At the turn of the twentieth century, Minneapolis and St. Paul were two separate cities with a combined population of about 460,000. But by the 1950s their combined population had risen to about 1.2 million, and the two once-separate cities had coalesced into a single urban area bisected by the Mississippi River. Both cities, like many others of the period, were rapidly suburbanizing.

The problems of suburban expansion as well as those of rebuilding the two cities' downtowns focused the attention of civic and government leadership on the question of how to guide the continuing growth of the Minneapolis-St. Paul region. The issue was brought to a head by problems connected with the expansion of the metropolitan sewer system and by the advent of the Interstate Highway System (see Chapter 17). The sewer problem required a regional approach if duplication of facilities was to be avoided and if the efforts of one municipality were not to complicate the efforts of other municipalities. Since in that region all sewer systems ultimately empty into the Mississippi River, it would not be helpful to have one municipality's discharge pipes located immediately upstream of another municipality's intake pipes. Similarly, it was understood that the highway system, which would serve the entire region, would be best designed if the region were viewed as a whole.

In 1957, after two tries and much bargaining and compromise, the Minnesota legislature passed a bill creating the Metropolitan Planning Commission (MPC). The law that created the MPC provided for a 28-member governing board, of which 21 members represented local governments. The other seven members were appointed by the Governor to represent civic, business, and community interests. The law also specified that the Commission's authority was limited to planning and recommending. It had no powers to implement. The MPC had been structured to be as nonthreatening as possible to the existing political establishment.

For the next decade the MPC worked on developing a regional plan. A large part of the time was spent on developing information and promoting public consciousness of the issues and of the need for planning. The plan that emerged was a development policy designed to minimize sprawl and to concentrate urban development in the two central cities and in a number of large-scale, self-contained satellite communities. These would be separated by open space and farmland but would be linked by the metropolitan transportation system.

One obstacle to achieving intermunicipal cooperation about land-use planning is the matter of property taxes (see Chapter 9). All municipalities want land uses that return more in property taxes than they cost the municipality to service. Thus there will be intermunicipal competition over attractive commercial development. Therefore, the plan called for a tax-sharing arrangement. A portion of the property tax revenues from new nonresidential development would go into a common pool to be shared by all the municipalities in the region. This arrangement meant that there would be less motivation for municipalities to compete for fiscally desirable developments and more chance of achieving a land-use pattern that made sense in regional terms.2 By 1966 the planning phase was just about complete, and it was time to begin implementation.

In 1967 the Minnesota state legislature created the Metropolitan Council to move from plan to reality. Within several years the

Metropolitan Council was responsible for policy in a number of areas, including sewers and sewage treatment, solid-waste disposal, open space, sports facilities, public transportation, and highways. The taxsharing arrangement was set up in 1971. In 1975 a "Metropolitan Framework" law was passed, stipulating that the Metropolitan Commission would establish the following:

  • 1. Urban service areas in which housing subdivisions would be concentrated
  • 2. Commercial/agriculture areas in which free-standing subdivisions would not be allowed
  • 3. Rural development zones that would not provide urban services (such as public water and sewers) except around pre-existing development.

Note that this approach is similar to that of many growth management systems, some of which are described in Chapter 14.

In addition to this planning work, the Metropolitan Commission also functioned as a management and service-delivery agency for various federally mandated programs in criminal justice, health care, the arts, and services for the aging. In this regard it functioned in the same way as many other Councils of Government.

In recent years much of the council's work has been on transportation. The Hiawatha line, a light-rail link connecting the Minneapolis downtown with the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and the Mall of America, opened in 2004 and, unlike a number of other rail projects, its ridership, now over 30,000 per weekday, is well ahead of initial projections. Work has been completed on the Central Corridor Light Rail route, which runs 11 miles to link downtown Minneapolis with downtown St. Paul. In addition, the council has done work on bicycle trails and bus- bike linkages, to facilitate both bicycle commuting and recreation. The council has also worked on parkland acquisition and park development, among other projects.

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