A Bit of St. Paul History
FROM MFA DIGEST, JANUARY 1989 ,
A PORTION OF THE DIRECTOR’S REPORT
1980 is a good place to begin the story. That was the year that St. Paul’s historic farmers’ market went on the development block. This piece of ground—3.5 acres located on the edge of downtown—was owned for nearly 80 years by the City. City planners, in their wisdom, decided that the land was suited for a “higher purpose” as a hotel site. Without getting on my high horse about how silly that notion sounds, the issue quickly became one of whether or not the farmers and the customers of the market could muster the power required to either (1) prevent the City from selling the property for hotel development, or (2) obtain a bona fide commitment from the City to re-locate in another downtown location. It was a classic confrontation between a few interests with economic power pitted against the man farmers and customers of the market whose only recourse was to organize to gain the political power necessary to gain their objectives.
Struggles where the use of political power is the only available option to people are risky. They can result in permanent divisions in the community. Emotional issues like the Market can get people so “high” on the issue that they forget their original goals. And, finally, for citizens’ groups, political power built around a single issue isn’t sustainable. When the battle is over, most participants go back to their private lives, either to gloat about their success (which may turn out to be short-lived) or to lick their wounds and swear never to get involved again. Political power without the initiating and sustaining influence of economic power is not enough.