Enlightened? Who Us?

Weighing the merits of our hometown, Minneapolis

| May-June 1997

The scene: The Monday morning editorial meeting in the Utne conference room/employee lounge, 9:30 a.m., March 17, 1997. 

Hugh Delehanty: So what about our city, Minneapolis? Should we make it one of our ten most enlightened towns?

Jay Walljasper: No way. Minneapolis has fallen for every snake oil version of progress for the last 100 years. It’s the third most sprawling city in the country. It has this ‘50s—or, if you’re charitable, ‘70s—idea of what makes a city work: Knock things down. Build other things up. Be dazzled by every shiny new pseudo-solution that’s put before your eyes.

Craig Cox: That’s true, but the level of community organizing here is second to none.

Jay: This place gets high marks for civic involvement but awful marks for urban design. Minneapolis is a city that put a K-Mart right in the middle of its most beautiful boulevard.

Hugh: Coming from New York, what I sense here is a certain optimism that a city can actually work.

Craig: Yeah, there’s a faith that we’d better make it work before the people in City Hall screw it up.

Jay: In the ‘70s, this was a really progressive city. But then something happened. I think what we’re seeing in Minneapolis now is the down side of liberalism. Liberalism and populism are two different things. Populism means listening to the people and hearing what they have to say. Liberalism says: “The people are idiots; let’s go find out what the experts think .” Minneapolis used to listen to the people –now it’s just like every other American city.

Craig: Maybe, but the sense of hope is still alive and well in the neighborhoods. I can’t imagine an inner city anywhere else that works better than this one.

Jay: Yes, there’s still a war going on here over who controls the city, the neighborhoods or the corporations. In every other city it’s already been decided—the corporations won.

Jon Spayde: What I miss here is being able to live without a car. I tried it—it’s not doable. For some reason, Minneapolis can’t get its act together to create a convenient, walkable street life.

Cathy Madison: Yes, but what about the arts? And the lakes and the other great outdoor spaces? We just take those things for granted and assume that everyone else has them—but they don’t. If somebody tried to take them away there’d be a major revolt.

Craig: But there’s a funny consumerist attitude toward nature here too. Look what happened when they tried to turn part of Lake Calhoun into wetlands. People couldn’t deal with it—they didn’t want to give up their perfectly manicured bike paths.

Lynn Marasco: That’s what drives me crazy about this place—it’s too neat. Why can’t we just live with natural beauty—as it is?

Jay: I think the city’s inherited a northern European restlessness and fix-it mentality, an obsession with engineering everything. If you see something troubling, tear it down and put in a parking lot.

Christia Fieber: I think it’s the suburban mentality. Most of the people here are from small towns. They move into the city when they’re young and once they get to a certain age they want the kind of space they remember having as kids. They want to spread out—and not take the bus.

Jon: I come from a small town in Iowa and even we had suburban sprawl. It’s not like there was a lot of inner city crime. The people just wanted to be in suburbia—to live on curving streets like the folks in the big, important cities do.

Craig: I think Minneapolis is a great place to live—if you really live here. If you get involved with your neighborhood and don’t just sit at home and watch TV.

Jay: As much as I like to bitch about Minneapolis, there’s no other American city I’d rather live in. Of course, I’d sell my grandmother to move to Amsterdam.