Like most cities, Minneapolis is expanding its light rail transit lines, with a new one called the Central Corridor set to connect downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul in 2014. The line has already touched off real estate speculation, which might drive out inexpensive housing and businesses. Enter an interesting coalition of local and national foundations, hoping to maximize benefits and mitigate harms. Seems like a good idea to import to the land of Sound Transit.
According to a story in MinnPost, ten foundations have set up the funders collaborative and set a $20 million goal over ten years. Among the approaches being studied: help existing small businesses buy property, to ease their vulnerability to rent hikes; generate partnerships to help build affordable housing; explore transit-oriented development all along the corridor; make the corridor safe for all users, particularly bicyclists and pedestrians; expand the corridor's diversity. It helps that the Twin Cities are rich in progressive national foundations, willing to work together over an extended period of time.
Another admirable aspect of the initiative is their commitment to start by doing a lot of research on best practices for ways cities are using transit projects to serve multiple urban goals, not just transportation. One good resource used by the funders' coalition is The Center for Transit Oriented Development. The Seattle area talks a good game about transit goals, but the regional warfare among politicians makes the issue look more like a battlefield than an arena for collaboration. Seattle, too, is rich in progressive foundations, and the Gates Foundation already has a significant investment in The Cascadia Project, focusing on regional transportation. Maybe some of these foundations should take the lead in learning about the issues, putting up seed money to help, and pulling together the forces of good will. That could help transform the dynamics of a region that, so far, have been more interesting in feuding over transit than using it as a unifying spine.