A Plan for Tearing Down Exclusionary Zoning Walls

Earlier this month, The New York Times ran an op-end titled “The Walls We Won’t Tear Down” about how some of society’s worst problems have a very boring cause: exclusionary zoning laws. Here’s the conclusion:

Just as it is shameful for government regulation to exclude people from neighborhoods on the basis of race, it is similarly deplorable for local governments to exclude entire groups of adults and children from communities on the basis of income. We can either make this problem better and integrate more fully or we can let it worsen and allow our society to disintegrate further.

American land-use regulation has a huge effect on who can live where, and how much they pay. In many cities, including Minneapolis and Saint Paul, boring laws about minimum lot sizes, parking requirements, maximum floor-area ratios, shoreland overlay districts, and locally-designated historic resources reinforce dramatic social problems like the urban housing shortage and economic and racial segregation. Basically, the problem is that we have laws prohibiting the construction of less-expensive housing in certain areas, and this leads to exclusive government-enforced country club districts.

I’ve heard folks say, sometimes in jest, that we should just ban zoning. But zoning itself isn’t a problem. Tokyo is good and has zoning, but the zones are designated and managed by a national agency. Vienna is good and has zoning, but none of the zones prohibit multi-family homes. Houston… isn’t super great and doesn’t have zoning, but it does have Texas-sized parking requirements. And if you’re renting in north Minneapolis and you don’t want the Kemp’s factory to keep expanding forever along West Broadway, zoning is pretty much your last best hope.

At YIMBY Town 2017, Dan Keshet from Austin presented a more targeted solution than “ban zoning.” He proposes a state-level reform that focuses on neighborhoods with exclusionary zoning, and leaves zoning laws in place everywhere else. We can measure exclusionary neighborhoods by taking the value of an area of land (in dollars) and dividing it by the number of homes on the land. An exclusionary neighborhood is one with a high ratio (Keshet suggests $150,000 of land per home); this indicates that zoning is either mandating large lot sizes, or prohibiting multi-family homes on valuable land. The reform would permit additional development until the ratio had fallen back below the threshold, at which point ordinary zoning laws would be reinstated.

I made a map of land value per home for single-family homes and multi-family rental homes (condominiums were too tricky). The map shows very high land values per home around the chain of lakes, which indicates that restrictive zoning might be excluding folks from high-opportunity areas.

What does the land value per home ratio have to do with affordability and exclusion? One way to think about land values is that they represent the opportunity of a place. Economic opportunity is high near downtown, educational opportunity is high in rich school districts, and recreational opportunity is high near nice parks. High land values reflect these opportunities. In some high-opportunity areas, like Loring Park and the Mill District, builders spread high land values among a lot of units, to bring down the cost of each home. In other high-opportunity areas, especially around the Chain of Lakes, low-density zoning creates artificial scarcity. The neighbors who hoard the opportunity are rich enough to afford entrance, or were lucky enough to get in before the invisible gates went up.

This reform has a few things going for it:

  • State-level land-use regulation leads to less segregation (PDF) than local land-use regulation.
  • Republicans are in the majority in the State Legislature, and Republicans’ profess principles that make you think they’d like to relax development restrictions, support economic integration, and build local tax bases.
  • It targets the problem and it leaves the rest alone.
  • A specific threshold removes the threat of a slippery slope toward Soviet-style apartment blocks or whatever.

Still, there are details missing from this proposal, and obstacles I see in its way:

  • Some wealthy and well-connected neighbors have become accustomed to low-density living, and will fight to preserve it.
  • Republicans might oppose the measure in the name of “local control,” even though they just overrode Minneapolis’s local regulation of labor and garbage.
  • What should the geographical level of analysis be for the land-value to home ratio? Census tract, or neighborhood, or community, or city?
  • Is $150,000 of land per home an appropriate threshold for Minnesota?
  • What agency would be responsible for implementing the proposal? Maybe the Met Council in the Twin Cities, but what about in other parts of the state?

I don’t know if this is a feasible solution, but I know we have a problem. The housing shortage in Minneapolis is dire. For 17 consecutive quarters, the rental vacancy rate has been below 3 percent (around 5 percent is considered healthy). The latest estimates from Marcus and Millichap put the vacancy rate in the uptown area at 2.2 percent. This is exacerbated by the fact that we basically have a city-enforced country club district in Lowry Hill, which is within walking distance of both downtown Minneapolis and the chain of lakes. There are a lot of “All Are Welcome Here” signs in the neighborhood. Maybe we should start zoning like we mean it.

(Photo credit: Eric Gilliland)



Scott Shaffer

About Scott Shaffer

Scott Shaffer works for a nonprofit community development corporation in Minneapolis. He has a master's degree in urban and regional planning from the University of Minnesota. He and his wife live in the Powderhorn Park neighborhood with their daughter and two Siamese cats.

63 thoughts on “A Plan for Tearing Down Exclusionary Zoning Walls

  1. Daniel ChomaDaniel Choma

    I love this article, Scott.

    Do you know if data is available to do the same data visualization reaching into Saint Paul? It’d be great to see them both as people interact in their daily lives (between commutes, shopping, school, church, temple, mosque, etc…) as if there is no distinction and Minneapolis-StPaul is one big city. I’d love to see this analysis with St Paul on the map too!

    1. Scott ShafferScott Shaffer Post author

      Thanks Daniel! I could probably use the metro parcel data set from the Minnesota Geospatial Commons to analyze the whole seven-county metro (spoiler: the shores of Lake Minnetonka will jump off the map). Looks like the data set has land value and number of units. I’ll try to find time to build on this.

  2. cobo Rodreges

    Wouldn’t it make sense to invest in improving the relatively sparsely populated, cheap, north minneapolis than cramming more people into lowrey hill?

    Its not like we are talking long distances here.

    1. Scott ShafferScott Shaffer Post author

      “Cramming” implies to me that it’s crowded, and that it would be against people’s wills. Most of Lowry Hill is zoned for low-density residential, and a lot of people would like to move there. Why shouldn’t we let more people live near parks and downtown?

      But I totally agree that we should invest in north Minneapolis. You could even take the additional tax revenue generated by new development in southwest Minneapolis and spend it on improved infrastructure and public services in north Minneapolis.

    2. Morgan Bird

      The map doesn’t show density and Lowry Hill is not anywhere close to dense enough that adding more people would be cramming anyone in.

      1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        There’s a project off one of the lakes – Harriet? the lake formerly known as Calhoun? – that sure looks like it added 2-3 rowhouses where presumably there used to be only one house (maybe there’s even two project now that I’m picturing two different construction sites).

        Anyway, that’s what people should be thinking about when we’re talking about density here. There might be spots for 20 story towers to, but surely there are lots of spots that can accommodate small increases in density.

    3. David Greene

      This is an important question. I always shake my head about white people who complain about lack of housing. I would like to see a breakdown in vacancy rate by neighborhood. I’ll bet there’s plenty of room on the Northside. “Housing shortage” really means, “housing shortage where *I* want to live.” There are super-cheap properties on the Northside and there are indeed some very desirable places to live up there. It’s just that people don’t know about them.

