If I Were Mayor…

Yesterday I presented at Cuningham Group’s “Urban Currents” series. The theme was “What if I Were Mayor?” Keep in mind the following ideas don’t represent a platform for getting elected, but rather to try and implement once in office (there’s a big difference). So here goes….

If I were mayor, I would:

1. Create a more beautiful, equitable city.

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As part of that, I’d push the idea that zoning is part of creating beauty, and advocate for both a Form-Based Code and Design Review Commission (to be chosen by developers as parallel alternatives to the existing zoning and the Planning Commission, respectively). Ideally, the result would be a faster, more predictable (for developers and neighbors) approvals process and better urban design (see above).

2. Build streets for people

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Can you even spot the pedestrian in the above image?


As mayor, I would advance a streets policy that genuinely placed pedestrians first, transit and bikes next, and cars last. I’d also eliminate all one-way streets in the city. Coupled with a better zoning code, our streets (even Hiawatha Avenue) could one day look like this (above).

Shared Street - Germany

While I’m at it I would create a pilot project for residential streets to reduce the speed limit, narrow the street, and add street amenities like play equipment. Why do playgrounds need to be relegated to our parks? Let’s bring the parks to the kids.


Lastly, I’d formalize a progressive on-street bicycle parking policy. It is long past due that we meaningfully catch up to Portland as the best biking city in America, and to do so we need an actual bicycle parking policy on our streets (above). Besides, any time you see people standing around on the street, it is probably a pretty good street, right?

3. Eliminate one freeway

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Following the Congress for the New Urbanism’s Highways to Boulevards initiative, I’d eliminate the viaduct that connects 3rd and 4th Streets to Interstate 94.

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But why stop at a boulevard? I’d restore Bassett Creek and make transform the route in to something more akin to the Cheonggyecheon in Seoul.

4. Welcome great architecture, but ensure it fits in to the city

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Is it right that the Walker faces a public realm like this (or that the proposed reconstruction of Hennepin/Lyndale is essentially a resurfacing project)?

National Gallery - 1996

What did London do when a congested roadway divided the National Gallery from Trafalgar Square?

National Gallery - 2003

They closed the street, giving it over to people, and the city as a whole benefited.


What if the Walker and Sculpture Garden faced a street that looked a little more like this (Paris)?

5. Restore respect for the public realm


Citing the civic travesty that way too many people use skyways on even the nicest days (see above), I would find a councilmember who has already announced their retirement to take one for the team and introduce a bill to remove one skyway per year until they are gone. Finding no takers, I’d issue an official but unenforceable decree to close all skyways immediately, after which a recall election would be held and I’d be forced from office. Maybe, though, just maybe, I’d have elevated the level of discussion around Minneapolis and gotten just enough residents and business leaders to come forward with their own plan, one that included putting on a coat in the winter and an understanding that because of our strong pedestrian policies, funding for street-level improvements, better zoning code and overall sense that our public places are more valuable than private, that therefore skyways are simply redundant and unnecessary. Then I’d be forced from office but quite proud of my legacy. And then Alice Hausman would have no reason to question the City of Minneapolis’ request of $25 million from the State of Minnesota for rebuilding Nicollet Mall based on the very good design ideas of James Corner Field Operations.

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.