Live Closer To Stuff

I was thinking about writing this post well before today’s Dear smug urbanites, stop ridiculing the suburb I love defens(iveness) of suburban living in the Strib, but that commentary seems like a good motivation to actually sit down and write it.

But it’s also a bit funny, because I don’t have much to say to its author. I’m glad she likes where she lives and agree that some of the criticisms she responds to are silly (where are things not largely beige?). If she’s weighed the pros and cons and is happy with her choice, good for her.

Let’s keep in mind that the policy choices and marketing-driven cultural influences of the past weigh heavily in favor of the choice she’s made. Culture says we’re supposed to want a single family home with a yard. Land use policy says that level of undensity is generally expensive unless it’s far away from stuff (or, more accurately, that its price is substantially reduced thanks to subsidized suburban infrastructure). And the good old American auto industry is there to offer you the true freedom that comes from owning a car. If you want a house with a three car garage and your budget is $250,000, it’s out to the outer suburbs for you (or is it?).

I want to push back and ask whether the assumptions underlying those factors are what people really “want.”

Let’s start with cars = freedom. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, because in my mostly urban life, this does not feel right. Using my car generally limits my freedom (especially the two times recently when I made the mistake of driving to suburban shopping locations on the weekend). It’s a mild pain to retrieve from the garage. It’s a mild pain to find parking. Adding in more stops increases those minor annoyances in ways that do not exist at all if I’m walking and exist to a lesser extent if I’m on my bike. If I’m out without a car and the plan changes (I’m a stick-to-the-plan kind of guy, sadly), I think, “you know, there is no reason I can’t just zip over there.” If I’m driving, I think, “ugh, I need to fight through another crowded parking lot.”

So where does this notion that cars are freedom come from (aside from more than a half century of auto maker marketing)? In a word: space.

Cars feel like freedom when they are necessary to cross larger spaces. If you’re at the lake and its a 20 minute drive to the store or restaurant, the minor inconvenience of getting into, parking and getting out of your car pales in comparison to what you’d have to do to get somewhere without it. There’s just no other way to deal with the five or ten or twenty miles you need to cover.

Which brings us back to suburbs. I picked a Woodbury cul-de-sac more or less at random on a map and drew a one-mile radius around it:

A mile radius around a random Woodbury cul-de-sac

A mile radius around a random Woodbury cul-de-sac.

The average reasonably healthy adult can comfortably walk at a pace around three miles per hour, so one mile is roughly a 20 minute walk. How much of their lives can the people who live on this cul-de-sac live within that area just using their feet for transportation?

Well, there are no sidewalks in their development, so maybe nothing outside the home, but let’s assume they are willing to walk in the street on their quiet neighborhood streets. And it looks like there are multi-use paths along the Radio Drive and Bailey Road, the two adjacent arterials, so it’s nice that they aren’t physically limited to only leaving by car.

I’m only looking at maps, but it looks like there are schools, at least a couple of churches, a grocery store (which it seems you can walk to in just under mile) within the circle and a few places to eat on the very fringes. That’s actually pretty good, but they almost certain can’t work within that mile.

And is it better than, for example, here:

A not as random Minneapolis radius

A not as random Minneapolis radius

Sure, you’re probably not working within this one mile radius either, but you might work downtown and here you have to option to take the train from the 50th Street Station. You also have a grocery store, a coffee shop, several places to eat, a library, multiple parks, schools, several churches, a post office and banks within a few blocks walk (the nearest pharmacy is a little bit farther, but still within the radius). There is even an easily navigable grid of streets with sidewalks on which to get to and from them. And it’s still a neighborhood of single family homes.

I know where my preferences lie (even though this is not my neighborhood). I’ve said repeatedly on this blog and elsewhere that I think everyone should live within an easy walk of a grocery store, a liquor store, a pharmacy and at least a few places to eat. I don’t expect everyone to share these preferences but I would, however, hope that everyone at least honestly weighs the costs in time, convenience and money involved with not having the option to get to stuff without driving.

Yes, I know these aren’t the only factors. I’ve not covered schools or price. I’ve not covered perceived or actual safety differences (seriously, they are mostly perceived). I just think people should place a lot more value on their time and the convenience of accomplishing their every day tasks, which can be a lot more pleasant without a car.

Adam Miller

About Adam Miller

Adam Miller works downtown and lives in South Minneapolis. He's an avid user of the city's bike paths, sidewalks and skyways. He's not entirely certain he knows what the word "urbanist" means.

