Minneapolis: An Urban Transformation?

Minneapolis has undergone a tremendous amount of urban growth in the past seven years. And, for all the complaints constructive-criticism that we, at streets.mn, have provided, it should be noted that Minneapolis has truly transformed into a better, more dynamic urban place.

Google Streetview has opened up its archives (dating back to 2007 in the Twin Cities) and we can see the transformations at the ground level. While Streetview doesn’t completely capture the change, it’s a good place to start.

Here’s a look at a few of Minneapolis’ success stories.

Washington Avenue through the University of Minnesota campus, has made the most drastic change; from a road choked with cars to a pedestrian-friendly transit mall. What were once small buildings are now six-story apartment buildings.


Next, is the Mill City District on 2nd near the Guthire Theater. If you could rewind time to 2005, this would look even more drastic. I use to tailgate for Minnesota Twins games on what is now Gold Medal Park. At that time, it was an open surface asphalt parking lot littered with broken beer bottles.


Uptown may have had the greatest population increase. It has successfully transformed industry land and under-utilized empty space into apartments along the Greenway.



You don’t have to look far to see other urban transformations, such as Park & Portland, University Avenue, Central Ave in NE, North Loop, and  behind Target Field. It’s good to see Minneapolis is moving in the right direction …

What did I miss? What are some other success stories?

33 thoughts on “Minneapolis: An Urban Transformation?

    1. Michael RodenMichael Roden

      This shot is really incredible. I live right around the corner from there. I consider that street my favorite “alley” because it feels so small, contained, and quiet. It’s amazing so see how different it was only 7 years ago.

  1. Stephen Gross

    First of all, nice job on rounding up those photos. It is really quite amazing and dramatic to see the changes, especially along the greenway.

    I heard somewhere that total Mpls population has actually declined. Is that correct? If so, who’s moving into these high-density buildings, and where from?

    1. Matt Brillhart

      The City’s population declined from 1950-1990, rose a bit in 2000, and stayed basically flat to 2010 (pop. 382,578). Population has jumped significantly since the economic recovery, with the 2013 estimate over 400,000 population, a number we have not seen in nearly four decades. It will likely be around 410,000 in the 2014 estimates, which should be out in a few months.

      The thing about the population staying flat between 2000 and 2010, despite the beginnings of the development boom in the Mill District, North Loop, and Uptown, is that household size has continued to fall, in both new and existing housing units. More people are living alone than ever in history, meaning you need many more households to constitute the same population. If Minneapolis ever reaches its historic population high of 520,000 people (1950 Census) it will likely be with twice as many (or more) households than we had back then.

  2. Rosa

    Hi-Lake would make a great pair of shots, I think. Though the housing added there is partly hidden (and some is still being constructed).

    And the view of the Mill District in, like, 1999-2000 was pretty much industrial wasteland, it would make an even more dramatic image, like you said.

  3. Rosa

    oh! And a ton of stuff that you see around the Greenway. Like the soccer field compared to the nothing that was there when it was train tracks.

  4. g bernard hughes

    i think its important to keep in mind that the high-end apartment/condo boom has helped to create another “transformation” – the concentration of poverty in the neighhoods just south & east of downtown – & the resulting deterioration of those neighborhoods.

    1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten

      I always thought those neighborhoods were lower income, can you show me a map or two (did MetCouncil’s old plans have the poverty maps, their THRIVE 2040 does, but what of 2030) ?

      I’d also question what would have happened if the condo boom hadn’t happened, just spreading out poverty shouldn’t be a goal, the mixing of people should be a goal. Were there high income residents in the areas before to encourage this mixing and robust economic ladder? How can we get people to the new areas of poverty who are of higher income (even if just to find a once a week lunch joint)?

    2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      Um, what? Those neighborhoods have had concentrated poverty for as long as I can remember.

      And, in fact, have made progress of their own. Walk Bloomington Avenue between Franklin and Lake if you don’t believe me (an act that on it’s own shows a lot has changed).

      I’ll leave aside how replacing underutilized industrial space along the green way with housing has “displaced” anyone.

  5. Keith Morris

    Kinda surprised Dinkytown wasn’t mentioned: quite a few dense buildings have gone or are going up.

