Redistricting - Final Map Adopted
The Charter Commission has adopted a new ward map. I appreciate all the time and effort put into this and the involvement of the community. The new map also creates some problems. Let me review and explain.
Before beginning to draw any maps, the Redistricting Group of the Charter Commission adopted a set of key principles for its work. These principles included a) creating compact and contiguous wards, b) changing the existing ward boundaries as little as necessary, and c) keeping communities of interest whole to the extent possible.
As far as I can tell, the Redistricting Group then essentially disregarded these principles.
For an example of a non-compact ward, see the new Ward 6 (scroll down), especially in contrast with the old Ward 6. Indeed, Ward 6 seemed to become less compact with every iteration of the Redistricting Group's work - the February 15th map featured a Ward 6 that was roughly as compact as the existing.
The changes between the February 15th map and the final map also highlight the extent to which the Redistricting Group threw another of its "key principles" out the window: that the boundaries should be shifted as little as necessary. Compare the existing ward map to the new ward map to see what I mean.
I believe that the Charter Commission would claim that it took the "community of interest" claim seriously. After all, most of these changes to the ward boundaries were ostensibly to put racial and ethnic communities of interest together in wards. However, the choice to focus on that goal to the exclusion of all others did major damage to the "communities of interest" that are geographical neighborhoods. Where the 2005 redistricting process took neighborhoods seriously and strove to keep them whole in particular wards to the extent possible, the Charter Commission seems to have disregarded neighborhoods entirely.
For proof of this, let's look again at Ward 6. The old Ward 6 represented four whole, undivided neighborhoods. The new Ward 6 will represent six neighborhood, but all of only two. The Elliot Park, West Bank, Stevens Square and Seward neighborhoods have been divided, and had their poorer sections agglomerated into Ward 6. Where the old ward lines used the same logical divisions (freeways, highways, major roads, railroad lines, etc.) that define the border of geographical neighborhoods, the new ward extends across those natural barriers to use small, low-volume neighborhood streets (like 30th Ave S) as ward boundaries.
Revealingly, this division of Seward occurred despite the strong, repeated, and well-documented objections of actual Seward residents and the Seward Neighborhood Group. They were ignored, in favor of a special interest group based outside of Seward. So not only did neighborhoods not matter in the final map, they didn't matter in the process either.
And not all the ways in which this map ignores neighborhoods can be defended in terms of creating minority opportunity wards. Note the small sliver of Ward 9 that jumps over Highway 55 to use the smaller Minnehaha Avenue as the eastern boundary. That tiny strip of land is the only part of the Longfellow neighborhood in Ward 9. Few people live in it. There are development pressures there that mostly impact people on the east (or Longfellow) side of 55. Why on earth was this piece of Longfellow cut off from the rest of the neighborhood?
On the test of keeping communities of interest together, this map also fails.
There are other problems with this map. As a result of trying to pack minority residents into two south side wards, it dramatically reduces the number of wards in which they will have any meaningful influence. Now that Ward 6 is the "East African Ward," other surrounding policymakers will have less direct, electoral reason to pay attention to the needs and wishes of that community. Another unintended consequence of this map is that poverty has now been concentrated in two southside wards.
It is hard to know what might happen in the future because of the new boundaries. I am hopeful that the decisions and wisdom of the Charter Commission will not have long lasting negative effects on the city and that next time we can all remember these decisions and learn from them.