In Defense of “Unlustrous” Bloomington

Recently the StarTribune ran an article about how “Bloomington Has Lost its Luster“. The article makes the following points:  The housing stock is aging, the schools aren’t that great, and young people prefer the city. As a longtime resident of Bloomington, I feel it’s my duty to respond.  Some of my points I’ve made before in other articles, but it’s time to summarize and consolidate them in defense of the city.

First of All, Remember the Source

The original source for this story was the real estate agents, and they have an agenda to push, consciously or not. Since they get paid as a percentage of the sales price, it’s in their financial interest to push people into as much house as they can possibly afford (and sometimes more than that). So having existing affordable houses available as an alternative to $350,000 exurban McMansions is not in their best interest and it’s not surprising that they’re trying to push Bloomington to do whatever it takes to gentrify and inflate property values while trying to scare buyers away from the area towards more expensive houses in the city and exurbs until that takes place.

In my opinion, the three biggest problems in the region are traffic congestion, crime, and the lack of affordable detached houses, since we’re not building new affordable houses like we did in the past. Having detached houses available at the ~$150,000 price point is a feature, not a bug. And my observation is those in my neighborhood are sold within a week or two of being on the market. This tells me there’s no lack of demand.  It’s not like there’s any shortage of newly built $350,000 houses that are “move in ready” for those that want and can afford one, but we still need something for those with more modest budgets.

 

Typical Shakopee house

Typical Shakopee McMansion. The excessive gables and stone veneer in my opinion cross from architectural tribute into parody, but the point is not many people can afford it at >$350,000…

IMG_8971

…Or if you can “rough it” and share a bathroom with your kids (we managed when I was growing up and whoever lived in this house for the past 50 years did), you can have this one for $134,800 plus a few bucks to replace the flooring.

The perception of “Ticky-Tack” construction of 1950s-1970s vintage suburban houses is just that, a perception (and the article does note that houses of this era are solidly built). The bones of 1950s house are as good as they need to be, and if you don’t like the Formica counter-tops you can upgrade later on as budgets allow. Bloomington (and many other first-ring suburbs) offers low-interest loans for home improvements ($15 million to 1100 homeowners over the past 33 years). Also, mid-century modern is becoming fashionable again now that we’ve ripped out and torn down most of it.

But for another take on things, why not ask actual residents what they think about the quality of life and city services? The city does an annual survey, and the while the results of the 2015 haven’t been published, in an article in the community newspaper the mayor summarizes it as “they liked and they appreciated the quality of life in the community”. The same article notes that property taxes are low relative to other large cities in the state, unemployment is low, fixing the I-35w and I-494 interchange is a top priority, more and more hotels are opening to help the city tax base,  and, supporting my observation,  that houses are “selling and selling fast”.

The Lack of Bicycle Infrastructure is Getting Fixed

When I was growing up the only bicycle infrastructure in the entire city was the trails at Hyland Park. All the collector streets were 4-lanes, and we’d get yelled at by our parents if we tried to ride our bicycles on them (not that we were about to anyway.) So we’d stay on the bumpy sidewalks, which our skinny tire 10-speeds were not well suited for. Today many of these of these streets have been restriped as 3-lanes with shoulders. Of course, some people like myself will not use unprotected bicycle lanes – I want more than paint between myself and cars. But there are a lot of people that will, and this is a great accommodation. Here’s 102nd Street near my house- when I used it to walk (or in nice weather ride my bicycle) to school, it was a “4-lane death road”. Here it is today:

IMG_8962

E. 102nd St. at two lanes.

Here’s a map I made a while ago showing the status of collector-street road diets in Bloomington.

Green: 4-Lanes to 2/3 Lane, Red: Kept 4 Lanes. Black: Arterial, Grey: Not yet resurfaced, Orange: Under study

Status of Bloomington’s “4-Lane Death Roads” at the time of my article. Green: 4-Lanes to 2/3 Lane, Red: Kept 4 Lanes. Black: Arterial; not eligible, Grey: Not yet resurfaced, Orange: Under Construction (as of Nov 2014)

The old “cars only” mantra of transportation departments are now mostly gone, and new leadership is much more open to making improvements for other modes.  Slowly we’re seeing some of the results. Here’s the brand-new off-road trail between Lake Nokomis and the Minnesota River.

Nokomis to Minnesota River Regional Trail

Nokomis – Minnesota River Regional Trail

There are alternatives to stereotypical suburbia for those that want them.

