What if Minneapolis Enacted a Moratorium in 1895?

Minneapolis didn’t go from single-family homes to towering skyscrapers overnight. It took incremental growth over the course of 160 years to get it where it is today. But, what would Minneapolis look like if we decided to preserve itself in 1895?


The intersection of 5th and 2nd Avenue would look drastically different.


The intersection on 7th [Portland] and 6th Avenue would be lined with elegant homes, which admittedly is better than the existing surface parking lots.


It’s hard to imagine 7th Street as a row of single family homes.

Showing these comparisons is unfair. It misses a step. It’s likely that the demolished single family homes of downtown Minneapolis were the second iteration of development. Homes originally made of wood by settlers transformed into a patchwork of permanent brick buildings. Those mid-sized brick buildings eventually morphed into the larger buildings we see today.

Great places evolve. This is a healthy and historic form of urban growth: start small and build up. Throughout human history, our places have evolved using this approach.



Understanding the quirks of incremental urbanism [Click for Source]

We’ve gotten plenty of things wrong along the way. Our wide cultural adoption of the automobile sprawled our places and destroyed a lot of great buildings in the name of car storage. Our towering skyscrapers offer little in the way ground-level urbanism and our skyways keep our sidewalks empty.

It might be time for our single family neighborhoods in Minneapolis to expand upwards once again. The new larger homes will be the duplexes of tomorrow. The duplexes of tomorrow will transform into small apartment buildings, and so on. Urban history appears to not be repeating itself because we’re not letting it; be it opposition to a small apartment building or new,  larger single family homes.

The only problem is that Minneapolis has forgotten it’s a city.

My favorite compare/contrast image is looking towards the State Capital along what is now Cedar in downtown St. Paul. The image shows St. Paul’s humble origins and tremendous growth. It also shows us the things we’ve done wrong: parking garage, drive-thru bank, dead streetscape, the skyway and the three lane one-way street.


*Important Note: All of the historic images were collected from the Minnesota Historical Societies Collections archives. It’s a great resource and I recommend checking it out. Everything else is from Google Streetview. The historic photo locations are approximate. The collection only mentions that buildings are, for example, “On the corner of 7th Ave & 5th St, Minneapolis.”