The exact intersection of the Phillips, Seward, and Cedar-Riverside neighborhoods is at the center of this photograph:
We all know the story. These neighborhoods were sacrificed for the convenience of newly minted suburbanites.
It’s weird how vigorously the government reshaped our patterns of living in the era of urban freeway building, and how timidly it now approaches the problematic aftermath. We used to destroy neighborhoods and dig trenches for freeways, and now we can barely get a curb to budge.
But if you think about it, the good parts of the city were mostly built in an era when the government played a more minimal role in development – recording plats, providing basic services, etc. The state and county DOT didn’t exist. Good urbanism didn’t come about through political consensus or federal matching funds, it was just a bunch of people doing what made sense at the time.
So while there are a lot of things the government does now that it didn’t do then that are great, I think it’s time we resurrect a limited amount of that frontier town laissez faire. The Cedar/Franklin/Minnehaha intersection is a poster child for the negative fallout of heavy-handed intervention, so it seems like an ideal laboratory for new (and old) redevelopment strategies.
Right now, the general area looks like this. Freeways just ruining the vibe all over the place.
This map represents one interpretation of the type of development that might happen if freeways were removed and the street grid restored similarly to the original pattern, with the land replatted and sold with limits on consolidation.
Aspects of this plan:
- Recaptures land now used for roadways.
- Zoning doesn’t apply.
- Hiawatha Ave. goes back to its original alignment, terminating near Cedar and 22nd, and is narrowed. (Land on either side formerly in the right-of-way is platted and sold)
- Cedar Ave. returns to its original alignment, reconnecting the now dead-end section between the Cabooze and Amble’s.
- 22nd st. is straightened and connected east to west
- All existing buildings can be retained, with the exception of the Vikings stadium (it would be just visible in the upper left), which is torn down and commemorated with a bronze statue of RT Rybak in stocks.
- With Hiawatha out of the way, Franklin is brought back up to grade at Cedar, and the LRT stop is moved north.
- Minnehaha Ave. stops at Franklin, instead of bisecting the current Taco Bell block and MAX IT Pawn block (essentially becoming 21st. Ave.)
- Cedar Avenue becomes a continuous corridor connecting Cedar-Riverside and Phillips, free of dead zones.
- Eliminating the Hiawatha extension to downtown prevents people from using Hiawatha and Cedar Aves to commute.
- If you want to get downtown, take the train.
- Boring Downtown East is reconnected with Cedar-Riverside, making it less boring.
- Some portions of former freeway land should serve as a local test for the idea of Zelfbouw, like the block bounded by Butler Place, 9th st. 22nd ave and 23rd ave.
- There’s no more Cedar/Franklin/Minnehaha intersection and no one ever has to say or type it again.
I think visuals like this are really important when it comes expanding the Overton window of outcomes for a place in the right direction. The next installment in this series will be Lake and Nicollet.
It seems to be that, from a transportation perspective, the biggest losers would not be surburbanites but those living in the southeastern quadrant of Minneapolis, who use Hiawatha Avenue. I’d note that for those living in Mendota Heights, the Google-recommended route to downtown is already via the Crosstown and 35W.
For those living in the range of ~Minnehaha Creek to ~Lake St, especially toward the Mississippi, motorists would lose a lot of mobility. In terms of footprint, there would not be a huge benefit, since the 35W-94 ramps would still take up about the same amount of space.
It would seem to me that if we were willing to ditch the Cedar/Hiawatha interchange, and build a couple very skewed bridges, we could straighten Cedar and improve its continuity, without removing Hiawatha.
I’m also not sure how your plan prevents people from using Cedar to commute to downtown. They’d simply have to go through Riverside and Seven Corners. A little less direct, but they’ve been on a surface street for miles already…
They can commute on it as long as they drive slow and don’t run people down. Right now the scariest parts of Cedar are the two sets of on-ramps between Riverside & 24th Street.
This would be a HUGE win for those of use south but not east.
and, can’t the folks in Southeast switch to taking the train? If they would usually drive on Hiawatha.
Depends on where they’re going. From Corcoran, my boyfriend uses Hiawatha all the time. Usually to NB 35W, EB 94 (via Cedar), and WB 94 to 12. Sometimes to downtown.