There are still plenty of people like myself that want to live in a single family house and like to drive everywhere. Bloomington, with its wide streets and excellent freeway access, is a great place for that. But I acknowledge not everyone does.  Bloomington is looking to accommodate those too with new multi-family housing and developments like Penn-American, by a future Orange Line station.

Penn American

Penn American

“Why build luxury multi-family housing in the suburbs?”, some may wonder.  Some people like the freedom of getting around by car, but don’t want the maintenance, expense, and immobility of a house. Or they have family and/or a job in the area. Or are afraid of crime in the city. When my sister and father were living in apartments, they didn’t care about not having a private yard, not having any kids or time to enjoy it. But they did complain about parking, common walls, and the laundry situation. These newer apartments tend to have covered parking and in-suite laundry, eliminating two of the three issues, and with shopping and the Orange Line stop right there, living without a car or with fewer cars would be easier.

Personally I hate the exterior finishes (didn’t “slap a half dozen random finishes on random elevations” go out with Block “E”?). I also wish they could have sunk American Blvd. down, or rerouted it, or built a skyway over it. It would vastly improve the pedestrian experience in the area.  But even though I’d never consider living there, I’m happy this option is available now for those that want to.

IMG_8972

A nice form even if it’s an aesthetic mess. Due to the traffic volumes on Penn Ave and American, this is the back, with most buildings opening onto internal slow, narrow streets. How about a few trees and a multi-use trail?

Too exensive for my tastes, but people like it. There's aslo a lot of neighborhood service type shops here, like phone stores and beauty salons.

Too expensive for my tastes, but people like it. There’s also a lot of neighborhood service type shops here, like phone stores and beauty salons.

Are the schools that bad? Are young people preferring the city?

I’m probably not the one to talk about this, because I do not have kids and my parents gave up on Bloomington schools after I was in 5th grade and I spent the rest of my education on a long bus ride to a private Minneapolis school. But on the other hand I know quite a few kids in my neighborhood that did well for themselves. I read the almost weekly reports on inner-city dysfunction, so it puzzles me that if Bloomington schools have an image problem that’s more than a real estate myth. Wouldn’t city schools have an even bigger image problem? And if so, why are young people, many of whom will have kids, moving to the city?

As for young people preferring the city, I deny the trend, but at the same time the pendulum swings back and forth. The same issues that caused people to leave the city before– crime, racial tension, the general lack of space are still there (and racial tension is increasingly in the news). Self-driving electric cars may make longer commutes more affordable and palatable. The same reasons to live in the city–proximity to parks, restaurants, nightlife, your job downtown, beautiful old houses, walkable neighborhoods–existed even in the height of the trend to the suburbs.  So I’m not convinced the trend won’t eventually reverse itself, just as the political winds shift back and forth between conservatism and liberalism.

Inexpensive strip malls are a feature, not a bug

These aren’t as upscale as Penn American, but they serve important functions for the community. They’re extremely convenient to get into and out of by car, and a lot of locally owned stores simply can’t afford the kind of rent that other, newer locations charge. There’s a locally owned game shop in Clover Center, where I’d probably be hanging out playing Friday Night Magic if I were 20 years younger. The strip mall across is where I get pizza; across from that is where I get Chinese. Dollar Stores and thrift shops too tend to like these locations.  These are important for the increasingly diversifying population, and I’ve seen plenty of white middle class people in them looking for bargains too.

Eventually, tired strip malls tend to get redeveloped. Here’s Village Square. It’s now being remodeled for a Harbor Freight. Although I’m told they mainly sell cheap, Chinese-made tools, it will be a great option for local residents. Furthermore, the sidewalk will be widened and pulled back from the street in order to create a boulevard. There’s still plenty of inexpensive space in the strip mall across the street.

Village Square Mall

Village Square Mall

The Issues Bloomington Should Work On

Of course there are a few improvements I would like to see. The lack of street lighting I already wrote an article on.

There’s all kinds of codes. Just try to open a restaurant, it’s a absolute nightmare relative to other cities. The proprietor of a new locally owned Italian restaurant on Lyndale Ave. just about gave up before opening  after sinking their savings into the place. I don’t know specifically all his issues, but he had to build an addition to meet some minimum floor area code, and in Bloomington you’re not allowed to buy used kitchen equipment. Forget about backyard chickens in most of the city. Forget about practicing archery.  There’s even a code telling you what kind of light bulbs you may use outdoors.

And the sidewalks leave much to be desired.

All in all though, I’m proud of my city and expect nothing but the best for its future.

Sidewalk Jog

Some Bloomington sidewalks. Enough said.