      Now, I do think we need to allow more density in many places. There’s a lot of talk below about “small scale” density like duplexes, triplexes and 1-2 lot small apartment buildings. I’m all for it! There will be pushback, but maybe not as much as for the six-story multi-lot developments. I think it’s the right target to shoot for at this time. Maybe that target moves in coming decades.

      Many in the New Urbanist Progressive crowd like to demonize Wedge homeowners like myself for supposedly keeping “undesirable” people out. I’ll just point out that our neighborhood is 80% renters and is full of duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes, small apartment buildings and large(ish) apartment buildings. I do not think it is fair at all to say that we have “kept people out.” Sure, there are some neighbors who resist any development whatsoever, but you’re going to find people like that everywhere.

      I do think we should build more smallish apartments in the Wedge, so I am not for freezing things as they are. But it gets tiring to hear people complain about our neighborhood supposedly not providing opportunity when we are the densest neighborhood west of Lyndale and south of Franklin (and maybe even west of 35-W and maybe even in all of South Minneapolis outside Stevens Square). I’m all for filling in parking lots, underutilized commercial buildings, etc. There’s lots of that kind of space around Uptown. I’m all for building 20-story towers along Hennepin and Lyndale. But I think it’s fair that in exchange we can keep some SFH stock in the neighborhood and keep the interior at, say, 4 stories or less (just spitballing) with any development taking one or two lots (with exceptions for exceptional projects — there has to be flexibility).

      I think it is totally appropriate to take down some of the old dilapidated duplexes and triplexes for more density *if* we can maintain the same level of affordable housing in the neighborhood because, let’s be honest, Elan is not affordable. Neither is Motiv which displaced at least 20 very low income residents. Not all development is positive. It’s very difficult to make new construction affordable. Argue all you want that decades from now these new buildings will be affordable. We need affordability for people *now.*

      I was for the Wedge Historic District because there really are some distinctive homes there. I was not for the downzoning of the rest of the neighborhood, but I’m also not necessarily for upzoning everything to R4 or whatever. As others have said many times there’s a hole in our zoning that should be filled. We should be able to zone for exactly what we want (duplexes, etc.) and then upzone further as things fill in and we still need more housing.

      I am also very aware of skyrocketing SFH prices in the neighborhood. There’s one for sale on our block that seems to hardly justify the pricetag. We will see. I think the owner will have to lower the price. But it’s certainly not affordable. Given that 80% of the neighborhood is renters, is it even reasonable to expect SFHs there to be affordable? It is even worse across Hennepin, where there are relatively few apartment buildings, duplexes, etc.

      Still, there are a few quite cheap properties in the Wedge as well. One a few blocks away is going up for auction soon. The Zillow-suggested price is sub-$200k. There’s a sub-$150k condo for sale too.

      Could more condos help make home ownership more affordable? I don’t know. I guess I would embrace a tall condo tower along Hennepin or Lyndale. Maybe even in the interior depending on the project.

      I am certainly open to discussion about how we can do development in the neighborhood. These thoughts aren’t set in stone for me. I am happy to engage in conversation and even change my mind.

      Rather than blanket upzoning of every parcel above some arbitrary land value/resident ratio, why not look at some kind of average density and upzone places below a threshold? It seems to be that this would both allow more density in highly desirable places and encourage development in places that need it like North Minneapolis. It would also give some neighborhoods who have seen a lot of changes a bit of a breather while moving development activity to neighborhoods that have been stagnant for a long time.

      Again, these are just ideas. Maybe they’re good, maybe not. I’d love to talk about the implications and how we might do better.

      1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        You mean aside from the 1970s downzoning campaign explicitly to keep people out?

        And of course none of this is theoretical or far in the past. Objections from your neighborhood have keep prime real estate at Franklin and Lyndale under-utilized. Absent those objections, lots of people could be living where there are currently none.

        Also, suggesting that new units be as cheap as existing units in dilapidated room houses is impossible, and just not how it works.

        Skyrocketing house values and expensive new units are because of the failure to add supply to match demand over the last several decades. Further suppressing supply now is going to hurt, not help, those issues.

        Encouraging/investing in demand on the north side is a different set of issues that requires a different set of policies.

        1. David Greene

          > You mean aside from the 1970s downzoning campaign explicitly to
          > keep people out?

          I wasn’t there so I can’t really speak to that. I suspect your statement is highly simplified to make a political point.

          I enthusiastically supported the Franklyn development.

          > Also, suggesting that new units be as cheap as existing units in
          > dilapidated room houses is impossible, and just not how it works.

          That’s not what I said. I said we should maintain the same level of affordability in the neighborhood. There are any number of ways that could happen. St. Paul seems to have some good programs we could learn from.

          > Further suppressing supply now is going to hurt, not help, those
          > issues.

          How do you defined “suppressing?” Note that I said we *should* build more housing in the Wedge. What exactly do you want to see happen there? There is no magic Invisible Hand. It’s a myth. Supply & demand is not a natural law. I am very skeptical that building more housing will necessarily lower prices unless we are very, very deliberate about what we build and where and how we handle displaced people.

          > Encouraging/investing in demand on the north side is a different
          > set of issues that requires a different set of policies.

          But we should be talking about it in conjunction with making other areas of the city more accessible, no?

          1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

            My apologies on the second one, I should have known you were making the more nuanced point. I agree that there are things we should be doing to add affordable housing when we are building new housing. I’m not entirely sure what “same level” means without adding new units somewhere that are as cheap as those that are lost in a rooming house, but we can certain be closer to the same level.

            “Suppressing” is using zoning (or other tools) to prevent as much housing as the market would otherwise have supplied from being built.

            I have no faith that building new housing will lower prices for a neighborhood like the Wedge that went through a strange period of being less desireable than it should have been during the white flight era that’s being reversed now. But I have zero doubt that saying no to opportunities to add housing units now will result in higher housing prices in the Wedge in the future. The demand isn’t going away. It’s whether it’s funneled into the existing housing stock – turning old houses into mansions and existing units into luxury units – or into expanding the base of housing stock.

            All of which is a bit to one side as we agree that the Wedge needs more housing. I just think we’re in a crisis that requires it everywhere.

            1. David Greene

              Predictions are hard, especially about the future.

              I think it’s entirely plausible that the Wedge hits peak popularity and prices begin to fall as places like the North Loop, Northeast and Harrison gain visibility and become popular. I highly doubt we’re going to see $800.000 SFHs below 25th St. The houses are too small and many (most?) are in relatively poor condition.

              Frankly, I’ll be lucky if we eke out a small profit on our house, given what I paid for it and awhat we’ve put into it and will be putting into it. I didn’t move here to make money.

              Reusing existing housing stock can go the other way too. Instead of mansions, we can convert SFHs to duplexes. It’s happened before and will happen again. It goes the other way too but I’m not sure that will be so common in the future. It’s hard to justify paying the price of a duplex and then converting it to single-family living. It’s hella expensive to have that work done. I mean, I’ve considered reconfiguring our second floor and shudder at what I think that might cost.

