Sectors of the Twin Cities Metro Area

Warning: This post, which is about generalizations, contains many generalizations.

As many people of many different ideological bents will eagerly inform you, we have a big, sprawly metropolitan here in the “Twin Cities.” Our 3.5 million or so residents are spread around a little over 8,000 square miles, compared to, for example, the 13 million Los Angeles area residents who fit into an area a bit more than half that size. Some of that is due to wacky county-based standardized measurements of American metropolitan areas, but basically Minneapolis-St. Paul, with its few major geographical barriers and many lakes and lakefront properties, is pretty spread out.

We started with those two cities to begin with, each with different personalities. St. Paul, the state capital, is a little older, a little more Catholic, a little more conservative, while Minneapolis is a bit newer, a bit more Scandinavian, a bit flashier. I’ve heard the pairing described as America’s western-most eastern city and eastern-most western city. Some of the old tribal dichotomies have faded with time (was St. Paul ever really that Irish?) while new ones have popped up, but history is fun and important.

The metro area suburbs are a little different from each other, too. Most casual observers of local politics can tell you that the north metro is more conservative than the west metro, though you may not know that Minnetonkans voted against the 2012 marriage amendment at rates greater than much of the city of St. Paul.

Advertising markets, which capture demographic groups about as well as anything the government can draw up, are also informative. Comcast, probably the eventual Yutani to the Google Weyland of our dystopian techno-nightmare of a future, breaks up the Twin Cities like so:

Comcast media markets

That’s interesting! It’s a little hard to tell exactly what’s going on in the middle of that map, but the whizzes at Comcast grouped Hopkins with Southwest Minneapolis, Lake Nokomis with Fridley, and Columbia Heights with Andover. Also, “Lakes” are singled out as a whole market, which makes sense for advertisers.

Recently I had a bit of a flashback to a lecture from what is now some number of years ago; that lecture was itself adapted from research and a book, “Minneapolis-St. Paul: People, Place and Public Life,” which was published in 1993. Written by two Geography professors at the University of Minnesota, John Adams and Barbara VanDrasek, the book contains all sorts of great 1993 goodies, some of which have aged better than others.

The flashback in question was to the idea of “Sectoral Housing Markets” in the Twin Cities–their idea was that, initially, the various ethnic and economic and religious groups in the Twin Cities tended to settle in groups, and the next generation of each group tended to edge outward from the downtowns in a sort of wedge rather than mix in with the different groups. And that goes back a ways, not just during post-World War II suburbanization, so it includes the movement of Scandinavians from Cedar-Riverside down south along Hiawatha Avenue and working class Eastern Europeans up north along Central Avenue, for example.

They used vacancy chains to chart the addresses of families over generations, and threw together fourteen housing submarkets in the Twin Cities, as you can see below.

Metro Sector Map

  • Submarket A: Cedar-Riverside, Hiawatha, Lake Nokomis, Minnehaha Park
  • Submarket B: South Minneapolis, Richfield, East Bloomington
  • Submarket C: Southwest Minneapolis, Edina, Minnetonka
  • Submarket D: Near North Minneapolis, Golden Valley, Crystal, New Hope, Plymouth, Maple Grove
  • Submarket E: North Minneapolis, Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park
  • Submarket F: Northeast Minneapolis, Columbia Heights, Fridley, Coon Rapids
  • Submarket G: Southeast Minneapolis, New Brighton, Mounds View, Blaine
  • Submarket H: Como Park, St. Anthony Park, Roseville, Shoreview
  • Submarket I: North End
  • Submarket J: Lake Phalen, Maplewood, White Bear Lake
  • Submarket K: East Side, Battle Creek Park, Hudson Road, Cottage Grove
  • Submarket L: West Side, West St. Paul, South St. Paul, Inver Grove Heights
  • Submarket M: Summit Avenue, Macalester Park, Highland Park, Mendota Heights
  • Submarket N: West Seventh Street

(Each submarket has helpful notes and descriptions in the actual book; some of the explanations are helpful for stunted submarkets.)

Fourteen is perhaps too many! I wish I knew more about the east metro–they get their own seven submarkets with only a third of the population.

But in general, does this idea still hold up, 22 years later? Not too many Swedes are actively avoiding the loud polka music of Northeast Minneapolis in 2015. Though we do have a more recent example of migration out of Minneapolis, as black Minneapolitans have moved into Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park, loosely sticking to Submarket E identified in Adams and VanDrasek’s research. Some of the changing demographics in those two cities are due to recent immigration from West Africa (several thousand Liberians in Brooklyn Park, for example) and elsewhere, of course.

Northwest Metro Black Population 1990-2013Anecdotally, I know people who have followed some of these patterns–many coworkers and their families appear to be somewhere on the spectrum of Submarkets F and G. A friend who grew up near Lake Phalen just bought a house in Maplewood. Another (though in this case a transplant) bought a house in Columbia Heights after living in Northeast Minneapolis for years. There is, perhaps, a vague sense among many Uptown-area twenty somethings that St. Louis Park (a.k.a. God’s Country) may be in their future if kids and housing prices and their personal finances work out in certain ways.

How else do we think about the different chunks of the metro area? Wealth? Biomes? Shades of vinyl siding? Grocery store preference? Religiosity? Preferred bad TV shows? This is interesting!


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4 Responses to Sectors of the Twin Cities Metro Area

  1. Matt Steele
    Matt Steele September 18, 2015 at 9:17 am #

    I’m guessing that much of the Comcast map comes from how cable franchise territories aggregated over time. It may be more technical than functional.

    • Joe September 18, 2015 at 10:02 am #

      Any map of the Twin Cities that goes all the way north to Pine City but doesn’t include Apple Valley sure seems strange.

      • Nick September 18, 2015 at 10:34 am #

        Maybe someone other than Comcast has the cable franchise down there?

        • Tim September 18, 2015 at 1:17 pm #

          Yes, it’s Charter Communications rather than Comcast.