People who live in the Twin Cities may know, or at least believe, that they live in a vibrant urban center with a wealth of advantages and opportunities. But what about people who live elsewhere? When they hear "Twin Cities," what's their first thought?
Maybe it's Dallas-Fort Worth. Or Champaign-Urbana.
Minneapolis-St. Paul has not done a good job of branding itself or telling its story, says author and journalist Jay Walljasper. He wrote a recent report for the McKnight Foundation, and a pair of articles for MinnPost, arguing that the Twin Cities suffers from an identity crisis that is hurting the region's future. At the moment, he wrote, the Twin Cities is a place with a vague name and a reputation for little more than cold weather:
"That's not fair, you might say. We're home to more Fortune 500 companies per capita than anywhere in the country. We trail only New York in artistic activity per capita. Our parks are rated among the best in the world, our flourishing restaurants and microbreweries win national awards. We're tops in recreational biking and civic engagement, according to experts. It's hard to think of another place that offers so many urban and arts amenities interspersed with the natural beauty of lakes, trails, woods and the Mississippi River."
He tells The Daily Circuit's Tom Weber that such a list of attributes is not much use if it's kept a secret.
"One of the alarming stats that I came across is that historically, the MSP area has benefited from basically an in-migration of people with creativity and ideas from other parts of the country," Walljasper said. "If you look at the statistical data now, actually we are sending more people to other parts of the country than are coming here. That's a historical shift for us. Our population is continuing to increase, through births and foreign immigration, but this has become a place that's either less attractive or just less known about."
That change could hold perilous consequences, he warned.
"People finish college, they finish graduate school, they finish high school with whatever set of ideas and aspirations they have, and they think about where they want to move," he said. "A lot of people stay at home, but a lot of people move. I moved here. I'm of that generation that watched 'Purple Rain' and remember the 'Mary Tyler Moore Show,' and go, 'Oh, Minneapolis. That's a cool place.' And I don't know today whether it would be on my list if I was a kid just coming out of high school or college."
It's important, he said, to get back on that list — to be a place young people are excited about.
"People with ideas, people with creativity, people who will start businesses, people who will start bands, people who will start food trucks — those are the people that you want to be coming into your city, and creating some new energy, and we've always depended on that in the past," he said. "And I think we need to pay attention to what we offer that generation."
For starters, he said, we should dispense with the term "Twin Cities." He said he'd discovered that 150 places around the world call themselves "the Twin Cities," and he quoted Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak as saying the name suggests the Twin Cities are half as good as the Quad Cities.
Walljasper prefers "MSP." He pointed out that other cities go by their initials.
"Certainly D.C., L.A., everybody knows you're talking about those places," he said. If MSP sounds like an airport code, he said, "our No. 1 arch-rival in almost everything appears to be Portland, Ore., and they often use PDX to describe themselves. That is their airport code, and that does sound like an airport code.
"We wouldn't be the first to do this. MSP just rolls off the tongue, and I think in five or 10 years it won't sound odd at all."
LEARN MORE ABOUT MINNEAPOLIS-ST. PAUL'S IDENTITY CRISIS:
• Why do Twin Cities people say home is 'Minnesota'?
All the evidence says we live in a city. ... Yet we live in steadfast denial of it. We tell ourselves, and others, that we live not in a city but in a state. Minnesota. This is odd. When we travel to Chicago for the weekend, we don't say we're off to Illinois. When we fly to Atlanta, we don't say we're going to Georgia. But when we're headed home we say we're going back to Minnesota, avoiding the precise name of our destination, almost as if it doesn't exist. We live in self-imposed anonymity. We hide in plain sight. Why? (Steve Berg, commentary, MPR News)