Five Reasons to Love Saint Paul’s Ford Site Plans

ford plant 1924

Ford plan under construction in 1924.

When you teach urban geography, you inevitably come across the concept of “post-Fordism.” The term refers to the shifting economic and geographic arrangements that followed in the wake of globalization, automation, and technological revolutions. The concept is best illustrated by the  transformation of the auto industry in places like Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, and elsewhere in the so-called “rust belt.”

And maybe also in Minnesota, where even in the relatively-balanced economic clime of our semi-agricultural, somewhat-technologically-savvy Twin Cities metro area, there were auto factories and they employed thousands of people but eventually closed. The Southwestern corner of Saint Paul practically grew up around the old Highland Park Ford car and truck factory, which lasted for a long time. The plant was a stunning example of industrial integration during its heyday, but finally dwindled down to nothing after decades of producing Ford Rangers. It closed in 2011 and was, at the time it shut down, the oldest Ford factory on Planet Earth.

But things change and now there are about 150 acres of somewhat polluted land on a prime spot in the heart of the Twin Cities metro, right next to a bunch of existing or planned high-capacity transit corridors. And right now demand for smaller, affordable, mixed-use housing is huge — and projected to grow immensely as demographic changes continue. It’s a dream come true for urban planners, and it’s a tabula rasa chance for Saint Paul to build a neighborhood designed around the future.

The land is currently being cleaned up by the Ford company. So far, there have been years of work putting together ideas for the site. the hope is that, once these broad plans are adopted, a Ford will sell the site to a willing developer who will flesh out these guidelines into a detailed proposal.

Here are my five favorite things about the plans so far.

1. The most sustainable new neighborhood in Saint Paul


The 1930s factory holistically combined energy and economy.

Granted, “sustainability” is one of those buzz words that loses meaning when you repeat it three times, as if Beetlejuice wielded a semantic vacuum. But as I write this on a 62º day on February 17th, my kitchen windows open to the warm breeze, one tends toward embracing the concept of reducing one’s environmental footprint. And like it or not, meaningfully reducing the carbon pollution that’s tied of living life in Saint Paul means increasing density by living in smaller homes with smaller footprints. (That shouldn’t be a problem because household size is dramatically less than it was 25 or 50 years ago!)

household size chartAnd building sustainable community means reducing the need to drive. Prius or no, transportation pollution is a huge driver of climate change. That’s why it’s great that the Ford plan does marvelous job at tackling both of those goals. Density and transit are so intertwined, it’s often challenging to get them to work together. It’s a classic “chicken-and-egg” problem: “we can’t build walkable units because there’s no transit, and we can’t build transit because there isn’t any density.”

Well here we can do both at once. It’s a rare chance to get land use and transportation to work seamlessly together. If we care about climate change, it’s important to design cities that allow people to live out their values.


Overall zoning.

2. Aging in Place

aging population USLike it or not, baby boomers are getting old. If they’re honest with themselves, many people who are aging shouldn’t really be driving in a few years. Eyesight and reflexes start to go, and the last thing you want to do is drive through a complicated neighborhood at night. Not to mention shoveling the sidewalk…

The “empty nester” phenomenon is exactly why the demand for low-car, walkable, maintenance-lite housing is skyrocketing.  That’s exactly the kind of housing this plan puts at the center.

Imagine walking on clean well-kept sidewalks to the store, sitting on a bench and watching a stream, staying active without going to the gym, and doing all of it in the city (or neighborhood) right in the heart of Saint Paul. Over the last few years, many of my retired friends and relatives have admitted to me that they were thinking about selling their houses, and downsizing to simplify their lives. Will they go downtown? Along the Green Line? Or might there be other choices for places to live where you can lead an active low-hassle life?

The “silver tsunami” (as some call it) is a great reason why we ought to be building urban density in the heart of Highland. It will allow thousands of retired people, many of whom already live in Saint Paul, to stick around even after they sell the old house. 

3. Transit Potential


This is already a thing.

This site sits right along the Twin Cities first aBRT (arterial bus rapid transit) line, the A-line, which has already exceeded its ridership expectations after only being in service for a few months. Plus it’s close to the Blue Line light rail just across the river, and is on a dedicated transit right-of-way built through the site. (The Riverview Corridor project might also go through the heart of this site. And even if it doesn’t, two excellent transit corridors will be built and/or improved here regardless.)

A lot of people have expressed concerns about traffic that would be generated by the site. (See for example, this piece about more traffic on Cretin Avenue.) That concern makes sense if you assume that everyone in this development will have similar transportation habits as your typical 1990s family.

ford-site-traffic-2But if you look at vehicle miles traveled and car ownership data, you find there is a lot of variability based on what kind of housing and neighborhood you live in. Some neighborhoods, it’s easy and convenient to get around without a car, and people rarely drive. In others, it’s impossible to get anywhere without a car, and taking the bus is a pain in the ass. People in those places drive all the time.

