From 1989 to 1999, I worked for a newspaper in Lakeville, a fourth tier suburb of Minneapolis, MN that grew from a population of 24,000 when I started, to more than 43,000 by the time I left.
I was thinking about Lakeville as I watched "The New Metropolis," a documentary shown Thursday at the Farmington Civic Theater. The event, organized by the Multiracial Multicultural Community Council, included a panel discussion with local and state officials.
The Twin Cities metropolitan area was held up as a model of regionalism, and that resonated with me. I recall writing about the city's growing pains, major school boundary adjustments, massive voter-approved construction projects. And city officials worked closely with the Metropolitan Council, a regional planning agency that coordinates planning and development in the 7-county, Twin Cities metropolitan area.
What city government, school officials and regional planners couldn't do was help people come to terms with the increasing diversity that accompanied rapid growth. There were painfully public incidents, like the bleaching of racial ephithets into the lawn at the high school. Students of color talked about feeling left out, segregated, if not openly harassed.
The solution to those problems came one small step, one person at a time. That message was delivered by "The New Metropolis", in the story of how a New Jersey town voluntarily integrated itself as more people of color moved into the community. The effort began with one woman who saw the "For Sale" signs pop up in her white neighborhood and decided to do something about it.
City and state officials talked Thursday night about what government can and can't do when it comes to dealing with urban sprawl, the spread of communities farther from core cities. But when it comes to building integrated communities, I agree with Farmington Hills city manager Steve Brock, who said the best way to accomplish that is from the ground up.
"I've been an advocate for an organic approach," he said. "Neighbor to neighbor is how these issues get solved."
One way to meet your neighbors is through the Multicultural Multiracial Community Council, which holds a lunch meeting on the third Thursday of each month. For more information, call 248-871-2500.
Learn more about "The New Metropolis" at thenewmetropolis.com.