Uptown’s Mall: More Park, Less Parking

If you’ve ever been to Uptown’s The Mall, you might not have realized it’s a park administered by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. It can feel more like a nicely landscaped parking lot with a generous grassy median. The drive-able portion of The Mall seems to serve the function of letting drivers hunt for parking. According to Google Maps, if you drove all 0.6 miles of this street-to-nowhere looking for a place to park, it would take you four minutes (without traffic). That’s a lot of space that could be used as a grassy area for people to socialize and entertain.

But why would anyone call a park a “Mall”?

In the 17th and 18th centuries, ‘mall’ referred to a place where people would gather to play pall-mall, a croquet-like game. The games were social gatherings, and the term gradually transformed to mean any grassy area where people could gather to socialize and entertain.

The Mal Driving

The Mall

The Minneapolis Park Board administers a lovely tree-lined parking lot in Uptown.

When The Mall was acquired by the Park Board in 1912, it was known as “Twenty-Ninth Street Boulevard” and it was open to traffic at Hennepin Avenue. The Park Board’s history of The Mall says the intersection with Hennepin was closed to cars in 1981 (though satellite imagery from 1983 shows the intersection was open). A decades-old decision to close this street to Uptown traffic made today’s Mall a more pleasant place to be. Recent events suggest that if you tried to do that today, some folks would be livid.

1961: The Mall open to cars at Hennepin Avenue.

Malltoday

Today The Mall is closed to cars at Hennepin Avenue.

Right now in 2019, the Park Board’s Community Advisory Committee is considering an option to take some of this parking lot and make it a grassy multi-use field, passive green space, and sand volleyball court/s. I need to preemptively mention that the only time I’ve ever played volleyball is against my will during gym class. But I do really like the idea that The Mall could be devoted to a bunch of different things that aren’t parking.

On Tuesday, I was at an unusually tense neighborhood association meeting where 15 people showed up to speak against this idea. Some were convinced that volleyballers are loud, drunk, and just generally a menace to society. A few expressed the opinion that these park amenities weren’t worth it because they’d only be useful for a few months of the year. One suggested that volleyball advocates had been “paid off by developers.” Many had been given the wrong impression — in a paid advertisement from the city-funded East Isles Residents Association — that trees would be removed.

The Mall Plan

If you guessed that some were unhappy about losing car parking, you’d be right. Someone sent me a series of mean tweets saying their cause was about saving the planet, which is weird because this really is a choice between having the Park Board continue to administer a lovely tree-lined parking lot — or allowing some of this parkland to be converted into a real park.

Here’s the transportation situation in the immediate area. The Mall is across the street from a transit station. Metro Transit is currently in the planning stage for two bus rapid transit lines that will intersect Uptown years before this park plan would be implemented. Some people imagine a world where more density requires more parking. I can imagine a world where more neighbors come with more transit. I can also imagine a world where the Park Board provides parks instead of parking.

There’s another key detail that people are missing (I was astonished when I heard it on Tuesday night). The plan for this park likely won’t be implemented for another 10 years. This is because of a scoring matrix that prioritizes park funding based on racial and economic equity. The neighborhood where The Mall is located, East Isles, is far down the list of priorities.

 

This is a plan for the year 2030. Many of us will have moved on by then — either geographically or euphemistically. So even if you don’t like the idea of turning a parking lot into a park, and even if you’re not assuaged by the fact that the trees will remain and green space will be added — can we be aspirational when thinking about the quality of the parks we want for Minneapolis a decade from now?

If you’re interested in parks, parking lots, or full court basketball at Mueller Park, you can do these things:

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13 Responses to Uptown’s Mall: More Park, Less Parking

  1. Elizabeth Larey August 15, 2019 at 11:13 am #

    There is so little parking for cars in that area, you can’t really think it should be grassed over. A number of merchants have already left Uptown, and lack of parking was mentioned by more than one. Mpls has the largest park system in the country. Tons close by, maybe walk or ride to one of them.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller August 15, 2019 at 11:18 am #

      I most definitely can. Park land should be park land, not (free!!!) car storage for people who live nearby.