 


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41 Responses to In Defense of “Unlustrous” Bloomington

  1. Eric April 7, 2016 at 9:25 am #

    Yes if the end goal of the sane transportation movement is sane transportation policy, then yes I agree Bloomington absolutely deserves attention.

    The overwhelming majority of MSP metro residents live in suburbs. Beyond that, most residential blocks of StP and MPLS are virtually indistinguishable from the residential blocks in the first ring or so of suburbs. The debate of “urban” vs “suburban” style land use is taken way too literally by way too many in MSP.

  2. Adam Miller
    Adam Miller April 7, 2016 at 9:41 am #

    Bloomington is way behind Richfield in bike facilities, which is a relatively inexpensive and appealing amenity that shouldn’t be hard to improve.

  3. Mitch April 7, 2016 at 11:03 am #

    Why is this on Streets.mn?

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller April 7, 2016 at 11:35 am #

      Because it’s about land use and transportation.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke April 7, 2016 at 12:04 pm #

      We’d like to have many more voices from suburbs and Greater Minnesota cities, but it’s difficult with our volunteer team.

  4. Matt Steele
    Matt Steele April 7, 2016 at 11:12 am #

    Thanks for writing this, Monte. I agree with you how ridiculous it is how many people over-leverage themselves to get into a certain type or status of housing. I also agree there’s a significant need for affordable “workforce” housing for people who can’t – or simply don’t want to – spend thousands of dollars a month on a mortgage payment for a house that’s ridiculously big. The only part I have trouble with is seeing this form of land use as a financially sustainable vehicle to serve that market segment.

    “Having detached houses available at the ~$150,000 price point is a feature, not a bug”

    It’s a bug, for cities. These are probably on 60 to 75 foot lots in Bloomington, right? So maybe 6-7 houses per blockface meaning 13 houses per standard ~5 acre city block. That’s a value of $1,950,000 per block or $390,000 per acre.

    And I bet a $150,000 house generates maybe $2,200 in property tax per year in Hennepin County. That’s $28,600 in tax revenue per block per year (for a standard Bloomington block, assuming $150,000 houses).

    Let’s plug that into what a small city would look like, and Richfield’s geography is an easier example. Richfield has approximately 450 “blocks” of single family residential. That’s a total tax levy of $12,870,000 for the SFH component of a city of Richfield’s size, across all taxing authorities.

    In Bloomington, it appears that the City and the County each get approximately 30% of the total tax bill. So, that’s $3.86 million for a city Richfield’s size assuming that nearly all of their housing stock is similar $150,000 homes on 60-75 foot lots. The City of Richfield collects roughly $15 million in property tax revenues, comprising 70% of that city’s total budget. The City of Richfield spends $3.8m a year on fire, and $3.8m a year on public works. Having a city where your land is mostly $150,000 SFHs on 60-75 foot lots, generating $3.86 million in city property tax receipts, just doesn’t seem financially viable.

    Don’t get me wrong… the $350,000 McMansion-Lite doesn’t add up financially for cities either. The fiscal disaster of that development pattern is largely hidden for the next few decades because those developments are still “shiny and new” and the cities are still in the first or the early second phase of the Growth Ponzi Scheme where sewer lift stations, curb and gutter, stoplights, school buildings, and all the rest are in great condition and partially paid for by developers.

    And don’t get me wrong… there’s plenty about Bloomington’s land use that is highly valuable compared to cities seeing the $350,000 McMansion-Lite developments. Most of Bloomington is still a walkable grid at heart, and a city like Bloomington spends far less on the opportunity cost of revenue-generating development that’s destroyed by a true hierarchical transportation network. Bloomington has much more of a financially viable future than many 3rd ring suburbs.

    But I’m looking at the financial viability of the $150,000 house on a 60-75 foot lot, since that’s what is discussed in this post.

    • Monte Castleman
      Monte Castleman April 7, 2016 at 1:11 pm #

      I guess the way I look at it, making sure every square block of the city has the maximum possible tax revenue, or is even self-sustaining taken in isolation, isn’t necessarily in the cities best interest. You’d have more tax revenue if all you had were apartment towers, but if you didn’t have houses you’d have a lot of absolutely miserable residents because they wanted a house and none were available.

      Could you get by with single family houses on smaller lots? I don’t know, but I do know a lot of people, including myself, absolutely hate alleys (and that’s more pavement for the city to maintain, or in the case of St. Paul in the winter, not maintain.) Maybe two story houses with tuck-under garages that are oriented more front to back?

      Bloomington as a whole doesn’t seem to be in any kind of financial trouble. They’re one of the biggest contributors to fiscal disparities and recently built themselves an absolute palace of a city hall.