This is a long way of saying that the traffic projections that the engineers and consultants put together — done, by the way, by Nelson Nygaard, who are national experts in traffic projection analysis — are perfectly reasonable assumptions. The overall impact of the traffic growth is pretty small considering the “payoff” that Saint Paul and the neighborhood will get out of it.

Which kind of neighborhood do we want? With a blank slate, the city has a real choice about what kind of place to build for the future. If we want low-traffic development, we can make it here. (For example, an extreme case: the city of Vancouver has grown by hundreds of thousands of people and car traffic has gone down.)


Example of some of the low-traffic walkable streets in the plan.

4. Water at the Heart


Stormwater featured at the center of the plan.

When I first started learning about urban planning and development debates, I’ll readily admit that I didn’t take water seriously. “Water runoff”, “watersheds,” and drainage or whatever seemed like a footnote to me compared to the key issues at stake — affordability, safety, sustainability, etc. — about how we plan and maintain our city.

But in my five years on the Planning Commission, I’ve learned a lot from my colleagues about the importance of stormwater for sustainability. For example, here’s an article about street runoff  and how routinely it pollutes the Mississippi River. Or here’s another one about parking lots and how a brewery built a rain garden. It turns out, there’s a lot going on with water that I hadn’t realized was important.

We’re rightly proud of our urban lakes and rivers in the Twin Cities, but there’s still a lot we can do to improve how our cities affect them. This project is the most groundbreaking example of a stormwater-centered development in Minnesota history. They’re daylighting a stream (the one that goes into Hidden Falls) and really re-connecting a site down the bluff to the river. Saint Paul has long been separated from its river, which we’ve lined with freeways. The water connections in this plan are truly remarkable and would be an amazing amenity for the people of Highland.


Building heights in context. Yellow profiles denote existing buildings.

5. Relief for St. Paul Property Taxpayers

ford-tax-revenueThe projections for show that the plan will increase Saint Paul’s tax base by $20 million per year. Sure, some of this will probably be put into TIF (deferred taxes), but now and in the future, this will do a lot to alleviate rising property taxes for people living in Saint Paul.

(One of the ironic things about the protests by some people in the neighborhood is that additional parking lots will probably have to be paid for by TIF dollars, decreeing the “payoff” for people in Saint Paul.)

If we want to keep taxes in Saint Paul reasonable, we need to build density, especially along transit corridors. This is exactly the kind of project that will alleviate the city’s precarious financial situation. In fact, if we really want to have a fiscally stable city, we need to much more development like this. (Along the West Side Flats, the Riverview corridor, Snelling-University, the East Side, etc.) Otherwise we might see huge property tax increases as city infrastructure ages and our already-shaky revenue streams get stretched in an era of decreasing State and Federal support.

The Ford site is the Future

Ford plant 1930

The Ford factory when it was new.

The Ford factory is gone. The 150-acre site is just sitting there, polluted and bare. It’s a great chance to build the kind of Saint Paul we want to see.

And I believe the current plans are the best thing I’ve ever seen Saint Paul propose, anywhere. They’re forward-thinking proposals, intended for how people will want to live ten, twenty, or fifty years in the future. They’re just as innovative as the original Ford factory plans were back in 1927.

We have a chance to build and design an urban neighborhood where, decades from now, low-carbon, more sustainable lifestyles will be the architectural and design default, not a painstaking exception. In fact, there is no project in the state that’s as ambitious as this one about reducing the carbon and environmental footprint of urban life. This is something we desperately need, and I can only pray that in twenty years this kind of sustainable design will be more commonplace. Where once there was a pollution-producing car factory, Saint Paul can lead the way, for once, by committing to a low-car, energy efficient, stormwater-centered neighborhood where walking and active living are a normal way of life. 

Here’s a rare chance for Saint Paul, capital of Minnesota, to show its true quality. We can be a national leader in creating a real transit-oriented, sustainable, river-focused, 8-80 neighborhood. I can’t wait.

Additional resources:

ford site zoning public realm plan [Big ol’ .pdf]

FORD_TransportationPresentation Final – 11-21-16 [Transportation & traffic study by Nelson-Nygaard.]

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46 thoughts on “Five Reasons to Love Saint Paul’s Ford Site Plans

  1. Joe Scottjoe scott

    The street plan looks suburban. Why the lack of connectivity? Shouldn’t Mt. Curve connect with Mississippi River Blvd? No plan to connect the residential streets just south of the CP rail spur in the event it can be developed? These things are crucial to knit this parcel into the existing community.

