Short sighted urban planning

Recently, a local pundit, Joe Soucheray, penned an article asking who was demanding a new transit corridor from downtown Saint Paul to the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. Called the Riverview Corridor, this arterial route would seek to bring a new type of transit option, other than simple bus service, to a growing area.

Mr. Soucheray argued that local politicians were shoving a new expensive transit project down the throat of citizens, and that no one in the area wants this. His argument that we don’t have the money to spend on this, and that it’s just a luxury, seems to make sense, but overall these arguments completely miss the point. Of course no one is asking for this transit improvement right now. But that’s not what’s important.

When urban planners look at city design they don’t just look at the city as it is, but they look at it as it will be someday. Planning is about what will be in the future, not dealing with the current problems (that’s operations). Although no one is asking for this new transit line right now, within 10 years, the population of this area is projected to increase 63%. Those are a lot of new people, and with that increase comes new businesses, and new requirements for getting around.

The point of planning for a new transit corridor is not about correcting an exiting problem. It is about looking to the future to ensure that our cities are meeting the needs of a growing and changing population. A new transit corridor isn’t needed right now, but it will be absolutely required in 10 years. Considering how long infrastructure projects take to ramp up, it’s important that we get ahead of the curve and be thinking about tomorrow.

Short-sighted thinking is what got us in the transit mess that we have in the Twin Cities. People believed that we could have a vibrant city based on cars. That misguided vision has left our cities vastly under-prepared for the growth of the future (with Saint Paul bearing the largest brunt). Growth and change is never easy, but, if we don’t think about the future, our vibrant cities will cease to be.

I know I certainly don’t want to live in a metropolitan area that is slowly dying, with urban areas that no one wants to live in or move to. We want growing and dynamic cities, and that requires robust urban planning, and forward thinking. It might not always be easy or cheap, but the cities of our children and grandchildren will be a better place because of it.

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