Sustainable We: A Conversation

As I noted in last month’s introductory “Sustainable We” column for the Southwest Journal, “We are better served by having the educated, aware, thoughtful and passionate individuals we have in Minneapolis who want to do the right thing in a better way than we are now.”

But… what do we do when views clash about what our future should be? What if we don’t know what the better way is? And… what if doing the right thing is not easy to do?

Currently, Linden Hills residents are clashing over the vision of a city block. A developer, not particularly trusted, has a plan. Many don’t like how big the multi-use complex is. Others don’t care. Some understand that the city needs density – which also benefits energy efficiency – and an increase in taxable income. Others believe the city is ignoring their democratically developed Small Area Plan (SAP) intention to limit the heights in that zone to three stories. Some residents are asking, why does the City Planning Commission not seem to be listening to what at least 400 petitioners have asked for and what the SAP attempted to outline?

Other residents connected with Fair Skies are trying to get smarter solutions around noise pollution from the concentrated and growing airplane traffic. Some felt dismissed that a public session with the Metropolitan Airports Commission was intended to simply present information without listening to concerns.

We remember the long battle over the placement of a Southwest Light Rail Transit line that provides better (non-car emission), economical public transportation to important areas of the city.

And, residents around Loring Park and Cedar Lake are angry and/or confused about why, despite protestations, the Park Board is applying pesticides in community parks. Even though the City Council unanimously voted in favor of a new pollinator friendly policy throughout the city, and residents have been voicing concerns that the toxins of these chemicals are not known to be safe.

Kennedy-Nixon Debate 1960

How capable are we of having a modernized old-fashioned discussion about the nuances of our issues?

The State of Politics: One View

On the one hand, policy makers sometimes make unpopular decisions they believe to be “right” in the long run, either for their own sense of integrity, or for the good of the community in the long run. (Senator Paul Wellstone’s votes against war are one example.)

Many are weary of explaining their actions in an effort to persuade opponents. Some have figured out the value of simplistic sound bites to get their point across.

Public policy discussions, via television today.

[I once did a research project for The New York Times that looked at the depth of Presidential campaign speeches in the late 1800s. Yes, the caliber of conversation was very different before that infamous Kennedy-Nixon first-ever televised debate in 1960.]

We also have many examples of ways leadership has purposely misguided us — tobacco dangers, weapons of mass destruction, investment fraud — so, it can be very helpful to remain suspicious.

And we recognize that even those we entrust to protect us make sometimes blatant mistakes. In a recent U.S. court decision, the Environmental Protection Agency was called out for approving an insecticide they shouldn’t have. The incidents of police brutality around the country; leadership with clearly disdainful comments about women, low-income families, and entire ethnic groups; and a Congressional failure to enact stronger gun laws, certainly shake our faith.

People who don’t feel listened to, or who disagree with a decision-maker’s reasoning, can write it off — often emotionally — as an act of self-interest, loyalty to shareholders, or misguided intentions. Examples of public comments from two Minneapolis residents on local issues in the last day:

About Parks: “I asked to set chairs up so we could have a discussion on the proposed plan. I was told no. That this wasn’t the forum for discussion. There were boards set up and park staff proceeded to tell folks what they were going to do. They wanted folks to read and walk by all the boards and leave. No time for discussion? Well, Residents STOOD for an hour and a half. There was discussion of course. More than half the group were opposed to the application of any chemicals.”

About Community Development: “You already know your appeal will not be listened to. Your concerns will be arrogantly dismissed. Lisa Bender, Andrew Johnson, Abdi Warsame and the developers who have bought and paid for their service will vote YES on this thing and Lisa Goodman, aware of the politics will vote with them. Money would be better spent hiring attorneys and challenging the developers and any investors in court.”

We generally gave up trusting in our leaders about 40 years ago. And some, whose civil rights have been trampled for much longer, have never held much stock in leadership to have their best interests at heart.

When I worked with youth on a book about Paul and Sheila Wellstone a few years ago, one of the comments from a student who worked on the book was, “I always thought of politics as high and mighty people looking down on others with haughty expressions — until now.​”

It’s a sad, jaded, pessimistic vision of how our society operates, yes? Raise your hand if you’ve sometimes — or frequently — felt that way.

The Silver Lining

I have a friend who is a child protection agent and has made it her career to serve young people in refugee camps and war-torn nations.

I asked how she maintains her spirit in the face of such a tragic view of the human experience. She told me that she usually finds a few children who have the spirit of leadership in them, and she engages and empowers them to lift the spirits of others through play in their makeshift community.

For her, finding and enabling those spirits who can buoy their community is what her life’s mission is all about.

As I develop financial, logistical and developmental support for a 10-part series of “Sustainable We” conversations around the city, the goal is to lift up the stories, the concerns, the ideas, and the wisdom of the leaders among us.

Pointing fingers and offering sound bites doesn’t solve issues. What can we learn from those who are passionate about helping all of us find solutions to some of the hard problems – listening, feeling listened to, articulation, transparency, education, awareness — that face our local community?

Join me, please. If you haven’t already, please subscribe above to be part of the ongoing conversation to help Minneapolis develop into the Sustainable We community that we are capable of creating.

See details about the first forum in the series, “Parks, Pollinators, and Pesticides,” at Eventbrite.

— Mikki Morrissette, founder, and the forthcoming non-profit CollectiveImpact.ME



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