  6. Adam

    Well we haven’t broken any architectural ceilings in the last 7 years. To your point, yes there has been a transformation, on the other hand does it look attractive? Minnesota Modern.

    1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten

      More attractive than surface parking, and freeways through campus… I think they could be better done, more masonry structures, etc. But if this is what we get, I think it’s an improvement.

      1. Adam

        I am all for quality infill, density, etc. And yes, you are so correct that it doesn’t meet my stylistic preferences. Dean Tom Fisher recent wrote in the STrib about the lack of effort in design of new multifamily construction. Pretty sure I’m not the only one in the Twin Cities that is tired of the same bland metal paneling with standardized underground garage, concrete first floor, with sticks above. I simply think our urban fabric is enhanced when we build better buildings, not just replicate each block, like Washington Avenue.

        1. Peter

          Would you (and many others) have said the same thing 100 years ago when scores of generic brick buildings were going up? Are we able to judge a 5 year old building the same way we judge a 105 year old building? I think the long lens of history changes quite a bit.

          Maybe in 100 years half of these buildings will have been replaced, but how many of the buildings built 100 years ago are still around? It’s easy to look at what’s left and assume everything was like that. Much like I’m sure in 100 years our great grand children will look at what’s left and wish for the good old days of solid metal panels as opposed to today’s holographic walls or whatever will be going on.

          Basically we can’t hold everything built today to the same standard that we do the stuff that’s lasted until now.

          1. Adam

            I’m not a radical preservationist. There are plenty of buildings built 100 years ago that I consider mistakes. I am simply advocating for better architecture and design in the buildings that we are building today.

            1. Peter

              See I basically agree with you. But what is “good” architecture? We look at the old stuff and say that’s “good” and what’s built today is “bad.” But could you have stood in Minneapolis in 1915 and said “yes this is good” the same way you can stand now in 2015 and say “yes this is bad?”

              It’s easy to look back 100 years and figure out what worked and what didn’t. But that’s analyzing the past. It’s not as easy to predict the future.

              If the argument is “it all looks the same” then that doesn’t mean anything. Look at Nick’s tweet just below. Or Brooklyn brownstones.

              Can we objectively judge architectural quality? Is there some rubric we can use to grade a 100 year old building next to one built today and figure out which one is good and which one is bad?

              Most of architecture and design seems to be a violent reaction to the previous generation. We love it and then we hate it and if somehow it lasts beyond that we slowly love it again until we think we’ve loved it all along.

              I think it’s hubris to make a prediction about any style of architecture as if you understand what its entire lifecycle is going to be.

              Now that doesn’t mean we just build whatever the hell we want and let the wrecking ball sort it out in 50 years, it just means we shouldn’t be so quick to jump to the defence of the old at the expense of the new.

              1. Joe ScottJoe

                Peter, I agree with you that sameness is not a compelling critique of new local buildings.

                You said, “Most of architecture and design seems to be a violent reaction to the previous generation. We love it and then we hate it and if somehow it lasts beyond that we slowly love it again until we think we’ve loved it all along.”

                I agree that modern architecture is a violent reaction to more traditional forms. But I see the pattern your describing as mostly limited to the 20th century. I also think we need to be careful about conflating the ideologies of architects and the opinions of the general public.

                Is there any evidence that, as architecture changed rapidly in the mid-twentieth century, average people grew to actively “hate” older buildings? This might be true, but I’ve never seen any evidence of it.

                I also think you’re overlooking the degree of continuity in architecture prior to the 20th century. Institutional architecture evolved relatively slowly, and vernacular architecture even more slowly.

                Do you think that people living in vernacular wooden houses in the 1800’s resented their resemblance to wooden houses from the 1600’s? Probably not if they built them themselves.

                There may not be an objective rubric by which architectural quality can be judged, but many people have posited subjective frameworks for doing just that, which unfortunately is probably the best we’ll ever do.

