Strib editorial board offers paternalistic commentary on Roof Depot’s future

Also check out Nicole Perez’s Op/Ed in the Star Tribune: Native people won’t be silenced.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune editorial board embarrassed itself with its Friday editorial backing the city of Minneapolis’ plan to demolish the Roof Depot warehouse in East Phillips and expand its public works yard onto the site.

Let’s start with the headline: “Move ahead on Roof Depot site: Minneapolis has taken the necessary steps to ensure it will be safe and beneficial for the community.”

Just to be clear, the editorial board is saying that the city — not the neighborhood residents — gets to decide what is “safe and beneficial” for the community.

And how did the editorial board arrive at such a conclusion? It met with Mayor Jacob Frey and Public Works Director Margaret Anderson Kelliher, then wrote its column. Funny thing, they don’t seem to have talked to the residents.

They sat at their desks and wrote a one-sided story.

City leaders might get frustrated with disruptive tactics, but they aren’t nearly as frustrated as East Phillips’ residents who have to live with excessive air pollution.

Before jumping into a further critique of the editorial, it’s important to acknowledge the positives here. People in one of the city’s poorest and most polluted neighborhoods organized to improve their community. I remember when the city of Minneapolis had a robust Neighborhood Improvement Program (NRP), which invested in neighborhoods “to empower residents and make the city’s residential areas better places to live, work, learn and play.”

That’s what’s going on here. Empowered residents working to create a community-owned asset. The community’s vision is to create an urban farm that would bring healthy food to a food desert. It would create jobs within walking distance of the neighborhood. It would add affordable housing and a large solar array.

Minneapolis police arrive in mass to evict residents who occupied the Roof Depot site Tuesday.

Here are other ways the editorial failed.

  1. It didn’t show any compassion for the people of East Phillips. East Phillips has high rates of asthma and other air pollution-related illnesses. Residents have spoken of family members who have died from these illnesses. It puts residents’ anger in perspective. They are suffering, and neither the city or Star Tribune seem to notice how bad it is.
  2. The editorial offers the “yes, but…” analysis: The editorial acknowledged that community members are worried about their health from the increased traffic exhaust, but then dismisses the concern. It uses the “yes, but ” routine. Yes, community members are worried, but “City officials have taken numerous steps to compromise with opponents and demonstrate that the site will be safe.” The editorial didn’t name the “numerous steps” the city has taken to reduce the air pollution, because the city hasn’t taken numerous steps. The editorial implies the city is Captain Compromise and resident are somehow unreasonable for wanting their children and elders to be healthy.
  3. It ignores the numerous racial justice commitments the city is violating. The Public Works plan violates: 1) The city’s Green Zone commitment; 2) the city’s resolution declaring racism a public health emergency; 3) the city’s vision statement, which commits to “caring for one another, eliminating racial disparities, improving our environment and promoting social well-being;” and 4) the city’s mission statement, which says the city takes “strategic action to … close disparities in health, housing, public safety and economic opportunities.”
    The Urban Farm meets those lofty goals; the city’s plan does not. These city commitments need to mean something. The editorial board had a chance to ask the mayor how the city’s Public Works expansion in East Phillips lined up with the city’s ideals. The fact it didn’t ask raises the question of whether the board even remembers those commitments exist.
  4. Related to number 3, the editorial board failed to ask Kelliher how her project aligned with her department’s racial justice goals: Late last year, the Public Works Department released an 84-page draft Racial Equity Framework for Transportation and was seeking comments. My comment: “Live up to your existing racial equity commitments before making new ones, or no one will take you seriously.”
  5. The editorial board ignored information available from the city: The city wrote a Racial Equity Impact Analysis on Roof Depot plans. It said the neighborhood is in the highest 10 percent of fine particle pollution in the state. (This is the more dangerous air pollution that can penetrate into the lungs.) City staff also talked to residents, who expressed a “desire to have agency in the planning and decision-making for the site, rather than feeling like something was being done to them.” They had concerns about increased traffic accidents in a community “that already has some of the most dangerous intersections.” They wanted a vision for a “deindustrialized neighborhood.”
  6. The editorial ignores the problem of cumulative impacts: The editorial offers assurances that the city did an environmental review and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency says everything’s OK. That’s little consolation to the neighborhood that already has way too much pollution. The Public Works expansion pollution gets added on top.

The city shouldn’t expect that living up to its racial justice commitments is going to be easy or cheap. It needs to reverse course and work with the neighborhood to move its plan forward.

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