97 thoughts on “Live Closer To Stuff

  1. Wayne

    One of my big problems I have with Minneapolis is that it’s hard to actually live close enough to stuff. Even in most of the city the density is just too low and amenities are too few and far between. Things tend to be concentrated in just a few neighborhoods, which make the rest of the city essentially suburban, albeit with a better built form than most burbs. For my particular brand of car-free living I basically have maybe 5 neighborhoods I could live in, and I don’t particularly like 3-4 of them. So I live in the fifth one, but housing options are pretty limited and expensive since I guess others used the same calculus and drew the same conclusions.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller Post author

      I wouldn’t say amenities are too few and far between, because I think of amenities as things like parks and the like. Those are pretty well distributed.

      But services – grocery stores, pharmacies, etc – are definitely too few and far between, both because of a lack of density and because of long term trends toward bigger formats and (I think) historical planning that wanted to separate uses. The good news is that I think those are now reversing.

      1. Wayne

        Ok, you got me. I meant services not amenities.

        Things are getting better, but it’s slow going and I don’t want to live in uptown, the north loop or with a bunch of college students right next to the U, so … we’ve got a ways to go.

        1. Rosa

          How far are you willing to walk for services? A lot of the neighborhoods that are mostly single-family homes still have little commercial nodes that cover most services. I kind of whine about being a whole mile from a big grocery store, pharmacy, or library but in actuality we have a perfectly good small grocery store 4 blocks from us, and everything else we could need within a mile. Hardware stores and pharmacies have gotten thinner on the ground but bar-restaurants are popping up all over.

          1. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

            Two things to add to Rosa’s comment:

            – As a kid, I can’t even begin to count the number of times where (especially during the summer), my mother would send me on a bike ride to the local market (an IGA at the time, now a Kowalski’s) to pick up a few spur-of-the-moment things she needed.

            – When I was stationed in Norfolk for my final time (2012-14), I deliberately picked an apartment complex where, except for the commute or things I needed to get on base, I was within a 12 minute bike ride of just about everything I otherwise needed. Worked great too since it was an average 4.5 minutes to walk up to and get my car out of the parking garage, whereas I could get started on my bike in 30 seconds (living on the ground floor helped immensely in this regard).

            This worked especially great with grocery shopping, in contrast with Monte’s stated experience. If leaving from home, I was a 9 minute bike ride away from the local chain supermarket…Harris Teeter, basically the mid-Atlantic equivalent of Lunds but not quite as expensive. I could effectively get there in the same amount of time on bike as I could driving. Monte complains about having to stock up so much so that a bike wouldn’t work. In my experience, this is purely a lifestyle choice. I’ve found that twice a week (no real need for more than that) and smaller quantities keeps things fresher with less potential for spoiling. Also makes it much easier to transport by bike (usually in my backpack…I also had saddle bags for my uniforms and shower stuff from when I bike commuted, but didn’t always need them).

            As I’ve often said elsewhere, “your local mileage may vary”, and what works for Monte may be the best for him. But that may not work out well for others (and perhaps even him at some distant point in the future).

            1. Bill Dooley

              Just wanted to note given the hundreds of comments re the original story on the Star Tribune web site, these comments, and comments starting to come in on the MinnPost site, we have quite a conversation going regarding this lifestyle and allocation of resources issue. The divide reminds me of our current political divisions and I wonder if these gaps will be bridged anytime soon. My guess is eventually demographics will shift living towards more urban and compact living environments, and younger city dwellers will not move to the suburbs or stay in the suburbs for more square footage, schools that spin off higher SAT scores, and a less multicultural environment and our grandchildren will find this debate to have been curious.

  2. Monica Millsap RasmussenMonica Rasmussen

    Loretta Ellsworth’s editorial was interesting. I, too, grew up in Iowa, but had a completely different view of the suburbs when I moved to the Twin Cities metro area. Basically, I was told from everyone who lived near me in Iowa that you needed to move to the actual city because the suburbs were just full of houses and no shops, nothing to go to. If you move to the city instead, you’ll have great buses and be able to walk to everything. I took their advice and moved to Saint Paul. Since living here, I have found that suburbs do have some areas that are walkable, do have some houses that are affordable and offer plenty of employment opportunities for my field. I might have chosen differently had I explored my options a little bit more.

    1. Rosa

      That’s really interesting. My mom (from Iowa, now retired & traveling) is always running into other Iowans whose kids live “in Minneapolis” but they actually mean, like, Lakeville or Woodbury or something. All I heard when I moved up here was the scariness of the Cities. When, actually, Powderhorn pretty much resembles my hometown except at the edge there’s more city instead of cornfields.

