Minneapolis Census data uncover a bipolar city

Since December I’ve been harping on the 2010 Census results, namely the failure of this metropolitan region to grow in a balanced way. Unlike its top competitors, Minneapolis-St. Paul over the last decade grew solely on its suburban edge while the central cities and inner suburbs continued to lose population and comparative wealth. In an era of lively and revitalized city centers, I’ve wondered aloud: What is it that growing cities like Denver, Seattle and Portland know about infill development that we haven’t yet discovered?

Now comes Minneapolis City Hall (with a trace of irritation in its voice) to set me straight on a few things. My description of the central cities as declining in population and wealth was not wrong in the aggregate. But the story is more complicated than that — and a lot more interesting.

In the case of Minneapolis, a deeper dig into the Census data reveals a city headed simultaneously in opposite directions:

• A troubled and declining North Side that’s rapidly emptying out.

• An up-and-coming belt of land stretching across the city’s midsection that’s growing and ascending.

The problem is that the magnitude of the North Side’s decline offsets the positive trend elsewhere. As it turns out, Minneapolis is not at all like Seattle, Denver or Portland, where most neighborhoods are moving up together; it’s more like a miniature Chicago, where poor areas on the south and west sides are in steep decline while neighborhoods closer to the core are flourishing.

Minneapolis’ core neighborhoods don’t yet show the strength and vitality of central Chicago. But on maps you can see a broad band of population and housing growth in four distinct swaths: along the downtown riverfront, in districts near the University of Minnesota, along the Hiawatha light-rail corridor, and along the Midtown Greenway.

This broad midsection generated an impressive increase in housing units over the past decade. But here’s the telling statistic: While Minneapolis produced nearly 10,000 new homes it still failed to gain population.

Two directions at once
“How can that happen?” asked a disappointed Mike Christenson, Minneapolis’ director of planning and economic development.

The answer probably lies in the rapid exodus from the North Side and in the nature of the city’s settlement pattern: lots of single people living alone. Indeed, preliminary Census data show that average household size in Minneapolis ranks among the lowest in the nation, right up there with the small households of Seattle and San Francisco.

Change in city and township population 2000-2010


Click on chart to enlarge

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

The reason probably goes back to Minneapolis’ split personality: On the plus side, young people consider the city a cool place to live, and housing in relatively affordable by big-city standards; on the minus side, the school system has a terrible reputation and, although crime is way down, the North Side is still thought to be a risky place for families. Household size has been declining for decades in Minneapolis.

The Census results left Christenson frustrated. The city and its private partners have poured enormous energy, creativity and quite a lot of money into programs aimed at stabilizing housing and boosting education opportunities on the North Side. Still, people departed in droves, suffering the effects of a devastating wave of foreclosures and job losses. The biggest population losses came in the Jordan and Hawthorne neighborhoods.

Population change by neighborhood 2000-2010


Click on chart to enlarge

Prepared by CPED Research/Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Altogether, the number of vacant homes in the city more than doubled between 2000 and 2010, from just over 6,000 to nearly 15,000. Nearly all of the new vacancies were on the North Side. Hawthorne alone lost nearly 300 homes. The losses were more than enough to offset impressive gains elsewhere.

Minneapolis housing units, 2000-2010





Total housing units



+9,681 (+5.7%)

Total vacant housing units



+8,493 (+136%)

The up-and-coming areas are easy to trace, and they pinpoint the opportunities that lie ahead if the housing market revives. Downtown neighborhoods boomed over the last decade, especially in the North Loop, along the riverfront, and near the University. The Midtown Greenway and the Hiawatha line were also big draws for new housing.

“I used to think that tying housing to employment was the most important formula for growth,” Christenson said. “But I’m starting to see transit as a big driver.”

The city recently hired developer David Frank to promote more development along transit corridors. In an interview last week, Frank and Christenson said that the Census results show clearly the bipolar task ahead: Figure out how to repopulate the North Side while pushing as hard as possible to build new homes and vitality along the transit corridors.