      • Alex Cecchini
        Alex Cecchini April 7, 2016 at 2:29 pm #

        I will agree with Monte here that every single block, even lot, taken in isolation may be a tough sell when talking financial sustainability. On one hand, it’s definitely a way to ensure there aren’t streets where lower-income residents don’t have more infrastructure than they can pay for. On the other, like most city services, it’s not-terrible to allow a little fudge in the system. Could low-income families pay 100% of the direct-costs of the schooling for their children? Or fire service? Or parks? Or transit? Or any number of municipal services that are less than a 1:1 correlation between land area per dwelling unit and cost to provide? There’s definitely a middle ground IMO between “someone else will pay for the street out front of my 1 acre lot” and “users pay 100% of everything they consume.”

        And, Monte is also right that (right now) Bloomington’s finances are actually in good shape. City tax rates are lower for equivalent residential market values than Minneapolis’ rates, but they’re spending less per capita (not by much, though!), despite being much larger contributors to FD (as Monte notes). I do think the spend v revenue gap will tighten quite a bit as many streets need reconstructing in the coming decades, and it should be acknowledged how the MOA now uses regional money to benefit Bloomington’s tax base. But, even without that, the amount of commercial and office space contributing to Bloomington’s base puts it in good position relative to other suburban cities.

        That said, I don’t agree with Monte that everyone would be miserable were Bloomington to suddenly lack single family homes. Ignoring the nearly 0% chance of that happening in the next 200 years even if the whole place were upzoned to allow high-rises, the fact is that people actually are quite capable of making that personal tradeoff themselves. Detached houses aren’t the end-all-be-all for every single person on this planet, or even this region. Loring Park is almost exclusively 3+ story buildings and I doubt very many to any of them are miserable because they can’t find a single family home in that location. This is to say nothing of opportunities for subdividing lots to allow smaller, detached homes, which wouldn’t necessarily even require alleys.

        tl;dr Bloomington’s neighborhoods could easily grow, expanding the tax base, with very little impact to desirability or availability of single family homes (not that this is a goal unto itself).

      • Adam Froehlig
        Adam Froehlig April 8, 2016 at 6:45 am #

        “Could you get by with single family houses on smaller lots?”

        Yes you can. There are examples in both Richfield and St. Louis Park of blocks (without alleys) of single-family homes on 50ft lots.

        • Monte Castleman
          Monte Castleman April 9, 2016 at 7:18 am #

          Here’s an example.
          https://www.google.com/maps/place/Richfield,+MN/@44.8859723,-93.2541783,3a,60y,273.07h,76.09t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1soILl6QnjOq1GEwgm050Ayg!2e0!7i13312!8i6656!4m2!3m1!1s0x87f625df6adc46ef:0x914ffd782ed63cc8

          Even without government policies, I have the feeling raw land will never be as cheap as it was in the 1950s, so if we want to build affordable houses again to add to what we all seem to agree is a very limited supply it might have to be a return to lots even smaller than Bloomington sized.

          However, now that a two car garage is a non-negotiable, and assuming you don’t want to deal with a tandem garage like I do, you’re limited to either houses with basically nothing but garage showing in front, or else long driveways an it taking up your back yard, as in the example. These might be more palatable if you pushed the houses closer to the street to minimize the length of the driveway and maximize back yard space.

          In case anyone wonders why this is such a big issue to me, I spent many years of my life worrying about how I was ever going to afford a house. As things turned out, I got a middle class job without a middle class education, the real estate market tanked, and I got a good deal on a house. Now that I have my house I have an extreme amount of sympathy for people still trying to get theirs.

      • Adam Miller
        Adam Miller April 8, 2016 at 10:10 am #

        Just out of curiosity, why do you hate alleys? When we were house-shopping last fall, having an alley was a definite plus for us as it makes using the sidewalk more pleasant and makes the garages more or less out of sight.

        • Matt Brillhart April 8, 2016 at 11:18 am #

          I too think it’s a little strange to claim to “hate” alleys (and a bit much really…let’s maybe not dilute the word “hate”).

          While I also have a strong personal preference for houses *with* alley access, strict street parking regulations in many suburbs do make alleys less practical. Even if you have a spacious 2-car garage on an alley, any additional cars (or guests) would be parking on the street. With a driveway, particularly a long driveway leading to a detached garage towards the back of the lot, you can fill that sucker with cars (as unattractive as some of us find that practice to be).

          When some suburbs outright ban overnight parking (either year-round or Nov.-March), I can see not wanting to rely on street parking to meet your needs.

