An Unlikely Success: The Dismantling of the Northside Greenway

“City rolls back some aspects of Irving Avenue greenway in north Minneapolis” – Minneapolis Star Tribune (11/19/2016)

I read the above headline with disappointment. An experimental tactical urbanism project is coming to an end. Or, as the local paper wittingly puts it, “the experimental greenway project for north Minneapolis, it’s not so green anymore.”

Early in the summer, Minneapolis city officials implemented a temporary plan to add a greenway through a neighborhood street, running north and south for five blocks. Vehicle traffic was partly blocked off, speeds lowered and dividers, such as benches and planters, were installed.

Photo credits: Bill Lindeke of MinnPost /

City officials and urban planners were happy. And why not? They had made a street in the notoriously underserved northside more bike and pedestrian friendly. And, they had done so for little cost. Personally, I thought it was a great project – a real win-win for everyone. Of course, I’m an idealistic transportation planner and not a resident.

The love was not universal. A grassroots effort from the neighborhood association passed a resolution encouraging the city to remove the Greenway, and signs started popping up in the neighborhood saying “Say NO to the Greenway!” and “Stop Forcing the Greenway Upon Us”. You can read their strongly worded resolution here.


Photo credit: Bill Lindeke

A significant and vocal number of residents did not like the changes. One resident interviewed said, “I hated the greenway, I couldn’t park in front of the house” and cited safety concerns about parking in the dark alleyway. This was a common – and not irrational – concern from those most impacted by the project.

What’s next? The city is removing the temporary dividers and restoring the street to what it once was, minus bike boulevard sharrows that will remain in pavement.

This might feel like a failure, but it’s not. It’s a success story; a testament to the value of tactical urbanism, defined by Wikipedia as

a term used to describe a collection of low-cost, temporary changes to the built environment, usually in cities, intended to improve local neighbourhoods and city gathering places.

Even in its seemingly apparent failure, this is a case study as to why tactical urbanism is such a great tool. The city used a low-cost scheme of testing whether or not a greenway would work, or not work. Over the course of the summer and autumn, it was clear that it wasn’t working for those most impacted. The residents opposed it. The city listened, and is picking up everything and planning to try again somewhere else.

It was a small bet that didn’t pan out the way city officials and planners wanted it to. On the upside, a 50-year infrastructure investment was not made and millions of dollars were not spent on something the community wasn’t behind.

Now, the City of Minneapolis can learn from the successes and failures of this experiment and be in a better position to make positive changes moving forward.

This is the beauty of tactical urbanism: even in its failures, you can find success.