Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak used his 12th and final State of the City speech Wednesday afternoon to deliver a message -- from the future.
Rybak isn't running for re-election this November, but his speech began in an alternate universe, where it's the year 2025 and he's still mayor.
He described a city crisscrossed by light rail and streetcar tracks. A new "Target Tower" graces the downtown skyline, and green space replaces pavement, from the north side to Nicollet Mall to the area around the new Vikings football stadium. Rybak took the liberty of naming that new park "Armory Yard."
"This is where you go to find that amazing skate park with the half pipe shaped like the Viking ship, where you see ropes courses that are challenging scout troops and birthday parties," said Rybak. "You see soccer and lacrosse fields, dog park, the croquet pitch, the concerts, the outdoor movies, the ice skating in summer, the snowboarding on those mounds that grow each time we plow the streets."
Rybak predicts that in 12 years, the city's population will grow by 65,000 people -- to more than 450,000.
The city could get to that number if it keeps growing as fast as it did in 2011, although during the decade before that, the city's population was virtually flat.
Rybak said he thinks lots of people will move to Minneapolis, because global warming will drive Americans inland from the coasts.
Rybak says bigger population means lower property taxes, but he promises it won't increase the number of cars clogging the city's highways.
"That may sound like a fantasy, but it's not. What it really is, it sounds very much like the Minneapolis of the 1950s," Rybak said. "Back in 1950, we had 130,000 more people living within this 60 miles that we call Minneapolis. There were fewer cars on the road, because they lived in very dense, urban neighborhoods along streetcar lines."
Transportation planners in Minneapolis are still exploring whether streetcars or enhanced buses make more sense along Nicollet and other major arterial streets. That study is a prerequisite for pursuing federal funding. But Rybak has already made up his mind, and he urged the City Council to come up with a funding plan for streetcars this year.
In contrast to the opportunities posed by transit, Rybak emphasized the challenges facing the city's minority communities. Rybak noted that Minneapolis has the worst disparities in the nation between whites and non-whites when it comes to education and employment. And he said the city has to address that problem now.
"When the bridge collapsed, we didn't spend a few years talking about the problem. We didn't have a bunch of meetings to consider what we may do later. We acted. And that's exactly what we have to do with the collapse of our kids future," he said.
Rybak doesn't have much time left to achieve that -- or any other part of his lofty vision. He's stepping down once his third term ends at the end of this year.
At least four of the candidates vying to replace him say they share his vision for the Minneapolis of the future. Former Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Andrew was in the audience, as were Council Members Don Samuels, Betsy Hodges and Gary Schiff.
Even Schiff, who's clashed repeatedly with Rybak over the years, gave the mayor's speech a glowing review.
"It will be remembered as one of the most creative state of the city addresses, that's for sure," said Schiff.
Of course, Schiff and the other candidates each think they're the one best equipped to carry the city of Minneapolis into the future.
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