                One of those is Christopher Alexander, who wrote a book called The Timeless Way of Building. You would have to read the book to get a full appreciation for how Alexander proposes to assess the merits of architecture. But his central idea is to make buildings more humane by increasing the influence of their future occupants on their design, and he has a whole philosophy around how aspects of a building can be more or less humane, durable and useful. Another book of his, A Pattern Language, is as close to a rubric as you’ll get, so that might be worth checking out as well.

                Here’s a link to a .pdf of The Timeless Way of Building: http://library.uniteddiversity.coop/Ecological_Building/The_Timeless_Way_of_Building_Complete.pdf

                Another relevant book is Architecture Without Architects by Bernard Rudofsky. It’s a light-hearted tour of the merits of vernacular architecture that evolves slowly to meet the specific needs of a people and/or geography. Here is a link to that book:


                You could also check out How Buildings Learn by Stewart Brand, which was made into a series on the BBC and is available on youtube: http://youtu.be/AvEqfg2sIH0

              2. Joe ScottJoe Scott

                Peter, I agree that sameness is not a compelling critique of new local buildings.

                You said, “Most of architecture and design seems to be a violent reaction to the previous generation. We love it and then we hate it and if somehow it lasts beyond that we slowly love it again until we think we’ve loved it all along.”

                I think this characterization is overly broad. The architecture of the late 20th century may be a violent reaction to more traditional forms, but one should be careful about conflating the opinions of architects and average people. As architecture changed rapidly in the 20th century, did average people begin to actively “hate” traditional buildings? Maybe to some degree, but I’ve never seen any compelling evidence that it happened.

                I also think you’ve underestimated the continuity of pre-20th century architecture. Institutional architecture evolved slowly, and vernacular architecture evolved even more slowly.

                Do you think people living in wooden houses in the 1800’s resented their resemblance to wooden houses from the 1600’s? Probably not if they built them themselves.

                We’ll never have an objective rubric for judging the quality of architecture, but many people have posited subjective frameworks that could be used to consistently judge historic buildings against those of the present.

                One of those is Christopher Alexander, who wrote a book called The Timeless Way of Building. You would have to read the book to get a complete understanding of how Alexander proposes to judge the merits of architecture. But the gist of his idea is that a building’s future occupants be given more influence in its design (as is the case in vernacular architecture) and he has a whole philosophy about how aspects of a building can be humane, durable and useful. He also wrote another book called A Pattern Language, which is as close to a rubric as you can get.

                Here’s a link to The Timeless Way of Building: http://library.uniteddiversity.coop/Ecological_Building/The_Timeless_Way_of_Building_Complete.pdf

                Another relevant book is Architecture Without Architects by Bernard Rudofsky. It’s a light-hearted tour of the merits of vernacular architecture that has evolved to suit the needs of a people and/or geography over a long time. Here’s a link to a .pdf of that book: http://monoskop.org/images/d/d3/Rudofsky_Bernard_Architecture_Without_Architects_A_Short_Introduction_to_Non-Pedigreed_Architecture.pdf

                You could aso check out How Buildings Learn by Stewart Brand. It was made into a miniseries for the BBC and is available on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AvEqfg2sIH0

              3. Wayne

                My only complaint might be that everything is a little ‘samey’ but even that’s barely a complaint because, let’s be honest, almost everything built during the same time period tends to have similar styles. I can even see how the sleek modernist and imposing brutalist buildings seemed really cool when they were new by their contrast to everything around them. Now they look awful and I want to tear them all down, but hey, whatever. I’m sure some people thought all the 4-5 story brick apartment buildings built around the turn of the century were awful and samey too.

                I guess I also don’t think every building needs to be a gem. Sure not much exciting has been built recently, but can you honestly point to a city where more than a few percent of new construction is architecturally striking? There’s a lot of average buildings everywhere and as long as they’re not actively ugly or hostile to urban living I can deal with them.

      2. Joe ScottJoe

        I get the impression that for some streets.mn readers, any architectural critique implies a preference for the prior condition of the site. We could go around in circles all day with one person saying new buildings are unattractive, and another person retorting that they are superior to parking lots, but I don’t see how these arguments necessarily have much to do with each other. There are problems in the world, but I don’t want to return to Nothingness. If someone is criticizing the aesthetics of a building, why dismiss them by telling them it’s not a parking lot? They know that already.