The downtown trip could convert to rail, but his house is a mile’s walk from both 38th St and Lake St stations, so it’s a bit of a hard sell. With ideal timing, a 10-minute trip to downtown becomes a 30-minute trip. (Including walking. After you’re at the station, the travel time is pretty similar.)
oh i know. One of my commutes is the 22 and then the train to St Paul, often at times the 22 runs, like, every half hour. Sometimes last winter coming home from 2nd shift, I’d just make my husband come pick me up in the car.
But that’s the refrain of car-dependent people when we want to make things better for pedestrians, bikes, or transit users, right – just get a car then it will work for you! That specific chunk of S. Mpls has been made unpleasant, slow, and dangerous for anyone not in a car since way before I ever lived here. I couldn’t resist turning it around a little.
Quite the radical, eliminate-all-freeways-and-highways viewpoint. But Sean’s right…this would not stop drivers from using Cedar Ave to commute downtown. Unless you want to kill the street grid entirely, nothing would stop that.
What’s the big deal if motorists use Cedar Ave? Tens of thousands already do. I’m often one of them, as are many of my neighbors who live west of Hiawatha, and need to get to I-94 or 35W north. It works just fine, even though it’s not a stroad.
The “big deal” is that Joe, in his article, specifically cited a goal of stopping commuters from using Cedar Ave.
I was just trying to say that eliminating the Hiawatha Ave extension to downtown would, to some degree, discourage through-traffic on Cedar and Hiawatha to and from downtown, making Cedar and Hiawatha Aves. more pleasant for nearby residents and more amenable to the uses I’ve proposed – not that no one should ever drive on them.
Cedar can’t handle the tens of thousands of people driving cars that now use Hiawatha in addition to the tens of thousands that already use Cedar. I know some people live far enough south, say around 50th or so they can easily drive to the Fort Snelling park and ride lot but that’s not everyone.
Joe, somewhere there’s a painting that Cameron Booth did early in his career, depicting the intersection of Franklin and Cedar long, long before freeways. (You might check with the State Historical Society.) For my own part, I lived in this area just before and during the building of the freeways. The intersection of Cedar, Franklin and Minnehaha had already taken its present form, but at first all the streets (3rd through 6th) went right through from the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood to downtown.
A crucial thing about Cedar-Riverside: it is a really major destination within the metropolitan area because of the University, the University-Fairview hospital, and Augsburg College, for both commuters and visitors, a lot of whom–I suspect–come from the suburbs. Any change that puts more traffic here that is unrelated to the neighborhood as a destination will cause problems. The two LRT lines have brought little noticeable reduction of automobile traffic here, although one of the main values of the Green Line has been to improve frequency of transit between downtown and the University area (it’s certainly not a good way to go to or from central St. Paul from here).
I deal with conditions in Cedar Riverside every day. The City of Minneapolis recently worsened the situation here through modifications on Cedar and on Riverside that restrict traffic flow, causing particularly bad problems during afternoon rush hour on Riverside near the hospital and at the intersection of Cedar and Riverside. If time permits, I may write an article about it.
At least you realize that what we have is far from perfect.
I understand your point about restricting traffic flow to a regional destination, but think of it as social engineering – hopefully some of the people who would have had to commute to these regional destinations now live in those new apartment buildings I’ve penciled in within walking distance of them.
Some might move if they can afford it and the neighborhood meets their requirements.
But you are underestimating peoples attachment to their homes both emotional & financially. I know I can’t leave my house anytime soon because I would loose too much money, and I know some apartment dwellers who would never leave their current units unless forced too, no matter how high the rent becomes or how long they would need to commute (often for reasons I can’t quite comprehend)
It would probably take over 10+ years to balance out.
we’ve been building highways for, what, 60 or 70 years now? I’ve lived here almost 20 years and the bike infrastructure has improved tremendously, to the point I feel like an old fogey saying “I used to ride in the terrifying middle of the road bike lane on Hennepin!” and “we used to just cut through the gravelly parts because there was no safe bikeable pavement”. 10 years is not that long, really. Big changes take time.
“Good urbanism didn’t come about through political consensus or federal matching funds, it was just a bunch of people doing what made sense at the time.’
