Map Monday: Taxable Value per Acre for Hennepin County

Via Minneapolis Clerk’s Twitter, here’s a map from a recent presentation by land use analysis group Urban3. they were in town a few weeks ago to share some data and thoughts about trends in Hennepin County.

This map shows the taxable value generated for different parts of the city on a per-acre basis, rather than a per-parcel basis. The (small) scale is at right: dark green = <$500,000 / acre, orange = $4M / acre, purple = > $200M / acre.

You can see a clear pattern:

I’ve written about the importance of these “per-acre” lens before regarding industrial land near downtown Saint Paul. The Urban3 analyses are a great way to understand the opportunity costs of different land use choices for a city like Minneapolis.

Here’s how they describe this relationship, from a Strong Towns article that came out last week:

We tend to focus on the total value of real estate and the total tax production while ignoring land consumption and space.

This is tantamount to buying a car based on its range, or assuming that land is an infinite resource. Developable land, like petroleum, is not infinite. It is limited by municipal boundaries, and more importantly, by the cost to make it developable.

The resulting map shows which properties are generating the maximum amount of value for the space and resources they consume, and which are not. By analyzing this pattern, we can see how mixed-use, traditional development close to the city center produces the most value for the county.

We should talk about productivity in our buildings the same way we talk about productivity in our cars. Gasoline is non-renewable, and if anything, land is even more scarce. If we’re try to get the most bang for our buck with a $4 commodity, shouldn’t we be even more concerned about this metric for a $40,000 commodity?

The takeaway here is that downtown density is lucrative and efficient when viewed from a per-acre efficiency lens. Meanwhile, sprawling properties like a big box store, a corporate campus, or an industrial park might generate a lot of taxable value overall, but because of their very low densities and large parking and open space footprint, on a per-acre basis they are very wasteful types of development.

In short,  nothing can match traditional grid-based urban density when it comes to generating tax-base for a city. These differences are huge and often underestimated because of how we think about land value.

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.