Thrive 2040: Toward a Less Competitive Minneapolis-St. Paul

In a Wall Street Journal commentary entitled Turning the Twin Cities Into Sim City, Katherine Kersten of the Center of the American Experiment describes how "a handful of unelected bureaucrats are gearing up to impose their vision of the ideal society on the nearly three million residents of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro region." She notes that the Metropolitan Council (the "handful of unelected bureaucrats") intend for "all future housing and economic development within "easy walking distance" (one-half mile) of major transit stops—primarily in the urban core and inner-ring suburbs.” This would lead to "tax dollars (mostly from people who live elsewhere) will be lavished on high-density housing, bike and pedestrian amenities and subsidized retail shops." She equates the plan with playing the computer game "Sim City with residents' lives."

Kersten also notes the all-too predictable distortion of future transportation funding to support transit, rather than highway congestion relief.  The ("Thrive 2040") "plan also will pour public funds into mass transit while virtually ignoring congestion relief on highways. The Twin Cities region is projected to have just $52 million available annually from 2014 to 2022 for highway congestion relief, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Yet the Met Council intends to spend at least $1.7 billion on a single light-rail project, with more rail transit to follow."

This imbalance of funding is despite the fact that less than two percent of travel in the Twin Cities is by transit. In the longer run, Minneapolis-St. Paul, which has been by far the most successful metropolitan area in the Midwest since World War II, will become less competitive if it fails to take steps to improve traffic congestion (and it is nothing short of folly to expect that transit can substitute for driving in the modern metropolitan area, see The Transit-Density Disconnect).

Kersten also characterizes as the "most radical element," of the Metropolitan Council plan as its greenhouse gas emission reduction component, and for good reason. The urban containment policies of densification and transit are far more expensive than other strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions (see questioning the Messianic Conception of Smart Growth and Enough "Cowboy" Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Policies). At the same time, there are a myriad of strategies that are more cost effective, such as improved fuel economy (see Obama Fuel Economy Rules Trump Smart Growth). Cost-effectiveness is important, because if more than necessary is spent to reach greenhouse gas emission goals, there will be an economic cost in fewer jobs created, a lower standard of living and greater poverty (see Toward More Prosperous Cities).

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"Sim City" - "Second Life" - "Cargo Cult" planning

I like the "playing Sim City with people's lives" analogy.

I have been using the term "playing Second Life", and "the Second Life fallacy" of planning, for a while myself.

I also like calling it "cargo cult planning".

Building facsimile airstrips in the jungle in the hopes that the gods will send the magic flying monsters down to you too is not a lot less rational than assuming that upzoning and transit "investments" will turn your city into Manhattan. In fact the primitive tribesmen in the jungle have more excuse - we are supposed to be rational civilised people benefiting from several centuries of enlightenment already.

The academic term for this kind of fallacy is "physical determinism", which Patrick Troy utilises in his books and papers attacking urban consolidation.