              How do we know what the market would produce “but for” our zoning? I have a sense (maybe wrong) that apartment building in SW Minneapolis has slowed. Why? Lack of available land? Zoning? How do we even do that analysis? How do we make that analysis accessible to people who are not experts?

              My original post we not meant to be “no more building in the Wedge!” Indeed I said exactly the opposite. It was more to express frustration at our neighborhood continuing to be the whipping boy for all of Minneapolis’ housing and segregation problems. I know that we have not literally been that but it feels like we get the brunt of the complaints and snarky remarks from the progressive crowd. Whittier gets a fair amount too.

              It’s curious to me that we almost never talk about building towers in East Isles and around Cedar Lake and in Fulton. Why is that? That’s an honest question. I acknowledge your point about needing it everywhere speaks to that but very few people name specific neighborhoods other than places where lots of stuff has already been built. It’s almost like the momentum of construction leads to a momentum of people saying we need more in places where it’s “been proven” to be possible to build.

              I am aware that this sounds like NIMBYism. I wonder if people can step back and think about what those in a neighborhood that’s seen dramatic construction over the last 15 years while neighborhoods literally across the street have seen none think when people say, “you haven’t allowed enough construction!” Even moreso when people are called racists.

              Again, I know you have not said this. I’m speaking to the larger Progressive Urbanist crowd.

        2. David Greene

          Also I think blaming residents for a stopping a development with unstable funding and a weak partnership (to be generous) is highly misleading. Ultimately neighborhoods have no real power to stop anything.

          1. Morgan Bird

            What’s misleading is suggesting that those were their objections. They objected to renters and rooftop parties and blocked views and traffic and no parking just like they do for every new development, not the funding source of the developer.

            1. David Greene

              I think you missed my point. The neighborhood did not kill the project. Poor project management did. Blaming “The Wedge” for this project failing is just not accurate.

      2. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

        So, there’s a lot to unpack in your comment, not much of it hasn’t been discussed here or on the forums before. But I’d like to specifically address the line that R4 is too much, that we have a hole in our zoning code. This is not true. R4 is quite restrictive, and barely distinguishable from R3 from a “what can you build on a parcel of X sqft” perspective, and R3 is very close to R2/R2B given ADUs are allowed in those zoning categories (and duplexes re-legalized on standard lots).

        So, here’s something I put together, which is two parts. http://imgur.com/V6PNhhD

        The top chunk is a chart showing what how many units (700 sqft each) you need to build at given rental price points (the solid lines), at various “lot acquisition prices” (ie how much you’d buy a single family home for to tear it down). This assumes a modest profit for developers and working on 1 standard sized lot (what people say they “want” until they go and appeal projects like 2008 Bryant). There are also some assumptions in there around construction costs (including non-rentable common space), average vacancy rate, and the cost of operating an apartment.

        The flat dotted lines represent how many units of that size you can build on a site for a given zoning district (the green table below shows the numbers for various lot sizes). These take into account setbacks, FAR, height limits, and minimum lot size per dwelling unit. While projects obviously receive variances or CUPs, these are typically small and my “maximum units” calculations are quite conservative – so the result is in the realm of what a developer could expect to get passed at City Hall.

        You can see that R3 and R4 are very close to one another. You can also see that low rents are very difficult to achieve at modest profits. Whenever a colored solid line passes above a dotted line, that makes the project illegal to build. To make it “pencil,” you can move further left along the x-axis (find cheaper sites) or further up the rent ladder. Not shown is obviously making the units smaller as an option to get more money per square foot. Another is buying a property and chopping up the interior to net additional units rather than knocking it down & building new. But both of those require looser zoning than even R3 or R4.

        Anyway, this is a very complicated discussion. I’ve thought a LOT about it. But it’s not helpful to make factually incorrect statements, or playing the “but I support this type of small-scale density” game when the financial and regulatory reality makes them not feasible in places like the Wedge with high land values. Many people have opinions about what’s the “right” scale or look or location for development, but never take another moment to find out how that would actually look. Or care what the unintended consequences of restricting development to their preferred scale and/or location are (e.g. landlords raising rents in Whittier).

        1. David Greene

          Thanks for the chart, it’s helpful!

          There are several ways to look at it. New construction is generally not going to be affordable. It seems like most of us agree on that. So let’s just dispense with the idea that new buildings can be affordable from the get-go. That frees us up to consider higher rents.

          If the Wedge is too expensive, why not look elsewhere, places with lower density and lower land values? One of the assumptions of the article is that density must necessarily go where land is most valuable. Why?

          The developers of 2008 Bryant seem to have made it pencil out. What did they do? How can we replicate it?

          How does your chart change if developers use two lots? Does everything scale linearly so it doesn’t change much? Or is there an amortization effect that helps? What about four lots?

          I am no zoning expert so I don’t know the physical implications of what R3 and R4 allow. I can’t really visualize 30 units on one parcel. I don’t really want to see four-lot, six-story development in the Wedge interior. I admit I have no objective reason for it, but rather placemaking, blah blah blah, which some people here dismiss out of hand. I’m an engineer so I value object measurement but I also value “soft” things like human emotion and attachment. Not everything can be reduced to hard, measurable facts.

          Perhaps a four-lot, four-story development could look really good! I would not like a monolithic wall like the existing ’70’s-era apartments. The private entrances of Flux make a big difference in how the place feels. As I said before, this for me is very highly project-dependent. I say “two-lot four-story” by default because by definition it won’t result in looming block-style buildings. Good design makes a lot of difference to me.

          I’m not sure we have a zoning category that works like the paragraph above. It seems like more of a form-based thing but I’m not sure. I think it would be very helpful if we recast zoning from FAR/setback/etc. to basic criteria that people can immediately understand (stories, number of lots, min/max unit size, etc.).. Maybe that’s not realistic, I really don’t know.

          I think it’s going to be very hard to talk to “ordinary” people and convince them we need higher zoning when their experience has very much not been “R4 is just like R2B!.” Tell them in what way, experientially, you think that is true. Technical talk doesn’t get through to people. We should find better ways to relate codes to people’s actual experiences and internal knowledge.

          I truly believe that a good part of resistance comes from technocrats and those who understand the intricacies of zoning “lording it over” those who don’t and don’t have the time and resources to become experts. They feel left out of the conversation and by default are almost certainly going to oppose anything they don’t understand.

          TL;DR Zoning is broken and we need to completely rethink how we do development to better relate to people.

          1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

            “The developers of 2008 Bryant seem to have made it pencil out. What did they do? How can we replicate it?”

            The did it with R5 zoning and no variances. And your neighbors who you think will accept small-lot development of 4 stories or less still appealed it on the grounds of a site plan review. Made all sorts of wonderful claims like renters are louder, or have more garbage, or aren’t the type of “family households” we want to see.

