Monday, June 26, 2006

Crime and disorder in Minneapolis -- It's not a paradox

Posted by Craig Westover | 12:39 PM |  

You can always tell when the editorial board at the Star Tribune is conflicted. They depart from their short, punchy, take-no-prisoner editorial style and write a long meandering piece with a disclaimer.
We place our concern for "root causes" and our advocacy for social programs up against anyone's. But we are unafraid to insist that middle-class morality govern behavior in public places.
The Strib takes on livability in today’s editorial, which laments the threatening behavior that is commonplace on downtown Minneapolis streets, and despite its “root cause” advocacy, recommends --

More cops, court officials and jail cells are needed, as are better procedures, sharper data collection and analysis, and tougher laws and sentences.
But here’s the money quote to my thinking, the last paragraph (emphasis added).

Gangsters shooting each other will continue to grab headlines. But solving the subtler forms of disorder are as important to the city's future. It's paradoxical that Minneapolis is feted around the world for dazzling new cultural venues while the basics of urban life slide away. Some will say we're making too big a thing of livability crime. But just as two rowdy kids can disrupt the learning of a whole class, so a disorderly few, left unchecked, can tip over a great city.
What the Strib editorial board doesn’t get (and listen up St. Paul, because this is where mayor Chris Coleman is headed) is that the blind effort going into creating dazzling new cultural venues is a contributor to livability problems.

Cities are organic. The roots are in the neighborhoods. Instead of focusing on nurturing the neighborhoods, fostering the natural growth of the city, Minneapolis has focused on downtown and turning the city into a playground to attract suburban visitors. Look at block E (sou’wester tip to David Strom of the Taxpayer’s League for this observation). It’s basically a suburban complex. It has no roots in downtown culture. It didn’t evolve from downtown culture -- it sprung fully grown from the heads of city planners looking to lure suburban tourists.

The Strib is unafraid to insist that middle-class morality govern behavior in public places, because if it’s not, the “tourists” will be scared away. There’s a difference, however, between “middle-class morality” and the kind of suburban conformity that “dazzling new cultural venues” demand. Downtown is not the “Dales.”

Case in point, from the archives --

Note Jackie Cherryhomes’ comments about Escape Ultra Lounge made in Doug Grow’s column lamenting the addition of Hooters to Block E --
"Hooters wasn't part of the vision," admitted Jackie Cherryhomes, former president of the City Council and a person who pushed for the development. "I agree with what [Council Member] Lisa Goodman says about it. It's tacky. The vision was more like Bellanotte [a successful nightclub in the project]. Or a club like Escape [also in the development]. There's an energy in these places. They're cosmopolitan."

Escape Vice President Charles Gilbert was one of many bar and club owners that sat down to be interviewed for the “Devil’s Weed” documentary on the impact of the smoking ban in Minneapolis and the tend toward smoking bans across the country.

Gilbert did not talk about “energy” and being “cosmopolitan.”He talked about a decline of 40-45 percent in business since the smoking ban went into effect. How “big” nights dropped from 900 people to less than 600. He talked about how the club was not just losing its smoking customers, but the friends of smoking customers. He talked how a prime upper floor location over-looking the city becomes a liability when people are forced to go outside to smoke -- especially in a cold climate city.He talked about laying off nearly 30 people.

He talked about the Catch-22 of not having funds to advertise. He wondered where all the promised non-smoking customers were. He noted that “no dominos fell” and surrounding communities that didn’t follow the Minneapolis lead are garnering all the business from smokers (and their friends).

As for the Minneapolis City Council? Well it seems they don’t give two hoots for Gilbert’s problems.

The point -- confusing “middle-class morality” with suburban conformity. That people that frequent downtown “cosmopolitan” places might smoke is unacceptable to the planners’ vision. So is the idea that someone might see the opportunity for something "tacky."

An example for the future, look at the Central Corridor project. It’s not being planned or developed for the people of the neighborhoods along University Avenue. These are people that hop on a bus to ride five or six blocks to shop. It’s an avenue of storefront businesses that rely on foot traffic and destination shoppers.

So what’s the transportation solution? Reduced bus service and a light rail system that only stops every mile but will shoot people from downtown St. Paul to the University of Minnesota and downtown Minneapolis and on to the Mall of America and the Airport. Sounds just like what the University Avenue neighborhood needs, doesn’t it?

Or how about St. Paul’s Great River Project -- which will make St. Paul one of the most beautiful cities in the nation -- whose best justification seems to be it aligns with our heritage of connection to the river. It’s another “suburban lure” distracting from the organic growth of the city. It’s about Kathy Lantry’s observation -- Do we really want to live with poor people?

It’s not a “paradox” that the basics of urban life slide away while Minneapolis is feted around the world for dazzling new cultural venues. It‘s consequential.