Monday, May 7, 2018

Poverty and Geography in Minneapolis

It's an open secret that concentrated poverty is at record levels and getting worse.  This has been occurring in tandem (it's a feedback loop) with a new structural unemployment that have stayed at bleak 40-year highs since 2012.

The short story is that even as our economy has improved and Americans in general have gotten wealthier, the bottom 20% or so have been left behind.  You can see that from 2000 to 2018, 5% of workers dropped off the face of the Earth. This is awful. 

Concentrated poverty is a big contributor to this - clustering poor people together means, as Ed Sheeran's song says, "the worst things in life come free to us."  Poor communities have higher crime, substance addiction, worse public services, less social capital, less opportunity, worse education, basically a basket of awful variables that form a Feedback Loop of Awful (let's call it FLA).  

This blog post is about geographic isolation - one of the variables in the FLA.  Of course, access to the rest of the city is valuable, so the cheapest housing is the least accessible.  I've now lived in the poorest, most violent, and highest minority part of Minneapolis for a year, and a few things have become empirically obvious to me. 

Take a look at this map.  To the bottom left you have the richest suburbs with the corporate jobs.  To the bottom right you have the airport.  To the right of the S in Minneapolis you have the U of MN, and to the left of the M in Minneapolis you have "the hood," North Minneapolis. 

Here's a closer look at the city and North:

Above the words "Near North," and to the west of 94,  is where the hood begins.  We affectionately refer to it as the "North."  It takes up the entire area to the northwest.  A few local knowledge things to note:
  • To the east of the river there are tons of resources, amenities, culture.  The North is separated by both a 10-lane highway and the Mississippi River. 
  • There is a train that goes from downtown to the airport.  It never reaches North.
  • 94, between the words "North Loop" and the junction with 35W, is forever deadlocked.  This short stretch of highway adds 15 minutes to your trip, every time.  This means any trip from the North to anywhere south or east is at least a half hour - cutting North off from the south and east of the state.  This is not true of land east of the river, where 35W runs north and south smoothly. 
  • There is a stretch of no-man's land between 94 and the Mississippi that is in hospitable.  It's industrial and ugly.  It's basically a DMZ to separate the rich and poor.
  • To get from the closest part of North to downtown is eminently unwalkable.  First you have to cross an intimidating, rusty concrete bridge (take a look below...yikes) across 10 lanes of I-94, and then 7 blocks of nasty, noisy, windswept industrial buildings before you reach downtown.  Again, a DMZ to separate the rich and poor.
What all of this combines to is isolation - concentration of poverty.  Some suggestions:
  1. Beautify the overpass bridge and the trip to downtown.  This would be cheap and easy...protect the pedestrians from the wind and noise of the overpass, repair the sidewalks, plant trees, set lighting, and incent those who own the industrial buildings to slap on a new coat of paint every once in awhile.
  2. Finish the train track across, into North.
  3. Incent walkable business and retail in the no-man's land. 
  4. Improve and expand local streets with a north/south traverse in mind. 
  5. Figure out some way to improve the deadlock on 94!

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