A Lukewarm Defense of Lakeville


Your author has spent a good deal of time in Lakeville. My wife grew up there, and it’s where my in-laws still live. In fact, our family of four lived there for a summer in between selling and buying a house. My father-in-law runs a small business there, and I’ve even spent a number of days riding my bike alongside its mayor. For the first ten or so years of my time spent going to and from the city for requisite family functions, I’m not sure that we ever went further south than about 185th Street. It was a pretty standard affair; get off I-35, travel a couple of four lane collector roads into the subdivision, turn right at the third cul-de-sac, and then you’re there. The average walk score in an unscientific review of said neighborhood seems to be somewhere around 3. We’d order Green Mill or Pizza Ranch for delivery and that would be the extent of our time there.

A few years ago, I first attended Lakeville’s annual Pan-o-Prog, which is some combination of classic car rally and downtown block party. It was at that point that I realized there actually was a downtown Lakeville. There are probably varying definitions of what constitutes downtown, but on a map it could be loosely described as Holyoke Avenue between 205th and 210th Streets. The houses are much older, the streets almost all follow a grid pattern, and there are even traditional sidewalks on most of the streets. That said, beyond Babe’s, something of a Lakeville institution, there wasn’t much else to do or see as far as I could tell.

Then in close succession, two breweries both opened within sight of each other in 2015 and 2016 – one as an adaptive reuse of a hardware store and the other transforming Lakveille’s VFW into a brewpub. These additions to some of the existing small dining and retail independent businesses, began to turn this area into a destination not only for residents, but also for those that don’t live in the area. Now, you can truly spend the better part of a day shopping, running errands, and dining all within this 5 block area of the city. So why does this feel like a very different place than the part that I spent blithely going to and from for so many years?

As noted by Brent Toderian in this 2017 interview with Vox:

“The fact that you get pockets of urbanism out in the suburbs can be the result of a few things. One, sometimes these pockets are original urban places – traditional towns or villages that stood on their own, initially – that got gobbled up by sprawl. Andy they’ve become special places within those suburbs. I know so many suburban communities where, if you ask where the best place is, they will name those places, because they’re the places with scale, character, and walkability”

As has been well documented in various annual rankings of “best” or “growing” Twin Cities suburbs, Lakeville has been a mainstay in the top 10 places people want to live. As with many, but not all, of the places on these types of list, some combination of good schools and ample land to build new homes likely have much to do with it. But I’d venture that the appeal of also having some unique, local businesses to support may also be a small part of it as well, and something that differentiates the city from some other suburbs that don’t have a “downtown” or other organically created commercial district. Bloomington, Plymouth, Eagan, are a few that some to mind – not necessarily for a lack of trying  – for example, the Penn-American district in Bloomington. However, when the majority of the community and land use starts with housing for those that commute elsewhere for work or entertainment, it’s hard to reverse engineer walkable areas into places that were designed around the automobile.

So what’s missing here? We have a city that families, particularly, young families are flocking to live in, and a great walkable downtown with many of the things that all people, not just urbanist Twitter, think are great community amenities. However, they seem like they are happening in parallel universes, mostly unconnected to one another. As it stands, it feels as if to access the hidden gem of Lakveille’s downtown requires even its residents to jump in the car and drive to it, no different than visiting from a neighboring town.

Looking forward, how might the city begin to bend the curve of its development and land use to connect these two seemingly disparate features of the same community? Three things come to mind:

The first and most obvious is to begin finding ways to better connect new and existing housing to the downtown area and to other commercial districts as well. From nearly any of the places where people live and say they want to live, it’s nearly impossible to get to this area without a car. It’s also a community that has both a concentration of kids and aging families, both of whom need transportation options beyond the car. Today, the ways to get to this desirable area of town are via 45 or 55 mph roads that are relics of the cornfields that once surrounded them. Yes, they have wide shoulders and at times have a single-side sidewalk, but it can still be a harrowing experience to walk, bike, or take any alternate form of transportation.

Secondly, as noted here almost four years ago, there is little to no public transportation service in Lakeville beyond commuter service at the far edges of town or in neighboring suburbs. While this may be just fine today for serving commuters to and from Minneapolis and St. Paul, it negates serving the city itself, especially for those that may want to age in place and not leave the community that they or their families grew up in. Given the generally low density of the city as a whole, this isn’t an easy thing to solve. While the proposal above is certainly something to aspire towards, something like Edina’s Clover Ride service could be an instructive starting point for trialing service within the community. Not just for purposes of accessing the entertainment of an area like downtown, but also to provide options for residents to access healthcare, shopping or other necessary services.