Neighborhood housing unit change 2000-2010


Click on chart to enlarge

Prepared by CPED Research/Source: U.S. Census Bureau

The city will know more about changes in its economic profile when the Census Bureau releases household income data later this year. But Mayor R.T. Rybak — along with St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman — have already laid out the challenge: These central cities must grow again, both in population and tax base. With less and less money coming back from the state and federal governments, and with political power shifting rapidly to the far suburbs, Minneapolis and St. Paul must somehow find the magic that has propelled their competitors to higher populations, greater wealth and more balance within their metropolitan areas.

And so the question hangs in the air: What do Seattle, Portland and Denver know about urban infill that this market has yet to discover?

(For the complete Minneapolis census report, click here, then go to “Reports & Presentations.”)

Comments (41)

  1. Submitted by Matthew Steele on 04/25/2011 - 09:35 am.

    1. I don’t know if you can blame people for not wanting to live on the north side right now. I don’t think people even *consider* it as an option in their housing decisions.
    2. Maybe a well-designed Bottineau LRT would help in the long term? I think it would necessitate having a solid anchor *past* Nomi so that it doesn’t become *that* train.
    3. About low household sizes in Minneapolis: I know many of us no-kids types love living in the city. That’s probably not new to my generation. What *is* new is that my generation has no desire to return to the far flung suburbs where we grew up. Our kids will have to find decent schools somewhere in the next 15 years. This seems like it’s one of the biggest issues going forward.

  2. Submitted by Mike Hicks on 04/25/2011 - 10:26 am.

    Being a transit guy, the first thing that came to mind was the Central Corridor. Even though it’s only now beginning to be constructed in the area, people have known it was coming for the past decade or so.

    However, another thought that popped in my head is the fact that the heavily-discounted U-Pass was introduced about a decade ago. The pattern of 500+ growth (which extends into St. Paul to about Fairview Ave) closely corresponds to a 15- to 20-minute travel radius by bus from the center of the University of Minnesota campus.


    If I could find the money to do it, I’d drop Metro Transit’s fares to zero and watch what happens.

  3. Submitted by Bradley Johnson on 04/25/2011 - 10:45 am.

    Taxes MUST be a part of this discussion. I moved to Shakopee (From the inner ring) looking for greater value for the $$, and lower taxes. Scott County has lower property taxes, lower sales tax, and greater bang for the buck. My wife and I were 25 (2006) at the time we purchased our home, with no kids, or plans to have kids any time soon. We purchased a townhome, and were looking at condos at TOD’s (Transit Oriented Developments) along the H-Line. The bottom line was that we are professionals with awareness of how we spend and SAVE our money.
    Scott County has a low median age (mid 30’s) and a high median income ($70k’s).
    Clearly, people are showing their lack in confidence in the way their taxes are spent, and their confidence in the current managers in these cities, and have given up on thinking that they can replace them with people who will truly chart a positive course for the cities.

    And, to say underinvestment is causing this, look at the historic level’s of “Investment” in these cities. Perhaps it is the “how” and not the “How much”. Time to Pause, evaluate, and chart a new course.

  4. Submitted by Steve Elkins on 04/25/2011 - 11:28 am.

    And so the question hangs in the air: What do Seattle, Portland and Denver know about urban infill that this market has yet to discover?

    That, if you want to focus growth, it helps to be surrounded by mountains, and/or oceans? 😉

  5. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 04/25/2011 - 11:47 am.

    Other than a few small parks, a quick look at my (old) map of Minneapolis doesn’t seem to reveal any of the amenities many other neighborhoods have.

    Beyond investing in education and housing, is there shopping and dining and entertainment unique to the neighborhood? A riverfront park, walking paths, restaurants and bars on the west side of the Mississippi? Fun recreational things for families to do together?

  6. Submitted by Andrew Richner on 04/25/2011 - 12:21 pm.

    Bradley, I agree that the way tax money is used in the Metro area needs to change. But I totally disagree with your assessment. The main problem is precisely that there exist easily accessible communities like those in Scott County who benefit from the giant wealth engine of the core cities but that don’t bear the costs and can set their own rules to attract high income earners. We all know that those $70kers out in Shakopee couldn’t dream of making that much money if Minneapolis weren’t here, yet, as you state, your sales, property taxes, etc. are much much lower than in the city precisely because you do nothing to support its infrastructure even though you benefit enormously, directly or indirectly, from the city’s main expenses, namely, public works, police, fire, capital improvements, etc.

