Minneapolis as a future Detroit?


Over the last week, there has been plenty of debate over The Atlantic’s Miracle of Minneapolis story, which said “says “no other place mixes affordability, opportunity, and wealth so well.”

That didn’t go over big with people who said the article glossed over the realities of people who have few opportunities, let alone wealth.

Now, The Atlantic is assessing the two views with an article — “Minneapolis’ White Lie” — that suggests Minneapolis could be future Detroit. It’s not a compliment.

“The trajectories of these two cities, however, are not as different as one may think,” writer Jessica Nickrand, a graduate fellow at the Institute of Medicine and a doctoral candidate at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, says. “The Twin Cities’ decline may just come later.”

As the economy began to place less of an emphasis on manufacturing, Detroit took advantage of federal urban-renewal policies that helped American cities stave off the effects of deindustrialization in the 1950s and 60s. But its strategy for the use of these funds contributed to the city’s downfall. This money was put into the construction of large institutions downtown—stadiums, universities, and hospitals—that surrounding residents could never afford to patronize. A lack of investment in services for the city’s residents, along with discrimination in housing and employment, kept black Detroiters in the city’s lowest economic tiers. This was an invisible problem for city officials, as they used their highest-earning residents to measure how the city fared as a whole.

When Detroit’s racial composition began to change, there were no attempts to rectify the actions that targeted and punished residents of color. That population grew quickly, and decreasing employment opportunities were increasingly preventing this community from contributing to the city’s economy. It cost Detroit greatly to deny this population a place to thrive, and it could cost the Twin Cities, too.

Of course, there are important differences between Detroit and Minneapolis. In the Twin Cities, the economy is more diversified and relies on stable white-collar employment rather than blue-collar labor. However, these two cities have comparable difficulties when it comes to their non-white populations. Detroit’s economic problems are directly related to policies and actions that deliberately excluded black residents from the city’s progress. This exclusion occurred while the city was championed as a welcoming middle-class haven that was ideal for people to start their adult lives—much like is Minneapolis today.

Nickstand says the Minnesota Miracle plan of the early ’70s, and the fiscal disparity program worked fine until 2002, when property tax reform under the Ventura administration dropped revenue for the state’s cities by 10 percent. Since 2002, it says, 90 percent of cities lost another 10 percent of their revenue ability.

As the demographics of Minneapolis-St. Paul continue to change, it is clear that the area is ill equipped to deal with racial tensions. White Twin City residents express their discomfort with a more diverse city in interesting ways: a political “scandal” this past autumn dubbed Pointergate unproductively raised dubious questions about a new mayor, black men are harassed in the city’s public spaces, and municipalities bring criminal charges against protestors associated with the Black Lives Matter movement, all while the Twin Cities possess the highest rates of racial employment discrepancy in the nation. These issues will become more complex as the Twin Cities’ immigrant population continues to grow.