Map Monday: Minneapolis New Construction vs. Land Use Zoning

It’s not technically Monday but it feels like it is, so here’s a map from indefatigable Tweetable map-maker Scott Shaffer. It shows the number of “new construction permits” (i.e. bulldozing of an existing building slash parking lot) in Minneapolis over the last eight years or so.

As you can see, the vast majority of new construction permits are located in areas zoned for single-family housing. This is also known as the “teardown problem” and there are boatloads of digital ink devoted to debating this issue online on various neighborhood group pages and forums.

Shaffer leaves the following comment on Twitter:

livability advocate: the comp plan is proposing we bulldoze the city! if only we keep our low-density mansion zoning, we can stave off the bulldozers!

SW Mpls: [see map]

Personally, I’m a bit agnostic about SFH teardowns. In Saint Paul, I’ve listened to hours of testimony about teardowns in Ward 3, and the city passed some new rules that were intended to serve as an experiment. Based on some anecdotal feedback that I’ve heard, the new rules haven’t really satisfied neighbors who are upset about other people tearing down old homes and building new ones.

I sincerely wish concerned neighbors the best in dealing the teardown issue and coming up with regulations that are sensible and actually work. But I’m also skeptical that any regulations will accomplish anything, because the root of the problem is huge demand for urban housing in wealthy enclave-like neighborhoods combined with an endlessly hot housing market. No matter what regulations you come up with, apart from a very restrictive full moratorium of some kind, crafty developers or home-owners will find a way to work with or around the letter of the law.

The root of the matter is private property itself, and people have been expanding and improving their private homes since the dawn of civilization. Short of a socialist revolution, I don’t see much hope for changing those fundamental dynamics.

(Tearing down an old structure for multi-unit housing is another story, to me, because in that case you are actually helping to create new housing. In theory, and most of the time, in practice, creating new housing alleviates rising housing prices. To me, that’s a different conversation.)

Anyway, cool map!

Bill Lindeke

About Bill Lindeke

Pronouns: he/him

Bill Lindeke has writing blogging about sidewalks and cities since 2005, ever since he read Jane Jacobs. He is a lecturer in Urban Studies at the University of Minnesota Geography Department, the Cityscape columnist at Minnpost, and has written multiple books on local urban history. He was born in Minneapolis, but has spent most of his time in St Paul. Check out Twitter @BillLindeke or on Facebook.