  7. Submitted by Bryan Dohla on 04/25/2011 - 12:25 pm.

    Bradley Johnson is absolutely correct!

    Most posts on here are advocating additional government spending. One post recommends lowering Metro Transit/Light Rail fares to zero to spur economic development. Metro Transit/Light Rail is a heavily subsidized debt-driven expenditure to the state that has yet to break even. Lowering fares to zero means that you have to cough up that money from somewhere else. How about Metro Transit creates a new program called the “Pay More To Help Someone Else Pass”. How this works is that those who buy this pass will pay 3-6 times the price of the current fare so that it can subsidize the cost for the people who are designated to ride for ‘free’. This way, those the costs are born from those within this special interest group.

    People are moving out of the St. Paul/Minneapolis area because of the high costs associated with living there. This is no secret. Like Brad stated previously, you can get much more bang for your buck in the suburbs – plus, you can actually have a voice in the local community. You need to be a political operative to have a voice in Minneapolis/St.Paul.

  8. Submitted by Gregory Lang on 04/25/2011 - 12:27 pm.

    I checked my Howe neighborhood in Longfellow areas stats on the map. (34th to 40th Street S, Hiawatha E to river.). Minor housing units loss of 19 of 3028 in 2000 and a population loss of 270 of 6870 in 2000.

    I recall the City of Minneapolis tried to market the Longfellow area for families even with our small bungalow style houses. Most of the more recent home buyers seem to be either childless or “empty nester’s”. The 2000 poverty rate for Howe was 7% versus 17% for Minneapolis overall.

    The figures are are from the old census but you can do a lot of “digging” at the City of Minneapolis neighborhood page. http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/neighborhoods/index.asp BTW: A realtor can’t “steer” you to or from neighborhoods but they can tell you about information resources.

    When I bought in 1986 I had to go to the library and police stations to get crime maps of areas. Now this is all online. This ease of research might reflect the buying patterns.

    A trivia point but in the last three presidential elections the Longfellow AREA voted less than 20% republican. The lowest % of any low poverty area in the state. Nader got 6% in 2002 and under 1% in 2006.

  9. Submitted by Ginny Martin on 04/25/2011 - 12:38 pm.

    I think amenities might follow transportation. I hope so. I live within a mile of the coming light rail line in the Central Corridor and already I’m seeing some businesses and housing springing up. I know there is a serious problem with sustaining the businesses along the corridor and I hope this can be worked out.
    I’ve been in Portland and I was astonished at their transportation system. I took the buses and rail lines all over downtown and the central city for free! If I remember correctly, there are fares (but not high ones) once you get out of that parameter. I agree with the person who wished the transportation fares could drop to zero. It seems to me that low fares would lead to greater prosperity as people move in and out of downtown and well beyond. I take the bus occasionally, and while I know it’s still cheaper than driving, I think the fares are too high!
    Transportation of all kinds (highway, rail, buses, etc) is a public service and there is no reason it has to pay its own way and make a profit.
    Look at the history of transportation in this country, from railroads, military trails, freeways (with a huge expansion starting in 1956). We didn’t go broke. We prospered as communities grew up because of the better transportation.
    I think the same thing will happen along the central corridor, once it’s built. If a business is easy to get to, it should do a good business and promote growth and prosperity.
    By the way, I live in St. Paul’s center city, near Selby and Dale, and have for over 25 years. I’m not young, and I love it here. I can walk to almost anything I need to: the coop, drugstore, tailor, cleaners, hardware, a number of restaurants, and my church. It’s safe, or I wouldn’t have stayed for 25+ years.

  10. Submitted by Max Hailperin on 04/25/2011 - 12:50 pm.

    What about Whittier?