          Even though I myself greatly prefer an alley, and would be extremely hesitant to buy a house with a front driveway, I can admit that the preference is almost 100% aesthetic (no cars in the front “yard” area, no trash cans, no garage door facing the street, etc.) The only part of my preference that is not aesthetically-driven is that I really don’t want to shovel and maintain a long driveway. On an alley, you barely have a driveway / entrance pad at all.

        • Monte Castleman
          Monte Castleman April 8, 2016 at 12:29 pm #

          1) I don’t have an issue with seeing other people cars and garages on the street. That’s just part of the neighborhood, not good or bad, just normal and expected.

          2) 100% of the time when I leave the house, it’s in a car. Even if I’m going for a bicycle ride, I take a car someplace else to do it. It’s more convenient to exit directly onto a wide street than maneuver through and alley.

          3) The only time I’m in the front of the house is to mow it or to walk out to the garage (my garage is attached to the house but not accessible to it). So the impacts to space in front aren’t really a concern.

          4) The back yard is where I spend time. Reading books or doing stuff on a hammock deck, or on the 3-Season porch after dark or in bad weather, or working in the garden. A garage in back would cut down on space there as well as create aesthetic, privacy and security issues.

          5) I own a snowblower as do most of my neighbors (or else they pay a snow removal service), so the driveway isn’t a winter maintenance.

          • Walker Angell
            Walker Angell April 8, 2016 at 1:25 pm #

            Several of these are exactly why I’d choose to not live in Bloomington. I am not anti-car but I don’t like a lot of traffic nor fast traffic. I much prefer somewhere that allows me (and my neighbors) to safely and comfortably ride to local amenities like dinner, grocery, school, etc. A huge amount of our traffic is for relatively short trips that can easily be by foot or bicycle.

            Aesthetically I’m not a fan of garages with houses attached to the back of them.

            About 20% of the time when I leave my house it’s by bicycle. I’m hoping that with improvements in bikeways that can be 80%. Lack of activity is the number one health problem in our country. Riding a bicycle for local trips is likely the number one option for changing that.

            Many folks in our neighborhood sit on their front porch. We enjoy talking to each other and those walking or riding by. I likewise enjoy short conversations or even a simple wave when I ride by on my bicycle when going to the grocery or some place.

            We enjoy our back yard and our gardens and often it’s very nice to have that somewhat private space. Given the option of only front or only back I think I’d take only front. I’d really miss the interactions with our neighbors.

            In the end it’s largely personal preference. A friend races motocross and for him having space to ride close by is more important that just about anything. Unfortunately for many who prefer a more walkable/bikeable neighborhood amenities close by there are not many good options.

            http://grist.org/cities/just-because-some-millennials-are-moving-to-the-burbs-doesnt-mean-they-like-it/

            • Adam Miller
              Adam Miller April 8, 2016 at 1:54 pm #

              My rough estimate (something I actually should have data on) would be that I leave the house 60/30/10 walking/biking/driving, with maybe a quarter of the walking trips involving transit.

              • Walker Angell
                Walker Angell April 8, 2016 at 4:07 pm #

                I’m jealous. Hope I’ll get there one day.

          • Adam Froehlig
            Adam Froehlig April 8, 2016 at 9:39 pm #

            What the owners of the house I grew up in have done to the property would completely blow away your #4 argument.

  5. MaryAlice April 7, 2016 at 11:49 am #

    8501 5th Ave S needs far more than a few bucks for new flooring. There is mold in the basement walls. The extent of the mold damage will require removing walls and then who knows?!? It also is in need of new mechanicals, concrete repair, etc., etc.

  6. Matt Brillhart April 7, 2016 at 12:17 pm #

    Monte, you really ought to look at what homes are going for today. The market has changed dramatically in the last few years, now that the recession and housing crash are pretty distant in the rear-view mirror.

    $150,000 houses do.not.exist. Period. (at least not outside of Frogtown or Near North). The “$150,000” postwar starter home you refer to now costs AT LEAST $180,000-$200,000. There are nearly zero listings below $200k today, and those that are below $200k are either tiny and/or need major updating.

    I took editorial privilege and changed “$300k McMansion” to “$350k”, and I actually considering changing it to “$400k”, which I feel is more accurate, particularly if you’re talking about something newer (built in the last 20 years).

    Prices have escalated by probably 20-25% just in the last 3-4 years or so. Houses that were $175,000 in 2011 are now well over $200k. Most of my searching has been around south Minneapolis and Richfield, but I suspect this is true just about everywhere, given our incredibly strong local economy, low unemployment, and lack of houses on the market, relative to demand.

