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Won’t you take me to … Dinkytown


Well, I talk about it, talk about it.

Dinkytown, immortalized in the eponymous 1980 Lipps Inc. hit song, is the neighborhood just north of the University of Minnesota.

Why is it called Dinkytown? Obviously, because it is so small, its most famous residents are small, even the restaurants are small. Truer stories about the origin name of this place are described in the wikipedia article.

Dinkytown is buffered by the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood to the west (where I spent some time), railroad tracks (and the Como neighborhood) to the north, and the University to the south and east. It serves the University breakfast, lunch, dinner, and bar crowd, and provides some unusual shopping services. The residents of Dinkytown (and Marcy-Holmes, and Como) are dominated by University students and affiliates, so the shopping experience is a bit lower rent than say 50th and France, and it also seems to hold some gaping holes, like full service grocery store (the House of Hanson acts as a convenience store, and would have been standard size in the Heyday of A&P, but is now on the tiny side).

To that end, a developer is proposing to put a grocery store into a development replacing the 90-year old Marshall High School, now the University Technology Enterprise Center, an incubator for startups (where my wife once worked for MetaFarms, leading us to no longer eat factory farm meat if we can avoid it). My personal view is that is architecturally a disappointing replacement for what looks like on the outside a decent salvageable building. See the discussion at UrbanMSP.

Generally, though this is part of a trend of replacement of 1 and 2 story buildings in the area with six and seven story buildings, mostly for student housing. Since the University generally only has on-campus housing for fresh-persons, there are lots of others who need housing, and the existing neighborhood housing stock is not getting any younger or any more capital investments. Still, conversion of one-story taxpayers to 6 story stick-frame apartments is a trend that my structural engineering colleagues are none too happy about.

The Urban Gopher has an excellent post about Improving north-south connectivity around Campus. This would create some bypasses around Dinkytown’s biggest bottleneck, 15th Avenue SE. The street grid is Southeast Minneapolis is askew (it aligns with the river rather than the North Pole). While both streets and avenues are numbered, remember, Numbered Streets are NW-SE, Numbered Avenues are NE-SW. This is the kind of thing for which words and names were invented. The Twin Cities has many alphabet series roads. It would be great to put one here, I suggest using chemical elements, which I believe are underutilized for street names: Aluminum Avenue, Barium Avenue, Cadmium Avenue … (admittedly J is a problem, we can use Jodium (the old name for Iodine), and Q gives us QuickSilver (Hg) and W gives us Wolfram (Tc)). Or even better, put them in order of atomic weight, to help Introductory Chemistry students memorize the periodic table, though that might confuse travelers.

The Dinkytown Trench has long been proposed as a bike route, as a location for Granary Road, and as the location of the University’s alternative Northern Alignment for the Central Corridor. Kimley Horn prepared an August 2012 Cost/Benefit Analysis for the City of Minneapolis on Granary Road. This has been discussed since the dawn of man, and should have been done before Washington Avenue was closed. Maybe soon.

Now the City of Minneapolis has Streetcar proposals for 4th and University (Corridor E on this map). If you want to build a fixed rail transit line, why not take advantage of the grade separated right-of-way to reduce conflicts, increase speed, create a better, safer transit experience, and connect Stadium Village Station on the Green Line, with Dinkytown, St. Anthony Main, and Central or Hennepin Avenue to Downtown?

One of the main issues in Dinkytown is the current state of street directionality. 4th Street and University Avenue act as a one-way pair through the heart of Dinkytown (all the way to East Hennepin Ave). This of course improves motor vehicle traffic flow, and eases the evacuation of the University every evening and after sporting events. On the other hand, many contend one-way streets are detrimental to the pedestrian environment. As a pedestrian, I think a one-way street simplifies street crossings and increases the number of gaps between cars, so I can cross quicker. Of course local businesses might not want traffic to go faster. I personally think the reversion of one-way to two-way streets (as discussed here) is just faddishness, like the abandonment of pedestrian malls in a number of cities. This isn’t going to make or break your business district, its a rationale, not a reason.

Easy parking on the other hand, is a reason that business districts with insufficient customer base in walking distance make or break. Fortunately, Dinkytown has relatively easy on street and surface parking, as urban business districts go. This might begin to disappear as the one story shops are replaced with multi-story apartments, but on the other hand, the drive-to market would get replaced with a newly expanded walk-to customer base, so it is probably a net win for local business.

Just remember, “Dinkytown is the new Uptown.”