Time for Downtown Minneapolis to Turn Over a New Leaf

I perked up this morning at the Star Tribune headline, “Growing a Greener Downtown Minneapolis,” written by the newspaper’s editorial council. While I applaud plans for more trees and greenery downtown, I must question whether Minneapolis has indeed “turned over a new leaf,” so to speak. While the Pathways to Places remains a plan, the evidence speaks to business as usual. Now comes the hard part of re-allocating resources to pay for, plant and maintain a greener downtown.

Those Aren't Street Trees!

Those Aren’t Street Trees!

The editorial contained two glaring problems. The first is the self admission that a greener downtown “will require money that the city doesn’t yet have.” Yes. I’d love to travel the world and purchase a large portfolio of real estate, but that requires money I don’t yet have. So we all have problems.

For the sake of argument, if we are to believe the final term sheet for the agreement between the city, MSFA and Ryan Companies, $59.27 million went towards the construction of a parking ramp for and skyway connections to the new Vikings stadium. That sum could buy 8,467 trees, based on a price of $7,000 per tree (why a single tree costs so much has more to do with adding the proper subsoil and replacing concrete; trees themselves are much cheaper). 8,467 trees! So you get the point: the city has the money (or had the money) to plant trees. For those of you who love skyways and parking ramps, greening money could come from other places, as the mayor’s new budget demonstrates. It’s worth mentioning that private property owners can benefit immensely from greenery, and should certainly foot some of this bill.

The second exception I took to the editorial was the conclusion, which reads, “the old model, based on cars, parking ramps and skyways is giving way to new preferences for walking, biking and transit-riding.” This is a rather fatuous statement. While I, too, would argue there is proof out there that more and more people are walking, biking and taking transit, I have to question how the recent proliferation of parking ramps and skyways downtown is really evidence that we’ve let go of our “old model.” If this is a generational thing, as the Strib presumes, then it seems as though the old generation still holds the purse strings. The conclusion that the old model is dead is particularly egregious considering it came from a newspaper that likely profited considerably from the sale of land where skyways and parking ramps are now being constructed, while the promised green space is not yet funded.

Blaming cyclists for lobbying for curbside space that would have otherwise gone for plantings…we’ll save that for another day.

Photos 220

Planting Street Trees Downtown is Like Riding a Bike

Before signing off as host of The Daily Show last week, Jon Stewart left us with some advice; “if you smell something, say something.” Well, I smell something.

To the Star Tribune’s credit, their editorial council indicated that “it will be better news when the plants are in the ground.” I couldn’t agree more.

This was crossposted at Joe Urban.

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.

18 thoughts on “Time for Downtown Minneapolis to Turn Over a New Leaf

  1. Pingback: Joe Urban » Blog Archive » Time for Downtown Minneapolis to Turn Over a New Leaf

  2. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    That last photo looks like a great dream for a greener (in both uses of the word) Minneapolis. Very realistic rendering. Too bad no such place really exists. 🙂

  3. Wayne

    I’d love to see more street trees. Except I know that they’re going to get them by narrowing the sidewalks instead of taking space from cars, so the congested too-narrow sidewalk problem is just going to keep getting worse. Then we’ll throw lamp posts, sandwich boards, sidewalk cafes and maybe a few random trash cans or sculptures in there and end up with nowhere left to walk. That’s how they do things here.

      1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg Post author

        Have not seen Lasalle yet – by that I mean I’ve seen it under construction but not the finished product.

        1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

          It’s (annoyingly) still not done, but they are widening the sidewalks and adding bumpouts. May not be enough to not be the worst street in downtown, but it’s looking like it will be better.

          1. Wayne

            A step in the right direction, but despite the bold plans for the future I don’t see much hope of taking space from drivers to provide a better pedestrian realm in more than a few isolated places. It needs to be everywhere, you can’t just pick a few things you’re already redoing while ignoring the rest of downtown and pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Just like with bike trails, a pedestrian route is only as good as its worst leg, and in downtown it gets pretty damned bad.