            I appreciate your trying to take on the “soft” side of things. It’s easy to claim that design is a soft thing. Here’s mine: There are real families and individuals living in the 70s-era monolithic wall apartments. They deserve a place to live. They contribute to the neighborhood. Their rent is cheap in part because that building’s typography made construction per sqft cheap. The building doesn’t detract from the public realm as much as people say it does – at least on net when you consider how many of its residents are out walking about or looking out the windows keeping eyes on the street. People cited the design of 20s-era apartments as reason to block them back then, and now everyone now says they love them.

            If I want to go a bit more, I’d say it’s patronizing to tell me to stop being so technocratic and appeal to peoples’ emotional side of things when I wrote this million-word diatribe: https://streets.mn/2017/04/27/the-progressive-case-for-up-zoning-minneapolis/

            Yes, zoning is broken. Not because R4 doesn’t have the requirements to make a building beautiful enough for people to accept it. It’s broken because we don’t have enough R4-R6 parcels in the city to allow developers to build the type of housing people will live in. Over on the forums, there’s a cool post about how a single developer wants to build 3 identical 2.5 story walkups on single lots in a (rare!) sea of R4 zoning. Initial layouts and designs look pretty sharp. When we allow stuff by-right, we might get some duds. But more often than not we’ll get a lot of workable buildings that will let more people contribute to the neighborhood, or better their own career, or access some parks they like, or live closer to their family, or be in a school zone they really want to be in.

            1. David Greene

              Did the developers need R5 zoning? Or more accurately, does R5 zoning allow something very different than what’s getting built? That’s a critical question to me because I have no sense on what the various zoning categories allow from a physical/”soft” standpoint. Would it help sell more development if people knew that certain kinds of developments are at least more difficult (still allowed, but more difficult)? Yeah, it’s a slippery notion. Unfortunately, that’s all I’ve got.

              I love our neighbors in those mid-century apartment buildings. I do not want to see those go away because they are relatively affordable. Were they so when they were built? I don’t know but it seems important to figure out because it can help drive the conversation and the decisions we make. If we can show that rents significantly decreased in real terms over time it would strengthen the argument for more construction. I somewhat doubt it to be true but maybe the Wedge is a special case for the reasons you’ve highlighted.

              I apologize for not being clear that I wasn’t directing my response to you specifically. I really appreciate your writings because they really make me think. My “technocratic” message was aimed at others who bludgeon people with arcane zoning-fu.

              The development you reference sounds great! I’m sorry that I’m not recalling which one that is but it’s tangential to the point I want to make.

              My hunch is that people are angry at developers because they don’t feel like they have much input into what happens around them. This is a tough thing because it’s indeed tricky to tell a developer they must do this-or-that with something they own. We now have this mess where developers over-propose in hopes of getting what they really want. Naturally, this feels (and is) deceptive to neighbors. We need more transparency in the whole process.

              Can a reasonable group of people sit down with developers and talk about design? I mean, look at Vancouver. They have very tall buildings but it doesn’t feel like it because of the stepbacks. I think we can build taller than people think is “reasonable” if we do it differently than we have been. Vertical breakup can be just as effective as horizontal breakup. But it’s going to be hard sell initially due to all the bad blood that’s built up. There isn’t an easy answer to this problem but there has to be some honest give by multiple parties.

              Maybe this is all pie in the sky. I hope not. I just know that if we really want significantly more construction throughout the city, we have to change the way we do things.

              1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

                “My hunch is that people are angry at developers because they don’t feel like they have much input into what happens around them.”

                I just don’t know how you can pay attention to what happens with any and every proposed change in the city and believe this. People don’t like change, so they say they don’t feel the have much input because change happens and they can’t stop it.

                Whether it’s a bike lane or a road diet or a new building, so one is there to complain that they personally didn’t get enough input.

          2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

            “If the Wedge is too expensive, why not look elsewhere, places with lower density and lower land values? ”

            Because one of the problems is that the Wedge is going to keep getting more expensive. Putting new housing elsewhere doesn’t do much to help that. And if we’re talking about subsidized, public or other affordable housing, putting it where housing is already cheap risks concentrating poverty.

            “One of the assumptions of the article is that density must necessarily go where land is most valuable. Why?”

            It’s not an assumption, it’s an argument. The argument is that you can lower housing costs in desirable areas by spreading the land value across more units, thus allowing more people to live where people want to live at a lower average cost.

  3. Monte Castleman

    This is pretty much the same issue we’ve always been talking about. Right now there’s a lot of wealth entering the city with people buying homes there rather than the inner ring suburbs, which is why these property values are escalating so much. Would these people continue to choose the city if there’s no guarantees that once they make the biggest investment in their lives buying into a neighborhood that fits their desires, the neighborhood is allowed to change and 20 story apartment tower, or even a 4-plex, is built next door using up the light, privacy, and on-street parking that they expected to have buying into a certain type of neighborhood? (I don’t know if this would be deal breaker or not as I don’t know many people that own houses in the city, just throwing the possibility out there).

    As for the “garbage law”, if this was really about litter control rather than cramming the environmentalist agenda down people’s throats or the government trying to get into the grocery store management business, why institute a 5 cent charge for paper bags? Driving around Minneapolis I’ve never seen a bunch of paper shopping bags blowing around like I have plastic bags. Don’t they pretty much stay in one place if they’re dropped and then disintegrate the first time it rains? If a 5 cent charge is “good for consumers” as one city council member candidate claims, there’s nothing stopping stores from doing it anyway to lure people to shop there since they’re getting such a good deal, and for good measure charging extra for shopping cart use, opening the freezer door for more than 5 seconds, or not using an automated checkout (pay toilets would be an obvious one except their against state law).

    1. Morgan Bird

      “Would these people continue to choose the city if there’s no guarantees that once they make the biggest investment in their lives buying into a neighborhood that fits their desires, the neighborhood is allowed to change and 20 story apartment tower, or even a 4-plex, is built next door using up the light, privacy, and on-street parking that they expected to have buying into a certain type of neighborhood?”

      Who cares? Cities change and inherently involve living near other people. Density is the entire economic that creates cities in the first place. If you move to a city expecting it to never change that’s your own fault and if you really prefer to live in a suburban style neighborhood frozen in amber then you can move to Blaine or Woodbury or whatever. Those people can get out and housing will be that much cheaper for people who actually want to be here.

    2. Ryan

      Hi, I own a house in the city – in Mac-Groveland specifically, where we are having many of these same debates. Obviously buying a home is a multi-faceted decision, but my wife and I definitely valued access to transit and proximity to a mix of neighborhood amenities (restaurants, grocery, shopping, etc) highly. When we were house-hunting in 2010, it was pretty clear both from official planning documents and from a casual walk around the neighborhood that St. Paul was prioritizing mixed-use, transit and bike/ped improvements along Snelling and at major intersections. If anything, those changes have come slower than I expected, although the A-Line and other upgrades have been very well-received.

