How a St. Paul site fight exemplifies white supremacy in planning

This piece is co-authored by Frogtown Neighborhood Association

For years, the proposal for Lexington Station Apartments at the Wilder Foundation site has intensified discussion about housing development in St. Paul — and made painfully clear how the culture and norms of white supremacy in our public dialogue, city planning, community engagement and governance have silenced and belittled BIPOC voices. With unique intensity and transparency, unabashed white privilege has reared its head in creating and perpetuating false narratives about what’s happening on the site — demonstrating not only a patronizing and disrespectful attempt to shout over the voices of historically marginalized people, but also a callous attempt to twist and misrepresent the words and lived experiences of BIPOC residents.

We have seen and heard problematic, harmful, and racist narratives in the press, social media, and in conversation with our white neighbors, advocates, and planners. White, well-meaning liberals, progressives, and advocates can, and often do, perpetuate racism and do harm to BIPOC communities, especially when they ignore the real lived experiences and wisdom of communities of color in favor of highlighting their own technical knowledge or perspectives.

Those who are speaking against the Lexington Station Apartments are people who have experienced displacement, who have survived the destruction of their neighborhood in the past, who continue to endure a lack of investment in public assets in their neighborhoods, who earn well below 60% AMI – all circumstances that have been created intentionally because of their race. Many white planning professionals have yet to reckon with the reality that, since its inception, urban planning has been a powerful tool of white supremacy. For generations, it has been defined and wielded by white people to colonize, privatize and hoard resources. It is telling that the very same zoning codes and planning documents that are sacrosanct when they benefit white people become technicalities when people of color leverage them for the benefit and preservation of their neighborhoods.

For far too long, people of color have been kept out of the halls of power — but now BIPOC people are navigating those systems and organizing to dismantle systemic racism in the development process. With increased representation in the Planning Commission and City Council, communities are bringing expertise and lived experience, along with the BIPOC residents we are appointed or elected to serve. Those criticizing community opposition to this project must recognize their privilege as people not being directly impacted and learn to work in solidarity with BIPOC folks rather than presuming to understand these issues and impacts of housing development better than communities who have been most impacted.

Before telling BIPOC residents how they should feel about a proposed development, we invite you to consider:

  • Have you ever experienced displacement from a development in your neighborhood?
  • Have you ever experienced disinvestment in your neighborhood or destruction of your neighborhood due to government discrimination against a racial group to which you belong?
  • Is 60% AMI affordable to you? That is, does your household earn more than $60,000 annually?

To those who have taken to Twitter or social media to attack and demean community members, elected and appointed officials who voted in a legal and principled way, the problem was never that BIPOC residents and leaders “don’t understand how things work” — it’s that you were attached to a status quo that is rooted in white supremacy.