Lastly, as noted in Erick Ecklund’s Vision for the Dan Patch Corridor, the Dan Patch line runs directly through downtown Lakeville. Of course, as also noted in said article, the aforementioned mayor has already stated his opposition to any sort of passenger rail service in Lakeville. However, once the heady days of growth slow down from converting the remaining cornfields into housing, Lakeville will have to exist on its own merits and give people a reason to stay there as residents, and to attract people to the city for its amenities. As I referenced in a prior piece about the future of the public works site in Edina, much of the foundation is already there to make passenger rail successful as more than just commuter service. Imagine that people could come to Lakeville from other suburbs north or even from Northfield in the south to spend a day or evening exploring and experiencing the variety of businesses all concentrated in the downtown area. And to the prior point, providing alternative transportation options for residents who cannot or choose not to drive will only become more important. For example, here is a senior housing facility that’s directly between the rail line and Holoyoke Avenue – it has a walk score of 49 – not too bad for this location. But it has a transit score of 0 – so despite all of the good of the downtown area, its residents are still car-dependent beyond what’s within immediate walking distance.

Lakveille has its faults like nearly all 2nd and 3rd ring suburbs, some of which are by design, some of which are by happenstance. It also has a benefit and opportunity that not all of its neighboring communities have. While it may be tempting to rest of the success of the last few years in revitalizing its downtown area, there’s so much more that can be done to better integrate it with the rest of the city, and learn from the lessons of what has made it successful and apply those lessons to how new development and infrastructure is built. Thinking not just about what works today but what a desirable city looks like in the future is what will provide Lakeville the chance to continue to live up to its slogan as “Positioned to Thrive”.

Andy Lewis

About Andy Lewis

Aspiring urbanist, living in Edina via Minneapolis via Chicago. Advocate of walkability, transit, and biking of all sorts for all people. Teaching our two girls that driving is "annoying" and to ask "why can't we just walk there?".

20 thoughts on “A Lukewarm Defense of Lakeville

  1. Ben Picone

    Great write up. I think there’s a lot of opportunity in urbanizing suburban downtowns, and that Lakeville isn’t unique in having an oasis of walkability in a historic downtown area. Hopefully we can encourage cities to focus their energy on these areas, and to continue to develop and densify them.

    It’s easy for people to dismiss suburbs as ‘bad’ or ‘unfixable’, but with the majority of residents living in them, and an ever growing minority/low income population, they deserve our attention just like cities do.

  2. Evan RobertsEvan

    The fundamental problem is that American zoning practice limits how close many people can possibly be to commercial services. See this accessible article.

    There are two ways around this issue: 1) Expand the amount of commercial zoning space, but in a place like Lakeville people will fear the majority will still come by car.
    2) Allow gradual increases to residential density via ADUs or small-multi family dwellings.

    Fighting these battles city-by-city is going to be hard, so hopefully state legislators will realize the importance of the issue and do something.

  3. Sal

    Has this author even talked to residents of lakeville? More than his in laws? Majority of residents are perfectly happy with the walkability of the city, and do not want the city to continue expanding.

    1. Dana DeMasterDanaD

      I’d disagree. My family are farmers who have farmed in the area for going on four generations. My cousins and aunts/uncles mostly still live in the area, both in older farms and in new or newish (new to me anyway) developments. As they age, many are moving to more walkable areas or are planning to move because they feel isolated. And, walkability does not necessarily mean expansion.

    2. Andy LewisAndy Lewis Post author

      Yes, and for what it’s worth, I’d venture my in-laws would likely disagree with the vast majority of my post. That said, in my interim living there, I was surprised at how many younger families like ours had moved there after time in Minneapolis, Chicago, Seattle, etc, that lamented the loss of the walkable communities that they had previously lived in. So it says to me that there’s divide in those who like it for exactly what it has been and is today, and some who would be open to some change.

    3. Monte Castleman

      I don’t know any residents of Lakeville, but I know quite a few from Shakopee and Eden Prairie, which have a lot of similarities. People keep saying they want something walkable because it sounds nice to the survey takers but when they vote with their wallets by buying they pick a spot in a quiet, safe cul-de-sac with a private yard several miles from the nearest store. Although they’re not opposed to things like sidewalks and MUPs and likely even use them to take a jog or a recreational bicycle ride, they don’t want things like more density or having a convenience store two houses down, or taking away the high speed right turn lanes on the collector streets from one development to another.

  4. Dana DeMasterDanaD

    I was in the 1978-1983 Pan-o-Prog parades! I remember being a patient being pulled by another little child who was dressed as a nurse. The farm where I lived when I was born was on 245th near Logan.

    My dad (Lakeville class of 1970) that no one should have to follow street signs that didn’t exist the after you left high school so he’s got an interesting view of Lakeville, which is quite different today than the farm he grew up on.

    I appreciate the work Eagen has done (a similar suburb in terms of development patterns) in using ROW to connect housing developments to each other and to commercial districts by retro-fitting trails between them. Lakeville could do quite a bit of this and connect different areas of the city, particularly downtown with areas like County Road 50 and I35, another area with lots of commercial.