      If you removed the (rarely used) street parking on Snelling for a cycletrack, I’d be ecstatic. A 4-plex next door or a 10-story apartment at the closest major intersection would both be totally fine. I know I’m just one guy, but I don’t think that buying into a neighborhood cognizant of how its growing is all that unusual nor do I think it’s reasonable to expect a city or neighborhood to stay the exact same for the 30 years of a mortgage term.

      Anyway, now you know one more person with a house in the city 🙂

  4. David MarkleDavidMarkle

    I agree with Mr. Rodreges.

    Moreover, a developer thinking of “cramming” more people into Lowry Hill, Kenwood or the lake boulevards areas would have to find “crammable” numbers of would-be residents with substantial incomes, because of the astronomical property taxes in those areas.

    And the Solons of Minneapolis might be skeptical of changing the zoning there, because of the questionable net result in tax revenue. Certainly no positive trend would happen quickly.

  5. Codie Leseman

    Very nice map. This color scale does a really good job showing the data. Seeing the difference between North and Southwest Minneapolis is as clear as it is striking. Keep up the good work!

  6. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    Seems like the threshold should be lower than $150,000 to me. I’d say pretty much everywhere west of 35W and along both sides of the creek could benefit from the type of gradual increase in density – du, tri and quad plexes, row houses, small apartment buildings – that was the historical norm before we adopted restrictive zoning.

      1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        Everywhere too, but the point of this idea is letting more people live where they want to live.

        This idea – which isn’t going to be adopted anyway – isn’t the way to get more people to live in less desired areas, which, once again, come with other side effects – gentrification and displacement – that need to be managed.

        One nice thing about putting more people in high land value areas is you aren’t gentrifying or displacing the vulnerable.

  7. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    I agree with relaxing requirements for multi-family in SW Mpls, although given lackluster public transportation, land use mix, etc, I’m not sure how much it is really an “area of opportunity” unless you are already at least middle-class. I agree with Monte insofar as part of the appeal might be the ability to live in (essentially) Edina with the cosmopolitan nod to being in Minneapolis. However, I think regulating in the right way (controlling form, impacts) could mitigate much of this.

    However, I strongly oppose doing this on the state level. This is a local decision, that should be made locally. Republicans have shown such little ideological consistency praising local controls, while regulating what bags are allowed in cities, so I strongly believe that as people actively involved in local government, we should stick up for their right to make decisions in the interest of their residents.

    I think the appropriate standard is to allow cities to be more restrictive than a baseline state standard. This zoning change — like the bag ban ban — would require cities to relax their rules to a standard deemed appropriate by a majority of legislators who do not live in those communities.

    1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

      Your comments on whether SW Minneapolis is an area of opportunity or not ignore the huge stack of research that shows how much going to more integrated schools makes a difference on an individual’s long-term earnings, health, etc. It ignores how much closer SW Minneapolis is to the jobs in Edina, Bloomington, etc – even if you’re getting there by bus or bike. It ignores the physical and mental health benefits afforded to the people who can live so close to any of the lakes SW Minneapolis has that are harder to come by in other places. And thinking more broadly, this ignores the type of things the city could fund for more disadvantaged parts of the city by simply allowing the tax base in clearly desirable areas to expand without needing basically any additional physical infrastructure in those areas.

      I disagree with the moral basis of local control. Outcomes matter more than the level of control. Here’s a good run-down on pre-emption as it applies to cities and zoning: https://www.citylab.com/equity/2017/08/the-positive-power-of-preemption/536241/ and another on why local control is like a prisoner’s dilemma: http://cityobservatory.org/the-prisoners-dilemma-of-local-only-planning/

      The reality is that a city (or neighborhood) sticking up for the “interest of their residents” can have obvious, predictable negative consequences for others. The things residents value may not be the things newcomers might value. And if everyone sticks up for their own interests, the options for new people (or people with lower incomes, or people with different skin colors) become few and far between. Research shows us places with stricter floors on allowable land use intensity set at a higher level of government (the opposite of allowing a city to be more restrictive) have better outcomes for affordability, income integration, and on. We shouldn’t treat local control as a good thing in and of itself. Outcomes are what matter.

      1. David Greene

        Another way to look at it is to say that we ought to make the amenities in paces like North Minneapolis more accessible and invest more in job creation, etc. in those places. Of course we should do both: invest in the Northside and make Southside neighborhoods more accessible.

        All of the desirable things you list about SW Minneapolis actually exist in North Minneapolis or could be made to exist. If white people actually moved there we could have more integrated schools there. I know that’s a touchy subject because gentrification is a real issue. But it seems to me there’s plenty of open space on the Northside for new development without displacing people. There’s plenty in SW Minneapolis too. The Target campus is closer to North Minneapolis than SW Minneapolis. There’s even a light rail line being planned to go there. Harrison is going to be just about the most damn desirable neighborhood in the city, transportation-wise, with two light rail lines and rapid bus passing through. It also happens to be really close to Wirth Park with lakes, trails, golf, sledding, skiing, etc.

        White people complain about white people in SW Minneapolis keeping out POCI in SW Minneapolis and there is some truth to that. But there is also truth that those white people also don’t care to move where the POCI are currently. The beam in one’s eye and all that.

        These things are much more complicated than the simple solutions people want to propose.

        1. DerekThompson

          Why not remove housing regulations so people can live where they want so we don’t end up with super segregated cities in the first place?

          1. David Greene

            I don’t think “remove housing regulations” is going to help reduce segregation very much. There are big social problems we have to confront.

            Let’s say we just dispensed with all zoning for residential. Just build whatever wherever. Do you really think we’d see an explosion of brown-skinned people in East Isles and CIDNA and Linden Hills?

            I mean, I could just as easily say “UBI for everyone will help people afford to live wherever!” and it would be similarly ridiculous. Things are a lot more difficult than any silver-bullet solution.

            Consider a low-income family. Said family is not going to be able to afford new construction no matter what. More importantly, said family *probably does not want to leave their neighborhood at all* because they have a social network they rely on.

            It seems to me that without actually investing in those families and those communities, things aren’t going to change much from a segregation and equity standpoint. I suspect all more construction will do in the end is allow more white people to live near the lakes. Not necessarily bad, but not exactly racial equity and there’s a significant opportunity cost against equity.

            I think it’s significant that POCI who act for equity aren’t making moving to SW Minneapolis their primary goal. They want investment in their own neighborhoods and in their own neighbors. That’s not to say we shouldn’t make things more accessible. But it’s much more complicated than simply building more housing.

            1. DerekThompson

              We aren’t going to undo decades of housing segregation and discrimination in an instant. Some neighborhoods, no matter how dense they get, will probably always be more expensive and less diverse, but I think that loosening up housing regulations will allow for more diverse housing options and a more diverse population will follow. If we give the new housing options time to age they will eventually make their way to more working class families. When we segregate housing options we are guaranteeing that the neighborhood will stay segregated.

              I am all for investing in disadvantaged neighborhoods but I think that is just putting a Band-Aid on the problem. The problem is there aren’t affordable housing options in other parts of the city because we can’t build those options. This leads to these super segregated, mostly minority, neighborhoods. I think investing and not building elsewhere just leads to gentrification.

