How to keep Minneapolis-St. Paul prosperous

For Minneapolis and St. Paul to remain prosperous, we should learn from other cities, like Denver.

This is the first of two articles exploring ideas from around the world that might inform and inspire us in tackling issues in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region. They are adapted from a report [PDF] for the McKnight Foundation’s Food for Thought series by local author Jay Walljasper. The second story will appear Thursday.

How Cincinnati, Maryland & Finland improve education

  1. Implement student-based budgeting
  2. Initiate peer review programs for teachers
  3. Empower teachers to shape curriculum
  4. Customize learning

The growing disparity in educational performance between minority and white students strikes at the heart of our self-image as the kind of place where any talented kid can get ahead. With kids of color being one in four elementary students across Minnesota today (and a much higher percentage in the MSP region), it’s time for all-out action to restore educational opportunity.

Cincinnati faced an overwhelming crisis in 2000, when barely half of all students in its public schools graduated from high school. A decade later, the overall graduation rate has climbed to 83 percent with 80 percent of African-Americans and 76 percent of low-income students earning diplomas. Test scores rose over the same period along with an increase in students attending college.

A report from the MSP-based group Growth & Justice credits student-based budgeting as a key factor in the Cincinnati turnaround. This means the school district allocates funds on the basis of students enrolled at a school after factoring in special needs of English language learners, students with disabilities, gifted students and students from low-income neighborhoods. Some authority in decision-making was also decentralized to individual schools.

In 1999 Montgomery County, Maryland, in suburban D.C., set a goal that all students would finish high school qualified for college or a well-paying job. They focused close attention on African-American and Latino students with special training for teachers and cross-cultural discussion circles for students, parents and teachers. Additionally, a Peer Assistance and Review Program, jointly run by teachers and principals, offered help to new and underperforming teachers. Between 2003 and 2010 test scores for African-American and Latino third-graders climbed 23 to 39 percent.  The achievement gap was also narrowed for eighth-graders.

finnish classroom
CC/Flickr/Kevin Oliver
In Finland, teachers are highly valued.

Educators and school reformers from all over the world descend on Finland to discover the secrets of its educational system, which since 2001 has ranked No. 1 (or close to it) for the performance of 15-year-olds on standardized tests in reading, math and science. 

The irony is that Finland doesn’t place much emphasis on standardized tests. What it values most is teaching. Surveys show that Finnish men name teachers as the most desirable profession for a spouse, while Finnish women rank only doctors and veterinarians higher as potential mates, notes Pasi Sahlberg of the Finnish Education Ministry in his book “Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Changes in Finland.” The result of this respect is that teachers are given considerable freedom to shape curriculum in their classrooms, which Sahlberg believes translates into better-educated kids.

Another element of the Finnish success story is personalized learning: Students work at their own pace, based on abilities and interests.  “Personalization is not about having students work independently at computer terminals,” Sahlberg notes. “Technology is not a substitute but merely a tool to complement interaction with teachers and fellow students.”

How Denver & Houston attract creative young people

5.  Think big about transit
6.  Make ambitious plans for downtown
7.  Foster mixed-use development

Denver envy is breaking out across the country. The Mile High City stands above all regions in attracting coveted professionals aged 25-34 — the future entrepreneurs, inventors, designers, activists, chefs, educators, artists, business leaders and talented employees every region needs. Minneapolis-St. Paul ranks 39th in the same Brookings Institute study. Ouch!

denver train
CC/Flickr/Matt’ Johnson
In 2004, Denver area voters overwhelmingly approved a $4.7 billion dollar sales tax increase to build 119 miles of light rail and commuter rail and improve bus service and park-and-ride facilities throughout the region.

How did Denver become so cool after years of being dismissed as “900,000 people waiting for the weekend” (meaning the city’s only virtue was proximity to the Rocky Mountains)? It’s a long story, according to Richard Fleming, who headed the Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce for many years. It began with a visionary plan for downtown Denver (drafted by community activists working together with business leaders) that aggressively promoted transit, walkability, public spaces, historic preservation, high-density housing and mixed-use development. Then in 2004, Denver area voters overwhelmingly approved a $4.7 billion dollar sales tax increase to build 119 miles of light rail and commuter rail and improve bus service and park-and-ride facilities throughout the region.

The Millennial Generation, which shows a distinct preference for urbane lifestyles and plentiful transportation options, is moving to Denver in droves.  Even the #2 metropolitan region on the Brookings Institute list — Houston, which is generally not heralded for its livability — is building two new light rail lines and extending another line, all scheduled to open in 2015.  They’ve also created two splashy new parks downtown as part of a concerted push to enliven the city.  

How Cleveland, Boston & Philadelphia strengthen neighborhoods

8.  Tap the power of “anchor” institutions
9.  Launch worker cooperatives

Anchor institutions — hospitals, colleges and other organizations that have an intrinsic stake in making sure their neighborhoods thrive — are tools for revitalizing low-income communities. The University of Pennsylvania in West Philadelphia, a consortium of hospitals in central Boston, Wayne State University and major medical centers in Midtown Detroit and Syracuse University in Syracuse devised strategies to harness the economic impact of anchor institutions to create more good jobs for neighborhood residents, more opportunities for local businesses and more resources for community improvement projects.

