As Saint Paul debates its 2040 plan, it is revealing to look back at one of the city’s first zoning maps from the early 1920s.
A little inspection of the map reveals some of the origins of the city’s current social geography and social divides, but also some elements worthy of resurrection.
The dominance of single family homes in the Macalester-Groveland and Highland Park neighborhoods can be seen on this map, which designates much of the city west of Edgecumbe and south of University Avenue as being in the A Residence District, restricted to housing no more than two families. Apartments were essentially restricted to the C Residence Districts, largely in the city’s north and east.
Aspects of the map are worth considering for resurrection. Throughout the residential areas of the city, the height limit with no setbacks was 40 feet, essentially allowing 4 stories everywhere. In residential areas for every foot of setback a building could be one foot taller. With a ten foot setback it would be possible to build five stories.
Commercial zones were long and narrow, extending for miles down the length of Saint Paul’s major avenues. The origins of the present day retail geography of Saint Paul are clearly evident with Grand Avenue, West Seventh, and Selby all marked as commercial areas.
The relative simplicity of the map is also striking to modern eyes. Neighboring parcels are more likely than not to have the same exact zoning than a modern zoning map which impose fine-grained distinctions among dozens of land use categories. City planning has been taken to a precision and detail that may not have been anticipated a century ago.