    There is a huge backlog among the oldest Millennials (now aged 30-35) who are ready to buy starter/affordable houses but cannot because there is next to nothing for sale. We need a dramatic resettlement/downsizing by existing elderly homeowners (into condos, apartments, senior communities, the sun belt, etc.), particularly in the central cities and inner-ring suburbs (i.e. near job concentrations), so that the next wave of people can move into home ownership.

    Something’s gotta give here…

    • cobo Rodreges April 7, 2016 at 12:29 pm #

      Yes house prices have increased recently. But If you look on Zillow, you can see that there are currently a few sub 180K houses in east bloomington that look like they are in decent shape.

      • Matt Brillhart April 7, 2016 at 12:44 pm #

        Zillow is known to be inaccurate as to what is actually still on the market. If you use EdinaRealty.com (or their app) and make sure to un-check “active contingent” so that you are only looking at actual available listings, you’ll find almost zero listings under $180,000, and those that are tend to have major issues.

    • Nick Magrino
      Nick Magrino April 7, 2016 at 12:53 pm #

      re: your point about seniors, something I’ve been thinking about lately that may be politically palatable and also maybe a good idea would be some kind of large-scale public housing initiative for seniors. Like you said, there are a whole lot of houses in the central cities and the first-ring suburbs with one or two seniors who’ve paid off their mortgages who aren’t going to move until they pass away or get too sick to live alone. There are also, of course, many seniors in poverty who society could probably afford to house.

      Building a couple hundred basic one bedroom units a year for a while wouldn’t really be enormously expensive in the grand scheme of things but would really increase the churn in the housing market, particularly in some of these hot markets in South Minneapolis where you’ve got two bedroom houses going for $250,000. No one would be compelled to move, obviously, but free(-ish?) rent and no property taxes and not having to maintain a yard and a 1,500 square foot house would probably be pretty enticing.

      • Matt Steele
        Matt Steele April 7, 2016 at 1:45 pm #

        It may even be simpler than that. We simply need to get rid of the ridiculous condo shortage, allowing that retirement set to buy into reasonably priced condos that can take them well through their retirement decades. This would free up SFH supply somewhat, lowering prices for that demographic too.

      • Sean Hayford Oleary
        Sean Hayford Oleary April 7, 2016 at 9:09 pm #

        I’m doubtful that large-scale public housing for seniors is politically palatable. It has been extremely contentious in Richfield (which already has a lot of senior housing, but less than market consultants say we need). The council and HRA shooed away several senior proposals for the “Cedar Point II” site on the west side of Richfield Pkwy at 63rd before finally getting a good general market rate option this past year. Senior housing was approved for the city garage site reluctantly, only after a neighborhood defeat of an all-age affordable housing complex.

        But, the points are reasonable: unless a senior is independently wealthy, something’s got to give. Properly maintaining a single-family home is expensive and laborious. Many have to pay for lawn and snow assistance, and taking on large expenses like roof, siding, windows, furnace, etc can be enormously burdensome for someone living on pension and social security. And the home could be used more completely by some new residents.

        Then again, plenty of late 20s-to-30s folks who live as 1 or 2 persons in an SFH, too…

      • Janne Flisrand
        Janne April 11, 2016 at 8:43 am #

        I think there’s another detail you’re overlooking: the seniors themselves. I’ve spent the last few years talking with my parents about downsizing from their 2700sf SFH — the one we moved into when I was small in the early 80s.

        They know they should be thinking about moving elsewhere (and have for a decade), somewhere smaller with less maintenance, but the idea of moving elsewhere is just really difficult. In all fairness, they ARE moving in two weeks, happily, but the pathway wasn’t simply there being a place for them to go to — they LIKE where they live, their neighbors, their house. And moving is HARD, especially hard after you’ve gotten into a particular pattern in how you live.

        I might add that they are 100% unwilling to consider moving from their community, so you have to make sure options are IN the communities where people live currently if you’re to have any chance that this strategy works.

    • Monte Castleman
      Monte Castleman April 7, 2016 at 12:57 pm #

      I don’t disagree with your decision to change it, but I did do some research and, if you really insist, you can presumably get a new home for under $300,000. (The base model of the one in the picture goes for $320,000). If you comission one custom-built with none of the available options.
      http://www.calatlantichomes.com/find-your-new-home/14-twin-cities/6215-the-meadow-at-cedar-landing.html
      But just like buying a car off the lot loaded with deluxe options, a new house already built in move-in condition full of the deluxe, high profit options really is north of $350K,

      I do find it to be true that hot demand is starting to push prices up (contrary to what the realtors seem to imply that no one wants to live in Bloomington). I found a few listings for 150K. But only a few. Besides seniors looking to cash out or be forced out by property taxes, we could also see a return to smaller lots and smaller houses if there is a huge sustained demand for them.