An initiative in Cleveland helps inner city residents become owners of new businesses that serve a cluster of hospitals, universities and cultural institutions on the struggling East Side of the city. The Cleveland Foundation teamed up with the Democracy Collaborative at the University of Maryland to launch the Evergreen Cooperatives: 1) a green employee-owned laundry with a contract to clean linens and scrubs for the Cleveland Clinic and other hospitals; 2) an employee-owned 3.25 acre greenhouse that produces greens year-round for hospitals and Case Western Reserve university; and 3) an employee-owned company that installs photovoltaic panels and makes weatherization improvements for anchor institutions and local residents.    

How Botkyrka, Sweden, takes advantage of diversity

10. Collaborate across racial & social divides
11. Embrace Interculturalism

In an ever more globalized economy, we depend on workers, entrepreneurs, innovations and ideas from across the planet for our continuing prosperity. MSP’s weak reputation for diversity hinders us in attracting multinational businesses and diverse workers,  as well as tarnishes our image as a forward-looking place.

“How do we create a city that recognizes that cultural diversity is an asset,” asks Lisa Tabor, who founded Culture Brokers to promote cultural. “How do we become proactive about the need to evolve our community to take part in a global society?” Tabor sees the answer in Interculturalism, a new perspective on diversity that promotes “intercultural interaction and intercultural co-creation, in which no group is expected to give up any of their cultural assets.” Interculturalism goes beyond multiculturalism in its focus on cross-cultural engagement and collaboration.

The movement emerged as a way to address heightened racial and cultural friction in European cities, which similar to MSP, are no longer overwhelmingly white. Botkyrka, Sweden’s most diverse city, seeks to instill people with pride in their ethnic heritage as well as a Swedish identity. “The experience of living and acting in a multicultural environment will give all those residents in our municipal district, regardless of background, an advantage in an increasingly globalised world,” states an Intercultural strategy document [PDF] approved by the city council.

How Austin, Texas, grabs the world’s attention

12. Blow your own horn
13. Celebrate what’s distinctive

Minneapolis-St. Paul will continue to be defined in most people’s minds by subzero temperatures until we do a better job of talking up our qualities. We might learn a few pointers on self-promotion by looking a thousand miles south on 1-35.

keep austin weird t shirt photo
Austin, Texas is celebrated for its lively nonconformity.

Austin, Texas, could be famous for its scorching summer heat and unchecked suburban sprawl, but instead it’s celebrated as the home of Willie Nelson, the University of Texas, the “Austin City Limits” PBS show, the South by Southwest festival and its lively non-conformity (as seen in the ubiquitous bumper sticker “Keep Austin Weird”). Austin parlays these assets to market itself as the creative, youthful, progressive epicenter of the South. Bright college grads and start-up businesses have flocked here, especially in the high-tech field.

What we can learn from Austin is to truly appreciate and nurture what’s distinctive about this place — everything from bikes to booyah stew, Scandinavians to Somalis, pond hockey to the only waterfall on the Mississippi, our location on the 45th parallel (exactly halfway between the Equator and the North Pole) to the fact the Twin Cities are far from identical (think of Boston next door to Seattle). And if any of these ideas sounds weird, all the better.

Thursday: 14 more ideas to borrow.

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Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by David Frenkel on 11/20/2013 - 11:20 am.

    Montgomery schools

    What is interesting about the public school systems in the DC area (VA/MD) is that the schools are run by the county which gives them more resources and less overhead then having the school system run by every city as in MN. Another factor in MD are all the educational resources in the DC area including the Smithsonian museums. The city of Bethesda, MD in Montgomery County has the highest concentration of people with PhD’s’s in the US which is a result of having numerous federal R&D facilities including NIST, NIH, and National Medical Center.

    • Submitted by jody rooney on 11/20/2013 - 06:25 pm.

      Actually most school districts in Minnesota are independent

      entities not run by their community. In the east where counties are comparatively smaller that may make sense. But in Minnesota even the large suburban school districts cross community lines. In rural districts a district may also cover many communities but when you get to the larger Minnesota counties like Lake and Cook a county wide school district might be impractical.

      Although the though of Wayata, Minnetonka and Minneapolis being in the same school district is pretty entertaining.

      The other part of the model in Va. and Maryland is that because of the government presence there is a concentration of more highly educated parents which help their children be successful but that may also be why there are a lot of private schools.

      As far as the rest of the article goes. It’s nice to say what it feels like and in hindsight looks like a successful strategy but I would like to see the data not just someone’s intuition. Many communities have tried things that are listed in this article and failed to get the same results so it might be worth a taking a some what deeper look. You can’t just pluck cities are successful and say wow something great happened here and here’s what I like so this must be it. That’s where 17 different theories of economic development came from.