              1. David Greene

                I agree with everything you’ve said. The devil’s in the details. *How* should we change regulations and how can we do it in a way that’s practical and realistic? As much as some of us might want to up the density to X, others don’t want it above Y < X. It's not effective for the people who want X to dismiss out of hand all the people that want Y. How do we reach an agreement?

                There is a large difference between designing policy and implementing it. It's really easy to say what we "should" do, much harder to actually do it.

        2. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

          I’m not sure that anything I said obviates the necessary goals of making places like North Minneapolis more job- and amenity-rich, and with fewer man-made barriers to desirability (polluting factories, etc). As you later state, we are actively planning a LRT (plus another one skirting the southern edge), several aBRT lines, possibly a streetcar, major park improvements along the riverfront, bike facilities, and more. The city, the U, and other public entities have worked hard to build job and educational facilities. We should absolutely continue those things and do more, while focusing policy to ensure residents who want to stay will.

          But citing a few corporate headquarters a few suburbs out, or even potential new ones in or near certain communities doesn’t change the fact that SW Minneapolis is far closer to much larger, stronger job centers in Bloomington, EP, Edina, etc, and the regional factors keep pushing jobs there. Your stated strong support for SWLRT hinged on the fact that the jobs people had (or are qualified for) aren’t moving from those locations and we need to give them access now. How many people could move to SW Mpls (or Edina! or Richfield!) and take advantage of this proximity tomorrow if we just let them?

          I think you downplay the difference between Theo Wirth (which is great!) and the chain of lakes and creek. The latter is a much more accessible park system, and its design draws people differently than a Theo Wirth does.

          I think we both hope for a time when there isn’t a neighborhood in the city with a negative stigma, where they all have a healthy enough mix of incomes and cultures to sustain a wide variety of businesses (especially those that meet daily needs). I don’t think we get there if we don’t tear down the exclusions to the expensive neighborhoods. And really, none of this addresses my comment above that we’re not going to get to a place in policy like that if we continue to allow fairly local control over land use.

          1. David Greene

            If Theo Wirth isn’t accessible enough, let’s fix that! There’s a lake with a walkway, a great playground and many things the Chain of Lakes doesn’t have. Yes, they are different places but they should both be equally accessible.

            You’re right that the SW suburbs have the majority of the employment. My point was that the northern suburbs are developing and things are moving in the direction of parity. Clearly we are not there yet.

            I don’t see local control as the issue. Zoning is done city-wide, right? It’s very likely we need a better system to set zoning but I don’t see “local control” _per_se_ as the bogeyman.

            If we “just let” people move, I am very skeptical they actually would in significant numbers. People choose where to live based on many things. Over time, we certainly could encourage more integration, so I do see value in more housing. But it seems fair to say that we should encourage migration in multiple directions.

            In my mind it’s a problem that all the focus is on getting people into SW Minneapolis with not much effort on making other places more livable. Even if you and I recognize the importance of doing both, the messaging coming out of streets.mn is definitely not that. That’s a problem.


    Great article, Scott! I appreciate you sharing what you learned at YIMBY Town and the map that makes the concept legible for our city.

    I like this idea. I also like the idea of taxing the land at a higher rate than the building itself. If people have to pay 10% on their freaking $2 million land by the lakes and just 2% on the structure, they will be motivated to improve the productivity of the land. As many of us say here, the rich people are hoarding the desirable land without measurably feeling the consequences.

    I will also say that David Greene, you are obviously new to the site and anti-racist, pro-social, pro-integration policy discussions, and you are privileged enough to own a home in a lovely place. You also appear to have no real relationships or regular interaction with people from North Minneapolis or brown people (because if you had Black friends, you could ask what they think and not justly conjecture wildly). Therefore, you need to do a lot more listening and reading and a lot less monopolizing the conversation.

    1. David Greene

      I hear your criticism. But also know that what I’m writing comes from my conversations and interactions with Northsiders and Black leaders. It’s important for me to say that “Northsiders and Black leaders” isn’t a monolithic group and I certainly don’t mean to lump everyone in together. I recognize that what I wrote doesn’t make that clear.

      I’m privileged as hell. Being so, I make conscious efforts to listen to what people of color have to say. I recognize that my privilege acts as a lens and I may not correctly interpret or even hear everything I’m being told. I have been called out before and it is always a blessing to me. White people need to be challenged.

      What I can say from those conversations with Northsiders and Black leaders is that the people I’ve talked to generally want investment in their communities. I have heard multiple times that people are not interested in moving. They love their communities, and rightly so.

      That said, I absolutely recognize that certainly some people would like to move and people moving into the city should have more access than they currently do.

      I also recognize that the vast, vast majority of people who have moved into the new construction in our neighborhood are wealthy and white. Yes, there are some people of color who have moved in, but those developments are not driving integration, not racially and certainly not economically. I don’t think it is fair to expect new construction to do that because we all recognize that new construction is not “affordable” as we mostly understand it.

      Most of the construction was on underutilized land and I think it’s perfectly great to build whatever in those places because it doesn’t displace anyone. I also think it’s fine to have people choose to sell and move for a new development. But there is a significant new project in the neighborhood that *did* forcibly displace many very poor people. That’s a problem and it’s important to acknowledge it. Not all development is good, _per_se_. We need to think about addressing displacement.

      1. Peter Bajurny

        Everyone’s tired of talking about 2320 Colfax/Motiv, except for sore losers who don’t even understand what they were fighting.

        There was no option on the table that would have preserved the SROs. Full stop. Saying “the development” displaced them is just wrong. The owner of the home wanted to sell and retire. Nobody wanted to take over running the SRO. The other option was forcing the owner to sell the home at less than market value to a rehabber who would turn it into a luxury single family home.

        You can go back and forth, like you always do, and say there was a third option, and certainly in the grand scheme of human interactions someone COULD have purchased the SRO as is and continued running it as such, but the fact is, no such person came forward as seriously as Lander or the Healy crew. There were two options put before the city council, no matter how much you may not like those options. The city council chose the one that wasn’t an egregious and illegal taking of a mans property.

        You may not have liked it, but you need to understand that the other option was turning this back into a very expensive single family home. That was it. No matter how much you wanted a third option, it wasn’t there.

        1. David Greene

          You’re too constrained in your thinking. It obviously wasn’t in place then, but why not have an ordinance that says developers that displace low-income people must find housing at similar price points within X miles?

          I bring up Motiv not to say we could have done something else then. I don’t know if we could have. But it should serve as a lesson going forward. The fact that we still haven’t re-legalized boarding houses tells me we haven’t learned anything.

      2. Shaina Brassard

        Stop defending yourself every moment and monopolizing this space! Stop pretending like you care about displacement and low-income people, but shoot down every sincere, research-driven strategy proposal because you don’t believe it will solve every social problem ever.

        1. David Greene

          Are we here to have a discussion or not? Are we not allowed some back-and-forth to reach understanding? Your message about “monopolizing” feels like shutting down of conversation and different opinions.

