Map Monday: Visualizing Twin Cities Sprawl, Density, and Change

Like many of the maps I find I came across a webpage via Twitter, hat tip to @stateofthecity. The webpage takes data from the Global Human Settlement Layer and runs it onto Google Maps. This is the result, Human Terrain by Matt Daniels (@matthew_daniels). I immediately panned to tool over to Minnesota and geeked out.

Something I particularly like is that this visualization tool lets us see the population change from 1990 to 2015 as well as compare side by side. I grabbed some screenshots but go visit the webpage yourself then zoom and pan around. Let’s start with a view of the wider area around the Twin Cities.


Central And Southern Minnesota

3D view of population density surrounding the Twin Cities

Central And Southern Minnesota Change

3D view of population change from 1990 to 2015

You can really see how Duluth has more or less been still compared to Rochester which has been rising with Mayo Clinic’s growth. On the change map Mankato, St. Cloud, and Fargo show up with growth booms of their own from 1990 to 2015. Eau Claire has been a bit quiet like Duluth.

The small towns of the state have been pretty stable, unless its a small town within a 1 hour commute shed to the Twin Cities and suburbs. Those small towns are showing growth.

Then we have the ring of sprawl growing up in the 3rd ring communities surrounding the metro area. The biggest gaps in this ring looks like the protected wealthy estates and horse harms of western Hennepin County. Growth is leaping right past that to Wright County’s small towns along Hennepin’s border. We’re going to zoom in closer to the metro counties now and rotate the view.

Twin Cities

3D view of population density of the Twin Cities and suburbs in 2015 from southwest to northeast

Twin Cities Change

3D view of population change of the Twin Cities and suburbs from 1990 to 2015

Zoomed in to the Twin Cities metro counties the Minnesota River valley and wildlife refuges scale and size shows up. Really a huge divide.

We can easily see the population growth that has happened south of the Minnesota River too. The total in 2015 is not a lot relative to the whole Twin Cities, but the growth in those counties is a lot. To me, it helps put in to pictures those counties’ upset about getting their share of transportation funding. “We’ve changed so much down here and have a lot more people, give us some!”

Anoka County and other northern communities show up as having a lot of population growth. Highway 65 needs upgrading because, we can see there are just a lot of people who’ve bought homes up there.

Fascinating how Woodbury’s squared shape shows up so strongly on the change map.

Over on the lower left side of the change map, all lined up, you can see the small towns in Wright County (Watertown, Delano, Rockford, Hanover) growing just outside the horse farms and estates of western Hennepin County.

Go check out the webpage. What else are you noticing?

Eric Anondson

About Eric Anondson

Born in St. Louis Park and lived there nearly 28 years but has been living in Hopkins since 2008. Eric's hopped around two years or so at a time in Loring Park, Laurel Village, Snellby, Whittier, and Golden Valley. He works in downtown Minneapolis. On Twitter as @xeoth.

15 thoughts on “Map Monday: Visualizing Twin Cities Sprawl, Density, and Change

    1. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

      I had this thought, for people wound up about the environmental impact about building duplexes, fourplexes, and missing middle apartments in Minneapolis or St. Paul … the change map is a good look at the environmental impact of nearby farms, forests, and grasslands that no longer exist because we made them illegal.

      1. Monte Castleman

        Are there actually people claiming this? I thought most of the opposition was due to localized impacts of parking, privacy, and light blocking, not the actual resources used to build these?

        1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

          Yes. There has been talk of a lawsuit to force “environmental review” of the possibility of small multi-family in the city. Not so much the resources to build, but rather whether it will mean more congestion and thus emissions and stormwater run-off, based on the the assumption there will be greater lot coverage allowed.

          This, of course, ignores that people don’t disappear because you say no to housing and that there’s no way it’s “greener” to instead force people to live farther out in the suburbs, where they’ll have longer commutes and where new housing replaces greener uses.

  1. Jeremy HopJeremy H.

    Love the maps!
    I read an article this morning regarding a study on Hwy 65 between County Rd 10 and Bunker Lake Blvd. They want to gather 20 transit users, cyclists, pedestrians and drivers to give feedback on the needs for the corridor. MN/Dot would like to have a plan in place, despite the fact that no funding has been identified for any improvements.

    1. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

      Yeah, 65 has been in the paper more than once and it keeps coming up. From one perspective it is bewildering that transportation hasn’t kept up with housing in nearly any metro county. We are getting what we are willing to pay for and a large amount of voters are not willing to pay for more.
      The map is also showing where we are either going to have more growth or more transportation problems. The 94/10 corridors are vital intercity highways, widening them is cheaper than converting stoplights into freeways, so it seems to make sense that growth is going to happen along there for the foreseeable future. Same with I35 north, and 94 into Wisconsin.
      But growth into Wright County beyond Independence and Minnetrista is going to is going lead to future fights about upgrading highways linking Wright County to the Twin Cities. We’re going to see a lot more stories about fatal crashes from super commuters at stoplights on those roads.

  2. Monte Castleman

    Growth is leapfrogging into Wright County where you don’t have anti-growth anti-suburb policies like the MUSA line artificially raising the price of the single family detached housing that most Americans seem to want.

  3. Cobo R

    One thing that perplexes me about the growth of the south metro is that there is so little access to it.

    Aren’t there only like 4 bridges?

    I used to live near the 169 bridge and would observe traffic barely moving and backed up every day, as i jogged across an overpass. Considering there are many more jobs north of the river than south, are thousands of people deliberately choosing long commutes in congested traffic ?

    No judgment intended.. My own sister made that choice.. I just don’t understand it, because It’s just not a choice I would make if I had any agency over the decision.

    1. Monte Castleman

      My parents looked at a couple of houses in Burnsville but rejected moving there because of traffic across the river- in 1967…

      But there’s only so many places you can put single family detached houses without going across the river, so some of them have to go there. Going west you hit Lake Minnetonka, going north traffic was still bad because the freeways were underbuilt there relative to the south metro, and eventually you hit the Mississippi anyway. It’s also possible that some of the people living south of river originally had job south of the river, but do not now.

      But I agree that driving across the river to commute isn’t something I’d find fun. I’ve always picked jobs in suburban office parks so I don’t have to deal with going downtown at all even from my house north of the river.

    2. Monte Castleman

      Also as a data point I know about a dozen people south of the river. 1 of the 12 commutes across the river every day and she tends go to work later so isn’t in the maw of the traffic so much on the way to work. A lot of them rarely venture north of the river for any reason and some of them even view being somewhat isolated from the metro as a feature, not a bug, kind of a psychological barrier between themselves and crime and poverty.

      There’s Eden Prairie, but houses cost a lot more there than south of the river. Chanhassen and Chaska you’re adding a lot of miles in absolute distance and it’s not like 494 and Crosstown are built anywhere close to the capacity they should be.

    3. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

      It’s a choice I avidly write off completely as well. Not only are there seemingly few links to cross the river, the river valley is really really wide and that width really adds to the sense of separation. And the communities to the south have been doing a craptacular job for decades building high capacity east to west links between them.
      Adding even more people to south of the river from now forward, when there won’t be increased capacity for the new residents, seems extremely poorly thought out and will only make commutes for all worse.

    4. Tim

      I live just south of the river, and yes, a lot of people choose the commute, but there are also many people who commute to St. Paul or the east metro, or who work south of the river (like my SO and I). When I worked in downtown Minneapolis, I almost always used transit. My SO used to work in downtown St. Paul, but had off-peak hours and rarely had to deal with heavy traffic.

Comments are closed.