      1. Monte Castleman

        That’s been my experience. I got tired of saying that I’m from “Bloomington” or the “Twin Cities” so now I just say I’m from “Minneapolis” if I’m outside the area.

        My relatives in rural Wisconsin wonders how I can live in an area where crime is so high, just like there’s that impression here in the suburbs of the cities. I’m sure people in the cities think that way about specific neighborhoods, and then the people in the neighborhoods can point out specific blocks or apartment complexes…

        1. Rosa

          Bloomington is a hell of a lot closer to the core than most of these people mean, though. Actually, back in the ’50s my grandparents lived in Bloomington (right where the MOA is, I think – I was confused for a long time because my grandma kept saying it was “where they built that stadium”) as a one-car family where Grandpa took the car out on the road for 6 days of the week and Grandma & the kids walked to the corner store or took the bus “into town” for fancy shopping.

          1. Monica Millsap RasmussenMonica Rasmussen

            This is all funny- maybe people in my town know more people who live in the metro area than most Iowans. They all seem to know distinctions of the suburbs, etc. It is even funny when I say I live in St Paul, *they* think that I’m generalizing and ask, do you live in the city itself or a suburb. They even seem to know the nearby suburbs, which after living here 20 years, I still don’t know most of them!

  3. Keith Morris

    I’ve always been confused by the “freedom” claims. Oh yeah, what freedom to be able to go to the “good” Chili’s and the rest of the same exact places in every sprawling suburb; so many Wal-Marts to choose from!

    Living in the burbs is not a choice I can respect, since to paraphrase good ole Ben Franklin, it both breaks my bones and picks my pocket. I not only have e subsidize their choices even in the city. I don’t get a discount at Rustica for not using the parking that’s contributes to the price of their delectable pastries, but suburbanites get their parking paid for. And funny how suburbanites love their cul de sacs, since it’s impossible to speed on those streets, but in the city our lives don’t get the same value or respect. To tie with a recent post, they get to speed at 30 MPH down our streets where many more people live, young and old. And their representatives in the county and state certainly aren’t calling to open those cul de sacs into open stroads.

    1. Wayne

      This! So much this! I get so irritated in the ways my life is made worse for the convenience of suburban drivers and that I actually have to pay for their privilege! They endanger my life, degrade my quality of life, pollute my air, raise my prices and gobble up my tax money for their infrastructure and convenience. Then they have the gall to make snide comments about city dwellers like we’re not making their lifestyle possible through the massive outflow of our tax dollars to subsidize the things necessary for it all to work.

      1. Sam

        Yeah, I also don’t love that the only reason “car freedom” exists in Minneapolis is that they cut the city into pieces, choked off downtown and the entire north side, displaced a boatload of (mostly black and poor) people, and destroyed a whole bunch of neighborhoods when they built 35W, 394, 94, and 55 to get people from Lakeville in and out of the remainder of the city faster.

    2. Monte Castleman

      Yes, that’s what we mean by freedom. I can step into my car and drive down the block, to the nearest Walmart (so I don’t have to pay astronomical prices at the local neighborhood stores). Or too Chicago. Just try that walking. I can go anywhere in my car, except perhaps Mt McKinley or down Nicollet Mall.

      And what about all the subsidies flowing from the suburbs to the cities. Bloomington is a huge looser in fiscal disparities. My property property taxes would be $200 a year less without it, and St. Paul is one of the biggers winners. What about 2/3rds of the operating costs of transit, which isn’t this primarily used by residents of the cities?

      1. Peter Bajurny

        Fiscal Disparities distributes based on growth from the 1970s base, not total property tax. So Bloomington pays more because it wasn’t fully developed like Minneapolis and St Paul already were.

        I know you love the suburbs and you’ve somehow attached a vast portion of your identity to being vehemently pro suburb, but you tend to make some pretty bad arguments in favor of it.

      2. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

        I believe we’ve established, through past discussions, that you are an exception rather than a norm, Monte. Far more suburbanites have to drive considerable distances to get to a big box, when they have smaller or regional chain stores closer.

