Business as usual is a disservice to Northside residents
The Minneapolis City Council just approved newly drafted leases and exclusive rights agreements with billionaire-backed United Properties to develop the Upper Harbor Terminal Site in North Minneapolis along the Mississippi River waterfront.
Despite years of public meetings, the establishment of a Collaborative Planning Committee, and a few small concessions by the developers, the development proposed at the former site of the Upper Harbor barge terminal is remarkably similar to the plan proposed by United Properties in 2017.
Back then, we were shown drawings of an eight-to-ten-thousand-seat amphitheater next to a small park, with some apartment buildings and office and commercial space. And now, the City and United Properties are proposing essentially the same basic development plan.
Don’t be fooled. The minor modifications are not evidence of widespread community support of the proposal. Instead, they show the stringent limits the City and developers put on the community engagement process from the outset.
The City can and must do better. As a start, the City must pause all work on this plan and revoke the new leases and exclusive rights agreements immediately. Here’s why:
Moving forward now too risky
Community Members for Environmental Justice (CMEJ) have been working on a better way forward for the Upper Harbor site for years but have been ignored by the City all along.
This summer, CMEJ filed a lengthy comment pointing out the legal and moral flaws in the City’s Environmental Review documents. Instead of fully analyzing the effect of the proposed project on the people and environment of the North Side, the City failed to look at how climate change might affect the proposal, and also how pollution from the project would add to the emissions now causing climate change.
Also, the City failed entirely to assess the cumulative impacts of the project—or how the project would harm people who are already the subject of more pollution and stress than people in other, less-industrialized neighborhoods of Minneapolis.
Instead of responding to our suggestions, the City entirely ignored them. So we sued.
The city council, and especially the newly elected council members, should be aware of the legal risk they are taking in moving the United Properties’ development forward when the environmental review documents are in the courts. A better path would be to pause all work and move instead toward a more inclusive process that creates health and wealth on the North Side.
Project ignores climate change
According to a recent study by the U.S. EPA, climate change will harm socially vulnerable people, including Black people, much more than other groups. CMEJ has pointed out to the City that its plans for the Upper Harbor site do not account for the increased heat, rainfall and flooding that will result from climate change. And there is no plan to reduce the pollution and greenhouse gases from the development.
The City and United Properties have only planned for concertgoers to drive their cars to the amphitheater. There are no plans for on-site solar power or alternatives to gas-powered heating.
And, vitally, there are no plans for true, green and sustainable commercial activities as part of the project. It appears to be business as usual—designed to meet developers’ needs, not what our communities need.
Project never truly inclusive
The City should take this opportunity to stop the business-as-usual development steamroller and try something different—a plan designed, planned, and ultimately owned by the community itself. While this idea may be foreign to the City’s Community Planning and Economic Development Department, similar projects have succeeded in other parts of the country.
For instance, in San Diego, the Market Creek Plaza project is a vibrant development designed and planned after consulting with all nearby residents. It was built by, and will eventually be completely owned by, neighborhood residents: a true community development.
CMEJ is fighting for a better Upper Harbor project because we know that development must be grounded in a pro-active vision. We are tired of being reactive and offering solutions to just minimize harm and the expected displacement from gentrification. We demand that all community development projects begin not with the developer and City’s vision in mind, but with community in mind.
While we have come farther than before, it isn’t enough. Climate change and the City’s legacy of environmental racism must be met head on. We can no longer ignore them, because they affect us all.
We must do better.
—Community Members for Environmental Justice