    Are the “trails” shown in the plan going to have actual frontages, or will they be more like alleys with the backs of buildings facing them? Why not just make them streets and increase frontage? If the streets are going to be pleasant and pedestrian friendly, who needs “trails”?

    This is shaping up as a classic new urbanism pod – disconnected from the rest of the urban fabric, essentially a cul-de-sac unto itself.

    1. Nathaniel Hood

      These a very good observations.

      Connecting Mount Curve to Mississippi River Road is a good idea. I remember hearing that there were some challenges with making this happen if they wanted to daylight Creek. That was the only rationale that I had heard. However, it seems like connecting that would be plausible.

      The creek that will be daylighted will be a prominent feature in the development, at least it seems that way, and will act as a bike and pedestrian through affair area. I will attach a different map below that I recommend checking out. I believe these trails/alleyways will have front facing buildings.

      The alleyways will be small pedestrian ways, and I think there will be some vehicle access to, but limited. My assumption would be like a wooneroof, although I have not heard that phrase specifically used in relation to this development.

      We still have not seen the Final plan and this is used to more guide development. There will likely be future iterations.

    2. Walker AngellWalker Angell

      I was actually thinking just the opposite, that there are too many through streets that will encourage inattentive rat run speeding. I’d prefer that there be no through streets so you discourage rat runs and limit motor traffic to primarily just local access (who are also the drivers who drive slower and more cautiously).

      1. Joe ScottJoe Scott

        Lack of connectivity results in traffic being funneled onto fewer main arteries rather than filtering through the grid. Those are the types of streets that tend to be the most dangerous. A small amount of through traffic throughout the site is better than a car sewer around it.

        1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

          Yes. And it limits the number of streets that require dedicated facilities in order to be made safe to just those main arteries.

          With a grid just about every street has a volume and speed of motor traffic that requires protected bikeways, walkways, and junctions. They are all over the threshold. Instead of local access streets they are now rat-run streets for faster and less attentive through traffic.

          By limiting this you reduce the motor traffic volume and speed on most streets to a level where they are safe enough for shared use. You then have only a very few higher traffic streets and these can be made safe with properly designed protected walkways, bikeways, and junctions (E.G., designed to CROW standards).

          IRRC, only about 12% of centerline miles of Dutch roads have dedicated facilities, the rest low enough volume (< bicycle volume) and speed (< 18 MPH) that they can be shared.

        2. Peter Musty

          Joe – look at the zoning plan above – not the walkable streets graphic. Its new urbanism at its best. Pods are not new urbanism. Its very well connected, and there are very small blocks which wouled score very highly using any Connectivity metric.

  2. howard miller

    Bill, before identifying the Ford Development as sustainable with 2/3rd of its buildings slated to top out at 60 to 100 ft. or more it would be worth investigating the sustainability of tall buildings. Google made such an investigation rather simple. All of the responses (almost all by engineers, not geographers, no offense) were negative. Example below:

    Osama Abdelgawad · Colorado State University

    I think “high-rise buildings are subject to the effects of too much sun and too much wind on their all-glass skins. And all-glass skins are, despite many improvements to the technology, inherently inefficient. Glass is simply not very good at keeping excessive heat out, or desirable heat in. High-rises, according to BC Hydro (the province of British Columbia’s main electric utility) data, use almost twice as much energy per square metre as mid-rise structures.”

    Moreover, high-rise buildings are less adaptable than mid-rise structures, and therefore are inherently less sustainable. Furthermore, , high-rise buildings are built largely of steel and concrete and are less sustainable than low rise and mid-rise buildings built largely of wood; steel and concrete produce a lot of GHG. Wood traps it. Concrete is 10 times more GHG-intensive than wood.

    Many residents of Highland Park are avid nature lovers/birders, including my wife and I. Higher and even mid-rise buildings pose a lethal threat to songbirds as the US Bank stadium has demonstrated. Glass walls, especially adjacent to foliage really confuse and draw them to their death or serious injury. Since this development is plopped squarely in the middle of the Mississippi Migration Corridor, twice a year for periods of months residents could expect dead hummingbirds, warblers, chickadees and many more on their balconies and surrounding trails and sidewalks.

    I sincerely doubt that anyone who claims to be in favor of sustainability could advocate for such results. Do you? And we haven’t even started to discuss what this addition of 15,000 (remember the 8 blocks of high-rise office buildings?? Who’s going to work there?) to our bucolic 122 acres site will mean. Please don’t launch into a celebration of bicycling commuters; there’s nothing that indicates this is a rational projection for our city streets which already require strong hearts and great reaction time to walk or pedal through. But you’re on the traffic committee and surely realize this!