    • Tim April 7, 2016 at 1:28 pm #

      What’s gotta give, frankly, are people’s expectations.

      Like you said, it’s not the same market it was several years ago. The easily affordable, move-in ready houses in trendy neighborhoods are gone, so that means buyers will need to settle, whether it’s something that needs work, something in a less trendy neighborhood of the city, or something in a suburb. The elderly are not obligated to move just so that young people can buy a cheap house within walking distance of 48th and Chicago. Besides, neighborhoods benefit from a diversity of ages just as they benefit from other forms of diversity.

      • Matt Steele
        Matt Steele April 7, 2016 at 1:48 pm #

        Since you bring up 48th and Chicago, I must note that one of the biggest policy goals for our neighborhood organization (which covers all the neighborhoods walkable to 48th and Chicago) is a significant increase in senior housing in the neighborhood. Why? Because one of the top things we hear is that people are aging out of their homes, due to stairs to bath/bed, due to maintenance and yardwork, due to fixed incomes, or whatever… but they want to stay in the neighborhood they love. The demand for more and better senior housing integrated into our urban neighborhoods is real, and it’s not millennials doing the pushing.

        • Tim April 7, 2016 at 2:07 pm #

          Good; more senior housing is great. Reasons like the ones you state are the reasons to build it, though, not just so that younger people can buy their homes. That will happen as a result anyway, of course, and that’s fine, but it shouldn’t be the driving force,

    • Dana DeMaster
      DanaD April 11, 2016 at 2:25 pm #

      Huh. I bought a 4 bedroom/1 bath house in the West End of St Paul in October. It was listed for $180,000 and we bought it for $165,000. It was built in 1922. Lots of similar house are going for the $150,000 to $190,000 range in our neighborhood and lots are still selling for less than the asking price. It was move-in ready, but needs a few things like new exterior paint. We redid the bathroom before we moved in, but that was choice. It would have functioned in its 1980s glory just fine.

      When we were looking we found many houses with unreasonably high asking prices, perhaps because of some notion the housing market had fully recovered. These overpriced homes sat and sat and sat. If we waited a month the price would often drop by $10,000. Our house was on the market for 6 months at $180,000 when we made our low ball offered. They jumped on it.

  7. Eric Anondson
    Eric Anondson April 7, 2016 at 12:40 pm #

    Every city ages. Bloomington has far better “bones” to keep itself renewed than other cities.

  8. GlowBoy April 7, 2016 at 5:04 pm #

    Good article. I would have to agree that Bloomington is still far behind Richfield in terms of bike facilities, though. And for what it’s worth Richfield is about to get a whole lot better with the 66th St and Portland Avenue projects, plus finishing the Intercity trail (also benefiting Bloomington, and then after that the 77th street underpass).

    If you look at the “4-lane death roads” map above and focus only on the green segments that actually have bike lanes, it’s still pretty massively discontinuous. Too bad all those black segments are ineligible for conversion – does Portland Avenue from 82nd on south seriously need 4 lanes? Many of the residential side streets are good for cycling, but I often have to spend some time with a map figuring out my route in advance when I want to bike across Bloomington.

    That said, I think there’s a lot to like about Bloomington and I think it’s underrated. I agree that mid-century homes were fairly well-built, and there are a lot of (relatively) affordable homes there. And the Penn American corner is the kind of development smart suburbs are undertaking.

    Also, one of the worst aspects of non-car transportation around Bloomington is now fixed. You can now legally walk between the Mall of America and IKEA! These used to be separated by the anti-human DMZ of Lindau Lane (no sidewalks, no crosswalks, with “No Pedestrians” signs all over), but the recent Mall expansion has made it a moot point. You can walk right out from the mall onto the north side of Lindau, continuing on to IKEA or American Boulevard by bike or foot. And there is bike parking near this entrance too! A relatively short ride along the broad American Boulevard sidewalk connects you to the new Intercity trail. This is a huuuge improvement for those of us who sometimes bike to the Mall.

    • Monte Castleman
      Monte Castleman April 7, 2016 at 5:47 pm #

      Old Shakopee Rd between Normandale and I-35W, and parts of Normandale Rd are the only significant Death Roads that based on the magic 20,000 AADT number really need to be 4 lanes (and part of Normandale is having a 5th lane added this year; Portland south of 90th is under 5000 even. The original “no arterials” policy dates from 2004 when a lot of the old leadership was still in place. For various reasons it was sold as “traffic calming neighborhood streets” rather than adding bicycle facilities, and they unfortunately revert to 4 lanes near traffic signals.