Right, and what “made sense” at the time was for White landowners to build expensive and deliberately exclusive housing at locations convenient for them. Later, when, due to hard-fought political battles that resulted in greater economic leverage for the various classes of people those elites had once managed to exclude from those “good urbanist” neighborhoods, the business and financial stakeholders saw that their established method of moneymaking was on the wane, and so it “made sense” for them to begin investing in the undeveloped, underpriced land of what would become the suburbs–still ripe for the taking barely a hundred-odd years after the heyday of settler-colonialism and straight-up land theft.
Many of those “good urbanist” neighborhoods subsequently became cheaper and were populated by more politically vulnerable classes, and subsequently were targeted for destruction (via freeways), military-style police occupation (via the introduction of crack cocaine and the War on Drugs, etc.), and general disinvestment of public services and support. Does the fact that an upwardly mobile elite few now considers the remainder of these neighborhoods ‘desirable’ mean that everything’s fine with how that all played out?
The point is that there’s no way to extract some sanitized “good urbanism” that’s magically disconnected from the brutal realities of American history. You can’t pick and choose some aspects of how development worked in decades past without mentioning all the others. Especially considering that you’re literally talking about “frontier town laissez faire”–land theft, oppression along racial and ethnic lines, and unfettered capitalist greed were the essence of the American frontier. It might be “good urbanism”, but hey, ancient Roman ruins look kind of cool, too.
Thanks for your thoughtful reply to my post.
I don’t think it’s necessarily correct to say that the initial exclusivity of neighborhoods goes hand-in-hand with what I, or urbanists generally consider “good urbanism” today. When you look at who occupied the early urban fabric of Minneapolis, whether the apartments above bars or shops downtown, or many of the more modest neighborhoods outside downtown, it was mostly the laboring classes. After all, they’ve always been the majority of the population, rather than tycoons and magnates. I’ve looked at the earliest city directories for the area around where I live in Phillips, and many of the earliest residents of the area were everyday carpenters, masons, etc.
Sure, the wealthy had their exclusive enclaves, like Kenwood, but many also lived in mansions along Park Ave. for example, less than a hundred feet from more modest working class homes. I’m not trying to imply that the city was some sort of integrated utopia, just questioning the relationship between exclusive enclaves then and good urbanism today.
If anything, I think it was the absence of a certain type of wealth, or more accurately credit, that was partly responsible for the urban form that is now prized. Buildings were built smaller and more densely on narrower lots back then for a variety of reasons, such as available transportation and building technology, but one was also that it was harder to build on credit. Nowadays a large sum is borrowed to build a large building and amortized over 30 years, but then it was upfront, maybe a 10-year loan if you’re lucky.
You’re certainly right that racism and economic exploitation were pervasive in society during the time that the urban fabric I’ve idealized was constructed, and it’s fair to point out the role they played in it. But I disagree that because of that, nothing of value can be gleaned by looking at other variables that played a role in how those places came about.
Perhaps I should have been more clear, my reference to “frontier town laissez faire” was intended to mean that things like zoning regulations would be relaxed, not that the areas reclaimed from freeways would be lawless free trade zones. There’s nothing in my plan that would be exclusive of programs designed to further racial equity.
Despite all the racism and exploitation, I think there are a few things of value from the early 20th century that we should take another look at today. There was a strong progressive movement, and the antitrust ethos was more pervasive. As late as the 1960’s the Supreme Court was striking down corporate mergers that would have resulted in the control by one company of about 2% of an industry.
Today much of our commerce is conducted by national corporations that take money out of the local economy, and are not owned by anyone within the community. It may be true that prior to this, most local business owners were white elites, but not all were. There are certainly fewer black owned businesses in town today than 50 years ago.
Really the essence of my proposal, rather than advocating unfettered capitalism, is that by lifting unnecessary and illogical zoning regulations, while also limiting the consolidation of land ownership, we can make land development most accessible while also making the built environment more humane. Like I said, I’m not opposed to initiatives that would advance racial equity along with this proposal. For example, after the land was acquired and replatted, a certain percentage could be required to be sold to people of color. It could even be 100 – the point is that lifting onerous zoning requirements while forcing smaller scale owner ship results in a land development regime where wealth is more likely to circulate within the community and upward mobility is more accessible to those not already extremely wealthy.
