Minneapolis Public Works drafts new ‘Racial Equity Framework’ while failing at existing city racial equity commitments

The City of Minneapolis seems more enamored with writing racial equity plans than following them.

This fact has come into sharp focus in the East Phillips neighborhood, where the city’s planned public works yard expansion contradicts the city’s existing racial equity promises, as well as its mission statement.

So it’s ironic that the city’s Public Works Department — which is pushing the controversial East Phillips project — has released yet one more racial equity commitment: An 84-page draft Racial Equity Framework for Transportation. It’s currently seeking public comments.

On paper, it seems like a perfectly fine plan.

Here’s my public comment: Live up to your existing racial equity commitments before making new ones, or no one will take you seriously. The lack of follow through on past promises is unbecoming of a major city.

Act now. Don’t wait to approve another racial equity plan. Reverse your decision to expand the East Phillips Public Works yard. Support the neighborhood’s redevelopment vision.

Roof Depot site map.

A neighborhood under stress

East Phillips is one of the city’s most diverse, poorest and polluted neighborhoods. Residents are 80 percent Black, Indigenous or people of color (BIPOC), according to Minnesota Compass. Nearly half (45 percent) of households had incomes under $35,000 a year (2015-2019, in 2019 dollars). More than half of households rent.

The city bought property, known as the “Roof Depot site,” to consolidate Water Works operations (now in the Marcy Holmes neighborhood) with its existing Public Works maintenance yard in East Phillips.

Area residents already get air pollution from a nearby foundry and asphalt plant, as well as from busy traffic along Hiawatha Avenue.

Residents living near the Roof Depot site already “experience much higher levels of cumulative pollution than residents from majority white city neighborhoods,” according to the city’s Aug. 6, 2021 Racial Equity Impact Analysis. The neighborhood has higher “levels of asthma and hospitalization for children and adults living in the surrounding neighborhoods.”

The East Phillips Neighborhood Institute (EPNI) strongly opposes the city ‘s plan. It sought to buy the Roof Depot site to create a community-owned, mixed-use development, including an urban farm, business incubator space, affordable housing, and solar arrays.

EPNI leaders say their proposal would bring economic vitality to the area, healthy foods to a food desert, and neighborhood jobs, while the city plan would add more traffic and air pollution to a neighborhood already overtaxed with both.

Public Works contradicts itself

Community signs. Roof Depot site in back.

The proposed Public Works expansion in East Phillips violates the four broad goals Public Works outlines in its new Racial Equity Framework:

  • Build organizational empathy
  • Lead with a racial equity approach
  • Build trust, cultivate partnerships and share power with communities of color
  • Hold ourselves accountable to data-driven reporting and adjustments

City leaders and the Department of Public Works haven’t shown EPNI leaders “organizational empathy.” EPNI leaders have struggled just to get meetings with them.

They haven’t built trust or shared power with communities of color.

As one example, city staff engaged East Phillips residents in a Racial Equity Impact Analysis of the proposed Public Works expansion in their neighborhood.

(As part of city reforms, staff now complete a “Racial Equity Impact Analysis” on policies and programs so city leaders “consider racial equity outcomes when shaping policies, practices, programs and budgets.” The city says this practice is “a process,
not a checkbox.”)

According to the Racial Equity Impact Analysis in East Phillips, residents told city staff they wanted “agency in the planning and decision-making for the site, rather than feeling like something was being done to them.”

Residents worried how an expanded Public Works’ yard would increase traffic, air pollution, and vehicle crashes.

Public Works should have been sympathetic to traffic concerns. In November, the city released its draft Minneapolis VISION ZERO ACTION PLAN, a plan that seeks to end traffic deaths and severe injuries. It concluded that crashes are more concentrated in low-income neighborhoods, where residents are disproportionately people of color.

East Phillips is in the top tier of traffic deaths and serious injuries in Minneapolis, as the chart below shows.

The city seems to have used the “checkbox” approach. Resident comments didn’t appear to carry weight.

Public Works writes that it’s committed to “uplifting the voices of those who have been historically excluded from decision-making processes.”

How many of these “historically excluded” voices in East Phillips have told Public Works: “Yes, please, I want a larger Public Works maintenance yard next door!”

Past promises

Public Works can’t justify its East Phillips proposal by saying its Racial Equity Framework is new and it hasn’t had a chance to implement it yet. The Department hasn’t followed existing city racial equity commitments.

In 2020, the Minneapolis City Council passed a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis. East Phillips (with its high asthma rates) is part of that public health crisis. Public Works plan moves the neighborhood in the wrong direction.

In 2017, the city passed the Green Zone Initiative. On paper, it commits to protecting marginalized and polluted neighborhoods such as East Phillips from getting even more pollution. City and Public Works leaders haven’t explained the disconnect between the Green Zone policy and their actions in East Phillips.

In 2019, the city approved a new mission statement in which it commits to “dismantle institutional injustice and close disparities in health, housing, public safety and economic opportunities,” as well as partnering with residents “to ensure all communities thrive in a safe and healthy city.”

In East Phillips, the city is failing its mission.

Check out the Minneapolis Public Works draft Racial Equity Framework for Transportation and submit comment here.

One thought on “Minneapolis Public Works drafts new ‘Racial Equity Framework’ while failing at existing city racial equity commitments

  1. Major Fry, live up to your stated commitments to Racial Equity and support Urban Farm with city resources, instead of doing what you can to destroy the plan and and increase pollution in East Philips.


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