In the Twin Cities, Making Sure The New Light Rail Brings Opportunity For All

11.29.12 | In Minnesota, funders and business groups are working with the local community to help ensure that transit-orientated development in the Twin Cities’ Central Corridor benefits all of the area’s citizens.

The city began construction on the Central Corridor light rail project in 2010. The project will cover 11 miles between the downtowns of St. Paul and Minneapolis and is projected to open in 2014. It’s part of a larger transit-oriented development strategy in the region to help better connect citizens to jobs, housing and education.

Historically, these kinds of development projects have sometimes gotten mixed reviews, coming under fire from community advocates who say these mixed-use developments can hurt existing low-income communities in the long run.

In their chapter “Bringing Equity to Transit-Oriented Development,” BRR researchers Rolf Pendall and his colleagues examine how public policy, civic efforts, and private-sector interventions have shaped transit development in Denver, Charlotte, Miami and Boston. They find that gentrification and rising home prices were often unintended consequences.

In the Twin Cities a strategic effort, with a specific focus on jobs, is attempting to make sure the same thing does not happen here. A group of local and national funders have come together to help plan for development along the Central Corridor after the project is complete – arguing that with a strategic and thoughtful approach, it is possible to both strengthen the regional economy and help the diverse low-income communities living along the rail line itself.

The Central Corridor Funders Collaborative includes the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Ford Foundation, Living Cities, McKnight, Surdna and many others. The group is working to align workforce and economic development priorities to ensure growth. They expect to invest $20 million over 10 years.

“Our goal is to maximize access to good-paying jobs for corridor residents by aligning these systems to the greatest extent possible,” Jonathan Sage-Martinson, the Funders Collaborative director said in a Q&A at Living Cities.

The group’s “Business Resources Collaborative” is made up of local businesses, nonprofits, government and the local chamber of commerce working to ensure that businesses stay in the corridor while the development is being finished and adapt to changing market conditions afterwards. Similarly, their “Jobs Access Group” is a pilot project working to analyze expected job growth in the area and plan to make sure workers are trained to meet demand and access entry level jobs that have strong long-term prospects. The pilots’ goal is “to support local industry job growth—and increase access to existing and emerging jobs for Corridor residents who are immigrant, low-income and/or persons of color.”

In the Central Corridor industries like logistics, trucking, health care, and manufacturing have all been identified as future growth areas. Neighborhood-based training programs will help prepare workers specifically targeted at those industries.

Sage-Martinson said that differing goals, funding streams and incentive systems between the workforce and business development systems makes the work challenging, and it does take time to build a common understanding. His advice?

First, get economic development and workforce professionals in the same room. If possible, include the folks who provide funding for both systems. Two, let your work be directed by data. Understand where job growth is, what economic development plans are, and who makes up your workforce. Use that data to really drive your focus. Lastly, experiment. A pilot program is a great way to start.

The results, BRR Network research shows, can be worth it. With attention to equity this kind of development can bring real regional growth and leave metros better prepared for the future. For more on BRR research in this area read “Keys to Success for Regional Transit-Oriented Development.”

Photo/ Michael Hicks

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