      3. Rosa

        Where it becomes an issue is if nobody can get to those places without a car because the streets are designed just for you. I actually shop at the WalMart in Bloomington (is there more than one? I mean the one on American Boulevard) sometimes, because I have a recurring appointment near there. So a couple weeks ago I was talking to a woman at the checkout about weather and the cost of groceries and whatnot. She can’t afford to keep a car, so she can work at that WalMart – the bus goes right down American pretty often, and there are sidewalks and safe-ish crosswalks – but there are a lot of Walmarts where the people who work there can’t really afford to keep a car but would be risking life and limb to get there any other way.

  4. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    I looked up that general Woodbury location on Google Maps and the Metro Transit map, eager to be able to refute your comparison of transit options between the site: “maybe you can’t walk anywhere directly,” I thought, “but i bet you can get on an express bus at least a couple times a day to downtown.”

    Nope, not even close. Your best nonmotorized option would be bicycling — either to a location in Woodbury, or to one of the park-and-rides in the northwest corner. This is conceivable, but I doubt many do it given the roads one has to traverse.

    One tricky aspect, though, is the suburban job centers. Of my friends who live within the City of Minneapolis, the solid majority work outside Minneapolis — some in St. Paul, but transit from her home in South Minneapolis is inconvenient enough that she drives every day anyway.

    And I’ve talked before about suburban and inner-ring retail concentrations. You might have a smaller neighborhood option nearby near 50th St Station, but when you want to buy a lot and do it cheap, I bet you’re either driving to the Windom Cub or Richfield Target. I know someone who lives downtown — within a mile of Lunds, Target, and Whole Foods — who prefers driving to the Fridley Target to get her groceries.

    So where should you live close to? There’s a clear argument for not living in Lakeville, but should you live in Woodbury if you work at 3M? Should you live in Richfield if you do most of your shopping at Target? (Believe it or not, a lot of people I know my age say the Target was a major factor in deciding to buy where they did.)

    1. Brian

      I relate to your point on suburban job centers. I work in Richfield and live in far south Diamond Lake neighborhood of Minneapolis. That makes getting to work by bike or bus relatively easy (although getting downtown would be easier). However, there isn’t very much within that walkable radius of my house (certainly not much variety). We used to live in Seward which had much more that we walked to, and we still end up there quite a bit (by car). However, moving back that direction would make commuting to work by non-car means much more onerous and I probably wouldn’t do it.

      1. Rosa

        it’s especially complicated in a 2-career household, too. For a while they were talking about moving my husband’s office out of central Minneapolis. That would have made our lives really difficult.

    2. Adam MillerAdam Miller Post author

      I was most definitely not comprehensive and, frankly, this Woodbury location turned out to be a lot better than I expected.

      But my point isn’t “live in this Minneapolis neighborhood” it’s “live closer to stuff.” Which stuff matters is obviously going to matter and vary a lot.

      Also, Richfield is a lot more like south Minneapolis than it is Lakeville or Woodbury to my eyes.

      1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

        > Also, Richfield is a lot more like south Minneapolis than it is Lakeville or Woodbury to my eyes

        I agree — I mention it only in a suburban-ish context in the situation of considering the big boxes. While the city’s form is very similar to South Minneapolis, it has a number of suburban big boxes. So does Minneapolis, of course, at the Quarry and Hi-Lake, among other locations. There are also arguably suburban-style job centers along 494 (US Bank and Best Buy) — although since they do have fairly high-frequency, all-day transit service, it isn’t quite the same question as 3M or Medtronic or others.

        But my basic point is: if you depend on suburban-style shopping (be it in Richfield, at Hi-Lake, Quarry, or Park Center in St. Louis Park), should you locate close to that shopping? Should you live close to things, or close to the particular things you need the most?

        1. Adam MillerAdam Miller Post author

          Great question. Personally, I really want to be close to a grocery store, because I like to be able to stop on the way home from work and pick up something to cook for dinner. I do that several time a week, because I eat a lot of fresh produce. I’d argue that everyone should want to do the same, but I’m not quite that naive 😉

          But if you’re going to drive to a large format store once a week for your grocery shopping anyway, that would seem like it would be less important to you. You might want to be closer to something else you visit more frequently.

  5. Noelle

    Not all suburbs are created equal, and I think you find these types of bad examples in the outer ring/newer suburbs which are more sprawl-ey and way less pedestrian-friendly. I happen to live in Roseville where I am within about a mile of not one but two grocery stores (one of which has a liquor store), a pharmacy (in addition to the pharmacies located in said grocery stores), and numerous restaurants (even a mix of local and chains), along with a UPS store and the dry cleaners. I’m also within 1-2 mile walking distance of at least 2-3 parks, and I’m just over a mile away from my park and ride that takes me into my office in downtown Mpls. I’m also about a half mile walk from a bus stop, where I could take a connecting bus to a high frequency route that goes to both downtown Mpls and St. Paul.