      1. howard miller

        John, granted there are many aspects to ‘sustainability’ beyond building height. How do you propose to limit renters to one, or no, vehicles? Will the new developer be willing to give breaks on rent to those who do, or who vow to ride bicycles 60% of the time? Will you be able to find people willing to live in little boxes looking out on other slabs of little boxes? Will they stay there for long periods or will they be like most people who may live like that when they are young but move to single family homes when they have families?

        Everyone refers to Europe as an example of successful high-density living although they fail to explain that a stand-alone home is beyond most people’s income range. Allow me to offer an anecdotal example; a friend of my family, a modestly well-to-do chateau owner, wine coop president, visited my humble Cape Cod in Richfield years ago. He was astonished that people in our income bracket could own a home; “you are so lucky,” he repeated again and again.

        1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

          Why do you think it matters how long renters stay?

          As to how to get people to drive less, that’s easy. You make it easy to walk, bike and take transit to things. (Also provide less “free” parking)

          The good news for the Ford site is that pretty much all of the amenities that people need are already within a short walk, there’s existing good transit service to more, and more transit slated to come.

          1. howard miller

            Turnover costs money: cleaning, painting, no rent.

            How did you get a list of vendors who are going to set up shop in the Ford Development (the “good news”)? I’ve heard nary a peep from the planners about who’s renting commercial space.

            1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten

              If these apartments are rented for a few years at a time, those costs become negligible (you or I might think they are huge, but we’re talking about a company that has the money to own and maintain these buildings). And even if your worst fears are true, and these buildings are largely rented out by young professionals who only live here for 3-5 years before getting married and moving to a house, why is that a bad thing? Why am I and my friends living in, and making roots in an area, using the least amount of space we need a bad thing? Your tone really is making me feel like I am an awful person to have as a neighbor, I hope that isn’t a true sentiment.

              The “Good News” is in reference to the existing Highland Village, where most of the density is nestled around. It is not concerning the new development at all. But there are multiple coffee shops, a grocery store, pharmacies, fast-casual restaurants, a movie theater, sit down restaurants (nothing I would go to before prom, but that’s not exactly high on my walking to list anyway).

              I see your main comments on the sustainability of glass being corrected by ensuring these are not glass and steel buildings, but have opaque exteriors with insulation in the exterior walls as opposed to glass walls. If so, I would second that notion. If I am discussing “neighborhood character” I would agree that a glass and steel building would be out of place here, and not a good visual fit. Buildings similar to the Cleveland Hi-Rise, with a brick exterior and thicker walls to the outside would be more aesthetically pleasing, provide better environmental effects, and be safer for birds.

              And fun nerd out, have you seen the T3 development in Minneapolis? I’m not sure why it couldn’t work here, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try! It would really be cool to have some 8-10 floor wood supported buildings!

              1. howard miller

                With your almost alarming sensitivity and wonderful joie de vivre I imagine you would be (and perhaps are) a great neighbor. I have been an optimist the better part of my life, and this is after the ’60’s, Vietnam and much more. However, I need only look at the business section where many new development plans are displayed, or out the window of the Blue or Green line which I ride frequently, to know that we will not be having brick or wood buildings on our little 21st Century development. I live across the street from the Finn, a new multi-use, high-density (hereafter MUHD) building which is depressingly like almost every other m-u-h-d built in either of the TC’s in the last decade; a shell of unidentifiable fabrication covered by multi-colored plates of different unidentifiable fabrication with balconies (coming) hung on its sides with chains. Perhaps that is your ideal of home. I prefer wood, plaster, brick and stuff that doesn’t make me sick or itch. I guess I’m kind of sensitive too.

        2. John Bailey

          Who is “limiting” the vehicles the renters (yikes!) may use? Will there be “vows” on how many bicycle trips you can take? Can the vows be taken at City Hall or must there be a religious ceremony?

          There are many, many people who are “willing to live” in neighborhoods of 4-6 story buildings (or as they say in Minnesota: “high-rises”), near the Mississippi River, and close to retail and quality transit. In these type of communities, people tend to drive less because it is often more convenient. This may not be your life, but there many people – young, old, middle-aged, even those raising kids – who would choose this. All together now: Not everyone would want this; There are many that will drive; and of course everyone’s favorite show-stopper….It snows in Minnesota.

          1. howard miller

            John, If there were nowhere to go south of Highland Village, if all the cars that entered it from the north (or any direction) were going to end their journey here in the Village, your learned response would hold water. However, most of the drivers who ‘rat run’ through our village every day in the a.m. and p.m. have other destinations in mind. So most of the people careening down Cretin, Cleveland, Fairview and, yea, even the River Blvd. are on their way to or returning from work. They work at the U of M (either campus), KSTP, Fraser Services, or any of the hundreds of agencies in the midway area near 280 and they are headed home to Eagan, Apple Valley, Lakeville, etc.