  11. Submitted by Matthew Steele on 04/25/2011 - 02:05 pm.

    Andrew Richner is spot on. We sink or swim as a region, and the current system of sub-regional provincialism and tax avoidance actually ends up costing us more in the long run. It creates demand for new schools, libraries, freeways, and other services when we already have that stuff elsewhere in the region. This may be directly attributable to where people want to live, but it is indirectly attributable to the political boundaries that are established and how people can get the most for their money. That said, I think things are changing. I’m 24 and a Minneapolis homeowner. I grew up in a big house in the burbs and I have no desire to live there again. Most of my friends are in the same boat. We are investing in our urban neighborhoods, and we understand that the suburbs have their drawbacks.

  12. Submitted by David Greene on 04/25/2011 - 02:22 pm.

    Ths is why excellent Northside transit is critically important. This is why the Southwest LRT must run in the Kenilworth corridor, to connect the Northside to the southwest suburbs. This is why Bottineau LRT must be done in a way to benefit the Northside. This is why bus service to and from the Northside must be greatly increased.

  13. Submitted by Michael Skillrud on 04/25/2011 - 02:24 pm.

    I live in a modest two-story home in a decent neighborhood in Saint Paul. Nothing fancy. I’m toward the younger side of baby boomers. At the rate social security is customarily being raised and my property taxes are substantially being increased – if social security exists when I retire – my property taxes will be WELL in excess of any social security payments I might receive. This is the white elephant in the room that our elected officials are consciously choosing to ignore. (I’ve had plenty of conversations with enough of them – at various levels and areas of government – trust me – they are apathetic.) Those who would support public schools in so many ways – working middle class families – are silently evacuating Minneapolis and Saint Paul.

  14. Submitted by Tim Mady on 04/25/2011 - 03:09 pm.

    We cannot compare ourselves to cities such as Seattle, Portland and Denver. All western high growth places. The apt comparisons are St. Louis, Milwaukee, Cincinnati and Cleveland. Comparisons to larger cities with larger geogrpahic limits such as Portland and Denver is not fair. We have 50 or so square miles to work with here. The transit is better in those places. The allure of ocean and mountains is great and places such as Seattle and Denver beckon. Minnesota also suffers from too much city/suburban/rural parochialism. We compete against ourselves.

  15. Submitted by Brian Simon on 04/25/2011 - 03:17 pm.

    Bradley Johnson writes
    “Scott County has lower property taxes, lower sales tax, and greater bang for the buck”

    It depends on what you’re looking for. Personally, I have a very poor tolerance for time spent in the car commuting. My coworkers from Shakopee and other southwest suburbs talk about the painful commutes they endure daily. In distance they go about 5 miles farther than I do, but it apparently takes them twice as long.

    I often bike to work, but if I lived much further away, probably wouldn’t. And there aren’t any good bike paths across the river, as far as I know. Perhaps more amusing, is seeing people drive to my neighborhood with their bikes on their car to ride on the paths by the lakes, creek and river that I access from home – on foot.

    I live in a walkable neighbornood – there’s a great restaurant (sorry, they haven’t franchised) we can walk to when we get a chance for a date night. I’ve seen wildlife in my yard that’s been eradicated from the new suburbs, when they denuded the developments of mature trees. Granted, I’m not surrounded by acres of newly planted sod. And the big box stores are a bit of a drive away. But, it turns out, I kindof like it that way.

  16. Submitted by Steven Prince on 04/25/2011 - 03:56 pm.

    Middle class families with children have been abandoning Minneapolis for decades, and the City has neither a plan (nor interest) in addressing this reality. Instead, the City focuses on increasing its tax base, which means building housing for smaller households, particularly in high amenity (transit connected, along the River, the Warehouse District, the Greenway) areas.

    In many parts of the City (including my Uptown neighborhood) zoning encourages the destruction of family housing so it can be replaced with large scale apartments that never have units with over two bedrooms. It really should not be a surprise that we are adding empty-nesters from the suburbs, young professionals, and college graduates, while those families that can afford it are leaving town. The City has, for at least twenty years, advanced a combination of strategies that communicate a hostility to families.

    This is not just a school issue, but policies that create a school aged population of only rich and poor children reinforces the existing trends. Middle class families do not want to live in a city where 72% of public school students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. (2010 figures.) If you live in SW Minneapolis, you might not understand why most families with kids are fleeing the City, while your neighbors are genuinely happy with their schools: After all, at Barton only 18% of the students receive free or reduced lunch; the comparable number at Lake Harriet is 4%.

