A Brand New Minneapolis

All right, Minneapolis. As I write this, the day after Election Day, it appears Betsy Hodges could well be the next mayor of Minneapolis. With Lisa Bender, Abdi Warsame and Andrew Jacob Frey knocking off incumbents, the City Council will have seven new members in addition to the mayor. As the final votes are counted and winners declared, like The Hold Steady sing, it’s “a brand new Minneapolis.” So let me be very clear, now is the time to make some very real and meaningful changes to the development of our city.

Generally speaking, planning and development efforts in Minneapolis are well intentioned but require a much more robust set of tools and political will to build the city worthy of tomorrow’s world. Our best laid plans often succumb to lack of code enforcement or political and the resulting urbanism suffers. I hope that changes moving forward.

Our zoning code, at least in high-demand areas, must be a visual reflection of the city’s comprehensive plan. It must be based on a vision of what we want our city to look like in the future and provide certainty for neighborhood groups and developers alike. A form-based code is not a panacea but has been shown as a very effective tool to help ensure what you see in planning is what you get when development occurs. Try it.

Too often public infrastructure and private development projects line up. The Walker Art Center is a good example. When a major, highly-touted building that is built, shouldn’t even basic improvements to Hennepin/Lyndale Avenue also have occurred? In other words, make the public realm worthy of buildings facing it, and vice-versa. Conversely, don’t dare build a streetcar down Nicollet Avenue if the pedestrian realm and building frontages aren’t improved over time, including vastly increasing allowed density along the corridor. Public and private investments must move much more in lock-step with eachother.

We need a citywide on-street bicycle parking policy. We have plenty of bike lanes and plenty of cycling with demand for bike parking. But, to date, there are two bicycle racks on-street, and we are on pace to simply fall farther behind Portland with regard to this piece of infrastructure.

Nobody wants to admit this, but the influx of Gen Y will not stay in the city once they have children if we don’t raise the quality of the Minneapolis Public Schools. A few years ago Howe Elementary School closed the very year the Riverview Café, located one block away, was voted best place for parents of preschoolers to network by the City Pages. If there was ever a more tone-deaf decision, please tell me. But education doesn’t occur in a vacuum. In addition to providing all children with free preschool, school board representation should be helping make decisions pertaining to health care and affordable housing to ensure kids are better prepared to learn. A broad array of very talented educators and some very good existing schools isn’t enough. It certainly isn’t easy for the mayor and council to meaningfully address this, but a less siloed approach to education is important to keep people in the city. Oh, and enough dithering, make the Lake Street TOD a reality.

Divorce parking from development whenever possible. Free parking is a myth and requiring it drives the cost of development up dramatically. Let the market decide.

Lastly, don’t let development get dumbed down through compromise. Don’t let parking get added while sacrificing front entrances. Don’t value-engineer out benches or trees, for example. Put the public realm first. Don’t compromise on good urbanism – reward it.

A growing number of urbanists and people who love cities are looking to you, mayor and council to make some fundamental changes to the way our city is developed. You have more political cover than ever before to make difficult decisions when consensus is not shared and the right move isn’t the popular one. Indeed it is a brand new Minneapolis. Let’s make it better.

Sam Newberg

About Sam Newberg

Sam Newberg, a.k.a. Joe Urban, is an urbanist, real estate consultant and writer. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two kids, and his website is www.joe-urban.com.

6 thoughts on “A Brand New Minneapolis

    1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg Post author

      Yes. Oops! I guess with Mark Andrew and Andrew Johnson in various races, I had Andrew on the brain.

  1. Justin FoellJustin Foell

    Sam, your comment about the school system is spot on. If Minneapolis wants to keep the young residents it has attracted, it’s going to have to address the school system. I posed the very question of schools causing sprawl on StrongTowns (registration required, cost optional).

    I don’t want to hear about Southwest HS, where only the most affluent can afford to live. I’m talking about all schools up-to and including Edison HS, Patrick Henry, North HS, and the rest.

    I would suggest this book a good conversation starter: I Got Schooled (Hennepin County Library)

  2. Joe

    Love all your points! I wish the city council would have you and other writers on streets.mn come in and give regular presentations on good urbanism. Experimenting with truly innovative approaches would provide them with a low risk contained opportunity to try out these common sense approaches. For instance, if they decide to build a streetcar on Nicollet, at least eliminate parking requirements there, so as to encourage development and learn what works for Minneapolis.

  3. Pingback: More Mayoral Results: Minneapolis, Houston, Boston | Streetsblog Capitol Hill

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