Edina Promenade and Centennial Lakes

Ice skating – a lot of people out in 30-something degree weather. Retail (left) and apartments (right) in the background.

This past weekend, I took advantage of the 30-something degree weather to go on a walk with my wife and infant daughter. We decided to check out the Edina Promenade and Centennial Lakes area in Edina because I’d never been there and it just seemed like something every respectable Twin Cities urbanist should be aware of. In case you’ve never heard of it, Centennial Lakes is a city-owned park nestled in the middle of an office/retail district, and it connects to the Edina Promenade, a bike/pedestrian corridor through the Southdale area.

The verdict? I loved it. I thought it was phenomenal. It was beautiful, wonderfully maintained, and full of people enjoying the weather by walking or ice skating. I loved the trees, the interconnected ice-skating rinks, the trails and sidewalks, and the grade separation from roadways. We walked several miles without having to cross any roadways.

Trails (and ice skaters) pass underneath the roadways.

To many urbanists, the entire Southdale area is often dismissed as a worst-case urban scenario – six-lane roads & shopping malls – the poster-child for automobile dependency. But is that fair? I was seeing a mixture of housing – single family homes just over the border into Richfield, easily accessible by bicycle through Adams Hill Park – lower-end mid-rise apartment buildings, townhomes, high-rise apartments and condos, “elder suites”, and luxury townhomes – all in close proximity to retail and offices. I saw retail stores a short walk from office buildings, and two grocery stores (Byerly’s, SuperTarget). I saw office and retail buildings with front doors that open directly into the park. And all this easily connected by grade-separated biking and walking trails.

Trail and park-adjacent office buildings.

While walking, I found myself thinking, “I wish my employer would relocate to one of these office buildings,” or “I’ll bet it’s pretty cool to live in one of those townhomes.” I imagined myself strolling around the lakes during my lunch hour, buying burgers by the dozen at Five Guys while watching teenagers throw peanut shells at each other. And free ice skating? I’m in!

Even SuperTarget is accessible via trail.

Sure, there were things I didn’t like. It seemed a little over-the-top at times, a little bit Walt Disney. And I could do without the easy listening music being piped throughout the area on speakers hidden inside fake rocks. And I also realize that the area is literally surrounded by parking garages and multi-lane roads and that nearly everyone (including myself) drove there. And yes, the magic quickly wore off after we got back in the car and turned out onto the six-lane(!) France Avenue.

I don’t know exactly how to feel about this part of town. On one hand, it smacks of “fake urbanism” a term we’ll have to wait for some other day to define because this post is getting lengthy. On the other hand, I expect it’s actually pretty easy to live a car-free lifestyle in this area (probably easier than in my neighborhood in South Minneapolis). All of the “necessary” urban amenities are within an easy walk. I’ll bet the many residents do walk and bike more often than they otherwise would have because of this unique community design.

So what do you think? Is this the Disney-fication of suburbia – an indication that we have traded in “real” vibrant communities for novelty communities? Or is this pragmatic urban planning at it’s finest, mixing land uses and connecting them with public spaces and trails while still recognizing America’s overwhelming modal preference for driving? Is this a model other communities should emulate?

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15 thoughts on “Edina Promenade and Centennial Lakes

  1. Spencer

    In my mind (judging from your assessment since I haven't actually been there), this area qualifies as relatively "good suburbia" rather than "good urbanism." The accommodations for bikes and pedestrians are nicely done. That said, the pictures still show a low density environment with LOTS of wide open space. There may be more horizontal mix of uses than is typical for a suburb, but there still is very little evident vertical mixed use. Even with nice facilities, walking or biking those long distances between destinations in such an environment becomes less appealing when it is a part of a daily routine.

    Also, would also guess that the level of choice of destinations is less than you would have in a more "urban" scenario. For example, if you live in Uptown and want to walk to a restaurant, you've got dozens to choose from. If you live in a Centennial Lakes townhouse?

    1. Reuben CollinsReuben Collins Post author

      Yes, there's definitely little or no vertical mixing, that's for sure. But densities are still relatively high out here, and distances aren't that great. Most of these destinations are within 0.5-1 mile of each other. I don't know that we can realistically expect anything closer. I think the biggest difference in restaurants is probably not the number of options available, but more that the restaurants in this part of Edina are more likely to be chain establishments.

