An Open Letter to Ford Motor Company CEO Mark Fields:  Stop the folly of destroying St. Paul neighborhoods to create new ones



Dear Mr. Fields,

You don’t know me at all.  I have owned a couple of Ford vehicles throughout my life.  So, too, have many of friends and family.

However, this letter isn’t about the cars we’ve owned throughout the years.

It is, though, about the neighborhoods we’ve built, the houses we’ve owned, the homes in which we now raise our families and the community we love.

For more than 85 years the Ford Motor Company was a part of building these neighborhoods.  The company provided jobs to thousands of people.  Who, in turn, grew these neighborhoods and raised these families and built St. Paul.

The wages you paid, the taxes you contributed to the region and the pride our community felt in being home to one of the most successful automobile factories in the world was palpable.

Yet, the world changed.  Tastes change.

Your own industry changed, as well.

December 16, 2011 was a sad day in St. Paul.  It was the last day the last vehicle rolled off the assembly line.

An assembly line, and the buildings which supported it, are no longer there.  In their place stand piles of dirt, and an empty tract of land that can either bring a community together, or tear it apart.

Today, I write to you in the hopes of avoiding making that sad day one that is even sadder for the neighborhoods your company helped build through the decades.

As you know the Ford Motor Company still owns the St. Paul Ford Plant land.  Land which could very well be quite valuable to prospective developers.

It is also something of great value to local politicians and city planners who see that land as a way to create their own “Once in a lifetime” personal legacy.

Sadly, that short-sighted view of what works for them will destroy the neighborhoods surrounding the Ford Plant site to create a new one that fits their personal, political and professional agenda.

Massive increases in density.  A failure to envision the impact of that density on neighborhoods blocks and blocks away from the land.  Nonsensical analysis and conclusions on how people will live and move around in 135 acres of land.  Even more short-sighed assessments of how those movements will take place outside of those acres of land.

All of these multiply and add up to a deconstruction of the lives and investment of tens of thousands of residents in our community.

The people that live in these neighborhoods aren’t opposing change.  Or progress.

We know that new neighborhoods will come to this site.  New neighbors mean more people and more traffic and more infrastructure.

It means new investment and more money for our community and all of that is good for those who live here today and those who will live here tomorrow.

We’re not opposing development of this property that you own.

We are against the oft repeated canard that we had a legitimate voice in this process.

Public meetings in which the agenda was already created.  Discussions about vision that were already decided.  Master Plans in which one can safely say that the vast majority of the homeowners and taxpayers in the area impacted by them know nothing about.

This is what we are against.

We aren’t against a “Once in a lifetime opportunity” for St. Paul and the people of our City – those who live here and those who will live here in the future.

We are against those with the least to lose deciding what the future holds for those who have the most to lose.

As your industry changed so, too, has our City.

It is more diverse.

And, that diversity has made our City a better place to live, work and raise a family for more families.

Our diversity helps define our City and it will be what strengthens us and the social fabric that must bind us together for the future.

The transportation needs of our community are changing, as well.

As you know not everyone will find a car to be their primary means of transportation. In fact, there are those who may choose to never buy a car and instead opt for public transportation.

St. Paul is as complex as any major American city when it comes to its future needs for current and future residents.

We have challenges and opportunities just like any major American city.  Challenges and opportunities that demand we think better and smarter about how we plan to harness the promise of 135 acres of land smack dab in the middle of blocks and blocks and blocks of thriving neighborhoods.

We shouldn’t be looking at how we build a 21st Century City.

We should be looking at how we build a City for the next century.

That’ what your founder, Henry Ford did, so many years ago when he created your company.

It wasn’t the first car that rolled off his assembly line he was thinking about.

It was what the last car that rolled off that line would look like long after he was gone.

Mr. Fields, your company holds our neighborhoods fate in your hands.

Your decision about what and how you will engage with those who are driving the pace and direction of the development of the land you own are betting you will only sell to a developer that supports their vision.

You can be the difference between allowing them to advance the folly of destroying our St. Paul neighborhoods to create new ones or ensuring that those with the most to lose in this process have their voices heard.

The City of St. Paul government doesn’t need to continue the process they created without the input of the vast majority of the people of the blocks and blocks and blocks of neighborhoods around the Ford Plant site.

The Ward Three City Councilmember who represents many of those blocks could come forward, and actually have a voice that says, “Wait, let’s stop this and start over again.”

It is unlikely he will as he, himself, has been one of the worst offenders when it comes to the idea that destroying the existing neighborhoods he represents is a small price to pay to build a neighborhood he believes will capture his personal legacy.

Mr. Fields, don’t diminish the legacy of the Ford Motor Company and its role in building St. Paul by being a passive by-stander in this process.

You’re not simply a landowner in our community.

You are a stakeholder.

That land you own today made a difference in the lives of untold thousands of people for more than 85 years.

It will make a difference in the lives of untold thousands of people 85 years from now.

Listen to the voices of those who have not been heard and join us in calling for an end to a process that does not strengthen the legacy of your company.

But, diminishes all it has helped build in the past, and can help create for the future.

Thank you.

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