Minnesota’s Twin Cities Metropolitan Area (TCMA), which includes Minneapolis and Saint Paul, presents a confounding example of overall regional prosperity marred by racial disparities in income, educational attainment, and other key indicators. These disparities are among the highest the United States and manifest in areas of concentrated poverty and racial segregation (Metropolitan Council 2014c), imposing special challenges in regional planning to advance social equity.
This case study describes the Opportunity Clusters Framework (OCF), an equity planning initiative by the TCMA’s regional metropolitan planning organization (MPO), the Metropolitan Council, to address these disparities. The OCF informs regional transportation and housing plans, as well as community engagement practices. After describing the region and the magnitude of its existing disparities, we summarize the Council’s work to implement the OCF, focusing on spatially targeted improvements in transportation and accessibility to jobs, and we illustrate how an index of regional equity can be used to help assess the success of Council initiatives like the OCF. We conclude with a brief discussion of the implications of this case for equity planning more generally.
We frame our analysis of the impacts of the OCF largely in terms of (1) the degree to which its principles are reflected in changes to regional planning documents—including the Regional Growth Framework, Transportation Policy Plan, and Housing Policy Plan—and (2) the degree to which OCF principles fit with ongoing transportation improvements in the region (Metropolitan Council 2014a; Metropolitan Council 2014b; Metropolitan Council 2015). In our analysis, we focus primarily on the planning process due to the relative newness of the OCF and the consequent lack of post-adoption socioeconomic data to measure outcomes more directly.
The Twin Cities is the largest metropolitan area in the state of Minnesota, as well as a primary center of commerce and transportation for the Upper Midwest region in the United States. The Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) that TCMA comprises includes 16 counties in Minnesota and western Wisconsin, with a total population of 3,360,829—more than 60 percent of the population of Minnesota—and the sixth highest median income of U.S. metropolitan regions. The Metropolitan Council has jurisdiction over the region’s seven innermost counties, which together have a population of 2,978,822. Created by the state in 1967, the Council:
• sets guidelines for local land-use planning, including targets for affordable housing initiatives;
• leads regional transportation planning as the Federal Highway Administration’s recognized MPO;
• operates most local and regional transit services and the regional wastewater system; and
• helps fund regional park systems.
The Council also administers a unique regional tax-base-sharing program intended to mitigate fiscal disparities among local governments.