The suburban reversal

Drastic increases in the Twin Cities’ population may present new challenges for the metro.

by Ronald Dixon

Until recently, the Twin Cities population dwindled for decades. As more suburbs developed in the 20th century, many decided to pack up their bags and head to the suburbs. However, in recent years, the trend has reversed, which raises the question: What will we need to do to prepare for the next generation of Minneapolitans and St. Paulites?

The rationale is not complicated: When young, relatively successful adults get married and decide to start a family, they want to find a neighborhood, school and environment that accommodate their economic, professional and educational needs.

However, since 2011, Minneapolis has seen drastic population increases. Over the last several decades, many young families with promising careers have decided to move from the Twin Cities to the stable suburbs. But now, young people are either staying in Minneapolis or St. Paul, or they’re moving from the suburbs to the metro.  In a November 2013 Wall Street Journal report, Minneapolis ranked 11th out of 51 cities in attractiveness to the millennial generation.

As a result of the sudden shift, many have called for even more Minnesotans to move to the Twin Cities. In his final state of the city address last April, former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak called for Minneapolis to raise its population by 65,000. At her swearing-in ceremony earlier this month, Mayor Betsy Hodges said,
“[W]e must grow a population where 500,000 people — no, 500,001 and more people — live and thrive in Minneapolis …”

In its recent “Growing Minneapolis” series, the Star Tribune Editorial Board advocated for a culmination of growth and city-wide policies to help accommodate the needs of new and current residents.

While I see the reason for the excitement over the recent tide of population growth among younger Minnesotans, the hype lacked economic justifications for these shifts. There are consequences to a growing population that city officials must recognize.

Why are younger and relatively prosperous adults moving back to, or staying in, the Twin Cities? It’s a simple matter of economic convenience. Those in the middle and lower socioeconomic levels have had a stagnant wage since the 1980s. With flat wages in mind, the Great Recession and its aftermath explain a heightened desire to live in a more affordable and convenient atmosphere.

What negative implications will this growth have in the Twin Cities?

If we intend to bring young people and new families to become the metro’s next creative class, we must consider the challenges to our schools. With more children, especially children from lower-income families, schools may become overburdened. This is because more lower-income residents are sending their children to metro schools. Because they are in a lower tax bracket, these residents would likely contribute less in property taxes.

Crime rates may naturally rise with the population as well. Though Minneapolis has a historically low crime rate, as University police Chief Greg Hestness said in an Oct. 30, 2013, letter to the editor, 2013 saw a minor increase in crime and even more brazen crimes. In order to maintain a good image for the rest of the state, city officials must work on safety.

Finally: Will there be homes for new residents? Minneapolis is experiencing a rather large shortage in affordable housing. In 2009, about 14,000 low-income renters were without low-cost housing. At the same time, rental prices have increased 23 percent between 2006 and 2013, which does not make it easier to move to the metro.

Our state and local governments should address these problems. Gov. Mark Dayton’s recent proposal to invest more than $1 billion in state infrastructure would create jobs and improve the atmosphere of the region. Expanding housing beyond current efforts and improving urban public school systems will make families feel more comfortable moving. Finally, a minimum wage hike would help low-income families to thrive in Minnesota.

To bring in the next generation of Twin Cities residents, we need to improve living standards, infrastructure and schools. These solutions would ensure that more Minnesotans have the capacity to comfortably live in the Cities and ensure lasting prosperity for the metro.