            That is why the majority of people injured in accidents in Mac/Groveland and Highland are not residents of either neighborhood. And that is what will be zipping through the Ford Development on Cretin and even Mt. Curve. And that is why bicyclists will find this area less than ideal for commuting. Please don’t take my word for it. Come sit at any of the major intersections of these arteries and watch most of the traffic not stop in our quiet village during rush hour.

            1. John Bailey

              Howard – I think you meant this response for someone else. There other commenters that were discussing these issues.

            2. Walker AngellWalker Angell

              Howard, exactly right.

              This was a lesson that Dutch planners learned the hard way and is what resulted in their tight definition of ‘access roads’ that serve only a limited number of addresses and do not usually allow through motor traffic. Most Dutch roads with through traffic now get protected bikeways.

              1. howard miller

                and that is why it’s almost impossible to drive off the main arteries in Portland, ORE, once you get off Stark or Burnside you run into streets with endless obstructions, turns, circles, and other entertaining stuff. Bikers can handle them but not drivers

                1. GlowBoy

                  Having lived in Portland for 18 years prior to my recent move here, I’m not sure what you mean by “endless obstructions”. I also have taken the populare Portland Traffic and Transportation class at PSU, so I have a pretty good handle on what Portland has done on its streets and why it was done.

                  – In a city that gets little snow, there are quite a few residential intersections with mini-traffic circles, but most of those are traffic-calming measures to slow traffic down, and not obstructions that force you to go a different way. In any event, there are fewer of these in Portland than in, Seattle, where I’ve also lived.

                  – I can’t think of many “obstructions” to progress through neighborhoods on side streets, other than diverters (like you see at 40th/Chicago in S. Minneapolis, or for quite a few blocks around Mpls. SW High School) intended to reduce traffic on the bike boulevards. Ankeny Street, one block off Burnside and fairly close to Stark, has a number of these, so maybe you’re over-extrapolating from your experience in that area? There aren’t that many bike boulevards in town – far fewer than there are carterials! – and I’m hard-pressed to think of diverters anywhere else except a couple on NE Broadway that were intended to reduce traffic from the big Fred Meyer into the Irvington neighborhood (which is not unlike Highland Park).

                  – The one neighborhood that’s genuinely confusing to get around is Ladd’s Addition, which was loosely based on D.C.’s layout of roundabouts and radial streets. Ladd’s has a bunch of diagonals which can confuse people (as well as a couple diverters for the Ladd-Harrison-Lincoln bike boulevard that passes through), and lots of people get lost in there. But it is only 1/4 of a square mile and hardly representative of the city.

                  “Bikers can handle them but not drivers” I would not say Portland’s street grid is substantially different to navigate in a car than the pre-war street grids of Minneapolis or St. Paul. Other than the bike boulevard diverters, any other features you describe in Portland – which, again, are really not that great in number – were created to reduce and/or slow traffic on quiet residential streets, for the benefit of pedestrians and property owners in neighborhoods that in many cases resemble your own.

    1. John Bailey

      Sustainability incorporates a wide range of outcomes, such as the ones this article mentions: reducing the need to drive, more efficient stormwater techniques, and increasing access to parks and open space. Your comments are narrowly focused on the issue of building height, and specifically how height may or may not adversely effect birds. Building height is largely immaterial to true neighborhood sustainability, and for that matter, so is the concern about “more people.” The real drivers are sustainability are location (not on greenfields), transportation choice (transit connections,walk,bike, mix of uses, and yes, green building techniques – both on the actual buildings but also within the public infrastructure (stormwater).

      I used to work in downtown Washington, DC next door to the National Wildlife Federation. They moved to be “closer to nature” out in the ‘burbs (Reston!) in a smaller
      “green” building. The amount of employees that had to drive to work shot through their butterfly garden roof.

    2. GlowBoy

      From my reading of the map, most of the blocks would be low or mid rise. Looks like less than 20% of the site would have high rise development.

      1. howard miller

        Look at map of the proposed development from city. Note all sections commercial and residential with height limit of 65′ or greater. Note all blocks along Ford Parkway (65′ or higher). Note all high (110′) and mid (75′) rise sections. Even an untutored eye can see that about 75% of the development is above 65′ which was my original statement. I hope you are able to verify this, otherwise remedial map reading might be a good idea.

        1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten

          There are many possible interpretations of ____% of the site. If we are discussing straight blocks of development, 59% (23 of 39 blocks) are listed as 66’+. But parks are included in the plan (if a developer would be able to include the amount of parks with only low rise and detached housing is questionable, if the city would have a carrot to get them to, etc… but it is most assuredly part of the site and development, so let’s count it for humor’s sake) and let’s say there’s about 16 blocks worth of parks (on the low end of the estimate) which would be 42% of blocks listed as 66’+ allowed.

