Dreaming of the 7th Street Mall

A quick candid photo taken on a typical Fall evening on Nicollet Mall.


Nicollet Mall is the best part of Minneapolis. If not, it is definitely the best part of downtown. It is the best example of successful urbanism that we have, and its close proximity to the Minneapolis Convention Center has redeemed the reputation of the city for countless reluctant visitors. To readers of this blog it will be obvious why this is. The sidewalks are wide. Really wide. Cars are not allowed; only busses, taxis, bicycles, skateboards, pedi-cabs, pedal pubs, segways, push carts, food trucks, farmer’s markets, snowman floats, horse carriages, police, and ambulances are allowed. The Mall is full of sculptures and trees and planters and is almost always pleasant. Forget the Mall of America, if you are trying to impress visitors bring them to Nicollet Mall.

Lately I’ve been thinking that Minneapolis needs more of this. The human-scale vibrancy that can be found on Nicollet Mall is quickly lost any more than a block or two away from the Mall. Except for the occasional uninitiated out-of-towner, it is generally understood that Nicollet Mall is intended for accommodating and transporting humans, not cars. As downtown Minneapolis reaches toward its goal of doubling it resident population, cars will enjoy less of a priority and many more people will be on foot going about their tasks. This is why more space for people will become necessary as Minneapolis becomes a more human oriented city.

Hennepin Avenue seems like the most obvious candidate for this transformation, and it could use the work. However, I have a vision in my head of a large car-less intersection in the middle of the city, preferably with streetcars (but I’ll keep dreaming on that one). So, for my hypothetical study I need to find a street that runs perpendicular to Nicollet Mall and whose buildings could accommodate tenants that contribute to street-level pleasantness. I took a walk yesterday to scope out where I would put my “Cross-street Mall”. I eventually decided on 7th Street, which happens to be the corner of Nicollet that the Crystal Court rests on.


I chose 7th Street simply because it seemed most plausible, or rather, least implausible. I like that it starts at the Target Center and First Avenue (the club, not the avenue), and that it ends roughly where the new Vikings stadium will be. It’s kind of like our own little Avenue des Champs-Élysées, only with more skyways.

The intersection of Hennepin and 7th. Block E at the forefront and the legendary First Avenue club in the back left.

Looking at the map above, 7th Street seems perfect, especially if I am to continue my Classical design metaphor. What I really want is to see what would happen if an American city shut off a street to cars every 4 blocks, but 7th Street will work for now. Making 7th Street car-less will give Minneapolis a sort of ciclovia cardo and decumanus. The intersection of Nicollet and 7th would become the commercial center of downtown. This is a convenient intersection to develop, especially considering that Mike Hicks recently pointed it out as the completely insufficient busiest transit stop in the state.

The Nicollet Mall intersection is in the back with the green awnings. The busiest transit stop in the state is behind that truck.

In its present condition there is not much sidewalk presence on 7th Street, but if it were given the wide sidewalks of Nicollet Mall and amenable transit stops there are many opportunities for pleasant and welcoming storefronts. The latest I’ve heard is that the empty Block E building is slated to become oodles of office space, which I honestly don’t think will be a bad thing. Maybe, if there is a 7th Street Mall, the ground floor will even be subdivided to accommodate organically developed independent businesses (which is the only real way a downtown district can thrive).

Michael Roden

About Michael Roden

Michael Roden is an Architect with a passion for urban place-making. He lives in the Lyn-Lake neighborhood of Minneapolis with his fiance and dog. Michael blogs at www.walkbikebus.com. You can follow him on twitter @walkbikebusblog.

8 thoughts on “Dreaming of the 7th Street Mall

  1. Matt SteeleMatt

    My comment from walkbikebus…

    Nice. I always thought 10th would work well, since it already has some decent street-level amenities. I envisioned this would be a good way to route all my streetcar ideas ( http://goo.gl/maps/Wsvdt ) to Nicollet Mall (west to Harmon to Loring Park to Hennepin/Lyndale, or east to Chicago).

    7th would definitely be more in the middle of everything however. Is 6th street a lost cause? Especially with the Govt Center over it? I could see:

    * Washington (boulevard + streetcar)

    * 3rd and 4th – one way couplet with a diet

    * 5th – LRT now, east-west busway with local access on a block-by-block basis in the future

    * 6th – future underground LRT and commuter tunnels, road diet on street level (eastbound)

    * 7th – Eastbound one way with a diet

    * 8th – Westbound one way with a diet

    * 9th – Two-way two lane local street

    * 10th – Two-way local street with streetcars

  2. hokan

    Nicollet Mall is a failure. A lot of people use it mostly because there's bus stops. There's just not that many street-level destinations and some of those don't visually welcome passers by.