    Myron Orfield (then a legislator, now at the U of M Law School) started mapping the demographics of Kindergarten age children in Minneapolis back in the early 1980s, I wonder if he still creates those data sets? If you want to understand what’s happening in Minneapolis, those statistics and maps would be a dramatic expression of how the character of Minneapolis has changed in twenty years.

  17. Submitted by Tom Bydalek on 04/25/2011 - 04:32 pm.

    The decline of certain neighborhoods in Minneapolis is a bigger issue than taxes, bigger than neighborhood amenities, bigger than crime rates, and bigger than accessibility.

    It’s important to understand how and when these areas began declining in population. Portland, Seattle, and Denver had very different economies at the turn of the 20th Century. While these sections of Minneapolis (and Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland) relied on heavy manufacturing, Seattle and Portland relied on shipping and the lumber trade. When manufacturing declined in the second half of the 20th Century, so did jobs in these now depressed communities. No new sectors of our economy have filled the void. It has been a struggle for planners throughout the Rust Belt to attract people and economic development to these neighborhoods for over 50 years.

    Cities have used myriad tools to attract development and people, including building public housing, giving businesses money to relocate (tax breaks, TIF, etc.), and cracking down on crime, among others. Some tools have worked in limited capacities, but there is no magic bullet to solve this issue. People have been leaving certain parts of the City for many years and will continue to do so until substantial public and private investments are made.

  18. Submitted by Stephen Gross on 04/25/2011 - 04:45 pm.

    Well, having just finished reading Triumph of the City, I’ll side with (and cite) Ed Glaeser on this front: housing in Minneapolis is too expensive!

    I’m a happy downtown renter these days. I’d love to buy a place, but a decent condo is going to run me at least $250k. Or I could move to the inner ring, and pay significantly less. Given that I work in the burbs, maybe I should live out there too, save money, and have a shorter commute.

    So…. how do we drive down housing costs? Change zoning to permit more multi-unit dwellings! Look at the uproar over Stone Arch’s riverfront expansion last year. Marcy Holmes neighborhood association put the kibosh on that one, using a riverfront park as a red herring. I want decent condos (or townhouses) at affordable prices. Let’s do it!

  19. Submitted by Matty Lang on 04/25/2011 - 08:00 pm.

    I wonder how Bradley Johnson feels about that “commute tax” (aka gasoline prices) that’s imposed (disproportionately because they consume more gasoline) on Shakopeeans and other Scott county residents unless they happen to work at Valley Fair? Perhaps he feels that’s a temporary blip due to “speculators”, but I’d like to know how Bradley thinks that particular “bang for the buck” works out in his choice of residential local formula.

    By my math, it seems the greatest bang for the buck comes from reducing one’s need to travel long distances in order to meet one’s basic daily needs–especially if the private automobile is the only viable mobility option given the location in relation to the majority of desired destinations. But, my way of thinking might be un-American according to some elected officials from Scott county.

  20. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 04/25/2011 - 09:48 pm.

    Valid points being made by commenters on both sides – more accurately, several sides – of this issue.

    I moved here in 2009 and bought a foreclosed (and rehabbed by Neighborhood Revitalization) house in the Shingle Creek neighborhood – as far north and west as you can be and still be inside Minneapolis, at least technically. The house has since lost 25% of its value, and the neighborhood is more suburban than any of the suburbs I lived in over the course of 60 years in both St. Louis and, more recently, Denver.

    The whole neighborhood is zoned residential. With the death of the nearby Brookdale Mall in Brooklyn Center (before I arrived), I find myself in a retail black hole, with no place to buy anything without getting in my car to drive somewhere else. When I do, those sales tax dollars go somewhere else, as well. It’s something of an educational black hole, too. Despite many, many school-age children in the neighborhood, the perfectly-usable elementary school sits empty and unused by the school district, and has been that way for at least 3 years, according to my neighbors.

    Bradley Johnson is getting more bang for his tax dollar because he’s being subsidized by thousands of tax dollars from Minneapolis and St. Paul residents, who are contributing far more to pay for the highways that allow him to commute, drive to the big box, etc., than he is contributing himself. Andy Richter’s comment is pretty much right on the mark. Without the Twin Cities, Scott County would still be farm country – all of it.