“[T]he point is that lifting onerous zoning requirements while forcing smaller scale owner ship results in a land development regime where wealth is more likely to circulate within the community and upward mobility is more accessible to those not already extremely wealthy.”
This is a stronger argument, I think, than one that relies on ill-defined and superficial notions of “good urbanism” combatting “freeways ruining the vibe”. So your point here is well-taken.
That said, I’d still argue that “more likely” is the key phrase, and represents a huge wildcard. Smaller land parcels is not some panacea for wealth inequality any more than pretty façades and functional sidewalks. I suspect what you’re suggesting would amount to replacing the present-day, scaled-up corporate development apparatus and replacing it with a good old fashioned local bourgeoisie. Maybe some additional wealth would stay in “the community”, but it would still be a community of hierarchy and inequality, with its own set of institutions opening space for exploitation and social division.
Taken to its logical conclusion, the concept would be analogous to many of the nationalist governments that took power around the world following decolonization. They paid lip-service to notions of liberation and equality, but ultimately just empowered local wealthy elites in place of foreign wealthy elites, and consolidated their power by appealing to identity politics, which conveniently sidestepped issues of class and wealth inequality, and which sometimes descended into ethnic divisions and conflict. Again, that really is a lot like an earlier America–one where, yes, some White laborers and skilled craftsmen probably did manage to build wealth through land ownership in Phillips, Minneapolis. But they did so–just like the original developers and landlords of oh-so-“good urbanist” spots like Stevens Square–through policies of racial exclusion and worker exploitation.
This proposal was never designed to be an extensive remedy to the problem of wealth inequality. In responding to your criticism I was making the case that it could potentially help, but of course it isn’t a panacea – it’s just a development plan for one neighborhood.
If wealth inequality is the only issue that one cares about, worrying about the aesthetics of facades or freeways will seem superficial. Maybe I’m shallow, but if Minneapolis was a moneyless commune I would still want to do something about the crappy aesthetics of this place.
Still, geographic exclusion, the generational wealth of land ownership, etc. are contributors to inequality and directly related to real estate development, so I’m glad you brought up these issues in the context of this proposal. I won’t claim to know exactly what the long-term effects of this plan would be on local wealth inequality. If you’re right that it would install a local bourgeoisie instead of a remote corporate one, then I think that’s at least an incremental win.
But I want to point out that just because it wasn’t the case in the past, there’s no reason a land development regime like this wouldn’t be compatible with a liberal welfare state and redistributive tax policy. The idea that better urbanism and greater wealth equality are somehow mutually exclusive seems to me to be an undue circumscription of the potentiality of the future.
A related tangent on your aesthetic point: 75 years ago, highways were an aesthetic feature. Is that just because of the perspective of the time? Or were they actually more attractive?
The vision of the TH 100 beltline as the Lilac Drive in the western suburbs is the sort of thing you just don’t see on the table anymore. Instead, we do well to get a couple decorative lamp posts in an otherwise grim, concrete landscape.
I still think highways are really pretty. Absent the cars, of course – nothing pretty about car noise & exhaust. There’s a reason car commercials almost always feature highways with no other cars on them. Or if you’re far enough from the cars – like from some of the places city streets go over 94 – the cars themselves can be quite scenic, especially at night.
If, for instance, the hideous underpass on Cedar just north of 24th were car-free, it would make a nice cool place to sit down and have a beer on a hot summer afternoon, or hang out and talk – we do that under the bridges along the Greenway pretty often and I know other people do too.
as someone forced to look at the enormous wart that is the new stadium every day i totally agree that we put ryback in stocks.
it is unbelievably ugly. & anyone travelling (or even just looking) east from this part of the city cannot escape it.
This is amazing and should be built soon. Thank you for putting forth this vision.
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It’s a clever idea to have 19th Avenue (1 block east of Cedar) go through to the 10th Ave bridge, but as a resident of Cedar/Riverside on 19th Avenue, I can tell you there wouldn’t be any way to get traffic through from 8th to 5th Streets. This portion of 19th was vacated in the 1990s to become a pedestrian mall as part of a Planned Unit Development, and there is a lease on that land for the next 40-60 years.