Twenty years ago, City Pages asked a broad selection of notable local people one question: “If you could change one thing about the Twin Cities in order to make life better here, what would it be?”
We published the results in our first issue of the year 2000, at a time when people were looking forward to the start of a new millennium, and the responses ranged from fun and flippant to rigorous and wonky. (You can read that original feature here. You can find out whether some of those wishes came true here.)
But 2000 was a long time ago. It was before 9/11, the “war on terror,” the Great Recession, the first African-American president, and the vicious resurgence of white nationalism. And locally, the Twin Cities had yet to construct a failed mall at Block E and numerous (yet-unfailed) sports stadiums, or witness the rise of a vibrant restaurant culture. Prince was very much alive. The future those people were asked to imagine? We’re living in it.
That got us wondering how people would answer the same question today. And so we asked. Artists and politicians, historians and poets, comedians and restaurateurs—we wanted to hear from them all.
And then... well, the future took an unexpected turn. As you read these answers, remember that we received them before we found ourselves in a national health crisis whose effects could reshape how we live at a fundamental level. Nobody can predict how the Twin Cities—or Minnesota, or the U.S., or the world—will change as a result.
Then again, who can ever predict how things will change? Whatever happens in the upcoming months, however disruptive, there will be a future. And if we have to rebuild, here are some ideas for the planners of tomorrow to kick around. —Keith Harris
event promoter, Flip Phone
I know people from St. Paul won’t like this, but the big thing I would love to see would be Minneapolis and St. Paul becoming one large city together to create a dynamic cultural landscape. This would make it easier for everyone to get to the cities’ shared resources, to get out of that mentality of “I’m going from one city to another.” If I could just snap my fingers, there would be just one major downtown—they’re so far from each other now that people who live in one never go to the other.
President and CEO, First Avenue Productions
Minneapolis-St. Paul needs to continue working on improving the quality of life for every single resident. We top a ton of stunning lists, and we should, but we can’t ignore the lists on which we place last. The Twin Cities needs to work for all residents. We need to improve access to steady and meaningful employment, to transportation and to affordable housing, while we focus on improving equitable access to things that bring us joy, like our parks, lakes, and our brilliant entertainment scene.
That and a Twins World Series victory would be nice.
Vice President, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Minnesota Chapter
As a quadriplegic and a wheelchair user, if I had the power to prioritize anything, it would be snow removal at all curb cuts and draining any water or slush in front of them. Piles of snow and slush obviously block the path of travel of those with mobility issues, but what is often not considered is proper drainage. When I encounter any standing water or slush, my ability to see the surface is gone. I can’t see any hidden trip hazard, and if I trip or get seriously stuck on an extremely cold day, there’s the potential for frostbite or worse. Having a spinal cord injury/disorder or any neuromuscular condition that results in limited or missing muscle control means cold and muscle groups begin to stiffen after five to ten minutes. The danger then becomes the inability to push or control a wheelchair or to transfer in or out of a vehicle, transfer in or out of a wheelchair, or to open doors and push buttons. Tragic results can escalate quickly if someone is stuck out of doors and can’t use their hands or arms.
Minnesota state representative, District 62A
I would love to see the opioid epidemic combatted. I hope members of our community are not dying of overdose or committing suicide because we don’t have comprehensive mental healthcare. Opioids are an acute problem in my district—if you walk around in the Franklin Avenue and Bloomington Avenue area, you can see syringes everywhere. We need to fund the problem appropriately—last session we did get $40 million from big pharma, but I think we already know what the problem is. Many of the communities struggling with opioids have huge historical trauma, of poverty, racism, discrimination. Being homeless is hard, poverty is hard, and it’s expensive to be poor, so people are finding ways to deal with their pain.
Twenty years ago [when I responded to this same question], I was an angry tree-hugger, despondent about the potential bulldozing of the Camp Coldwater Spring, and yes, selfishly, my long-time spot for walking with friends and dogs along the river and in the woods. Now I’m what I’d like to call a tree-hugger with stats, having built LEED-certified projects and engaged in sustainable business practices for 20 years. Yes, I’m still angry about some of our MnDot decisions, like the one where a train could have been put in an existing trench where density and people already are for $50 million, as opposed to through 45 acres of woods and under a lake for $2 billion. My hopes for our city are many, but responsible use of our lands as a way to ensure our North’s clean air and water is high up on my list for my kid’s future.
I want to live in a foragable city. I want to see fruits and vegetables growing abundantly. Replace empty lots, bare exterior walls, and abandoned structures with edible flowers, plants, fruits, and vegetables. Make every block look like a salad. Pea pods climbing the IDS tower. Beautiful and delicious. Clean our rivers and lakes and let herbs and watercress take over. End plastic bottles and grow crunchy water—cucumbers, chestnuts, bean sprouts, and jicama. Give everyone olive oil and salt for on-the-go/anytime-anyplace simple dressing.
Also, chandeliers hanging on all the trees because we all deserve a bit of fancy in our lives.
co-executive director, East Side Freedom Library
I’d like to change the teaching of American history in the public schools—its content and its pedagogy. The content should include attention to the expropriation of indigenous people, the enslavement of Africans, the exploitation of immigrants, conflicts around race, class, and gender, and how these experiences and issues are inter-related. The pedagogy should include techniques that empower students as the tellers of stories, as being responsible for defining critical issues and shaping narratives. At the East Side Freedom Library we have seen the value of such changes in the hundreds of middle and high school students who have engaged with us through the National History Day program. These changes can impact how young people understand themselves and their place in American history.