    • Sean Hayford Oleary
      Sean Hayford Oleary April 7, 2016 at 9:12 pm #

      Bloomington city staff tell me they’re studying Portland Ave this year to see if it would make sense to go to 3-lanes. As Monte notes, Bloomington had a crapload of low-hanging fruit — streets with like 3000 ADT that had four lanes. Now, hopefully, they’ll start to work up to some streets with a little more traffic that can still easily tolerate 3 lanes.

      • Adam Miller
        Adam Miller April 8, 2016 at 10:06 am #

        Could they do 12th too? I come over 494 on that nice new bridge, cross American and then, “oh no, I’m not biking here.” I guess it would help if Google wouldn’t tell me there’s a bike facility there when there isn’t.

        • GlowBoy April 13, 2016 at 4:29 pm #

          Officially the offstreet path goes west along American Blvd, then south next to highway 77, but it would be nice if they’d at least do bike lanes on 12th. Actually, that’s one area Richfield could improve upon: 12th has sharrows, but carries enough traffic that I will not ride on it. I cut over on the 76th (?) bikeway, then Diagonal Blvd to either Bloomington Ave or the new path along 77.

        • Monte Castleman
          Monte Castleman April 13, 2016 at 6:33 pm #

          I’m looking at Google Maps and it only lists 12th as “Bicycle-friendly roads”, whatever that means. South of 84th there are shoulders that are shared with parking that revert to 4 lanes at traffic signals. That’s lousy, but parking was allowed when it was 4 lanes and one of the promises made to the neighbors were that existing parking would be unchanged.

  9. GlowBoy April 13, 2016 at 4:36 pm #

    I will say one more thing to Bloomington’s credit: they are managing (if mostly not paying for) the $13M rehabilitation of the Old Cedar bridge. I know they were kind of forced to do it against their will, but it’s happening nonetheless.

    This is a huuuuge improvement to the non-car transportation network. Currently the only way to cross the Minnesota River between I-494 and Bloomington Ferry is to take the often-muddy road across the wildlife refuge to the TH77 bridge. Fixing the Old Cedar bridge should knock about 2 miles off the trip, and will suddenly make connections from Bloomington to south/west Eagan, Apple Valley and Burnsville very quick.

    Between that and the re-do of the Red Line stop at the outlet mall (shaving 5+ minutes off the bus trip to Apple Valley), by a year from now the north and south sides of the river will be much better connected for those of us avoiding car travel — whether traveling by bike, foot or transit.

    • Monte Castleman
      Monte Castleman April 13, 2016 at 6:41 pm #

      I know everyone is asking why it took so long, but in Bloomington’s defense

      1) The state gave them the bridge as-is and it was already pretty decrepit, unlike newer turnbacks where roads are generally rebuilt before being turned back. Bloomington’s position always has been that the river bottoms are a regional amenity so they should get help with it.

      2) Bloomington saw itself as in the transportation business, not historic preservation, and saw two cheaper options shot down in series before the only option left was to restore the existing bridge. Once that was the only option it took some time to do engineering and get funding.

      3) One thing they’d still like to do is give the bridge to Fish and Wildlife. It’s an interesting question whether it is legal to use the crossing at night, but if this happens it would definately not be. Bloomington owns a substantial quantity of land in the river bottoms that is obviously never going to be used for softball fields or a golf course, so with nothing but trees and trails it might as well belong to the Wildlife Refuge, so they’ve offered it if the feds will take the bridge when it’s done.

      I wrote an article on the bridge, which I may hold onto until it opens.

  10. Matt Eckholm
    Matt Eckholm April 13, 2016 at 4:46 pm #

    I’ve looked at a few Bloomington homes recently. The biggest issue for me was if the house was close enough to the amenities I wanted to be near (namely, a Blue Line station within biking distance on a safe route), it was also very close to 494/77. Let’s just say no matter what the house was like on the inside, the constant dull roar of cars on the outside was a dealbreaker.

  11. Minngirl April 18, 2016 at 4:54 pm #

    In defense of Fresh Thymes. I love this store and wish I had one near my neighborhood. I love all those expensive grocery stores like Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods etc…I can’t afford to buy everything there, but I love the way it looks and smells. Simple pleasures!

    You are right about lack of affordable housing. Not only is buying a home expensive, but selling can also be expensive. Recently our community decided that all homes for sale have to have a visit from the housing inspector before you can even sell your home. Discouraging. More government red tape.