          So can we all agree on 40-60% of building plots are allowed to have buildings of 66’+? (I’m not calling them skyscrapers, because I don’t want to encourage that for 6-8 floor buildings, which I think the 75′ limit will be.)

          1. howard miller

            Here’s a little adventure that should be especially educational for you, my idealistic friend. Go to the corner of Cleveland and Highland Parkway. Look at the 48′ (height limit) building which is being built there. Does it fill the entire footprint proposed in the plan? Do you see any parkland abutting it? Good.
            Now go to the corner of Selby and Snelling. This building (Vintage on Selby) has an upper limit of 55′. Does it fill the entire footprint (sidewalk excluded)? Do you see any parkland abutting it? Good
            Now go to the business section of your newspaper (if you get one). Any time a new building is proposed (such as the one at St. Clair and Snelling; 55′) look closely at the elevation. You will find that it too fills its footprint and has no open space abutting it. Now you too are learned. Developers and city planners have little use for open space! That is why it barely exists in the Ford development plans (10% in spite of the considerable high and medium rise buildings wedging themselves onto the narrow strip of land. Taxes trump outdoor space, my jejune amigo, every time!!

        2. GlowBoy

          “I hope you are able to verify this, otherwise remedial map reading might be a good idea.”

          Ok, I understand you’re upset about the proposed development pattern, but I think most of us who’ve used the Interwebs for a while know it’s not okay to attack someone’s comprehension skills just because they interpreted your statement differently than you meant.

          You spent a good deal of that first post explaining why high-rise development is bad, and I pointed out that only around 20% of the area would be high-rise (based on reading of the map and legend, which *clearly* indicates only the dark-green blocks are high-rise). Who’s misinterpeting whom?

          1. howard miller

            I live across the street from the 48′ Finn building at Cleveland and Highland Pkwy. My home will probably now be worth considerably less than when it was purchased 3 years ago when it was just a cottage on a tree-lined street (the ash borer took care of the tree-lined piece). ‘High rise’ to me is anything that puts the adjacent neighborhood in shadow.

            Ad hominem attacks are not nice but forgivable, it seems to me, when those for the opposite side persist in not actually addressing points of argument. Just because a block of buildings is labeled ‘commercial’ or ‘retail’ or something other than hi-rise doesn’t mean that it is not an uncharacteristically high building, especially in a neighborhood which in 2005 agreed under guidance of advisors from the Humphrey Institute that buildings in our neighborhood in order to remain in keeping with that neighborhood should be under 40 feet.

            When developers then negotiate endless exceptions (such as “if the 1st floor is set back more than 10 ft. from the street then that amount can be added to its height”) so that conditional use permits are no longer required thus removing neighbors from objecting or at least having a say in the development, that is unacceptable although legal.

            So that’s why I’m angry, that and having to worry about dying every time I cross Cretin or Cleveland or Ford Pkwy. with full knowledge that this traffic is going to probably double when the Ford metropolis is built, regardless what the traffic studies may show. Reality is not a study, and ever so rarely is.

            Hey, you really have PDX down. I surrender on that score. BTW Irvington is a bear to drive through as well.

            1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

              I agree that Cretin is badly designed. I’d like to see a 4-3 conversion there, even though it would increase “congestion.” It would be MUCH safer and have more positive effect on property values than anything having to do with apartments near your house.

              Safety and congestion are not really correlated IMO. You can have really badly designed and dangerous streets that are not all that congested, and vice versa. The problem is when we try to “solve” congestion problems by widening or straightening or speeding up our streets.

              1. howard miller

                I know that I’m leaping into a hornet’s nest saying this but, a lot of through traffic (which much of the traffic through HP is; area south of MPLS uses Cretin then takes Ford to Hiaw. corridor; Eagan, Mendota and points south use Cleveland and Fairview) would be drained away if Ayds Mill connected to 94. No more craziness at Snelling and Selby.

                If Cretin is connected to Montreal the new Ford town will have a major traffic artery right through its heart. Many far south drivers will either turn right on St. Paul to catch 5 or go straight out Montreal to catch 35E.

            2. GlowBoy

              I wasn’t denying that a large share of the development would be mid to high rise. I was refuting what appeared to be an assertion that the majority of the project would be “bird-killing” high-rises.

              And maybe you’re right that we should revisit the amount of the site that will be above 40′.

              That said, I’m very skeptical that a highly walkable, transit-enabled greenfield development will generate the increase in traffic you warn about. In Portland we’ve had two major greenfield developments, each now home to several thousand new residents: the Pearl District, and South Waterfront. These were a rail yard and an underused light-industrial district, respectively, when I moved to Portland in the late 90s, and both are in the ballpark of the Ford site’s size.

