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The Planning Tax

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Northeast Minneapolis is not a rich part of town. It is, however, a haven for upwardly-mobile Progressive hipsters and University of Minnesota employees who do all they can to hide their six-figure incomes. Those demographics hate chain stores. Shopping local is part of their identity and a point of civic pride.

Any development proposal that might include an anchor tenant like Starbucks faces organic opposition. Similarly, any business required by zoning codes to receive a conditional use permit had better be some kind of cutesy shop and not a convenience store that would attract poor people. Never mind that lower-income households are in the numeric majority.

The combination of City codes and organized neighborhood vigilance on permit applications makes it more expensive to open and operate business that would benefit poor people. Such businesses, too, would provide low-skill flexible-schedule employment that is one of the first rungs on the ladder out of poverty. 7-11 isn’t local, but 7-11 jobs are.

Urban planning is in effect a hidden tax. A regressive tax, hitting hardest those with the least. Manhattan has more wealth, more income and more planning than Minneapolis. But they hate poor people just as much:

New York’s zoning practices have historically been heavy-handed, and have often put the thumb on the scale for small businesses. The so-called big-box stores were effectively banned from the city for decades by zoning rules to protect merchants from competition.

Nice, except that the “competition” from which they were being protected was often competition on pricing, with smaller stores charging more to sell their goods than a large retailer would. Good for them, bad for consumers.

Today, of course, there is no protection from lower prices, thanks to Internet shopping.

There’s a, yes, cute toy store on the Upper West Side that sells its carefully chosen wares at a huge markup. Many of its customers stop shopping there once they discover they can buy the same products for 30 to 40 percent less on Amazon.

That toy store is one of the businesses whose existence the new zoning is meant to shelter — cute and small and quirky, all darling qualities deemed to require careful husbandry if they’re not to be crushed by the behemoths of raw capitalism.

People on the Upper West Side can take their business to They’re not buying essentials, they’re indulgence in luxuries. In the 55418, the people who vote for the planners and oppose the chain stores can also take their trade to the internet.

The people who can’t afford to shop along a museum-like streetscape of curated cuteness get screwed. Amazon is not a good place to buy toilet paper. Walgreens is neither cute nor local, but it is what the market demands.

The hipsters aren’t listening.