Eric Muschler: Region’s long future depends on getting past fear, to progress

The Twin Cities metro is growing and changing — sometimes in ways that make people uncomfortable, even scared, to move forward. Throughout our region, on multiple fronts, we’re feeling growing pains that reflect both healthy growth and human trepidation.

One obvious pain point is the proposal to run the Southwest LRT line through a narrow space in Minneapolis’ Kenilworth Corridor. Supporters favor the route for our region’s third LRT line, but others are concerned about noise and related disturbances. In Dinkytown, another ache emerged this winter with developers and preservationists battling over the density, character, and future of the area near the University of Minnesota where native son Bob Dylan started his career; the City Council voted to block demolition of a building that would have made room for a new Dinkytown hotel. And in several communities throughout the region such as Edina, Richfield, and southwest Minneapolis, painful pinches are being felt in pushes to tear down and replace older, smaller homes with larger homes that don’t fit the scale or character of the neighborhood. (In Minneapolis, the moratorium on building new houses was lifted after a construction management agreement was put into practice.)

Our region needs to deal with its “growing pains” better. Too often lack of control can harden positions and cripple our capacity to move forward. I fear this is the case with the SWLRT, and that inaction could ultimately de-rail the build-out of a transit system that would otherwise help bolster our region’s future competitiveness, creating transit links to jobs and regional development to make us stronger.

As a boy, I had a scary experience that informed how I look at such issues today. When I was 15 years old, I experienced a concussion and a mysterious summer of seizures. After a visit to the Mayo Clinic in search of the cause, the doctor explained (at least as I remember it) that I was experiencing “growing pains” — my brain was essentially growing faster than my skull. My mom, however, mainly remembers the doctor’s grim predictions about my adult life: “He probably shouldn’t drive,” and “perhaps he should think about becoming something other than a lawyer because this could happen in front of a jury.” (In 9th grade, law was my chosen career.) I clearly didn’t hear these warnings, and I’m thankful I didn’t — although my mom was scared half to death of a future for her youngest that she believed she had no control over. But my doctor’s fears were unfounded. I never had another seizure in my life.

Metro transit workers on the Central Corridor blue line.

Construction of the Central Corridor LRT “green line” in St. Paul, opening this summer.

My experience taught me that all you can do, in any given circumstance, is to keep moving forward with the best information you have, even amid uncertainty. Face the future in a positive way. Don’t allow negative projections alone to shape your future.

As in the development examples above, regional growth pressures are prompting reasonable concerns with various valid points of view, but we can’t let the negative overwhelm the positive. These issues represent critical decision points, important for MSP’s regional competitiveness, attraction and retention of talent, and perceptions of our place and quality of life. Our community needs to take a step back and consider the long-term benefits, not just our short-term fears.

We won’t arrive at a “right and only” answer before moving forward, because there isn’t one. That’s not how regional development works. But I believe decisions based on fear of change, fear of losing control, or fear of a bleak future (that no one can fully predict) could block us from defining a positive future that we can continue to shape. Better to embrace positive changes for a future in which our region is an even better place to live, work, and play. Let’s get on with it.

EDM_mk0287_c Eric Muschler
Region & Communities Program Officer