              Both are now served by the Portland Streetcar. South Waterfront is also the lower terminus of the once-controversial Aerial Tram (aka gondola) to the hospitals up on Marquam Hill, and is pretty close to the new Orange Line light rail. The Pearl is mostly filled with mid-rise condos and apartments, plus a couple of high-rises, and is a very lively, walkable district with lots of fun shops and restaurants. South Waterfront, on the other hand, is mostly high-rises and until recently didn’t have much retail development (though that is now changing). Despite high density, neither of these disparate districts has significant congestion, nor has either contributed significantly to traffic problems in adjacent neighborhoods.

              I think the Pearl’s model – mostly mid rises with a smattering of high-rises – is a better approach to creating vibrant street life that invites people to walk instead of driving, rather than SoWa’s all-high-rise design, and is probably a good design model for the Ford site. It helped that the Pearl was adjacent to an already-busy commercial district (Old Town/Chinatown), much as the Ford site is adjacent to one of St. Paul’s best retail districts, whereas SoWa is isolated from its neighbors by freeways.

    3. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

      As far as the density goes, keep in mind that population density in Saint Paul has been doing down sharply since the 1950s. In relative terms, more people in the area would be quite normal.

      What is a “high-rise” building to you anyway? To me, double digits, something like the Riverside Plaza towers. I think about them from a human scale perspective, along the lines of Jan Gehl. Once you reach a certain height, say about 6 stories, the relationship between people on a balcony and on the sidewalk becomes distended. I want everyone to be able to see and/or engage with the sidewalk. I think the heights in the plan are almost all pretty comfortably within the “human interaction” zone.

  3. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    I agree that there is a lot to like. But there are also some concerns, many that fall in to the ‘Dutch, Danes, Swedes and others have long ago learned this lesson, why haven’t we’ category.

    A door zone bike lane on Bohland? Besides the general dangers of doors and drivers pulling in/out without looking, these tend to be unusable during most winters (this year a rare exception). Why not protected bikeways on Bohland? A painted bike lane is considered useable by only about 5% of the population, a protected bikeway by nearly 100%.

    Woodlawn appears too long with too many people living/working on it to function the way they think it will as a shared space?

    Will Montreal bikeway be curb protected or just plastic sticks? 11′ travel lanes + 11′ turn lane and through traffic will likely equal high speeds and worse, inattentive drivers. And then only 6′ bikeways that make passing dangerous and difficult? How about 10′ travel, 9′ center, 6″ cement ‘don’t drive here curbs’, and 8′ bikeways? It is good to see that they didn’t include any ‘no need to pay attention’ curb reaction distance. Or is that the bikeway?

    Where do bicycle riders go on Cretin?

  4. Jeff McMenimen

    I agree – the Ford site redevelopment plan is a fine example of responsible, forward-thinking, and sustainable neighborhood planning. It shows what can be done when a city commits its resources toward the common goal of creating better, more sustainable communities and improving the quality of life for its residents. As a Saint Paul resident, I appreciate and commend the groundwork the City has laid for the future of the Ford site.

    While the Ford site is an important redevelopment opportunity for the City of Saint Paul, the West Side Flats, located directly across the Mississippi River from downtown Saint Paul, is equally significant, yet doesn’t garner the attention the Ford site has. The 120-acre site lies within walking distance of light rail transit, jobs, shopping, local and regional amenities, yet it has languished for decades. Underutilized and vacant sites dominate the landscape. Superblocks, better suited to industrial uses, separate the West Side community from the river.

    The Flats were once a vibrant, mixed-use, urban neighborhood – one that welcomed immigrants from around the world. However, constant flooding spelled the end of the West Side Flats neighborhood and homes were replaced with an industrial park. The business park provided good paying jobs for West Side residents for many years, but industry has changed and the business park has not changed with it.

    The City, recognizing the need for a new vision, has initiated several plans that would return the Flats to a mixed-use, urban riverfront neighborhood. Like the Ford site redevelopment plan, the most recent West Side Flats Master Plan (2015) provides a framework for sustainable development, built on mixed-use, compact development patterns. The plan promotes multi-modal transportation, smaller block patterns, a variety of housing choices, employment uses, parks, open spaces, trails and green infrastructure.