    Hennepin is a success. Hennepin is vibrant and full of pedestrian traffic heading for destinations on or near Hennepin.

    Nicollet looks prettier than Hennepin. That doesn't make it more successful in attracting visitors. Many of our streets could be improved, but Nicollet is not a great model.

  3. Faith

    hokan, I hope you mean Hennepin at Lake, not Hennepin downtown. I waited for the bus on Hennepin Ave between 7th & 8th the other night. It was so dull and so empty, I was imagining tumble weeds blowing down the sidewalk.

    Nicollet is prettier than Hennepin – and also every other street in downtown Minneapolis. Nicollet does well near Barrio & the Local where there is a high density of front doors at street level although it performs poorly north of 7th. When events are going on – Farmer's Market & Holidazzle – it actually is a great street. Unfortunately, Nicollet is lacks active place management to keep it full of people more often to overcome the poor urban design of the buildings on its northern end.

    I agree that there is a need for more human-scale vibrancy downtown,, which requires more storefronts, fewer blank walls, and more attractive streets.

  4. Michael RodenMichael Roden Post author

    I'm trying not to interject in my own comment section too much, but I have to say that I live downtown and almost never go anywhere on Hennepin Avenue – except ironically to catch my bus every morning. I do all of my shopping on Nicollet and it is the street I wander down when I need to take a walk. To me, Hennepin is nothing but boner bars and giant suburban style restaurants, but here's to hoping that can change.

  5. Matt SteeleMatt

    What about a pedestrian mall on 9th St? It really doesn't connect to much on the ends… It tees at 1st Ave N and 9th Ave S… easily converted to a pedestrian mall with only traffic lanes as needed to serve local uses on the individual blocks.

    On the west end, there's development between 2nd Ave S and Hennepin that's mostly not that bad. East of there, there are a ton of surface parking lots. Challenge? Yes. Opportunity to make sure development addresses the sidewalk, especially on a 9th St Mall? Definitely.

  6. Joe

    Good idea. Matt I would have to side with you on 9th st over 7th. Cutting off 7th st to vehicle traffic would create major choke points and traffic headaches on either side of Downtown. I would wonder if 5th street would function better in the capacity your proposing, linking Target Field with the Vikings Stadium, close to the library and the river, more development potential in downtown east.

    Another good candidate would be 1st ave north between 4th st and 9th, where it could potentially link to a 9th st mall. That section of 1st is already a nightmare on a busy night or day, divert the traffic to the roads that can handle it and open 1st up to the crowds of pedestrians that use it as a pedestrian mall anyways. There could also be potential to establish a mid block mall through all of downtown east's parking lots to connect the 9th st mall to the 5th st mall similar to the Loring Greenway and could be used as a catalyst for development on the heals of a one billion dollar stadium.

  7. Brendan

    Like where this is going. An interesting candidate for a bike/ped-only street would be 2nd St S between 3rd Ave S and 11th Ave S. For context, this would be from Gold Medal Park to the Dunn Brothers on 3rd Ave. You could be more conservative and just do from Portland to 11th. Advantage of ending at 3rd is the opportunity to meet up with a potential Nicollet/Central streetcar (hey, we're dreaming here!)

    I would argue that this is actually the most appealing part of downtown (highly subjective, I'll readily admit). Destinations include walking down to the Stone Arch Bridge, the Guthrie (you can check out the Cantilever whether or not you are going to the play). You've also got the Mill City Museum, Gold Medal Park, several destination restaurants, Mill City Farmers Market, etc. Its a visually appealing part of town with lots of newish buildings on display (that can be argued, but lots of people like the style, myself included). This is the first place I bring out-of-town guests, followed by the sculpture gardens and the lakes area. I don't really think about taking them to Nicollet or Hennepin.

    A bike/ped-only street would allow existing restaurants to "stretch out" onto the street with expansive patio seating. It could connect directly with the river bike trail. It could also encourage additional development restaurants and cafes, given the opportunity to have expansive patio seating. I am guessing this would be appealing to many of the newer condo-residents in the area who have sought out an "urban" setting, and might even be the sort of amenity that would stimulate further development in this area.

  8. bfinstad

    7th is one of the few connectors to North Minneapolis. We have so few streets that continually flow into other areas of the city that I would hate to disrupt that, although conceptually I like what you are getting at. Just would rather it be a different street.

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