        Another trope is the dismissal of architectural critique by consigning it to the implicitly irrelevant realm of personal preference. To begin thinking about how architectural aesthetics might matter outside of “personal preference,” consider the opening paragraph of The Economic Currency of Architectural Aesthetics by Paul Clarke.

        “My objective is to argue that the shift in architectural philosophy from modernism to postmodernism reflects a profound transition in advanced capitalism and accordingly in the production and control of space and space relations. It is a simple assertion that architecture costs money and occupies space. It is therefore integral to the production of space and the spatial configurations of the urbanism of our political economy. Not so simple is the assertion that architectural theories and aesthetics themselves possess political and economic significance. In other words, phenomena like modernism and postmodernism are political agendas; each confronts us not simply as style, but rather as a cultural evocation which promotes and propels a range of very different urban phenomena.”

        Architectural style can have real and perceived significance outside of some abstract and inconsequential “preference.” Can we please stop shutting down any critique of contemporary architecture on the grounds that it’s better than a parking lot, or that architectural aesthetics are the exclusive purview of personal stylistic preference and have absolutely no bearing on the rest of reality?

        1. Peter Bajurny

          I’d welcome any critique that isn’t “lol its bad” but isn’t also some ten thousand word treatise published by an architecture professor that nobody can understand.

          I think maybe there is some objective analysis possible because there are things like the rule of thirds where we can basically objectively judge something and explain why it’s pleasing.

          I’m not sure what makes metal panelling more or less bland than brick, for example. Maybe there’s an objective reason in there, I don’t know. But I haven’t seen it.

          I’ve seen claims that things are “the same” or “suburban” etc etc, and I don’t know what those mean. They’re just nothing words that are just expressing some feeling the writer is having about a building. And that certainly is a real feeling that a person is having and that shouldn’t be discredited. But maybe that’s all it is, just a feeling. Maybe that person needs a better vocabulary to express it. Maybe we all need a better vocabulary to talk about these things.

          Also maybe there’s commentary on the form hiding in commentary on the architecture. I’d much rather we have small lot development than our current trend of whole block developments, but that’s not really an architecture or design problem, that’s an economics and zoning problem.

          On another hand, I sometimes think to myself about a building “eh they can’t all be rockstars and we need some good generic background buildings” but I realize that they can’t all be generic background buildings. But they shouldn’t all be superstar standouts either.

          Overall I think there’s a huge need for better discussion on these issues. I don’t think cries of sameness and suburbaness are useful, but I don’t think “at least it’s not a parking lot” is super useful either (although one of those claims can be objectively proven). But is it possible for that discussion to be accessible to people without a degree in architecture? I have on idea.

        2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

          As long as the critique is “it’s ugly” or “it all looks the same,” I’m not sure a lot of greater engagement is needed.

          Such apparently shallow critiques smell rather strongly of unconsidered opposition to change.

          Granted, “does it look attractive” may have meant more than “is it ascetically pleasing [to me]” in ways that could have meant something, but the shallow version of the critique is so omnipresent that it’s hard to grant the benefit of the doubt. I’ll endeavor to do better.

          1. Peter Bajurny

            I’d like to win a debate because I’m right, not because the other side sucks at debating 🙂

          2. Wayne

            I know what you’re saying, because a lot of knee-jerk opposition to any development uses the same kind of language. A building may be objectively ugly but that doesn’t always mean it shouldn’t get built. I think most would prefer an attractive building, but some development opportunities don’t really have the financials to justify anything other than a mediocre building. Or maybe they do but the developer doesn’t feel like diminishing their ROI with extra fancy architectin’.

            Maybe it’s a bit extreme to think that it’s an either/or– either you build an ugly building or it stays vacant, but I think we’ve all seen plenty of examples where a proposal that was killed led to a lot sitting vacant (even in prime locations) for a decade or more. So, uh, I’m not really sure what my point was here.

  7. Matty LangMatty Lang

    I miss the Washington Ave. SE of my college days (94-98) when I felt like I was risking life and limb each day when I crossed it on my way to and from class. Such adrenaline. Much nostalgia.

Comments are closed.