          I am not trying to shoot anything down. I am trying to understand viewpoints and what is realistic. I am really wrestling with this. If POCI are really clamoring to move to SW Minneapolis I want to know about it, because I have not heard that. Obviously I have not talked to everyone so I am ignorant about a lot of things.

          I would like to hear what you think is an appropriate strategy going forward. What do you want people like me to support? What is the research I can show people? I am asking completely honestly because I am certainly not a housing expert. I know a lot about transportation, basically zero about housing. If POCI want me to advocate for something I will do it.

          1. David Greene

            Actually, better yet I’d love to sit down in person with you and talk about this stuff. I’m also over on the forum if you want to send me a PM to set something up.

        2. Dana DeMasterDana DeMaster

          Hey Moderator here – I’ve been watching this discussion and mostly it’s been a pretty great example of how people with differing ideas can have a thoughtful discussion about something people clearly have a lot of passion about. Please refrain from personal attacks (as stated in our comments policy) and keep it to criticizing ideas. Thanks.

      3. Renee Spillum

        David, I don’t think you should interpret any of the conversation on this article to be suggesting that we should NOT put more density in lower land value neighborhoods. I know Scott doesn’t believe that, and that’s not his argument. His argument is about where density is excluded. We talk a lot about the market failure to provide new multifamily housing in lower income areas. There are a different set of solutions for that. But the fact is that the driver of increases in rent throughout the urban core is an economic reality – demand outpaces supply. That produces ripples. When we don’t build expensive housing near the lakes because of protectionist homeowners, the people who would have lived there move to renovated mid-century buildings in Whittier. The long term residents of color who were kicked out by the developer doing the renovation have to find housing they can afford somewhere else, maybe in North Minneapolis, which increases the rents there. This is oversimplified (there are probably several levels of affordability in between), but the main point is: we must supply as much new housing as possible, and exclusionary zoning prevents the supply of housing that the market would readily produce, which hurts all renters. I think Scott is onto an interesting potential solution that, instead of the arguments back and forth here, we could be starting to refine and promote to get to actual change that would make our city more equitable.

        1. David Greene

          Thank you. The ripple effect is something I’ve missed. It helps to have that connection made.

          I am for more density, absolutely. It’s the details that people care about. What does it look like? Some people want really small things. Others want mid-rises or more everywhere. I am probably somewhere in the middle. I actually care more about horizontal walls than height. I think that context matters greatly from project to project. I think it is very hard to legislate what’s allowed where. It’s too stringent.

          Yes, all of these discussions frustrate people because we have different preferences. A small number of people either don’t want any change or want completely unrealistic things. We can safely ignore them. Let’s appeal to the 80% of people who are pretty much “meh” on the whole discussion until something is proposed next to where they live. It seems to me that approaching those folks with open hearts and minds is necessary and can be effective.

          “When we don’t build expensive housing near the lakes because of protectionist homeowners,” is really not helpful. You’re just going to turn people off from what you’re trying to say. Homeowners can’t block anything except on the property they own. You’re assuming bad faith and generalizing that in the same way that others generalize “evil corrupt developers.” Can we please stop with the inflammatory rhetoric on both sides?

          1. Renee Spillum


            I think this is where you’re not open to seeing white privilege. I believe that protectionist homeowners is an appropriate term, and that the vast majority of people hate change, some vehemently. Particularly African Americans have been systematically denied access to neighborhoods occupied by people with political power – white and wealthy. This happened by explicit restrictive covenants, by firebombing people who moved into neighborhoods where they weren’t welcome, by block busting, and now in more subtle, but still nefarious ways. Zoning is restrictive enough to require nearly every multifamily structure to come in for design review, and neighborhoods get to weigh in on what they think of the entire project given its need for variances. There is no shortage of examples of dense housing projects that were limited, shot down, abandoned, etc due to neighborhood pressure.

            Almost every affordable housing project faces the same type of resistance – people use words like “traffic” as code in Minnesota, or sometimes when the blood pressure rises they say “those people” or “renters” or “police calls” or other dog whistle phrases that make it clear who exactly they do not want to live in their neighborhood.

            On the tone comment, I obviously would not yell in someone’s face at a neighborhood meeting that they are a protectionist or a racist to try to change their mind. But I am not shy about my opinion that we need to reduce local control in order to mitigate the power of people to prevent change in their neighborhoods and “keep out” that which they find “undesirable.” The outcome of the current system is easy to see in Scott’s map.

            1. David Greene

              I acknowledge all of those things. They happen. That’s why I explicitly called out the 80%. It’s kind of hard to think that my neighbor of color is dog-whistling when she expresses concerns about traffic. Those are the interactions I have, people with honest concerns who either need to have those concerns addressed with changes to a project or be brought along a path to see that maybe those concerns aren’t as dire as they think. They are not innately opposed to “those people” coming in.

              There are bomb-throwers in our neighborhood and I don’t engage with them. It’s just not worth the effort. Some of them are racists.

              How many projects *actually* fail due to neighborhood opposition? I ask because I don’t know. Motiv had huge opposition, probably the worst I’ve ever seen, but it got done. Franklyn had much weaker opposition but failed. I think it’s safe to say it didn’t fail due to the weak neighborhood opposition.

              It seems like a lot of New Urbanist Progressives see the good as the enemy of the perfect. If we allowed, say, two-lot, four-story apartment buildings by right would that be a win or not? Maybe I’m hopelessly optimistic but that seems like a form that could get the support of the 80%. That’s something I would absolutely support. Zone to allow that everywhere in the city, including in places like Kenwood, Homewood, East Isles, Lowry Hill, Fulton and ECCO.

              I suspect some of the resentment in places like the Wedge is the fact that no one ever talks specifically about changing anything west of Hennepin.

          2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

            The fundamental obstacle for me is that I don’t think you really get to dictate goes on someone else’s property, so what you (or the hypothetical other person who wants something small), should get a whole lot of input.

            Obviously, zoning has been a tool for neighbors to have that kind of input. I just don’t know how to look at the outcomes it’s produced as anything but bad (e.g., perpetuating segregation and economic inequality).

            1. David Greene

              But what’s the limit though? Do we allow 80-story office buildings next to small houses? It would be logically consistent to just throw out zoning altogether and let people put whatever they want wherever they want, but I really doubt most people would be for that.

              So we’re in the more interesting realm of compromise. What are acceptable restrictions?

              I am highly disturbed by the segregation in our city and I recognize zoning’s role in causing and perpetuating that. I accept that I as a while homeowner have special responsibility, especially to make sacrifices.

              I like living in a house because we can do with it what we please, add rooms, change colors, etc. Ironically, I cannot change some things back to the way they were originally due to zoning and code. But it is what it is. We can’t built apartments like we used to either, and for good reasons.

              I chose to buy where I did primarily for the walking and transit access, with the hope that I could reduce my carbon footprint. The transit thing hasn’t worked out as well the last several years due to childcare situations but I’m hopeful it will improve in the future.