    I guess this is so I can chime in by saying I’m a smug suburbanite.

  6. Eric

    “I don’t expect everyone to everyone to share these preferences…”

    It kind of reads like you want to convince everyone who doesn’t share those preferences that they are wrong.

        1. Wayne

          I’m not going to get into this can of worms, but I meant that their preferences are probably informed by either an incorrect or incomplete set of information. Many people think their suburban lifestyle is preferable because it’s cheaper/easier but it’s only cheaper and easier because it’s subsidized through infrastructure costs paid for partly by other people and massive externalities.

          1. Eric

            Right but you, like the authors of the Strib editorial and most of the writers and commenters on have concluded that people’s home choices begin and end with deciding if I am an urban person or a suburban person. Almost nobody has it that easy. People have jobs all over the place, many partnerships have 2 incomes in different places, we all have different budgets, desires for space (inside and out), etc.

            And then we all pretend that our home choice, the result of a thousand compromises, is actually a perfect thing that defines us and our preferences. It’s crazy.

            1. Wayne

              I have no illusions of it being a simple choice, but I do know that a lot of the reasons people give are based on a set of assumptions that are incorrect. I’m just all for making properly informed decisions and not immediately ceding logic to ‘social norms.’

              1. eric

                Right I guess my point is that people get way too defensive about their choice of where to live. Why is that? Are they tired of being mocked or having their life reduced to a punchline (“suburban people”) because of their choice that we know is the compromise of a dozen factors? Probably. Is that situation helpful when gathering allies for the fight for wiser transportation planning and spending? Almost certainly not. Was anyone wondering where stood on the strib editorial? Legit LOL.

            2. Wayne

              I think basically what I’m trying to say is that my preferences are based almost entirely on a set of quantifiable parameters, and I’ve arrived at those preferences via a lot of research and logical reasoning. When pressed for the same level of rigor in their choice I’ve rarely found people who put the same level of thought or research into it and I find their decision lacking in substance.

              I’m sure there are plenty of people who weighed everything and came up suburb on their choice and I have no moral qualm with that, but a very large portion of people don’t do that kind of work and just go with whatever is expected or perceived as being easiest. Those are the people I want to think a little harder about why they live where they do, because a good portion of them are probably making a suboptimal decision based on flawed (or no) analysis.

              1. Eric

                I think most people put a fair amount of thought into where they live. That’s probably where you and I differ. It’s not for me to judge if their analysis is correct because it is their life. I may not care about being close to their job/church/school/friends but they probably care a great deal about that. We can both be right and live in different places.

    1. Erik Ostrom

      I think Adam was talking about his preferences for groceries, liquor, medicine, and restaurants, and I really don’t think he cares whether those are the amenities you consider when you think about what you live near.

  7. Noelle

    I’m not sure why my previous comment was moderated/deleted, but I wanted to point out that not all of the suburbs are so terrible. I live in Roseville, and I check off all your boxes for required living. Within a 1 mile radius of me, and mostly with safe pedestrian paths, I have two grocery stores – one with a liquor store and both with a pharmacy – several restaurants (including a number of locally owned establishments), a UPS store, a dry cleaners, two local bike shops, and at least 2-3 different parks. I love where I live. We’re also living in a 1 bedroom/1 bath ranch with a single car garage, I’d like to point out.

    Some of the outer ring suburbs I agree are not pedestrian-friendly at all and very spread out, but you can find some hidden gems without having to be squished in the city limits. I’ll add my car insurance rates went way down when I moved out of Minneapolis as well.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller Post author

      I have enough privileges to have seen your comments as “pending” but not enough to approve them, or I would have (let’s blame Bill).

      I totally agree that not all suburbs are created equal. Unscientifically, it seems to me that the older the suburb, the more likely that you can live close enough to walk to stuff.

      1. Nathanael

        It’s not so much “the older the suburb”… there’s some very sharp changes
        — suburbs from the 19th century were built around railroads and streetcars, and walking to them, so they are very walkable
        — suburbs from 1900 to 1945 were built to have both railroad service and cars
        — suburbs from 1945-1955 are MUCH less walkable, but have some residual sidewalks
        — for suburbs built after ~1955, walkability drops to nothing

  8. Bill Dooley

    I just find it interesting that the worm has turned and suburbanites are apparently beginning to feel ostracized. When preparing for a corporate re-location from Madison, WI to the Twin Cities in 1978, the local real estate agent hired by my employer refused to show us houses in the city of Minneapolis and only wanted to show suburban houses. He said, nobody lives in Minneapolis by choice. We found a local independent agent who showed us plenty of homes in Southwest Minneapolis, one of which we chose, and have been in the same house ever since.