    • Matt Steele
      Matt August 15, 2019 at 1:41 pm #

      I’m curious why you think there’s “so little” parking for cars in this area. I’m not seeing how that’s the case since most public streets dedicate a significant portion of the public right-of-way for on-street parking (free in many cases), many businesses and residences have off-street parking, and there are even a few public parking garages.

      In absolute figures or relative indicators, what constitutes “so little” parking and what would be the threshold at which you would see parking supply in Uptown as adequate?

      • Brian August 15, 2019 at 4:28 pm #

        i suspct the real issue is lack of free or cheap parking. The parking ramps charge money to park as near as I can tell.

        My last trip to Uptown was 15 to 20 years ago. Finding open street parking was so difficult that I have not been back since. Transit is great, but if you don’t have a transit option that goes anywhere near your residence and you live too far to bike then most likely you will dive or not go.

        • Monte Castleman August 15, 2019 at 6:24 pm #

          The parking situation is why I no longer go to the area unless I’m on my bike on the parkway trail. Magers and Quinn was really fun to go to but paying for parking made my bargain book no longer any kind of bargain; the fun of browsing was offset by the agony of parking; either in the ramp (which I don’t like) or many blocks away on the nearest open street space where I could pull in without parallel parking. With how many destination retail stores have closed other people not from the area presumably feel likewise. Obviously it’s the city’s and businesses’s choice not to provide off-street surface parking, but that means that it’s other people’s choice not to go there because of the lack of it.

          • Jeffrey Klein August 16, 2019 at 9:51 am #

            Yep, Uptown – the place where nobody goes anymore because there’s too many people.

            Is there any actual place that was ever improved by more parking? Is there any actual place where the businesses shut down because there was too much space dedicated to humans?

            We should worry less about people driving into places and more about them functioning for the people that are there. If you’re driving to Uptown because your own neighborhood has no book store, maybe your neighborhood needs less parking and more people to support local businesses.

            • Monte Castleman August 16, 2019 at 10:24 am #

              There’s quite a few business that have said they’re shutting down because of parking issues. I choose to believe they have no motivation to lie about it, they’re shutting down anyway so if they they’re actually closing because they lost their lease, the owner was retiring, rent was too expensive, or the living wage ordinance there’s be no reason for them not to state that as a reason instead.

              Midway Books has plenty of free surface parking and somehow they’re in business even without that space being devoted to “more people”.

          • Adam Miller
            Adam Miller August 16, 2019 at 10:22 am #

            Monte, you can’t seriously think that there is any way to make parking easy in the city for someone who refuses to parallel park and doesn’t want to park in a ramp?? How would we have anything that isn’t parking?

            The city isn’t for everyone. That’s okay.

  2. Eric Anondson
    Eric Anondson August 15, 2019 at 3:49 pm #

    Because the Park Board charges for their parking in most of the regional park parking lots, maybe the Park Board could transition by having the parking spaces along The Mall charge as much as the Bde Maka Ska lots using the same hours as those parking lots.

    Then in 10 years revisit how “necessary” it is for the park board to be in the residential car storage service.

  3. JohnH August 16, 2019 at 10:15 am #

    I think there might get a better reception (and perhaps even motivate some community funding) if they proposed one or two pickleball courts here. I’ve never tried it, but I hear it is fantastically popular in the 55+ age set.

    An iconic pump track makes a ton of sense here given it is on the bike super-highway, centrally located (and ironically wouldn’t need any parking….)

  4. rohan August 16, 2019 at 5:46 pm #

    They are closing because the businesses have to subsize parking ,street parking assessments are past on to the businesses.Parking lots and garages are very expensive

    • Eric Anondson
      Eric Anondson August 16, 2019 at 6:01 pm #

      Parking is expensive. Yes.

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