Chart of the Day: Minneapolis and Saint Paul Populations as Percent of their Peak

Via erstwhile gadfly David Brauer, here’s an interesting chart. The 2016 census population estimates came out last week and sparked an interesting conversation on Twitter this week. Here’s the original population chart, via former board member / forum founder Nick Magrino:

(He got the chart from a recently released Met Council report…)

Following the chart tweeting, Brauer took some the new data and created another chart, showing both Minneapolis and Saint Paul’s populations as a percentage of their all-time peaks. It’s interesting for sure!

The key question quickly arose: Why did Saint Paul not shrink as much (by percentage) as Minneapolis following the end of World War II and the growth of the suburbs?

Check out the Twitter conversation for some theories about that.

(Note: my point about race/class violence was based on Mary Lethert Wingerd’s thesis in her book Claiming the City…)

Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below.

19 thoughts on “Chart of the Day: Minneapolis and Saint Paul Populations as Percent of their Peak

  1. Dana DeMasterDanaD

    I recently saw Census data for St Paul from 1980 that showed that 95% of the population white. Today that is 56% (IIRC). It amazes me that in about 40 years the population changed that much. I realize that older adults in 1980 most likely aren’t alive anymore, but it speaks to where their children went. Did the older white adults children leave St Paul to be replaced by young people of many different races/ethnicities? Seems so. Huge implications for how we define ourselves and our community.

    1. Cheri Howe

      Great insight, growing up here in the 50’s and 60’s then leaving now returning it is a shock to my system and I am trying to understand what has happened in St.Paul.

  2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    Wonder whether 35E being completed way after 35W made any difference.

    I think part of the answer can be seen by a stroll through the skyway level of the new Wells Fargo buildings in Downtown East (did I do the branding right?). They’ve got a series of historical aerial pictures/illustrations of downtown. If you start on the west end you can see the early city intensify/grow in density, then get ripped apart and gutted during the urban renewal phase and only start to fill in again in the last decade or so.

    I don’t think St. Paul did the same, did they?

  3. paddy

    This can’t be right???

    I’ve been led to believe through extensive reporting on that St Paul was dead or dying and only bike lines and density could save it.


    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

      You have your facts a bit off. Saint Paul is boring, is the word on the street.

      But jokes aside, Alex’s theory that Saint Paul maintained population precisely because it built a lot of suburban style neighborhoods is interesting. That said, the same demographic trends about shrinking household size and the destruction of apartment density areas holds in Saint Paul. They simply replaced that housing with suburban SFH housing on the fringes, so the theory goes.

      1. paddy

        I thought sarcasm was a requirement for any posts on this website when St Paul was involved.

        But I got it. Highland is the St Paul fringe and filled with only people in SFH.


        But really…

        I have a hard time looking at his St. Paul map of 1948 and saying larger parts of St Paul had yet to be developed.

        1924 maybe?

        1958 definitely not

        The difference between the 1958 map and this 1988 map is very minor at best.

        New theory required IMHO

        1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

          Here’s some more info from an earlier aerial photo archive post I did here. ( I think a lot of Highland was developed right in the “Levittown” era, immediately following the war, and by ’56 maybe half of that construction was done. If you look to the South of the plant it still seems like some of those streets hadn’t been built out yet.

          Just an impression I get from looking over those images.

          1. paddy

            Maybe? I dunno know though. Even in the that 1956 photo it looks pretty similar to present day.

            I think its a fascinating question why from 1960-1970 St Paul’s population remained unchanged when Minneapolis fell like a rock (maybe certain St Paul neighborhoods have great character!) and when in every other time period the two lines on the chart move in more or less lock-step.

            And to be clear I certainly don’t think its because St Paul was adding substantial numbers of SFH. From 1950 to 1970 Minneapolis lost 20% of population St Paul lost 0%. A 20% drop in St Paul’s population would have been 60K people. St Paul built new housing in those 2 decades for 60K people? I don’t think so. Roseville’s current population is 30K. St Paul added two Roseville’s. No way

            I guess I look at the chart and say whatever problems St Paul has (and they might have many) its not a population problem. The population is more or less the same as its always been. That’s certainly contra a certain kind of narrative you may occasionally hear.

          2. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

            Right, and by comparison, in 1940, the southernmost parts of Minneapolis were mostly filled-in:
            As was the outer reaches of N Mpls in 1945:

            I think it’s a combination of all the factors discussed. St Paul still filling in its outer reaches post-WWII, Minneapolis having a stronger suburban economy to its west/south for jobs & residents to move to (and freeways allowing said flight were delayed in St Paul vs Mpls), immigrants with larger household sizes tending to settle more in St Paul in the 70s/80s than in Minneapolis, etc.

            1. paddy

              Yeah maybe some but I don’t think the math works. 60K is a lot of people not to lose.

              Ramsey County added 120K in population while St Paul city stayed constant. Washington County added 50K in the same time frame.

              And really post 1970 the populations went down and up together so not sure what Hmong would have to do with it.

  4. Max HailperinMax Hailperin

    I haven’t dug out the relevant data from the old censuses, but I would bet that the average household size decreased more sharply in the 1940s and 1950s in Minneapolis than in St. Paul, and that this difference is large enough to account for much of the divergence seen between the two cities population trajectories. As to what would explain the difference in average household size trajectories, I don’t find immigration plausible in the 1940s and 1950s. I’d bet on religion.

    1. paddy

      Good call, I’d bet you’re probably right.

      But be careful, implying St Paul or even parts of St Paul were (or are) Catholic might imply they have an actual character. And we all know St Paul has no character.

  5. Karen

    What about jobs and employers?

    I grew up on east side of St. Paul in the 70s. There were still a ton of good paying working class jobs in St. Paul proper (apparently only for white people judging by neighborhood demographics) – I don’t know about Minneapolis back then- that was a foreign country to me when I was a child. On the east side, there were at least two generations of many families that had lived there and worked in factories and it was until the 80s when everyone I grew up, who were forming households, moved out to north eastern suburbs, and didn’t work in manufacturing jobs any more.

    To me main reason people moved out of city in 50s and 60s was cars and cheap land, housing further out. Seems white flight kicked in more in the 70s.

    It seems like Minneapolis grew way more suburbs way earlier on than St. Paul. Perhaps freeway sequencing had something to do with it. To this day, house builders will follow them new wide roads, freeways. There was a rash of building in Cottage Grove in 2000s when 61 was improved

    My mom tells me when they moved to St. Paul in late 60s, many white people they knew happily talked about how they got rid of some horrible slums when they put in the freeways – like it was a feature of the freeways – taking out neighborhoods – not a bad side effect of trying to make cars move faster.

    1. Rosa

      Yeah I’m pretty sure that was the general attitude. There was even some slum clearance that wasn’t highway related, that downtown Minneapolis seems to have just recovered from in the last decade or so.

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