Maria Regan Gonzalez
Mayor of Richfield
I’d eliminate the sweeping racial inequities we face in outcomes and opportunities, making us one of the worst places in the country to live for people of color. We need a Twin Cities region where homes, affordable quality child care, health, leadership positions, educational attainment, well-paying jobs, and access to opportunities are afforded to everyone, not just some. Could you imagine a Twin Cities region that would instead be recognized for its ability to truly welcome and leverage diversity as an asset? We have the tools to make this a reality, like the ability to substantially invest in community-based solutions and getting serious about resourcing, hiring, electing, investing in, and retaining leaders of color to be successful across all industries and sectors.
Minneapolis City Council Member, Ward 5
I would lower rents—both housing and commercial rent, especially the storefronts that small businesses operate out of, whether this means rent stabilization or rent control. The mayor and I have been working on a few things, and we’re looking to everything we’re able to do—and learning what we can and can’t do. As the city becomes less and less affordable for working-class folks, the task seems daunting. But we’re gonna put our money where our mouth is.
Fancy Ray McCloney
The Best Lookin’ Man In Comedy
Three ways to change the Twin Cities for the better: 1. Lower parking rates in downtown areas. Businesses are hurting in both downtowns. 2. No more winter weather after January 15. Snowbirds would stay here year round. 3. More Prince and Fancy Ray murals around the Cities. Prince makes Minneapolitans proud and Fancy Ray makes those same folks feel good.
I hope to see Minneapolis/St. Paul be the epicenter of innovation in food, the arts, technology, medical advancements, and climate change. This may seem like a grandiose vision, but if you don’t see it, you can’t be it. There’s no reason why the Twin Cities can’t be looked to like New York or L.A. as an incubator for innovation and trendsetting. We just have to claim it, commit to it, support it, and do it. I believe this can be done by working collaboratively with leaders across disciplines to see where our individual/organizational goals intersect to support the greater vision of excellence. It starts from the top with inspired leaders working toward a long game, taking meaningful risks, thinking big, embracing change, and telling fear to fuck off.
St. Paul City Council member, Ward 4
I want to see our city have a mix of more new and integrated neighborhoods, with some of these really thriving, long-time communities of color able to stay in the city, and build wealth, and have political empowerment. I want the character of the city to feel palpably different. Our community has, to many, felt like an old town, that the loudest voices are wealthier white homeowners, whose priorities are reflected. We’re actually 51 percent renters, a majority are people of color and indigenous, and the median age is 31. I want us to be more weird, and be more new-feeling.
April 2020: Donald Trump and Mike Pence die, and many people break quarantine to celebrate. Some of them die.
April 2021: The pandemic funeral episode of Grey’s Anatomy is the most watched event in TV history.
September 2021: A vaccination is available, but only for the elderly. People fake passports and dye their hair gray. Vaccine doses are transported on buses full of sneezing children so they don’t get robbed.
2023: One lab working on a cheaper vaccine accidentally creates winged cats who can fly up to 100 miles. The cats congregate in the trees like crows and hunt people.
2031: The newly installed cat-person dictator is laser focused on cat-related policy, but still grants universal healthcare, subsidized housing for all, prison reform, and immigration reform. Everyone is forced to have one cat. Unless they’re allergic.
co-founder, Public Functionary
Instead of the city holding vacant spaces for wealthy developers to turn into luxury housing, underutilized space would be gifted to community organizers and arts leaders who live in that neighborhood. Systems could be set up so that organizers would have at least a year, rent-free, to design their space and operations with and for their communities. Each space would come with a two-year start-up operating grant, so they are resourced from day one. Perhaps then we would have inclusive, accessible multi-disciplinary community and art spaces that pass from generation to generation in every. single. neighborhood.
Free Black Dirt
If Free Black Dirt ruled the world (imagine that?)—or the microcosm of it within Minneapolis—we would center healing and reparations as a vision for transformation in our city for indigenous, black, POC, and refugee communities, who’ve been historically foreclosed from wealth and are currently being gentrified from the center of our city. Some specific programs we would put into establishment are:
A reparations-funded network of beautiful healing spaces and spas, with an array of healing modalities from acupuncture, bodywork, herbalism, and other ancestral therapies. Historically oppressed and marginalized communities would get access. So many crystals and images of powerful BIPOC ancestors.
A queer, black imagitorium and library with extended fellowships for reading and retreat. There will be copious pillows, tea, and treats.
Implementing a radical healing of the K-12 Minnesota curriculum that centers the history, futures, and resilience of indigenous, black, POC, immigrant, and LGBTQIA+ communities in our state, as well as an analysis of the destructiveness and persistence of white supremacy in our world.
Amazing and abundantly funded art programs in ALL neighborhoods for people of all ages to learn visual art, dance, theater, meditation, plus roller skate and dream!
Create a free and mandatory therapeutic program for all white-bodied folks and people of European descent to do some deep dive healing around whiteness and white supremacy. Something like a Hazelden for whiteness.
Legalizing cannabis with a reparations focus for the black, brown, and low-income people who suffered most under the war on drugs to have prioritized access to the industry.
Clean, beautiful, spacious, and eco-friendly housing for all, with edible gardens and community space for peace and pleasure.
An anti-gentrification plan and task force.
UNIVERSAL BASIC INCOME.
Read the original 2000 story "When You Wish Upon a City" here.
Read our follow up about how many of those wishes came true here.