    There are several private circulator buses run by assisted living facilities and the like that allow their residents who don’t drive to get around. My stepgrandma’s facility on Highview has one that she used to get to church, the grocery store, and the senior center. How do communities like that capitalize on those services to offer them more broadly?

  5. Keith

    Lakeville is just another town turned suburb that I won’t bother to visit: the Red Line ends too far away (Apple Valley). Like the author said mass transit here is of no use and even if it did have an express bus it would be useless to visitors. For example, Metro Transit only runs White Bear Lake express buses for suburban commuters, no lowly city dwellers are allowed to use them to visit downtown WBL. You can’t even take it there in the morning and come back in the evening. You’re either heading into the city early from WBL or heading to WBL at rush hour with no bus back to the city if you do. Exceptions like Hopkins have decent mass transit access and a bike path directly between there and the city. Others like Excelsior at least have a bike trail where there’s no reliable mass transit. Lakeville fails at both.

      1. Eric Ecklund

        Despite the auto-oriented land use outside of downtown that hasn’t stopped Lakeville from trying to get the Orange Line to serve their giant park & ride ramp and extending the Red Line from Apple Valley to farm fields (granted that area is starting to develop, but they seem to be sticking with the status quo of auto-oriented development).

        If you want to see the Twin Cities’ most useless bus stop, drive down Cedar until just south of County Road 50 and on your left you’ll see a bus shelter and bike locker tucked away beside a giant warehouse. How many buses serve this shelter? Zero.

  6. J5bx4

    Live in Lakeville, very happy! Blocks away from downtown in a development built within the last 20 years. It’s a fantastic place to raise a family, meet friends, has a sense of community, and is still close to the countryside.

    In fact, I can be on a snowmobile trail in 3 minutes, cross country ski in 5, or bike to Lake Marion a quarter mile away for a swim, picnic, mountain biking, you name it!

    If you’re worried about transportation, look at the footprint of the city before you buy or build. I think the city does a great job with bike paths (much better than other suburbs in my opinion) and would suggest buying something closer to the downtown area if these are important stats for you. Additionally, the homes within a mile or two of downtown seem to be less expensive than the brand new divisions being built up.

    Finally, no argument on the small business resurgence downtown! It’s fantastic to see so many people make it down there and help to preserve the character and sense of community that exists.

  7. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    Moderator’s note: We deleted a comment here that violated our comment policy for using a fake name and contained racist assumptions.

    Please try to keep comments positive. Read the policy below for more detail.

  8. Jeb RachJeb Rach

    I don’t see it being practical to extend fixed route service out to Lakeville. Even if they decided to join MVTA instead of staying with Metro Transit, there’s really not enough nearby to justify even an hourly bus route through the city while still having enough time to connect to either Apple Valley or Burnsville.

    What could make sense is extending dial-a-ride hours, much like what some of the Hennepin County cities do (Minnetonka and a few other smaller cities have dial-a-ride until 9 on weekdays, and 8 AM – 4 PM on Saturdays when there’s otherwise no Transit Link service.) Alternatively, adding something like Southwest Prime or MVTA Connect could allow for service to be more accessible. But, at least in the short term, I don’t see fixed-route service being practical beyond park-and-ride service around commute hours.

  9. Tom BasgenTom Basgen

    Hi, Moderator here, Bill has already touched on this but I think it bears repeating. Our suburbs were built on the historical premise of White Flight, so when you appear in these comments talking about ‘those people’ your comment is going to get deleted.

    If you are interested in doing racism on this forum you will have to do a lot more mental gymnastics to obfuscate it than the previous commenter.

    1. Jenny WernessJenny WernessModerator  

      Thanks for this, Tom & Bill, and for moderating here. Also thanks to Christa and Mike for flagging the comment violation.

      1. Mike SonnMike Sonn

        The mental gymnastics needed to make comments like the one removed and then come back to defend them is pretty staggering.

        I’d recommend giving Striker a short break to reflect on his comments and behavior.

      2. Christa MChrista Moseng

        The premise that mass transit brings those things (and that suburbs don’t have them now) is false, so that’s reason enough to delete the comment.

        The fact that your comment was tinged with implicit racism is something for you to reflect on, not deflect, because what you said exists in a context that people aren’t going to ignore. Professing innocence of that context doesn’t get you out of it.

        I recommend having a better grasp of the relevant facts and implications of your words.

    2. Tom BasgenTom Basgen

      Moderator again. I am currently working at the shop and unable to take the time to educate members of this community on racism, nor am I interested in doing that work myself. Suggested googling topics include Levittown and White Flight, or hell even just Those People. Please don’t make me take my apron and gloves off again, I am trying to make light fixtures here.

  10. Bubba Weber

    If I wanted I can bike from my house in North Lakeville to Downtown Lakeville in a number of different bike paths. Over 5 miles and never get on a street.

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