  2. Moe

    I pretty much grew up in that area of Richfield/Edina and I still love it. I know my parents, who are looking at selling their house and moving into a condo or apartment, would love to be in this area for a lot of what you mentioned, the ability to walk to nearly everything you need would really fit their lifestyle.

    Oh, and they are building a Whole Foods in that area, which will add to the grocery shopping options.

    I think another part of this that should be mentioned are the round-a-bouts, islands, and nice crosswalks on every street, making it even easier to walk from the Galleria to Southdale to Centennial Lakes. Not that many people do, except for maybe the people that live in that immediate area.

  3. Alex BaumanAlex

    I also grew up in the area, and I think it has really good potential for the reasons you mentioned (density, off-street facilities).

    It should be mentioned that there are still major sidewalk gaps pretty much everywhere in the Southdale area, which combined with the curvilinear superblock form makes me doubt that walking/biking rates are significantly higher than any other suburban area. For an example, maybe I can link to the bus stop in the Southdale parking lot – across the street from a high-rise – that has no sidewalk connection to anywhere:


    Edina has lately been building complete streets in the area (see 70th St), but I don't think they have a policy to support it, so that could change with a personnel change at Public Works. Hopefully they will see the success of the Centennial Lakes paths and expand it to other superblocks in the area to achieve a more buildable/usable grid and a more walkable street layout.

  4. Reuben CollinsReuben Collins Post author

    There are definitely still pedestrian barriers in the area, most notably France Avenue and – 69th Street. Primarily, this post is talking about the area south of 69th and east of France, which doesn't actually include the Southdale Mall.

  5. Katherine Bass

    Really interesting post and thoughtful responses. I'm a resident and frequent visitor to the Southdale area. I agree that (for now) it's "better suburbia" rather than "good urbanism." Once you are within the promenade corridor, it's true that you can easily get by without a car. However, the most dense housing exists on the west side of France (e.g., Parklawn) and the east side of York. It is precarious to cross France or York on foot or by bike. Recently, another resident told me about a group of pre-schoolers and their teachers she observed trying to cross from the west side of France at W. 70th St. (presumably to get to the promenade or the library)…a highly walkable distance. The panic on the adult faces was telling. Not sure if they completed their trip or turned back.

    On February 14, 7 – 8:30 p.m., at the Edina Community Center, the city is hosting a special presentation on Living Streets by a national expert, as it prepares to develop a policy. Living Streets balance the needs of motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists and transit riders in a way that promotes safety and convenience and enhances community identity, economic vitality and opportunities for active living, better health and environmental sustainability. The presentation is free and open to the public. Please come and join in the conversation!

  6. Reuben CollinsReuben Collins Post author

    @Katherine – thank you for reading Streets. mn and for publicizing the upcoming meeting.

    Having worked with Edina city staff on several transportation projects, I have no doubt that the Public Works department is very aware of and concerned about pedestrian and bicycle safety. I know that they are actively working to find solutions that are effective, affordable, and that will be embraced by the public, the business community, and other governing agencies (MnDOT, Hennepin County).

  7. Finn

    Hear hear on classifying it as "better suburbia," but as such, I cannot imagine walking all over the place in the wintertime. Seems a bit too long (then again, I'm thinking of the length from southdale to centennial).

    And anyone who fears crossing France and/or 70th obviously do not cross real streets often. There is no problem crossing these roads whatsoever. You step out on the road, preferably on your turn, cars stop for you. Most people who think roads are unsafe to cross are too afraid to try it and find out it's not a big deal at all.

  8. Alex BaumanAlex

    I agree with your comments, and would add that the real problem with France is that there are destinations on both sides, but sidewalks on only one side.

  9. Katherine Bass

    The ease of crossing France on foot or bike certainly depends on your perspective. Imagine you were 8….or 80…or disabled — substantially more challenging. These folks need to get around our community too and the design of France does not serve them well.