    At the heart of the plan, a large greenway provides the opportunity to reconnect the West Side community to the Mississippi River. It also provides the setting for the first shared, stacked green infrastructure (SSGI) in the City of Saint Paul – a model for the Ford site and other creative stormwater treatment opportunities in the metro area. The West Side Flats Greenway has gained traction, receiving an EPA grant for further study and design. The Master Plan has been well received by the development community and redevelopment is now under way. Phase 1 of the West Side Flats Apartments are complete and people have moved back into the Flats. Phase 2 is designed and going through the approval process. A 13-acre site adjacent to the proposed Greenway has been purchased and is being designed for mid-rise, mixed use development with multi-family housing and ground level retail uses facing Robert Street.

    The West Side Flats Master Plan was developed with community involvement and support. A task force, consisting of West Side residents and community leaders, provided guidance for the planning effort. The plan was/is forward-thinking, like the plan for the Ford site. However, it did not receive the attention the Ford site has and when push came to shove on the portion of the plan east of Robert Street, City decision makers caved to the pressure of the Saint Paul Port Authority. The plan called for smaller block patterns, green streets, open spaces and the development of more intense employment uses than exist today. It’s a long-term plan that provides guidance for redevelopment, if, and when that occurs, of a more pedestrian -friendly, densely developed district. The Port Authority pushed back on the plans, fearing that the plans would create a disincentive for existing businesses to invest in the area. Businesses that rely on large superblocks and fields of asphalt.

    It’s too bad that the City hasn’t gotten behind its most important opportunity to reconnect its neighborhoods and residents to the river like it has at the Ford site. As an urban designer, I know that the health and vibrancy of any city is dependent on having a healthy, vibrant downtown/city center. The Flats are an important piece to Saint Paul’s riverfront and to the future of downtown Saint Paul and the West Side community. Hopefully, as new buildings, streets, parks and greenways begin to take form in the Flats, we’ll all realize what an important place it is and that it will garner the recognition it deserves from all of us who live in Saint Paul and the surrounding region.

  5. gordon

    The neighbors complaining about traffic,I would be interesting how many drive to ROSEDALE to shop and would not even shop in the city.They could easily live with one car and use transit,this will reduce parking
    MAny times I have gone to the movie theatre is rarely busy anymore .The shops has few people.The buses are almost empty We need densities to increase tax base
    .Ford,MACY ,Cray and many more businesses left the city.
    Parking isn’t free and it reduce the tax revenue.
    ST PAUL and Mpls is pathetic no dept stores left,no big movie theatres,no bowling alley,very few book stores left.Two movie theatres days are numbered

    1. GlowBoy

      I don’t know Gordon … maybe it’s a glass half-full/half-empty thing. I’ve gone to the Highland and Grandview a few times, seemed not as busy as the Riverview always is, but busy enough. And the stores in Highland always seem busy when I’m there. Bowling alley? Still have Memory Lanes, decent place for an underrated sport in steep decline.

      Department stores? That’s not the cities’ fault: department stores have been in decline for decades (why the Dayton family started Target, after all) and Macy’s is closing their downtown stores across the country to help their cash flow because those are their most valuable assets. The *exact same thing* is going on right now with the Portland Macy’s as with the Minneapolis Macy’s … closing the downtown store this spring and selling the building for $60 million. They will continue to sell buildings to offset operational losses until they’ve shrunk to nothing a decade or two from now.

      I miss Powell’s living here, but I’m repeatedly amazed by the number of awesome, small independent bookstores in Minneapolis AND St. Paul.

      1. GlowBoy

        And maybe you’re right there aren’t big multiplexes in the core cities, but that’s true in most metro areas: those are in the suburbs.

        Minneapolis does have a decent number of smaller theaters, often showing “smaller” pictures: the Riverview, Uptown, St. Anthony Main, Lagoon, Trylon Microcinema, Bryant-Lake Bowl, and I’ll count the Edina since it’s across the street from Minneapolis. Sad to see the Suburban World’s current state (I have fond memories of that place from the 80s) but overall I think the movie-house situation is pretty decent. From what I understand of the movie business model, smaller theaters do not need to fill all the seats to stay in business.

    2. Walker AngellWalker Angell

      Dept stores and book stores (and other bricks & mortar) are losing to online. Federated, who own’s Macy’s, have pretty much stated that they’re primary goal is to milk what’s left of the declining dept store market while they figure out what to do when they’re no longer viable.

      Similarly big-box stores like Target are giving way to smaller and more local stores. Target and Walmart view Walgreens and CVS as almost as big a threat as Amazon and both are looking at how to be successful with more but smaller stores.

      These changes have little or nothing to do with policy except to the extent that policymakers need to consider these and other changes as they make policy.

  6. Mark & Jen

    Bill, I really like the plan, but we have a question about small business. Growing up in Highland Park in the 1970’s there were allot of mom and pop businesses, what is the plan to add them back into the community?
    We have wanted to expand our garden stores back to Highland Park and this looks like a good opportunity for us and other small business owners.

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