Commentary

Building the corridor with our values in mind

Over the past nine months, the Healthy Corridor for All coalition has conducted a community-led Health Impact Assessment on the Central Corridor Light Rail Line development in St. Paul. The coalition prioritized protecting small businesses, preserving and creating affordable housing, preventing gentrification, creating access to high-quality jobs, and pedestrian safety. The study then created indicators for each of these areas and looked at where the Corridor is now and what is likely to happen once the light rail comes. Members of the coalition have spent countless hours working to fully understand how the light rail will impact this region and what recommendations can make a difference.

Members of the coalition believe that everyone should be able to share in the opportunity of light rail.

Jonathan Zielske

As a pastor, I am often asked, “Why do you care about the building of the light rail?” What comes to mind is my favorite Bible verse, where Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) Jesus came so that we may all live abundantly. If we believe this to be true then we are called to act to promote an abundant life for all.

The light rail is a large public investment that will impact thousands living along the corridor and throughout the entire region. It is important that the decisions made regarding light rail promote an abundant life for all Saint Paul residents.

A public commitment

The coalition study has found some deep disparities in the Central Corridor project – particularly around housing. It demonstrates that home values and rents have risen, that the corridor has a higher percentage of lower-income residents than the city overall, that almost half of all residents are paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing, and that renters are particularly burdened in this area. In April, the city considered a vote on rezoning of the Central Corridor. The city has not currently chosen to use rezoning as a means to insert more affordable housing.

The Saint Paul ISAIAH Pastors Collaborative held a 24-hour prayer vigil outside St. Paul City Hall in mid-April to raise awareness for the affordable housing on the corridor. The Healthy Corridor for All coalition also testified at the hearing about the need for a housing action plan specifically directed at the corridor. Members of the coalition believe that everyone should be able to share in the opportunity of light rail and that in order for that to happen there must be some robust policies in place to protect the most vulnerable.

When society commits to large public investments, it must determine who benefits and who loses. The metropolitan region has an opportunity with light rail to lift people up out of poverty and despair. The key is that decisions are made with intention and consciousness to build a just and equitable state.

Jonathan Zielske is pastor or Hope Lutheran Church in Saint Paul, the lead pastor of the St. Paul ISAIAH Pastors Collaborative, and a member of the Healthy Corridor for All coalition.

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