  10. Cedar Phillips

    I have spent quite a bit of time walking in and around that general area, and agree that it is "good suburbia." It does, however, still leave much to be desired, so I'm excited to hear that Edina is moving forward with new policies. Count me as someone who dislikes crossing both York and France (and yes, I frequently cross "real streets") — they are large, busy streets with many lanes, but the most frightening aspect is that most drivers in the area are simply not accustomed to "seeing" pedestrians. They're looking for their next turn, watching for other cars, or watching the light (or worse, texting or on the phone, but that's not an area-specific problem). Sidewalks also have tendency to disappear and reappear, and the lack of boulevard or parking lane means high-speed traffic directly adjacent to the sidewalk. It makes me nervous to walk around with my young son, and it's certainly nothing I'd do for pleasure. That said, I love Centennial Lakes itself, and also much appreciate the Promenade. The overall area (including as far over as Southdale and the hospital area) has tremendous potential. There's decent public transportation (although bus signage and stops could be vastly improved), all the essentials of life are within a fairly compact area, and a wide variety of housing types (and at a relatively high density) already exists. Perhaps with time it can become truly pedestrian-friendly. From my perspective (non-driver, frequent visitor but not resident) I think that needs to come primarily in the form of providing better connections between various destinations, and (one can dream) eventually replacing or filling in some of the strip-mall stretches with their vast surface parking lots.

    1. Katherine Bass

      Cedar – are you a resident of Edina? If so, I hope you will come to the Feb. 14 presentation (7-8:30 p.m. at ECC) on Living Streets to show support for this type of policy in the city. Your perspective is greatly needed!

  11. Cedar Phillips

    I'd agree with this characterization. It's not an area that is particularly friendly to the small independent businesses, but there are still a few floating around. I did want to add that I don't consider the wide open spaces to be a problem in the immediate Centennial Lakes area; I don't know the density figures, but the housing is (I believe) primarily apartments and townhouses, including some fairly tall buildings. The nearby houses are also pretty small and on small lots. There's also more mixing of space than perhaps initially can be seen; Edinburgh Park, for example, is in the immediate area, and combines housing, some businesses, a large indoor park (which functions as a community gathering place for all ages); there are even indoor balconies for the apartments overlooking the playground area. That place alone probably represents a better mix of uses (and diversity of ages) than almost anything you can find in Uptown. The actual walking distance from, say, Centennial Lakes to Southdale or the Southdale Hospital's medical complex (another major employer and destination that is currently not as well-connected to the rest of the area is it could be) is pretty short. I personally much prefer Uptown, but I think from the perspective of living daily life without having to get in a car, or even on a bus, the greater Southdale area probably manages to fit in more amenities in a fairly compact space than most neighborhoods even in Minneapolis, and it would certainly be easy to live there without a car. The main problem (besides the business choices if you don't like chains) is that a large percentage of that walking is, unfortunately, still on streets that are simply not designed to make the pedestrian experience pleasant. I personally find it one of the most fascinating areas of the Twin Cities, as it does have such an intriguing mix of being so very "urban" in some ways, yet in a very suburban form.

  12. Michael Corbett

    Okay so I'm a bit late to the party on this one, but as a 20+ year former resident of Edina and with family that still resides there, I had to chime in. It's probably more "good suburbanism" than "good urbanism". Regarding the density, the open lake next to the taller office towers is there for a reason. It used to be a sand and gravel pit. We used to get sand for our sandboxes there. That area was excavated past the water table, so building any structure on that site would have required a tremendous amount of fill (= not cheap!)

    As for its attractiveness, my parents are considering relocating there because many of the primary amenities (groceries, restaurants, clothing) are within walking distance. I am considering that area when I'm ready to give up being a homeowner, but that may be 30 years away.

    As for the ease of walking, yes there are some issues, but one should not underestimate the resilience of many pedestrians. I live in St. Louis Park, very close to Knollwood Mall and Target. The environment is not very pedestrian friendly. In fact, in some ways is it more challenging than the Centennial Area due to the presence of Highway 7. There are few marked crosswalks, sidewalks are hit-or-miss in the residential areas adjacent to the mall, and lighting is poor. This not stop the 1,000+ pedestrians from using this area each day. These pedestrians cover a wide demographic, from 80+ year old mobility challenged residents, to 8 year olds that just emigrated to the US.

  13. Reuben CollinsReuben Collins Post author

    @Michael – thanks for reading. Thanks for the history about the sand & gravel pit.

    I wasn't aware that the Knollwood area had so many pedestrians! I don't get over to that area of town too often.

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