Won’t you take me to … Dinkytown

UTECreplace

Well, I talk about it, talk about it.

Dinkytown, immortalized in the eponymous 1980 Lipps Inc. hit song, is the neighborhood just north of the University of Minnesota.

Why is it called Dinkytown? Obviously, because it is so small, its most famous residents are small, even the restaurants are small. Truer stories about the origin name of this place are described in the wikipedia article.

Dinkytown is buffered by the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood to the west (where I spent some time), railroad tracks (and the Como neighborhood) to the north, and the University to the south and east. It serves the University breakfast, lunch, dinner, and bar crowd, and provides some unusual shopping services. The residents of Dinkytown (and Marcy-Holmes, and Como) are dominated by University students and affiliates, so the shopping experience is a bit lower rent than say 50th and France, and it also seems to hold some gaping holes, like full service grocery store (the House of Hanson acts as a convenience store, and would have been standard size in the Heyday of A&P, but is now on the tiny side).

To that end, a developer is proposing to put a grocery store into a development replacing the 90-year old Marshall High School, now the University Technology Enterprise Center, an incubator for startups (where my wife once worked for MetaFarms, leading us to no longer eat factory farm meat if we can avoid it). My personal view is that is architecturally a disappointing replacement for what looks like on the outside a decent salvageable building. See the discussion at UrbanMSP.

Generally, though this is part of a trend of replacement of 1 and 2 story buildings in the area with six and seven story buildings, mostly for student housing. Since the University generally only has on-campus housing for fresh-persons, there are lots of others who need housing, and the existing neighborhood housing stock is not getting any younger or any more capital investments. Still, conversion of one-story taxpayers to 6 story stick-frame apartments is a trend that my structural engineering colleagues are none too happy about.

The Urban Gopher has an excellent post about Improving north-south connectivity around Campus. This would create some bypasses around Dinkytown’s biggest bottleneck, 15th Avenue SE. The street grid is Southeast Minneapolis is askew (it aligns with the river rather than the North Pole). While both streets and avenues are numbered, remember, Numbered Streets are NW-SE, Numbered Avenues are NE-SW. This is the kind of thing for which words and names were invented. The Twin Cities has many alphabet series roads. It would be great to put one here, I suggest using chemical elements, which I believe are underutilized for street names: Aluminum Avenue, Barium Avenue, Cadmium Avenue … (admittedly J is a problem, we can use Jodium (the old name for Iodine), and Q gives us QuickSilver (Hg) and W gives us Wolfram (Tc)). Or even better, put them in order of atomic weight, to help Introductory Chemistry students memorize the periodic table, though that might confuse travelers.

The Dinkytown Trench has long been proposed as a bike route, as a location for Granary Road, and as the location of the University’s alternative Northern Alignment for the Central Corridor. Kimley Horn prepared an August 2012 Cost/Benefit Analysis for the City of Minneapolis on Granary Road. This has been discussed since the dawn of man, and should have been done before Washington Avenue was closed. Maybe soon.

Now the City of Minneapolis has Streetcar proposals for 4th and University (Corridor E on this map). If you want to build a fixed rail transit line, why not take advantage of the grade separated right-of-way to reduce conflicts, increase speed, create a better, safer transit experience, and connect Stadium Village Station on the Green Line, with Dinkytown, St. Anthony Main, and Central or Hennepin Avenue to Downtown?

One of the main issues in Dinkytown is the current state of street directionality. 4th Street and University Avenue act as a one-way pair through the heart of Dinkytown (all the way to East Hennepin Ave). This of course improves motor vehicle traffic flow, and eases the evacuation of the University every evening and after sporting events. On the other hand, many contend one-way streets are detrimental to the pedestrian environment. As a pedestrian, I think a one-way street simplifies street crossings and increases the number of gaps between cars, so I can cross quicker. Of course local businesses might not want traffic to go faster. I personally think the reversion of one-way to two-way streets (as discussed here) is just faddishness, like the abandonment of pedestrian malls in a number of cities. This isn’t going to make or break your business district, its a rationale, not a reason.

Easy parking on the other hand, is a reason that business districts with insufficient customer base in walking distance make or break. Fortunately, Dinkytown has relatively easy on street and surface parking, as urban business districts go. This might begin to disappear as the one story shops are replaced with multi-story apartments, but on the other hand, the drive-to market would get replaced with a newly expanded walk-to customer base, so it is probably a net win for local business.

Just remember, “Dinkytown is the new Uptown.”


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6 Responses to Won’t you take me to … Dinkytown

  1. Alex December 3, 2012 at 4:19 am #

    "Now the City of Minneapolis has Streetcar proposals for 4th and University (Corridor E on this map). If you want to build a fixed rail transit line, why not take advantage of the grade separated right-of-way to reduce conflicts, increase speed, create a better, safer transit experience, and connect Stadium Village Station on the Green Line, with Dinkytown, St. Anthony Main, and Central or Hennepin Avenue to Downtown?"

    Because the development fairy is attracted by slow, expensive transit apparently.

    Not a myth, I believe, is that average vehicle speeds tend to be slower on two-ways than on one-ways, which allows pedestrians to better judge their speed and avoid getting hit by them.

  2. Janne December 3, 2012 at 1:52 pm #

    A comment also cross-posted at MinnPost.

    "Still, conversion of one-story taxpayers to 6 story stick-frame apartments is a trend that my structural engineering colleagues are none too happy about."

    Boy, that's an apples-to-oranges comparison that reveals some biases. I'm with you on the six-story stick-frame apartments.

    However, the implication is that one-story buildings [a.k.a. home-looking-things] pay taxes but the six-story ones do not. Not to mention willfully ignoring that

    Greater Property Value + Higher Tax Rate = Significant Increase in Tax Base

    The comparison is offensive to the renters paying higher property taxes through their rents.

  3. David Levinson
    David Levinson December 4, 2012 at 2:51 am #

    Taxpayers is a technical term for 1 story commercial that were often built to generate revenue on otherwise vacant property in advance of putting a bigger structure. Often intended to be temporary, they turned out to have a long life.

    My structures friends are concerned about fires, not renters.

  4. Reuben Collins
    Reuben Collins December 4, 2012 at 3:54 am #

    Is this actually stick frame construction? I always thought there was a floor limit on stick framing, and that it was somewhere around the 3 floor height. I thought anything 6 stories was required to be concrete/steel.

    I also don't love the proposed building, though I don't hate it either. I'm not much of an architecture snob. I do wish someone was talking about reconnecting 13th Ave and refurbishing the existing building. Dinkytown could certainly use some redevelopment, though I've always thought that the Technology Center was one of the few buildings actually worth saving. Still, I do like the idea of a grocery store in Dinkytown, although it just means that House of Hanson will be out of business in 6 months max. Ch ch ch changes.

  5. David Levinson
    David Levinson December 4, 2012 at 6:46 am #

    @Reuben

    The rules seem to be changing, see this: http://www.builderonline.com/construction-trends/… about use of treated wood construction.

  6. Xan December 13, 2012 at 3:21 pm #

    You can tell which ones are stick frames by the cladding. If the brick surface does not go up very high, it is stick frame. The brick is too heavy to be supported by the wood construction past a certain height. That's why all the buildings look the way they do. It may pass for style but its really just cheap. Notice the new University housing is brick all the way to the top and that it has a reinforced concrete frame. Which one do you want to be in when the tornados come?