Minneapolis, Today and Tomorrow

Growing up in all white and mostly Jewish Oak Park (Michigan) of the 1950’s my only encounters with black people were our 70 year old landscaper my grandparents referred to as ‘boy’ and an occasional maid. My grandparents lived south of 8 mile and would take us to eat at ‘Little Black Sambo’s’ restaurant. That was the ‘normal’ I was raised in.

Then, my first day in Junior High School, and the first incidence of the new bussing laws, I went to get a drink of water and a black kid jumped in front of me punching me in the face and I came to in the principals office. I don’t recall anyone getting punished for that. Essentially we learned fast to keep away from the black kids. I was not angry at them, but at us white people. Even back then, as I rode my bike into Detroit, I’d see the racism and look at the new ‘projects’ white people built for them that quite frankly I thought shocking. I certainly would not want to live in those instant slums. It would influence my planning of cities to this day.

With bussing – you could not simply hide the problem of haves and have nots. It got me to think – what if I was black? How angry would I be to see my parents and grandparents being held back because of my skin color and what kind of future hope would I have? It did not help that the Jewish neighborhood I lived in was filled with little princes and princesses that judged on the brand clothes being worn, and that my father dressed us in cheap clothing. For the most part, we were not popular and essentially were treated with disdain, not too much differently than the black kids were. I became a young anti-semitic Jew – I was ashamed of my own people until I reached my late 20’s.

Then came the 1968 riots. I lived two miles north of the Detroit border – close enough to remember the smoke billowing from the city wondering (at 15 years old) why people were so incredibly stupid as to burn their own city to the ground? I understood the anger, but could not fathom why anyone in their right mind, or not, would burn the very homes and businesses they lived and worked in. We immediately put our home for sale like most everyone and moved out to the far edge of West Bloomfield, bussed to the all-white Walled Lake High School where my sister and I were the first two Jews. Because the country kids did not judge on clothes, we were embraced in this new school and had many friends. We were far from Detroit and far from the problem.

White flight fostered explosive growth in the region, and it was in 1968 that I began working for Don C. Geake Associates the leading land planning firm which was an incredible experience designing hundreds of developments annually for the 6 years I worked there. Ironically, for me, the riots provided the basis for a lifelong career.

The aftermath of the Detroit riots would be felt in the black community for generations, not just a few years. The overall City of Detroit may never recover – at least not on the planning agenda of the current leaders.

The problem is not just as simple as black & white, but how we are brought up behind closed doors. If we are born white taught that black people are a certain stereotype and they should be feared or hated or born black and taught to hate whites or raised with derogatory terms, I believe that is the root of the problems back then as well as today.

Minneapolis Today:

The City of Minneapolis is far different than the Detroit I grew up in, not just because it’s like 90+% white, but even the worst areas of this City is not all that bad. There are no slums or downtrodden areas like vast regions of Detroit. Is there racism? You betcha there is. It’s like an invisible layer – but is a thick invisible layer. Walk my liberal neighborhood and you will see there’s a ton of ‘Black Lives Matter’ signs. This is 2020 – why do you need to even place a sign like that? The racism is not just blacks, it’s gays, Indians (native Americans), Mexicans, - in other words ‘working class’ people.

This City regulations (i.e. MetCouncil and Minneapolis) themselves in my opinion are racist. Busses are for ‘working class’ people. We need high density mid to high-rise development in otherwise single family areas so ‘working class’ people have a place to live. I’d have a pretty good guess what color ‘working class’ people are, and it’s not very white. What’s wrong with ‘working class’ having a car or a home with a yard they can be proud of? What sense of pride is it to be attached next to, below, or above, another ‘working class’ family with a common hallway for the kids to play? The ‘working class’ are treated as second and third class citizens. This is that unspoken invisible layer of racism – I’m sure well-intentioned but damaging nevertheless.

When the Police kill an innocent Black citizen – once that’s a crime – when they do it multiple times that’s unacceptable. Burn and loot in retaliation only takes 52 years of progress and resets the clock to 1968. Do you think those groceries and other businesses will be quick to re-open? Do you think an employer will now choose to hire or promote a well-qualified black over a less qualified one white because of this riot? These businesses will likely relocate to the suburbs, as well as many residents – just like Detroit. Even worse – how many will now move out of Minnesota? How many businesses considering Minnesota will now look elsewhere?

The damage is far more reaching than a few buildings destroyed. I have no answers – I wish I did, but businesses will move out of the more affordable areas that desperately need them. These mob destroyers of property will soon find out their anger will not get them ahead – only farther behind for a very long time to come.

Minneapolis Tomorrow:

I firmly believe that there are solutions to affordable transportation and housing that fosters a sense of self-worth but not with the current thinking of the regulatory agencies who embrace a Portland Model of growth and need not consider market proven alternatives. This is also true of our experiences trying to work within Detroit. You can’t undo the past few days, and hopefully we do not go down that quick drain of the past. The past few decades our region has been about social engineering – if anything, it’s not working so well, at least for ‘those’ working class families. These few bad police must be punished,- harshly, but I’m sure glad we have the good ones risking their lives to protect us.

Anyhow just my experiences and opinion, not that it will matter much.

Rick Harrison is President of Rick Harrison Site Design Studio and Neighborhood Innovations, LLC. He is author of Prefurbia: Reinventing The Suburbs From Disdainable To Sustainable and creator of LandMentor. His websites are rhsdplanning.com and LandMentor.com