a developer’s dream to put up all those complexes.

      The lagoon. I usually consider Lake of the Isles to be ‘the lagoon’? I’m trying to visualize were this park space is. Starting on the Southwest side of Lake of the Isles the park would be where? Or are you talking about Lake Calhoun. The west side of the lake 150 yard down from the north end? There is a large open lot there that is used for sports practice mostly but people do picnic there etc. For all intents and purposes it seems to be a park?

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/26/2014 - 08:42 am.

        Inspiration and park land


        I think the Greenway has spurred that development in combination with the revival of Lake Street. There are also plans to run street cars of some kind down the Greenway, and I’ve even seen a nifty little concept for an automated line that could run between Hiawatha and Uptown. That talk of transit planning might have something to do with that Greenway development. On the other hand you see the same thing all along Franklin Ave, 26th, Uptown itself (right on Lake Street) and even over in the St. Anthony area. This is why I think it’s a little goofy to point to a handful of projects that have been delayed or modified by community involvement and declare that we’ve been cursed, it looks like tunnel vision pretending to be something else to me. On the other hand I’m not sure we don’t have a new little real estate bubble forming here already.

        The Lagoon is a waterway that connects Lake Calhoun with Lake of the Isles. There’s a nice sized wedge of parkland bordering the Lagoon on it’s west side, betwixt the Greenway and Lake Street. I just road down the Greenway yesterday and I’d forgotten there’s actually another park, Dean Parkway, right there across the street from the Calhoun Beach Club. At any rate there’s no shortage of green space in that area.

        • Submitted by Jon Lord on 04/28/2014 - 03:52 pm.

          Ah yes, thanks Paul

          The Lagoon is indeed the waterway. I see that a fair amount of work has been done in that area, perhaps with the idea it might be a park. A lot of undergrowth is now gone. Lots of acreage but it does narrow down quickly going west.

          My thinking has been that there is a new bubble forming. Part of it will be the cost of living in some of those complexes I believe. Some are asking more than a thousand a month for a small one bedroom. Some more than that. In that sense I think it’s overbuilt already. The turnover rate will probably be exceptionally high even if they manage to fill them, which probably won’t be sustainable. I also have recently heard radio ads asking for people to become professional house flippers. Sounds a bit familiar and ominous.

          Some proposals for transit might leave the area high and dry also if adopted. Or not adopted depending on viewpoints. It might be a case of the fox going one way while the rabbit goes the other.

  19. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/23/2014 - 09:56 am.


    Sorry I meant to say South side of the Greeway not south side of the Lagoon in my previous comment.

  20. Submitted by Steve Mayer on 04/23/2014 - 10:41 am.


    I share your sense of frustration, Marlys. Obviously, not all developers have a sense of responsibility to the greater good, and neither do all neighborhood residents. NIMBYism and BANANAism is a curse.

  21. Submitted by David Koski on 04/27/2014 - 10:19 am.

    Wedge Co-op influence

    I was very disappointed by the Trader Joe’s proposal being defeated and the Wedge Co-op community was a key player in helping orchestrate its demise. I get the sense that this same community, now having tasted victory from the blood of the conquered, has been bolstered with unbounded power. This is very illusionary, exemplified from what I read here in the comments. TJ’s proposal with its parking and traffic issues would have been ANOTHER mistake, just like the Wedge debacle!?! “Only one savage beast per neighborhood,” says the savage beast. In head to head competition, the Wedge would have lost to TJ’s and is that not they way the market is supposed to work? By denying competition, you get what you’ve got.

    The Franklin & Lyndale proposal seems rather benign in relation to most. Sure, like any proposal, their will be some adjustments, but BANANA-ing it, will just postpone the inevitable. Change can only happen. Many in this neighborhood will not live here in five years, but they can get involved and show outrage at their convenience.

    So this issue is a little meatier than the typical neighborhood vs developer contest. The community has a collective voice, which I admire, but the savage beast is really just Puff the Magic Dragon. Which, in turn, will disappear in a *poof*, by not fleshing itself out with reality.

    By the way, who doesn’t want a nice theater with ample parking?

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/29/2014 - 08:16 am.

      Trader Joe’s?

      Again, I have to say that the neighborhood involvement seems to working pretty much the way it’s supposed to, we have development and redevelopment all over the place. What I’m seeing is some people who just don’t like the outcome in certain locations for some reason, and I’m afraid I’m not seeing a lot of “reason” behind that disappointment. In fact, what I’m seeing is a lot of name calling pretending to be “reason” or planning.

      The Trader Joe’s complaint has always puzzled me. If I remember correctly the neighborhood was looking for something that would serve or enhance the neighborhood. That’s NOT Trader Joe’s. TJ is not a grocery store or even a convenience store of any kind, it’s boutique niche food shopping that draws traffic into the neighborhood but doesn’t serve the neighborhood. We had one of the first TJ’s in MN here in St. Louis Park and all we got were traffic jams in that intersection until other TJ’s opened elsewhere. Much like a sports stadium TJ’s did little or nothing for the city or the neighborhood. TJ’s is a better fit for a strip mall than an urban neighborhood. It just floors me that people are still complaining about the “loss” of their TJ’s. This is merely consumerism pretending to be community consciousness or rational development thinking.

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