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      I think the “worm has turned” only in a certain sense, in that there is now a counter narrative and some different micro-trends. The vast majority of wealth, and therefore cultural attention, is still in the suburbs of the Twin Cities. The public school system is a good reflection of this fact.

  9. cobo

    Agreed, but the biggest issue are jobs. Yes there are lots of good jobs in the city.. but there are many many more white collar jobs scattered around the suburbs.

    So once you develop skills in a niche and want to get / switch jobs, so you have two choices
    1. a terrible commute from your small city home
    2. a terrible commute from your large suburban home with higher ranked schools.

    also 55+ hour workweeks + 6 (+) hours weekly commuting time = you don’t have a lot of time to enjoy walk able ammenitees

  10. Monte Castleman

    Then there’s that infamous example for Orlando that keeps getting pulled out. I completely fail to see the problem with that, or Woodbury. If you don’t want to drive everywhere useful (or aren’t willing to as a trade-off for the other advantages of living there), then you don’t buy a house there, simple enough. There are other areas for you to live in. Not being snotty over this preference, or the preference to live in such an area but in an area that’s still close to a traditional downtown like Lakeville, is what the article was about.

      1. Monte Castleman

        I’m referring to the original Strib article, not yours. The attitude of the city towards the suburbs seems to range from “why would anyone want to live in beige houses where you drive to Applebees”, to “It’s morally wrong for you to live in a house out there rather than above me in my stack & pack”. My impression of people out here is “I wouldn’t want to live in the city, but if those people want to that’s fine with me”.

      2. Eric

        Unfortunately it is almost impossible to not sound snotty in this conversation. Suburb vs city is kind of an extension of coastal vs flyover whereas broad generalizations are made about people based on where they happen to live. Unsurprisingly, people don’t like being reduced to these descriptions.

        This has been very interesting to read and follow, but I really wonder why the state’s largest newspaper would publish something like this. Do you suppose working vs staying home with kids is next?

        1. Monte Castleman

          The StarTribune wants to push people’s buttons to get clicks. This article generated over 800 comments. Similarly how many articles do they need to stretch it out about how Lake Calhoun’s name isn’t politically correct, or about the dentist that shot the lion, both of which have generated an astronomical amount of comments and presumably clicks every time they’re ran.

  11. Monte Castleman

    I’m also not sure what is meant by “cultural factors” of owing a house. Is it a “cultural factor” to like to look at it and say “this is mine”. To be able to paint it whatever color you want? To plant a garden? To not hear your neighbors stomping on your ceiling (and not get angry banging on the walls if you want to have friends over to watch your home theater at top volume late Friday night?)

    1. Peter Bajurny

      Nice strawman, but there are very few apartments in Adam’s example, they’re mostly single family homes, so none of your arguments apply. And ownership vs renting doesn’t mean single family home or “pack and stack apartment” (as if those are the only two options in the spectrum of housing). And I’ve painted all my apartments.

      So yeah, nice strawman.

      1. Kyle

        It’s hilarious to watch someone complain about “snotty” treatment of suburbanites while they refer to people who live in apartment’s homes as “stack and pack”.

        1. Wayne

          You know all those museums, theaters (not movie megaplexes), art galleries and other stuff. I don’t really consider a small town folk festival once a year to be equivalent. Or having more than a token amount of people around who don’t look like you.

        2. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

          It’s not cultural for an individual to prefer any or some combination of those things.

          It is cultural to have a shared idea of “The American Dream.” We all know what that is. It’s owning your own home, and in the US (thanks to zoning, transpo investments, etc) that almost always means a single family detached home. It’s embedded in our psyche. There are people who “prefer” a detached home after never having lived in anything else. Prefer driving places having never taken the bus or bike for any significant amount of time.

          Further, the fact that we associate certain personal activities with levels of virtue also reveals a cultural ideal. Sweat equity, mowing the lawn, washing your own car or changing your oil, etc are seen as more virtuous uses of time and money than other things (even something as simple as sitting on the stoop of a walk-up building). For more examples, see the nose thumbing of “hipsters” and the type of things they do (coffee shops! bikes!).

