Met Council changes stifle smart growth

Recently, the 30-year “blueprint” for metro-area growth, set in motion by a Jesse Ventura-appointed Metropolitan Council, has been unraveled by the “framework” of the new Gov. Tim Pawlenty-appointed Metropolitan Council. This equals bad news for transportation efficiency, sustainable development and pollution control – in short, the future of Minnesota – and good news for the propagation of suburbanite culture and the auto and oil industries that nourish it.

Slashing programs to limit the transformation of farmland into fields of indistinguishable houses, the “framework” plans to cast aside interests of near-city agricultural production. (Smaller-scale production is often devoted to the horticultural growth of fresh produce – ecologically, the most efficient system of food production.) The new plan also decreases the emphasis on building affordable housing. It stamps out references to aesthetic concerns such as the noise, pollution and unsightly squalor of an inner city carved up by massive autobahns. The new plan grants expansionist suburban governments greater “flexibility” – inevitably forcing the rest of the state to bear costs of highway expansion and maintenance to remote locations such as Forest Lake and Albertville.

The suburban demographic exhibits stifling uniformity, which implies greater energy efficiency. But, in fact, this is not the case. While it’s convenient to take the superhighway to Sam’s Club, it’s not a very efficient use of land and resources. And the rest of the state helps proliferate this suburban culture by bankrolling space-squandering sewer systems and ridiculous road expansion.

Even within the odious future of continuing urban sprawl, more highways do not mean less congestion. Empirical studies of Atlanta and Los Angeles have established that more lanes do not ease traffic congestion. On the other hand, the Sierra Club estimates that a “single track of rail moves as many people as a six-lane highway during rush hour.” But with a suburban Republican as governor, Minnesota’s likelihood of escaping a shortsighted growth plan appears bleak.

Pawlenty must realize that by backing off the somewhat authoritarian plan obliging smart growth, he is backing off protecting Minnesota’s sustainable future.