Beautify cities for one and all


A statue of actress Mary Tyler Moore stands at the corner on Nicollet Mall. Photo: Ben Garvin, New York Times


While it is hard to disagree with Barbara Flanagan’s beautification projects (“A few pleas for pleasing updates around town,” April 2), I think I am up to the challenge.

Barbara’s suggested improvements remind me of my hometown, Chicago. When I go back every summer, I take the “L” from a western suburb and first see the beauty of Oak Park.

Then I see the blight in African-American neighborhoods where there are murders almost daily. Finally, I see beauty again as I reach the downtown area. Flowers divide the streets, and the lakefront parks are unparalleled in aesthetics.

I hate to say there are two communities in Chicago, one rich and one poor, but that’s what I see.

Even though we all love Barbara and her good intentions, we need to do some prioritizing. After all, her suggestions may cost a half a billion dollars. In these belt-tightening times — when the money has to come from taxes and the private sector — who can object to prioritizing?

Allow me to make a pitch for a different set of improvements around Minneapolis.

I agree with Barbara that the Kmart at Nicollet and Lake is ugly. But do we really need to tear down a perfectly functional building when other public needs are crying for our tax dollars?

This big-box discount store provides a crucial service in a low-income neighborhood, and there are no nearby lots that could accommodate such a large footprint.

Poor neighborhoods need appropriate shopping areas, but I think they deserve beauty as well. Rather than tear the store down, why not match some private dollars put up by Kmart to create some public-beautification planters with flowers and such?

If public beauty is important, it should be important for everyone. The same goes for sports.

Rather than invest $350 million in public subsidies for a new Vikings stadium, why not split the subsidies with sports programs and fields serving the city’s youth soccer teams, Boys and Girls Clubs or core city parks?

Money spent on the Nicollet Mall could be split with renovations on East Lake Street. The Latino community’s investments on East Lake and the Midtown Global Market have brought us about halfway to where it should be. Why not a little subsidy or private investment there?

The public subsidies that have been spent and will be spent on the Walker Art Center, the Guthrie Theater and the Minnesota Orchestra might be matched with programs like Art Buddies that serve inner-city kids.

The business subsidies set aside for the New Nicollet Hotel and Target Center could be paired or linked with job programs run by Project for Pride in Living (PPL), Summit Academy OIC, or those that run microgrant and microloan programs. (Like my organization, MicroGrants!)

I am not anti-art, anti-sports or anti-rich. I love art. I love sports. And I love riches. I just want more people to have them.

The beauty of America has been its large middle class and lack of a huge impoverished community. If we don’t have a balanced investment, our middle class will keep shrinking as the impoverished class grows. It will look like an hourglass economy. Is that the kind of Minneapolis we want?

Barbara gave her thesis. Now I’m giving an antithesis. I beseech our city’s civic and business leaders to give us a synthesis.


Joe Selvaggio is executive director of MicroGrants and the founder of PPL and the One Percent Club.