Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Rape and pillage

Some neighborhoods in Minneapolis and elsewhere—including Spot's hometown, Edina—have been ravaged by speculator-developers who come in, buy a city-sized lot, "scrape" it, and put a huge, awkward, McMansion in its place. These people have no concern for the nest they are fouling, because they won't live there—or next door. And much too often, city councils fiddle while the neighborhood burns.

Official inaction has fueled a lot of citizen anger. In Minneapolis, there was a campaign that resulted in some changes in the zoning ordinance to prevent the phenomenon called "massing." Richard Moe describes it in his op ed piece in the Strib this morning:

But while visitors [here for a convention on historic preservation] may not notice it, something else is happening here, and it's not good. Residents who care about this place have every right to pat themselves on the back for their preservation achievements in recent years -- but they must see that big, important chunks of their heritage are still in danger of being spoiled or lost altogether.

Take the riverfront, for example. The rediscovery and ongoing revitalization of this attractive and history-rich area is one of the best things that's happened in this city in my lifetime. But now there's a very real possibility that the rebirth of this long-ignored enclave could destroy the very qualities that make it appealing. Almost every week brings an announcement of a splashy new construction project, and too many of them are too big, threaten to block views of the river, consume precious open space, and otherwise overwhelm the scale and character of the area. The riverfront's popularity shouldn't be allowed to strangle it just as it's coming to life. It may be a truism, but it's worth remembering: You can't revitalize a neighborhood by destroying it.

That same statement has a special resonance in neighborhoods that are experiencing tear-downs. This practice of demolishing an existing house and replacing it with a bigger one is the most serious threat faced by older neighborhoods since the heyday of Urban Renewal, and it has hit the Twin Cities hard. Recent Star Tribune articles describe a "citizen revolt" in embattled neighborhoods in southwest Minneapolis, Edina and Minnetonka -- and no wonder: Mini-mansions get awkwardly shoehorned into established communities where they just don't fit. As bulky new structures get built right up to the property lines, trees disappear and yards shrink, and neighbors find their sunlight and views blocked. Economic and social diversity are reduced as rising property taxes drive out moderate-income or fixed-income residents and affordable "starter homes" disappear. Historic character gets smashed to rubble and hauled off to the landfill. [italics are Spot's]

Smashed to rubble and hauled off to the landfill. That's a pretty accurate description of what is happening. Now, Spot has heard about a neighborhood in Edina that is rising in anger over another rending of the community's fabric. They've produced a really good video that the city council apparently refused to watch last night:


Spot says make some noise about this boys and girls, before it happens on a lot near you.

[update] Spot should probably mention that Richard Moe is also the author of The Last Full Measure, an account of the heroic First Minnesota Regiment during the Civil War. [/update]

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