The Minneapolis 2040 Plan is not just an example of government greenwashing; its supporters have also created a toxic atmosphere in our city that negatively impacts future efforts to achieve true climate justice.
I don’t own a car. My husband and I sold our car three years ago after leaving it parked in our garage for a year to see if it was possible. We didn’t sell our car because owning a car had become too difficult or expensive. We deliberately chose to get rid of our car because we felt that it would significantly reduce our carbon footprint. We could have continued to own a car that we rarely drove and kept it parked in our garage the rest of the time. I felt that this was a waste of resources when considering the energy and materials that go into the creation and maintenance of a car. As a proponent of density I also felt that a garage for storing a car is space that is not being used for housing, for example an Accessory Dwelling Unit.
It turns out we were right about reducing our carbon footprint. In 2017 a study by Lund University in Sweden found that on average not owning a car for a year saves 2.4 tons of carbon (includes emissions from car production and maintenance in addition to combustion of fuel), second only in impact to “having one fewer child.” [The other greatest impacts are taking one less transatlantic flight, using renewable energy, and eating a plant-based diet.] We also hope to set an example, encourage others to question how many cars they need to own (if any at all).
Not owning a car is HARD. I am not complaining, just stating a fact. We were fortunate to find a home in a location that has easy access to multiple bus lines, has many amenities in walking distance (most important, groceries!), and is in walking distance to two HourCar Hubs and my parents’ home, which allows for both formal and informal car-sharing. Our location is one of the few in the Twin Cities where it is feasible for a young family to live reasonably well without owning a car. It’s still HARD. We prefer this lifestyle and are glad we chose it, but we would never expect others to get rid of their cars.
The 2040 Plan Policy 6 “Pedestrian-Oriented Building and Site Design” states, “The City of Minneapolis Complete Streets policy prioritizes walking first, followed by bicycling and transit use, and lastly motor vehicle use” and contains Action Step l: to “eliminate the requirement for off-street parking minimums throughout the city …” Proponents of this policy argue that this will lead to “affordable” housing by allowing developers to build more units, and more units will mean lower prices, because of supply and demand.
I do not accept the premise that increasing new construction will lead to housing affordability. What we need are subsidies and thoughtful policies to achieve housing that is truly affordable. It is also argued that increasing new construction will discourage car ownership; therefore it’s a win-win: good for low-income people AND good for the environment.
This reminds me of how the U.S. refused to take serious action against climate change for years because, “China and India have far dirtier pollution than we do and so they need to go first.” Nevermind the decades of economic growth the U.S. benefited from before we “cleaned up our act,” and nevermind the fact that we still produce more CO2 per capita than most other countries. (India and China and a few others are still the leaders.)
I am troubled by the implication that people who need “affordable” housing don’t need or don’t deserve to own cars. Really? Just because it is possible for some people (like me) to exist without owning a car does NOT mean that it is feasible for all people. In fact, many of those advocating for this are quick to point out that they themselves own cars, often quickly adding something to the effect of, “but I can afford a garage.”
Perhaps the most harmful thing to me about this argument is that it reinforces assumptions about car use/ownership or lack thereof. By continuing to emphasize that poor people don’t drive and don’t need cars, while being hyper vigilant to emphasize their own car ownership (and therefore social and economic status), these “advocates” are reinforcing negative stereotypes about car ownership. This has long-term negative consequences for any efforts to get people to adopt a car-free lifestyle on a larger scale. Let’s be real, no one wants to be poor, and even fewer people want others to think of them as being poor.
If we truly want people to be able to CHOOSE a car-free lifestyle, we need to not only change perceptions about car ownership, we must also improve our public transit system. Anyone who thinks that merely adding more riders will lead to improvements in public transit has obviously never ridden the #21. I am encouraged and optimistic that our incoming Hennepin County commissioner campaigned on “transit is more than light rail,” but as advocates and citizens we need to continue to push for improvements to service and reliability. We also need to work to counter the negative stereotype of buses only being for poor people.
As someone who grew up in South Minneapolis in the late ’80s and early ’90s, my “normal” was different from many in the U.S. My parents owned one car until I was 10 and walked/biked to work on a regular basis. The mother of one of my childhood friends, on approaching retirement, recently realized—proudly—that she has never driven to work. My uncle’s preferred method of getting to work was to rollerblade. So forgive me when I’m not impressed when proponents of Minneapolis’ 2040 Plan talk about how revolutionary they are because they drive less than their parents did when they were growing up in the suburbs—where driving is necessary and unavoidable.