I knew in fourth grade that I was going to be an architect. I was fascinated with cities and how they developed and were designed. Having spent almost 40 years of my life focused on the design, development, and operations of cities, I could see in 2015 that Edina was at the point in its life cycle where dramatic change was inevitable. I hoped my experience would be a benefit to the City Council at this time.
In retrospect, I realize how unprepared I was for what occurred over the past four years. A pandemic, the wettest year on record, a tragic officer-involved shooting, social unrest, curfews limiting the personal freedoms of our residents, a mandatory mask-wearing ordinance, and being sued by the tobacco industry. And that is just the start of the list.
I have tried to listen to all opinions, do my homework, take in the facts, and make the best decisions for our community. Thank you for understanding when I did not vote the way you wanted. For those of you who voted for me four years ago, I hope you still feel good about that vote.
Thank you to our city staff for your dedication and professionalism. Thank you to Mayor Jim Hovland, City Manager Scott Neal and my fellow councilmembers for making this an enjoyable and rewarding experience. I learned something from each of you and am proud of how we could disagree on issues yet maintain civil discourse and mutual respect.
I am excited about Carolyn Jackson and James Pierce coming onto the council. They are going to be excellent.
I do have a few parting thoughts for new, current, and future councilmembers.
Remember that a city is a living organism, much like a plant you have in your house or yard. A city is either growing or dying but it cannot be static.
Cities have been in existence for tens of thousands of years but the modern auto-oriented suburbs that we are familiar with have only been around about 80-90 years. I would consider them still to be in the experimental phase of development. If it feels like we do not have an immediate answer for some of our issues, it is because we don’t.
In Edina, we are in the middle of replacing our streets and infrastructure for the first time in our history, and it is evident that the economics of replacing our infrastructure is difficult.
I question if our current density is sustainable given the cost of our infrastructure. If any suburban community can make it work, I think Edina can. We have economic engines like 50th and France, Grandview, Cahill, Pentagon Park, and the Southdale District. We must be courageous in allowing those economic engines to grow if we want to maintain the character of our single-family neighborhoods while keeping our tax burden reasonable.
Suburbs were built with a “ME” orientation and we need to transition to a “WE” orientation.
By “ME” orientation, I mean our suburbs were built with single-use zoning to separate neighborhoods by income, class, and race. Excluding sidewalks was a great way to reinforce that separation. Another example is having our lakes and green space surrounded by private properties instead of parkways and publicly accessible land.
You can see from recent council meetings just how difficult some of these issues can be as we try to transition to a more open and connected community. Nobody wants the sidewalk in their front yard, nobody is excited about more people using the park across the street or having a trail running behind their house, and nobody wants the new development with taller buildings, affordable housing, and additional traffic.
As councilmembers, we need to remember that our charge is to build a healthy city, not only for today, but for tomorrow. We must make plans for a different future for new residents that we have not yet met, even as our current residents are asking us to slow down and keep things familiar.
When all else fails and you are not sure how to vote on a particular issue, vote in favor of the common good.
My wish for Edina is that we buck the national trend of divisiveness and vitriol and continue to be the kind of community where we can welcome everyone, celebrate what makes us unique, and show compassion for our neighbors.
It has been an honor to serve the Edina community.
Michael Fischer served 10 years on the Edina Planning Commission and just completed a four-year term on the Edina City Council.