    Bryan Dohla misses the point as well, I think. Yes, light rail is subsidized. So are highways, and to a far greater degree. If we followed his “Pay More To Help Someone Else Pass” advice, but applied it to highways, the resentment generated would be much the same, though larger, and it would be coming from city dwellers wondering why they’re paying for his roads.

    My son and daughter-in-law grew up in suburbs, but chose to live in northeast Minneapolis on purpose, and are happy to be city-dwellers with a toddler, so my family’s experience with raising children in the city (so far, at least) doesn’t fit the anti-family mantra that several commenters have adopted. There’s a playground a block away, and another one two blocks away. They’ve checked out their neighborhood school already, and are happy with what they’ve seen and heard. Secondary schools, I’m less sure of. That said, however, when I go downtown, nothing strikes me as “family-friendly.” Yes, there’s open space near the Guthrie and in some other areas, but “tot lots” with play equipment are conspicuous by their absence, as are children who appear to be actual residents. While I don’t like the tone of Steven Prince’s critique, he provides some truth to go along with the economic bigotry.

    Perhaps closest to the mark for me are Tim Mady and Tom Bydalek. Having come here from Denver, which still borders, in some areas, unincorporated county land, the reality of being land-locked is something we ought to get used to here. Giving local boosters lots of credit for trying, the Twin Cities, compared to Denver, Portland, Seattle, etc., are…um… scenically challenged, at best, and even if inner-ring suburbs were amenable to being annexed, the current political climate works against something like that happening any time soon. We have to work with what we already have. With that in mind, I very much liked Tom Bydalek’s, comment. The economies of our “rival” cities were, and largely still are, different from that of the Twin Cities. Part of the problem of the “bipolar city” is that the jobs and industries that helped populate the north side of Minneapolis decades ago have disappeared, and nothing has yet taken their place, either “naturally” in the “free-market” sense, or with government help.

    As a former planning commissioner, I think Tom is right on target in noting that no city of any size – neither its professional planning staff nor its political leadership – has yet figured out a way to deal successfully with the disappearance of whole industries, and the thousands of jobs associated with them. Trial and error has occasionally produced small-scale successes, but nothing that’s replicable, or easy to do politically.

    I’d also give a thumbs-up to Matt Steele. I live for more than half a century in suburban St. Louis before moving to Colorado, and this area reminds me of the parochialism and tax-feuding that has paralyzed metro St. Louis for decades. I’ve not lived here long enough to form many judgments about specific policies or personnel, but a ‘Strib story this morning about Scott county wanting to totally revamp the Met Council makes me skeptical. What’s needed – because we ARE in this together – is MORE regional planning and collaboration, not less, and the core cities, as the primary economic drivers, are entitled to more influence than bedroom-based suburbs.

  21. Submitted by Neal Gendler on 04/25/2011 - 11:15 pm.

    Yes, it costs a bundle to own a home in Minneapolis. That’s because we central-city dwellers think we ought to have police protection (in the city in which crime is most prevalent), fire protection, paved streets and parks (where our suburban friends come to enjoy themsleves for free).

    I’ve been thinking about how much more my wife and I could do with the money we’d save by downsizing into a surburban condo; it’s a lot, doubtless cutting our property tax bill by more than half. But the problem is that I like living in the city, having a roomy 105-year-old house, and being close to stores, lakes, parks and people. I’m willing to pay for this without whining, but I’m not willing to be victimized, as the Legislature is planning.

    Why is it so expensive here? Several people have given reasons earlier, but none have mentioned the previous governor’s refusal to increase state renevue — and thus aid to cities — through income tax. That’s laid the job of keeping a livable central city on the backs of its homeowners and renters while many who enjoy the cities’ amentities pay little to maintain them and their easy access to them.

    Now the Legislature wants to damage the cities even more by not supplying local government aid to Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth. I can’t decide if that idea is the result of political venality, stupidity or insanity.

    Probably all three, but the result will show us that the winner is stupidity.

