MINNEAPOLIS — The Tulsa Regional Chamber’s Intercity Visit began here Tuesday night with a rousing welcome from Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey.
Frey, who took office in January 2018, is younger — yes, younger — than Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum and every bit as energetic and committed to shaking things up in the town he was elected to lead.
No initiative has created more attention or controversy than the city’s plan to scrap single-family zoning. The measure does not prohibit single-family lots but instead expands housing options in residentially zoned areas to include duplexes and triplexes.
“We want to show that in order to have affordability in every neighborhood, in order to accommodate a new and younger population, in order to push back on the intentional segregation that we’ve seen over the last 100 years, you also need to allow for diversity of housing options in every neighborhood,” Frey told about 100 Tulsans gathered in a glass-enclosed ballroom atop a downtown hotel.
Frey, 38, noted that city maps from the 1930s and 1940s designate an area in Minneapolis as a slum “for blacks and Jews.”
“We have to push back on some of those very intentional decisions and make sure the precision of our solutions match the precision of the harm that we intentionally inflicted,” Frey said.
Nick Doctor, the city of Tulsa’s chief of community development and policy, was among a small group of city officials who met with Minneapolis planners Wednesday to understand how they approached finding those solutions.
“(They) were very intentional about bringing that equity front and center and having that be a guiding principle. I loved that,” Doctor said. “... So making sure that we are viewing this through an equity lens, that we are developing policies that address these issues is absolutely the core goal.”
Tulsa has its own shortage of affordable housing, Doctor said, and the city is beginning to address it through incentives. The View apartments near ONEOK Field will include workforce housing as part of a tax-increment financing agreement with the city.
“As residential comes online downtown that is something we want to encourage in the (downtown) TIF,” he said.
Frey’s message of diversity, inclusiveness and equal access to opportunities set the stage for three days of panel discussions with Minnealoplis-St. Paul public officials, business leaders and activists.
Discussions focused on employment, workforce retention and regionalism, but nothing drew a stronger response than the question-and-answer sessions on “Inclusivity In Action” and “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.”
And no topic hit closer to home than the Rondo neighborhood just over the Minneapolis border in St. Paul.
The black neighborhood was divided when Interstate 94 was built in the late 1950s and 1960s, displacing hundreds of families, many of whom never returned to the neighborhood.
It was a stark reminder to the Tulsa contingent of the damage done to the Greenwood District when the north leg of Interstate 244 was built in the middle of the neighborhood as part of federal urban renewal efforts.
City Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper and County Commissioner Karen Keith were among about 20 Tulsans who visited the Rondo Plaza memorial and park. Hall-Harper said she was impressed by the memorial and the general commitment of Minneapolis-St. Paul officials to address its most vexing issues.
“I see it as a progressive city that is willing to do more than just apologize,” she said. “But to take it a step further and to do something to mitigate what was actually done by design by federal and local governments.”
The Intercity Visit ended Thursday morning, but not before participants were given a chance to give feedback on the trip.
Joyce McClellan, chief development and diversity officer for Tulsa Tech, was the first to speak, and the first of several people who complimented the Tulsa Regional Chamber for highlighting diversity, equity and inclusion in its schedule of events in Minneapolis.
“I’ve never been to a function where so much attention was placed on that,” she said. “I really appreciate you guys for planning that.”