          It’s cultural that we see tying up a significant portion of our money into a single, depreciating asset as a means of wealth generation. And then we create all sorts of policies and financial incentives to encourage this behavior.

          1. eric

            The culture of home ownership has way more to do with the fact that a mortgage to purchase land is the only way most middle class folks have to borrow cheap for an asset. That drives home ownership way more than everyone’s favorite boogeyman,the mortgage interest deduction.

            The home itself may depreciate over time, but for most the land is the valuable part and that almost always appreciates in the long run. And nowhere else can you find the low rates or the longer amortization schedules offered by a mortgage, much less both on the same loan product.

        3. Adam MillerAdam Miller Post author

          I mean the cultural assumption, especially if you grew up in the suburbs, that you’re going to live in a house in the suburbs. I think that often goes unquestioned. It’s what normal, reasonable, responsible people do.

          As Peter said, the example neighborhood is almost entirely single family homes. That’s on purpose.

          Even if it wasn’t, you can paint your condo walls whatever color you want. Obviously, design and construction quality vary, but I don’t hear my neighbors really at all, nor worry very much about the volume of my home theater. There are community gardens.

          Which is just to say that there are lots of different ways to get the right mix of things you want if you’re creative.

        1. Peter Bajurny

          Well I think he’d be kinda annoyed if I painted the vinyl siding.

          If the absolute be all end all definition of freedom to you is being able to paint your exterior whatever you want, then that’s fine.

          But again, it’s still a strawman, because Adam /specifically/ found an area of single family homes where most of them are owner occupied. And without any over restrictive HOAs like exist in some suburb places, they are, on average, more free to paint their house whatever color they choose than an average suburbanite.

        2. Rosa

          Neither will your HOA, probably. And if you picked a neighborhood without an HOA, there are still legal limits on what you can do with your lawn, your sidewalks (if you have them), in lots of places your driveway, etc.

          Ownership is not pure freedom.

          1. Nathanael

            HOAs are horrible and should probably be banned. They’re almost as bad as covenant restrictions, and very hard to fix.

            For some reason condo associations are better. Probably becauase there’s actually a purpose for condo associations (managing shared resources) so they attract more people to actual participation, whereas HOAs always end up being run by the worst micromanaging jerks.

    2. Rosa

      Yes, those are culturally reinforced values. And they’re reflected in everything from our treatment of renters in neighborhood organizations, to federal-level programs to “encourage homeownership”, to the constant refrain (slightly muted since 2008) that renting is “throwing money down the drain”.

    1. Aaron Berger

      I’m sure Matt Little would actually love to have you. He’s a great guy and a great advocate for the city. Lakeville doesn’t exactly run on my priorities, but if you actually want to know what makes a city like Lakeville tick, you won’t find a more accessible mayor than Matt.

  12. Good riddance

    I don’t understand why this is being treated as a “debate” of some kind. Why bother persuading people who want to live in the suburbs that they are somehow wrong? Vacancy rates in Minneapolis are abysmally low, rents are rising, people who *want* to “live closer to stuff” are being forced not to do so by the limited housing supply, especially affordable housing. If someone feels smug about living in the suburbs, I say, good for them.

      1. Good riddance

        Is that where smug urbanists argue for divesting and removing public services from inner-ring suburbs that are increasingly where poor minority families live?

        1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

          Don’t most of the smug urbanists on this site strongly support regional investments in housing, transit, and other public services? Even the most pro-core folks think regional transit lines should end in Hopkins, Robbinsdale, Edina, etc rather than at the city borders.

        2. Wayne

          first ring suburbs are pretty much the city at this point. But Minnetonka or Eden Prairie don’t deserve gold-plated transit investment by any means.

  13. Sarah

    Another element of this cultural glorification of Suburbs and Suburban Things is the assumption that we all have/want/enjoy driving cars, which the Strib piece totally captures in the author’s annoyance that her urban friends won’t drive out to her place in Lakeville all the time and make her come up to the city.

    My best friend from college recently moved to Plymouth after living out-of-state for almost a decade. I love her to pieces, but I have been to her house exactly once since she moved back, and that was via bike (which wasn’t very fun). I have a car so I think she assumes it makes sense for me to visit her as often as she visits me, but I’m just like….Ugh, no. Interstates? Unending waves of idiots in passing me in their three-ton death machines, going 30 miles over the speed limit because they have no regard for anyone’s life or safety, including, evidently, their own? And spending more than like seven minutes doing this? Sigh.

