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Year in Review: Five big metro stories you probably forgot even happened in 2020 

A look back at some important stories overshadowed during a tumultuous year.

A lot happened in 2020.  

There was the global pandemic and the devastation it caused for thousands of American families. But that’s not all, of course. Closer to home, Minneapolis and its police department became ground zero for a debate over race, policing and inequality after George Floyd was killed by four Minneapolis Police Department officers in May. And hanging over it all: a divisive general election and prolonged transition of power that lasted until, well, now. 

But you know all that. Here, then, are some important 2020 stories from  around the metro that — given all the tumult and focus on those inescapable stories — may have gotten lost, even though they have the potential to have impacts on the region for years to come.

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Tiny house villages created for homeless people

Toward the end of the year, some housing stakeholders and officials in Minneapolis began coalescing around the tiny homes housing model — the idea of putting multiple tiny residential structures together in the hopes of providing shelter for those experiencing homelessness.

It’s a model that was first rolled out in Minnesota by a Forest Lake church in January. Faith Lutheran Church, after a vote among its 1,500 members, decided to partner with the local housing advocacy organization Settled.

The tiny house prototype sitting in the parking lot of Maplewood’s Woodland Hills Church.
MinnPost photo by Jessica Lee
The tiny house prototype sitting in the parking lot of Maplewood’s Woodland Hills Church.
To start, the church planned on hosting 12 mini homes in their parking lot, but the program has already reportedly grown to 18 homes

Minnesota Department of Human Rights investigates MPD

Of all the responses to the death of Floyd, one was by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. The state agency announced shortly after Floyd’s death in May that it would investigate MPD policies or training that lead to race-based discrimination. The investigation is ongoing, and the department has said there is no timeline for its conclusion. Depending on what the department finds, one possible outcome of the investigation is a consent decree between the state and the MPD, said MDHR Deputy Commissioner Irina Vaynerman. A consent decree is a court order, agreed to by both parties, that is administered under the supervision of the court.

Minneapolis police officers
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Such decrees have been used to curb racial discrimination in other instances, but some doubt their utility, and there’s little research on their effects, according to  John MacDonald, a professor of criminology and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania.

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The Nicollet Avenue Kmart (the building, not the business) stays put, for now

Culminating decades of work by Minneapolis leaders and residents, the site of a Kmart that obstructs traffic on Nicollet Avenue just north of Lake Street was set to be demolished in 2020. 

Lake Street KMart
MinnPost file photo by Tony Nelson
Lake Street Kmart
But with the city leasing the site to the U.S. Postal Service to use as a temporary facility — USPS’ Lake Street Station was burned and deemed a total loss during the unrest followed the killing of George Floyd — that move has been delayedThe USPS lease was signed July 31, 2020, and lasts for up to 24 months. That means any demolition of the Kmart site will be pushed back to 2022 or early 2023.

Minneapolis passes two ballot questions

Members of the Minneapolis City Council members sought to add a question to the 2020 general election ballot about the future of the city’s police department. But that attempt was blocked by the Charter Commission. What did make it to the ballot was another question that held significant implications for the future of city politics. It determined whether City Council elections would be decoupled from mayor elections after 2021, when a state law requiring Minneapolis to hold City Council and Park Board elections soon after city redistricting will force council members to run for two-year terms, meaning the City Council candidates will be on the ballot in 2021, 2023 and 2025. That question was approved with 86 percent of the vote. There was also a far less consequential ballot question that asked residents to change City Charter language to mirror state law, which requires all cities to hold special elections for council and mayoral vacancies on already state-approved election days. That measure passed with 75 percent of the vote.

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Minneapolis and St. Paul get a new speed limit

Minneapolis made the city’s new speed limit official in November, completing the installation of 20 mph signs along the city’s borders. St. Paul plans to have its signs installed by early next year.

20 is plentyIn March, the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul announced that they were introducing the new standard for motor vehicle speed on residential streets in both cities. Even with slowdowns caused by the pandemic and unrest pulling away public works staff checking if streets are unobscured, both cities were able to carry out most of their plan to have 20 mph signs installed. 

The speed limit in both cities is now 20 mph unless a different speed limit is posted.