  22. Submitted by Gregory Lang on 04/26/2011 - 04:41 am.

    Matty Lang (no relation) wrote: “By my math, it seems the greatest bang for the buck comes from reducing one’s need to travel long distances in order to meet one’s basic daily need”.

    Bingo! From my Minneapolis Longfellow neighborhood most trips are under two miles each way. The trips to the Midway Menard’s or Wal Mart are maybe five miles each way. Increasingly since gas prices have gone up I try to consolidate trips.
    The results can be dramatic. I bought a new Ford Ranger in July 2005 with a four cylinder (California emissions certified) and a manual tranny). I’m just short of 31,000 miles on it after almost six years. I’d say a third of the mileage is hauling or the vehicle being used for longer “road trips” often for an out of state Craigslist purchase.

    Thus, by living in the city and consolidating trips I don’t drive much over 3,000 miles per year. During the last gas price rise I got more than a month on a tank of gas if you figure personal use.

    That said, living in the city I am amazed at the hostility I get for using an automobile. Don’t these “progressives” realize that if you live in the city you drive fewer miles?

    Another thing. With Twin Cities driving and ACTUAL MILEAGE considered a small engine and a standard transmission should come close to hybrid mileage. I have never heard any of these “progressives” advocate the “old fashioned” standard transmissions. Same power with one size smaller engine and t he inherent efficiency of a “stick”.

    Oh wait! I requires no government subsidy and is cheaper to manufacture than an automatic transmission or hybrid. Oh my!

  23. Submitted by William Pappas on 04/26/2011 - 05:46 am.

    Bryan Dohla, you are laboring under a misconception; that transit, as opposed to highways, isn’t able to suport itself. FYI, highways are the most expensive to maintain and build form of transportation. Those living in the suburbs have benefited mightily from a transportation system that is subsidized unequally by others, so that you can commute to the city. The type of development those sprawling feeways have stimulated is also the most heavily subsidized and inefficient and a form that local governments are just figuring out they cannot afford to maintain. Any form of transportation will have to be subsidized if we want to provide a system used by everyone. It’s part of why we pay taxes. So you think only the privlaged should be able to use it since they can afford the fees? Your proposal is interesting. As much as you hate it, the wealthy, who benefit more from an efficient transit system than anyone, through their taxes, should be paying more for that system and they do. That is how our country should work and how a strong middle class is maintained. Unfortunately, the conservative trend to make taxes regressive has hindered our ability to manage our roadways and grow a transit systemt that is in the longrun much more economical than a singularly focused highway system.

  24. Submitted by William Pappas on 04/26/2011 - 06:05 am.

    It is obvious that density will follow transit corridors. Investment will follow as well. There is one fact that makes rail trasit different from all others. People, right or wrong, that live near the lines look at all of the metropolitan area accessed by that line as potentially a neighboring and easily accessible location. That means that once Central corridor is finished university students can live on the east end of university avenue and walk out their door in the moring to be in class in a reliable matter of minutes. Workers living in Bloomington will be able to work at the capitol without owning a car. This fact enables mobility between neighborhoods and also assists in the assimilation of an urban mix of residents with different incomes, backgrounds, races and ages. I suggest travelling to Boston to see how that city uses transit to pull the city together and actually make all parts of it casually available to everyone. For all of you conservativs that philosophically hate this sort of planning, the private investment that follows transit corridors is humongous. The Central Corridor will explode with small business and housing once the threat to its actual building and existence has been removed. In fact, the economic boom in store for us there could help lift the entire region out of the prolonged recession. This type of development is much cheaper for cities to manage than sprawl occurring in our suburbs, perhaps the most wasteful of subsidized transportation approaches ever devised.

  25. Submitted by Andrew Richner on 04/26/2011 - 09:04 am.

    So far, the transportation question in these comments has come down to noting that the cities subsidize highways or the suburbs subsidize public transit. The role that transit plays in the bipolarity of the metro area is more nuanced than that, I think. Take for example, commuting to downtown Minneapolis from five miles away in the Camden neighborhood via Metro Transit. Your best bet is to take the 5, which will get you to Nicollet Avenue in about 25 minutes. Meanwhile, if you commute via bus from the suburbs, you can take the ones that run on the highways and live another 15 to 20 miles further out and still get in to work in the same amount of time. Sprawl can be addressed by public transit, but transit decisions need to help make the neighborhoods that within the city that are struggling the most more viable bedroom communities than the ones outside of it. And LRT is not practical for that kind of task; the best option is street-running rail.