    I live where I live precisely so that I NEVER need to do these things, because I hate them and they make me miserable. It’s awkward, because it feels like I’m insisting that my friend do things for the sake of our friendship that I’m not willing to do myself. But it just seems like…I chose to live somewhere where I wouldn’t HAVE to do these things, because I detest them, and you chose to live somewhere where you’d have to do these things continually (so you clearly don’t detest them as much as I do), so…can’t you just come visit me?

    But I don’t think anyone who lives in the suburbs gets this at all.

    1. Joe T

      I pointed this out on a Twitter debate on the issue… The other person didn’t seem to understand.

      I would liken it to any number of other things, like, I don’t invite my friends who dislike sporting events to Twins/Gopher/Wild games, because even though I like them, I know they will not appreciate the event, only the spending time with me. I also don’t invite my sporty friends who dislike sitting for plays to the Guthrie, or people who cannot stand the sound of violins to a classical music concert, or even people who are lactose intolerant, I wouldn’t invite to go to Izzy’s ice cream without knowing there was a sorbet beforehand. Asking a friend to do something they have expressed a disdain for and acting like any kvetching about this is really rude and inconsiderate, and it tells me that you haven’t heard their complaints except as annoying to you personally.

    2. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      I’m sure the inverse is true. I have a friend who lives in Chanhassen that absolutely will not pay for parking, no matter what. He won’t go to uptown or downtown.

      1. Monte Castleman

        Yeah, pretty much. Besides not paying for parking (we always walk a mile or to before we even get to the fair), there’s the perception that it’s not safe to drive into the city (and which I’ve found to be true in my own experience having gotten my car broken into at Lake Nokomis), that’s it’s hard to drive around in (and even extremely intimidating to drive around the downtown area for suburbanites that don’t go there regularly.

      2. Matt Brillhart

        Avoiding paying for parking probably extends to about 99% of the driving population, whether suburban or urban. Some (either with too little time or too much money on their hands) will simply opt for the closest/fastest parking ramp regardless of price. Others will endlessly circle the block trying to find a free space (or metered space). When I drive, I am absolutely willing to pay for parking, but I’d obviously prefer to pay as little as possible. I’d love to pay zero. I support policies to expand parking meters to new areas and increase rates, but I’m still gonna try to save a buck for my own interests.

        My deepest shame is knowing where all of the “free” parking spaces around the North Loop & Mill District are (at least, free after 6pm M-F). I’ll never give up my secrets!

          1. Rosa

            You just wait. I have had to park my bike as much as a block and a half away from events in Uptown this summer. Someone’s gonna build a bike locker facility and charge by the hour, pretty soon. Maybe even lobby the city into going back to clipping and taking bikes parked on street signs (they really are going to have to do something about bikes blocking wheelchair ramps at some point, I’m seeing it pretty often)

  14. Joe ScottJoe Scott

    I think what’s missing from this conversation are the externalities for society at large of choosing to live in the suburbs. It’s not as though it’s as inconsequential a personal choice as your favorite color. Someone choosing to live in the suburbs will generally take a higher environmental toll on the planet, as well as requiring more public investment per capital to sustain their lifestyle.

    But to address one specific thing in your article, you said “where are things not largely beige?” I’m not aware of any rigorous analysis, and I’m not going to do one, but I think almost anyone would wager that the average amount of color deviation between houses is much higher in Minneapolis: than Lakeville:

  15. Bruce

    With the talk of accessible living situations close to downtown/uptown, I have a couple questions if anyone understands the Cities ADU ordinance. I own a duplex with a possible 3rd floor granny flat that I’d like to let my daughter move into. (I don’t live in my duplex) Since she’s my daughter, can I claim that as an ADU since I own it and she would be the occupant of the 3rd unit? I understand I’d have to get it approved by the city and I just don’t want to rent it illegally so it’s been a 2 story 4 bedroom unit up to now. I read the ordinance but just don’t know who to get advice on this. It also has an enclosed stairway up the back but doesn’t have a second exit on the third floor-does that kill the idea of an ADU?

    1. Rosa

      I’m not sure there is a clear answer. A friend of mine is having issues with a very similar situation (he wants to live himself in the 3rd story of his duplex) and he’s been working really closely with our city council person and I think the inspector’s office? So maybe the place to start is the city council person for the neighborhood.

  16. Nathanael

    You know, another way of describing people’s desire to “live closer to stuff”… is the ancient real estate saying

    “location, location, location”.

    The suburban locations which are distant from stuff are *inherently less valuable* because they have *worse locations*.

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