Edina, Minn — The City of Edina today announced ambitious plans to rebrand the aging Southdale District as “Stroaddale”, and to establish strict historic preservation guidelines to ensure that its low-density, stroad-oriented development is cherished for future generations. Stroaddale District is named for Stroaddale Center, and is roughly bounded by Crosstown to the north, Valley View Stroad to the west, 494/5 to the south, and Xerxes Avenue to the east.
“If there’s one thing we’ve heard loud and clear from residents, it’s that they want lower density of housing, and higher density of cars,” mayor Jim Hovland said at a press conference Wednesday. “Edina’s density is about 3,000 folks per square mile, roughly half that of our first-ring neighbor Richfield and a solid 25% less than St. Louis Park,” Hovland acknowledged when asked by Streets.mn. “But it’s just not low enough. Preserving stroad character is one of the best things we can do to keep these dangerous numbers down.”
The Stroaddale District began with Stroaddale Center, built in the late 1950s. At the time, Stroaddale was a radical departure from the form of surrounding built areas. The only immediate neighbor at the time was to the east, Richfield’s Lincoln Hills, which was built with small blocks, narrow lots, and alleys. But the new Stroaddale super-block was seven blocks wide and three blocks high. Big blocks meant big stroads, built with all the grandeur of rural expressways.
Stroaddale was a quick success, and set the stage for future stroads throughout the Twin Cities. Engineers and landscape architects responsible for Hiawatha Avenue, Virginia Triangle, and the Olson Memorial Stroad in Minneapolis — as well as Richfield’s 77th Street — have acknowledged that they drew inspiration from the seas of pavement in the Stroaddale District.
New Competition and Loss of Stroad Character
Despite initial success, interest in Edina’s stroads waned in the decades that followed. The 1990s in particular was a difficult decade for the Stroaddale District. 1990 saw the opening of the Mall of America, one of the most ambitious stroad projects the Twin Cities has ever seen. Stroads were built as seamless extensions of the regional freeways, with none of the bordering streets under seven lanes. “When it comes to creating a pedestrian-repellant urban form, it’s tough to beat Bloomington,” acknowledged Cary Teague, Edina’s director of Community Development. “I mean, they made it illegal to cross the street! By comparison, meager 5-lane York Avenue might as well be a dirt path in the countryside.”
Unrest came from within, too. Centennial Lakes was a large public-private project that developed gravel pits to the south of Stroaddale Center. Although the design was careful to preserve roadway character on France Avenue — with parking garages and surface lots facing the stroad — the interior design posed serious risk to the character of the District. A spectacular public park surrounded recreational ponds, including many public amenities. “Centennial Lakes was a big risk, and I think we’ve learned our lesson,” said Teague, acknowledging that the creation of attractive, actually public space was not in-line with the vision for the area.
Recent Assaults on Stroadiness
Unfortunately, Centennial Lakes wasn’t the end to decisions that would jeopardize the Stroaddale District. In recent years, neighbors to the west have consistently fought against attractive, mixed-use buildings along France Avenue.
“7200 France is really a bellwether project,” said Wilford Nimbybotham III, chairman of Cornelia Residents Uninterested in Density (CRUD). “If we have people living in apartments, going to a corner shop on the first floor… what will become of our neighborhood?” Despite not being asked about the matter, Nimbybotham further volunteered that the presence of Section 42 workforce housing in the project was not a factor in CRUD’s opposition. “I have many workforce friends,” he said.
Even more contentious was a proposal for a homeless youth shelter to the north of Stroaddale Center. The project plans to turn a small site of an old TCF Bank into 39 studio apartments for homeless youth. An group of unnamed citizens sued in an attempt to block the project, but ultimately failed. The leader of this group agreed to speak only under the condition of keeping their identity totally anonymous.
One of the biggest concerns was the proximity to a Montessouri school. “Criminal activity and children are not compatible,” said the group’s leader, using homelessness and criminal activity synonymously. “Safety is an issue for the female employees of the school.”
“But really, this is about what’s best for the community as a whole. We even funded our own detailed parcel-by-parcel analysis determining where a homeless youth site might be better located.” The results of that study were provided to Streets.mn:
A New Plan Forward
New standards will be drafted by Edina city planners to ensure adequate parking visibility, single-use zoning, and sufficiently low Floor Area Ratio (FAR), and are expected to be adopted by the City Council in late 2015. But public improvements to the Stroaddale District have already begun, starting with a pedestrian improvement project last summer along France Avenue.
“The key with the France Avenue project was to make it safer for pedestrians, while still making sure it was an environment no one would ever choose to walk in.” said Chad Millner, Edina’s city engineer. “We took a lot of flak from national stroadscape architects for removing all those free right turns, but they miss some of the finer details — we removed crosswalks, left the boulevard barren of trees. We’re dedicated to making sure the character of France is preserved.”
Gateway signage will be installed in early May, and will be modally specific. The welcome message for motorists will be displayed across the Fairview Stroaddale skyway, while pedestrians will be greeted by orange construction barrels, located in roughly the middle of the sidewalk.