Twin Cities: A Region Ready to Thrive!

  + = THRIVE!

I spent July in my home state of Minnesota enjoying amazing rural sunsets on weekends and working with some of the state’s top planning professionals during the week. The Twin Cities region is in the midst of a transit renaissance with two rail transit lines in operation, a third under construction and plans well underway for additional bus rapid transit and light rail expansion.

Central to this transit expansion is an effort to create Corridors of Opportunity. This vision redefines transportation as a tool for improving regional equity and the regional economy. In Lake Woebegone, even the planning needs to be above average! Transit must be more than just a mobility tool, but also a tool for making good places better and linking people to economic opportunity.  Like many places, this may be easier said than done. According to a recent Brookings Institution report, only 67% of the region’s potential commuters are near a transit stop, and only 30% of jobs are near a transit stop. By comparison, in Denver these percentages are 84% and 47%.

But from the land that gave us Judy Garland and Bob Dylan, we’ve learned to expect the unexpected. Change is blowing in the wind, and this is not Kansas anymore.  For several years I have watched in awe as a group of public and private sector partners, led by philanthropy, is working to ensure that transportation is a catalyst for equitable and inclusive reinvestment in people and places. The Central Corridor Funders Collaborative is an amazing example of focused investment to ensure maximum benefit to existing and future business owners, neighbors, and residents located along University Avenue between downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Adding even more flavor, the regional planning agency, the Metropolitan Council just launched a collaborative effort to articulate a regional vision to guide the next 30 years of economic growth and investment. Entitled Thrive MSP 2040, the plan will set the course for future investments in transportation, water infrastructure and regional parks.  As the region’s population becomes both browner and greyer, many on the Council, including Chair Sue Haigh are hoping to think more holistically about the additional attributes that make the Twin Cities one of the best places to live, work and raise a family. Increasingly, regional leaders like the Itasca Group and the Chambers of Commerce are pushing for greater regional coordination on economic development issues. And also taking on increased regional importance is ensuring housing is affordable to people of different ages and incomes. In the land of 10,000 lakes and perhaps that many farmers, preservation of farmland, open space, trails and water quality remain equally important. Putting these pieces together with other emerging local priorities can be the recipe to help the region Thrive into the future!