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.
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.
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).