  2. Submitted by Shawn Otto on 11/20/2013 - 11:46 am.

    Finland is successful for demographic reasons as well

    I was recently speaking in Helsinki and had an opportunity to talk about this issue with scientists and science journalists. One aspect of the Finnish success that is often not accounted for in these reports is that the country is demographically homogenous. It is hard to get to and very expensive, and so it does not have a large immigrant or minority population. At 5.4 million people, it is a little larger than Minnesota and the third most sparsely populated country in Europe after Iceland and Norway. It is 80% Lutheran. It is 90% ethnic Finns, and the next largest ethnic group, at 5%, is Swedes. Finland is an amazing and beautiful place, and quite like Minnesota in many ways, but it is more isolated. Without large disparities in income, social opportunities, language, or racial/ethnic background, Finnish schools have less to contend with. This is not to take away from their solid success, or to suggest that what they have done is not a major accomplishment, only to note that contending with diversity loads more onto the educational system and is a factor in educational outcomes, and we should be careful to acknowledge that when making comparisons.

    • Submitted by jody rooney on 11/20/2013 - 06:39 pm.

      Mr. Otto makes an excellent point

      Very few people seek out diversity in their business and social life. I have friends who complain about what minorities are doing to this country, one works for the criminal justice system where he does not see a cross section of any racial, or socio-economic class and the other probably hasn’t seen a person from a different race of ethnic group in 30 years. Neither has enough empathy to imagine what that might be like.

      The more homogenous a group is the easier it is to have the same value system and world viewpoint and accoplish well defined things in a relatively slow changing environment.

      I think the US is a mix of environments where there is a trade off in ability to adapt and ability to stay steady.

  3. Submitted by David Rasmussen on 11/20/2013 - 04:15 pm.

    Why are we so desperate to be cool?

    I like the title of the article as a focus on prosperity is what we need to work on. Improving city life, to me at least, is not about figuring out how to be cool. It is about solving real problems for actual people. It is about creating prosperity.

    Making transit more accessible is a priority we can agree on. A bottom up focus on what our transportation needs actually are would be nice. Instead, we elect “rock ‘n roll mayors” to be our arbiters of cool. People who define no clear goals about improving transportation or business climate. People who cut bus service so that we can have rail districts that cause businesses to relocate to areas with more access to parking.

    Light rail as “the solution” seems a very shallow approach. Downtown development as “the solution,” is an approach with a long history of failure.

    This article seems focused on how to make Minneapolis-St. Paul more attractive to hipsters from other parts of the country. What a losing proposition!

    If we really want to be cool (and prosperous), we figure out on our own what are goals are and how to get there. We send the consultants who solved yesterday’s problem in some other city home. The people who know best what sells HERE are our local business people and the very people we are trying to help.

    These prescription big picture (but don’t talk to the real people whose lives you are affecting) approaches are guaranteed not to bring prosperity.

    • Submitted by Jackson Cage on 11/21/2013 - 10:14 am.

      Sorry, you lost me

      Whatever valid points you might have made aren’t going to reach a lot of people when you condescendingly label “coveted professionals aged 25-34” as “hipsters”. But thanks for trying.

  4. Submitted by Monica Millsap on 11/21/2013 - 07:23 pm.

    When did “hipster” become derogatory?

    Looks like St Paul and Minneapolis are doing fine –

    Just hope they consider what will continue to attract the numerous college students that go to school here, but then leave for some of these other places.

  5. Submitted by David Rasmussen on 11/22/2013 - 10:06 am.

    The chasing of coveted professionals

    To put things in more perspective, the idea of seeking practices that work is a great idea. One issue with the Twin Cities is that we are insular. Looking around and bringing ideas back is something EVERYONE should do. If we all looked around more, we would have higher expectations of our leaders.

    I should elaborate further on why chasing hipsters or future executives or precisely what the paragraph this article calls them is ill advised. In the 1980’s, I was a coveted professional who wanted to be here based on a music scene that was ignored by radio (here and elsewhere) and heard weekly on MTV at 10 pm to midnight on Sundays. Some people my age did appreciate this underground scene but it certainly wasn’t anything that community leadership recognized or fostered or even appreciated. It all seemed kind of counter-culture and fringe to be honest. Now, we have local radio tripping over themselves to commemorate the local music of the 1980s and 1990s. Now, we have a mayor who wants to give a large downtown theater to First Avenue, and if this is built, we will get even more exposure to the well vetted music scenes of the 1980s and 1990s. This, to me, is chasing the concept of cool.

    What college major did the most successful graduates in Stanford history pursue? The answer surprises most of us. The founders of Google were studying library science. Library science was the focus of the people who started the company that is actually developing “artificial intelligence” which, by the way, was the hipster cool subject of the 1980’s.

    If these concepts of downtown development and transit improve the lives of real people, then wonderful. I loved BART when I lived next to it in the Bay Area. But, this article sells these ideas, at least in part, based on what people consider to be cool. I suggest it one more time. Chasing cool never works.

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