What’s More Telling in Minneapolis? High Crime or High Condos?

It’s easy to gang up on cities, and not just because of gangs.  But if I were to pick just one reason why cities often anger me, it would be how mostly young males shoot up, beat up, intimidate, and otherwise profanely offend residents and visitors.  This is the case even in esteemed cities such as Minneapolis, which I have no hesitation saluting as good looking and above average, as is the entire Twin Cities in many ways.

I’ve lived and worked in this area for almost 45 years, mostly in Minneapolis.  When my wife and I moved a dozen miles away two years ago it was not for any one reason but several, occasionally audible gunshots being one of them.  But there also were significantly higher property taxes and fees than we’re paying now, mockable politics, crazed meetings, and (particularly irritatingly) bike lanes pushed by advocates in a spirit of their way or the highway.  Or more accurately, non-highway.

Three pieces in the Star Tribune over the last few days have reanimated me on these issues.

(Note: I wrote this blog last week.  If I had written it since Monday, September 30, I would have cited “four pieces in the Star Tribune over the last few days,” given the article that day, “Weekend Homicides in Twin Cities Spark Unease,” which contained the line, “Some people said Sunday that they’ve started avoiding downtown Minneapolis at night, and others are going a step further.”)

The first was a terrific op-ed on Sunday (September 22), by D. Roger Pederson, a 13-year Minneapolis resident: “Mpls., I Love You and I Might Leave You.”  A few excerpts.

“[T]here are the bike lanes.  There are to be apartment buildings on every block of the city.  Renaming landmarks.  Landlords aren’t allowed to do background checks.  Goodbye, drive-throughs; hello walking or biking everywhere.  New York City (minus the subways), here we come! . . .

“As important is the nagging feeling that the people managing these changes don’t really have the proper skills for the difficult jobs they have embarked upon.  For example, there appears to be an attempt to solve every single societal problem – from climate change to income inequality to affordable housing and individual inequities – for everyone, all at the same time, and immediately.  While laudable, such ambitions are also a recipe for disappointment.”

Pederson, who’s north of 70, added: “There is far too much of ‘This is the way it is, get used to it’ and ‘You were so dumb to buy a single-family home!’”

The second op-ed, on Wednesday (September 25), “City Leaders Must Act to Keep Mpls. Safe,” was written by officials of the Vikings, Twins, Timberwolves and Lynx: Lester Bagley, Matt Hoy, and Ted Johnson.  A few excerpts again.

“The reality is, downtown Minneapolis isn’t as safe as it once was.  Nothing will stop people from coming downtown more quickly than the perception or reality that it is unsafe.  Our professional sports teams are collectively urging Mayor Jacob Frey and the Minneapolis City Council to invest in public safety for downtown Minneapolis. . . .

“When any visiting fan experiences a crime during a visit to downtown Minneapolis, they do not suffer in silence.  They tell their story to everyone they know, and social media empowers them to share it swiftly with a broad audience. . . .

“It’s easy to take the magic of downtown Minneapolis for granted.  But leaders of other cities can tell you from firsthand experience how quickly the reality and perception of crime in a city can spiral out of control.”

Also on Wednesday, though, was a news story about downtown Minneapolis of a decidedly different flavor, by reporter Jim Buchta, “Financing Set for $190 Million Condo Building, Cities’ Largest.”  Two final excerpts.

“So far the developer is mum on specific pricing in the 41-story tower, but said buyers will pay $900,000 and up.  Way up.  That means nearly every one of the 118 condominiums [in “Eleven on the River”] – including 17 penthouse units that will be more than triple the size of the average home in the Twin Cities – will come with a seven-digit price tag.  The company said that just more than half the units have been reserved.”

Buchta likewise noted that, “Construction [also] started this summer at the RBC Gateway tower, which will include 31 upscale condos called the Four Seasons Private Residences.  Those units are expected to be priced at more than $1 million, and will be on the uppermost floors of the 34-story building, which will also include lower-level offices and a 222-room Four Seasons Hotel, restaurant and bar.”

Columns and articles like these capture a paradox I’ve been thinking about for a long time.

On the one hand – focusing here on questions of crime and incivility – Minneapolis may not have the most dangerous downtown, but it can be a quite uncomfortable one.  Just look at comments by Strib readers on the paper’s blog about the two op-eds, as well as in response to similar commentaries over the years.  Not everyone responded this way to an op-ed I wrote about Hennepin Avenue 10 years ago, but a great many did.

Yet, on the other hand, new construction rising all over town; plays and other shows drawing well; and the Vikings, Twins, Wolves, and Lynx doing the same, all suggest that overlarge numbers of people are not fearfully discomforted after all.  If this is so, I’m pleased things are going better than I’ve predicted, causing me to sometimes wonder if the problems I’ve warned about are overstated.  If so, I’m happy to give Minneapolis its due.

Then, again, I continue to talk to a fair number of people (especially women) who emphatically prefer staying away.  And I watch the 10 o’clock news.