              I would be open to moving to a similarly walking-and-transit-rich place. I understand the prices. There are very few houses in the area we could afford to move to. I have seriously considered moving to North Minneapolis.

              I haven’t opposed any of the apartments that have been built in the neighborhood, though I do regret not pushing for help for the people displaced by Motiv. That was a huge blind spot for me.

              Maybe six-story apartments could work in the interior? I’m open to it, but hesitant. I like seeing kids playing in the yards on our block. Our son likes seeing them too. I like waving to neighbors on their porches. None of this really happens with big apartment blocks. I have tried repeatedly to invite people living in Flux and Elan to our NNO block party. No one ever comes, possibly because it’s impossible to post flyers in or near those apartment buildings. We get people from duplexes and triplexes all the time.

              I see people in the smaller historic apartments out on stoops all the time. I get to wave to them and chat. I pet their cats. I don’t get that with people living in Flux and Elan because Flux and Elan are not conducive to it, by design.

              In my very real experience, human-scale matters. I think Flux and Elan are fine projects. They are huge assets. But they are a very different experience. That is why I hesitate at putting them everywhere in the neighborhood. It has nothing to do with disliking the people living there or the fact that they rent. It has everything to do with how I can or cannot interact with them on a daily basis via serendipitous encounters.

              1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

                At the risk of being glib, when it comes to the form of housing, I’m not sure there should be a limit. If it makes economic sense to build an 80 story apartment tower next to your house, we should probably allow it. Not least because it isn’t going to make sense in many places, so foreclosing some of the few where it does is a pretty big missed opportunity.

                That’s scary for good reasons – you probably don’t want a house surrounded by tall buildings – that aren’t really going to come about. And for bad reasons – people have all kinds of baseless or just mistaken beliefs about renters and density and traffic and even crime – that are hard to get people past.That all adds up at this point to there always going to be some limit, but it’s probably a mistake to see the end result as anything other than political compromise.

                1. David Greene

                  So I think you’re right about certain extreme scenarios not happening. The obvious retort from the opposition is, “If it isn’t going to happen anyway, why do we need to zone for it?” People not only dislike change, they like predictability (c.f. transit, bus vs. rail). Zoning gives that predictability. That’s part of the reason there are always fights about variances. If we’re going to do variances and CUPs all the time, let’s just zone for it. But out current zoning is too coarse to do that.

                  I was thinking on the drive home today, how would I design something like flux in the same basic footprint but more connected to the neighborhood to facilitate the interactions I talked about. I don’t yet have an answer but for me it is an important question to ask. If that’s something we want to encourage, then how do we zone for it or otherwise make it much more likely projects turn out that way.

                  I think about that central Elan building and how great it would be if everything around the fountain were open to the public as a sort of gathering courtyard. Of course with the design it can’t work due to the pool, but can we design things in the future that can allow such gathering spaces? Some of the older Greenway apartment buildings have courtyards open to the public but I always feel a bit bad going into them, like I don’t belong there.

                  I’m just throwing out ideas. I’m not sure public courtyards facilitate interaction from the street.

                  1. Renee Spillum

                    So now I think you’re actually asking an interesting question in the second part. My belief is that most of this conversation is not about giant buildings, it’s about encouraging 6-24 unit small buildings on infill sites, which I personally believe should be allowed anywhere that meets a reasonable FAR. City Observatory calls these “illegal neighborhoods” and many desirable parts of Minneapolis look like that.

                    Most units getting added now are getting added in huge buildings that function like whole interior communities (or dorms for grownups). You never have to go outside – you go to the gym, go to the bar, go to the pool, have their groceries and cat litter delivered to your doorstep, host big parties, and get into your car all without a whiff of fresh air. I think this trend contributes to the lack of identification people feel with their community as their actual building is heavily marketed as an identity product. Thus they don’t go to national night out. Smaller buildings with fewer included amenities can keep costs down and encourage community participation at the same time, but they’re hard to build because even though there’s a lot of zoning to support it, the lots where the market can afford to acquire and build such projects are limited. If we made any infill lot eligible for as high a density as you could fit within a higher FAR (i.e. 24 micro apartments in a 3 story building for example), that would at least remove a zoning barrier and the market would undoubtably produce more such buildings than it does today. I hope St Paul can figure this out in time that someone can build a nice little triplex next door to me, when the house there inevitably falls down. I would welcome some renters next door, even if my kid doesn’t get to see other kids playing in their single family home yard because of it. We don’t live in the suburbs on purpose.

                    1. David Greene

                      Yes! That is *exactly* what I’ve been trying to convey. I don’t like the huge buildings because they do act like isolated little communities. I’ve called them the modern-day gated communities. Even the mid-century buildings act like this, though not as severely. It’s very hard to connect with people who live in them.

                      I really would welcome the smaller buildings you describe because they feel less monolithic, more welcoming, and the residents there actually have a chance to hang out outside the building because, let’s face it, it’s really hard to get 500 people to fit on an outside entryway.

                      Fill our block with 3-4 story, two-lot buildings and I would be perfectly happy, provided we aren’t displacing disadvantaged people. Heck, go to 5-6 stories and I’d probably be fine.

                      I mean, it has to be possible because people are going it, right?

  9. jeffk

    Neat idea. One issue I could see is that issues regarding land use are poorly understood even at the municipal level, by city residents and council members. The state legislature probably has all of three members who know what a FAR is and my guess is parking minimums are popular among that crowd – even, as always, the “less regulation” conservatives and “pro-environment” liberals. It’s a little hard to picture it gaining traction.

  10. Bruce Brunner

    I love the attempt to see what can be done but upzoning Lowry Hill, Kenwood, Cedar Dean, and Linden Hills wouldn’t add any more housing. All of the lots are utilized with big houses owned by fairly wealthy people. Big houses don’t get knocked down to build duplex, triplexes, ect. These people, can afford to pay more so rezoning there won’t impact hardly anything at all. I’m confused as to why you think anything would displace these large homes? I’d rather see the whole South Minneapolis up zoned something closer to what it was in 1975 so there is opportunity to rebuild or put apartments where more reasonably priced places can be rejuvenated. I’d love a public discussion where people who are policy wonks can talk to real people who own in these areas and are trying to expand housing on a small scale.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      “Big houses don’t get knocked down to build duplex, triplexes, ect”

      Historically, I don’t think that’s true. The area around Loring Park (the Harmon Place Historic District), for example, used to be rich people’s mansions, before it was the automotive district that the historic district seeks to preserve. And as I mentioned elsewhere, somewhere around the lakes (I’ll have to do some research) there’s a group of sort of row houses going up right now.

      What I think is true is that the fashionable homes of rich people don’t get knocked down anymore. Zoning is one reason, but the fashionable part is it’s own factor. Like the Gates Mansion, however, they can go out of fashion: http://www.startribune.com/along-lake-of-the-isles-a-new-house-will-rise-where-the-city-s-largest-home-was-a-century-ago/371275481/

Comments are closed.