            1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

              As someone who walks downtown every day, including past the Local and wherever pedestrians have to share with sidewalk seating, I don’t really agree with you. Especially when it comes to anger at non-car uses like sidewalk cafes.

              It could be much better, especially away from Nicollet, it’s too car-oriented, but imostly the sidewalks are not actually bad.

              1. Wayne

                Follow up, then: Have you spent much time in other cities with better pedestrian realms? I only ask because comparatively it’s sad and pathetic here, which is probably why I’m so annoyed. Just because Nicollet is slightly more Pleasant than other (atrocious) downtown streets doesn’t make it a good pedestrian street. When your ‘main drag’ for pedestrians narrows to 4-5 feet due to obstructions at many locations you’ve got some problems.

  4. Sam NewbergSam Newberg Post author

    FYI – Update on the “unfunded” green space: Downtown East Commons has raised $7 million of $22 million needed for full buildout – http://www.startribune.com/city-companies-pledge-7-million-to-build-commons-park-in-downtown-minneapolis/321792171/

    Interesting how money to-date is only from already existing partners: Ryan Companies, Wells Fargo and the City of Minneapolis. Article does not say how much of the $7 million each of those parties contributed – keep in mind City of Minneapolis already spent $19 million to buy site.

    Let’s hope the rest of the $15 million is found, and soon.

  5. Pingback: To Become a Sustainable City, Atlanta Must Face Its Parking Addiction | Streetsblog.net

  6. Scott

    Good post, Sam. I had the same thoughts when reading the Star Tribune editorial. There is very little evidence outside Nicollet Mall & the Commons that downtown will become more walkable in the future. Parking ramps and skyways remain the priority, while street-level retail, improved transit service, and calmed auto traffic don’t seem likely anytime soon. Maybe the central part of downtown is a lost cause?

    1. Wayne

      They’re actively making (local) transit service worse with the 2 year detour of buses off the mall. The routing they picked on 3rd Ave is atrocious without doing something more like ‘temporarily’ swapping the outside lanes to bus only for the duration. Meanwhile express buses continue to speed right on through downtown in their dedicated double bus lanes on Marquette and 2nd.

    2. Sam NewbergSam Newberg Post author

      “Lost cause” is an interesting choice of words, but those words have been rattling around in my head every time I post something about downtown Minneapolis. If the question is “are we investing in our public realm and do we have a zoning code that together maximizes the pedestrian experience and results in excellent street life in downtown?” then perhaps it is a lost cause.

      1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg Post author

        That said, all the wonderful efforts to get people out on the streets and sidewalks are really important, and they help! Piazza on the Mall, the farmers market, food trucks, street level retail, buskers, etc.

        Hennepin Avenue has a pretty fun, lively sidewalk, with an eclectic bunch of people, and is particularly so around sunset when the theater marquees come on and people are milling about, heading from dinner to a show, maybe to the Twins game or First Av, grabbing a ride on a bike jitney, all that. And when you think about it, Hennepin Avenue has very few skyway crossings – there is a correlation.

        1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

          I don’t have any numbers, but observation says that Hennepin also has significantly fewer pedestrians at morning, lunch and evening commute times than Nicollet, which has several skyway crossings.

          Meanwhile Hennepin will have more if there’s a game or a popular show or concert.

          So, maybe there are active sidewalks when there’s a reason for people to be there, and the real challenge for most of downtown is that there isn’t any reason to be there other than during the business day?

          1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg Post author

            Good observation – you are probably right. There must be a source of pedestrians for good street life to exist, and Nicollet Mall is closer to the source of tens of thousands of office workers every weekday than Hennepin. So yes, even with more skyway crossings, Nicollet Mall has more pedestrians on a nice weekday.

            But all other things being equal, if skyways didn’t exist, every street would have more pedestrian activity because there wouldn’t be any second story pedestrian option. Then we wouldn’t need special events and amazing streetscaping to attract half of them to street level.

            So, whatever….

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