  26. Submitted by Brian Nelson on 04/26/2011 - 10:35 am.

    The idea that transit is a poor choice because it is heavily subsidized is absurd. At least it recoups some of its losses from rider fees. Roads are a huge loss and require a 51% subsidy to keep them in the condition they are in.

    Secondly, my expenses as a city dweller are far less than they were while I was living in the outer ring southern suburbs precisely because I am not commuting 50 miles round trip to Saint Paul and driving to do errands. Where I now live I walk to the market, coffee shop, bike to work, etc. The last time I put gas in my tank was March 30th.

    Growth is occurring along the Greenway and along the MPLS portion of the Central Corridor (locals in Saint Paul are fighting it and they will suffer as a result).

    What are we doing that Portland, Seattle, etc. isn’t? Well, building more roads won’t work. It hasn’t worked.

  27. Submitted by Matthew Steele on 04/26/2011 - 10:44 am.

    1. One corollary to my earlier note about redundant suburban infrastructure: The (25 year old) elementary school I attended in the suburbs is closing this year due to budget cuts and shifting demographics within a “new” suburb.

    2. The census focuses primarily on where people live, and we’ve discussed all of that in depth. Transportation policy and access to jobs and amenities impact people’s housing choices probably as much as quality schools and “bang for the buck.”

    So how about focusing on the flip side of the transportation issue — where people need to go. For 60 years, we’ve created direct and indirect incentives for companies to build sprawling offices in the suburbs. With careers at one company, cheap land, cheap gas, new freeways, and lower taxes, can you really blame the companies that left the city? Now we are realizing this is a mistake… the cost of gas is rising, freeways are clogged, and cheap land keeps moving further and further outside the beltway.

    If we truly want to make an impact on the choices people have for housing locations and transportation options, we should focus on increasing jobs and amenities within the core and along transit spines. We should transform the norm to be that companies, if not downtown, should be within a short walk of high-quality transit. This can be seen as an amenity for employees and a competitive advantage, not a burden.

    When a higher percentage of jobs are downtown or along high-speed, high-frequency transit spines, people are more able to ‘future proof’ their home-work commute by living near transit that can quickly take them downtown or to offices on transit spines.

    I did this when I bought a house in South Minneapolis, which is highly convenient to both downtowns and the Bloomington strip. Even if transit is not a viable option, at least I’ll have a short drive. Yet living in the city is a luxury not all families can afford, nor can/will all people live in the city.

    Therefore we can create the same effect by providing a robust transit network that’s well connected to a high percentage of job centers in the region. This would automatically create an incentive for people to live in proximity to transit.

  28. Submitted by Lauren Maker on 04/26/2011 - 10:55 am.

    Well, I find it interesting that no one is commenting on the City’s historical pattern of neglecting the Northside due to racism. And the City keeps compounding its’ historical neglect of the Northside with poorly thought out bandaid approaches to housing, jobs, services and transporation. And sorry, Mike Christensen, CPED seems to be leading the charge in that regard.
    For example, the new CPED housing initiatives are geared around transit corridors, particualrly light rail and street car lines. Do we have either in North Minneapolis? No, so the Northside will get none of those monies.
    Foreclosure crisis?–the City’s answer is to acquire properties after foreclosure–many of them are then demoed, as has also been the pattern with problem properties (problem property, demo it, then no problem). Less houses means less places for people to live. The City could have used is redlining ordinance to shift City money out of Wells Fargo and other large banks that failed to follow thru on restructuring of mortgages under TARP, but that ordinance seems to have disappeared from the books. So it’s business as usual with the big banks that redline the Northside when it comes to mortgages.
    And the City’s jobs programs–primarily geared to entry level jobs with big employers. Its’ efforts to include small businesses–who create about 80% of new jobs–it pathetic. The recent disparities study documented the poor results in including small and underutilized businesses (SUBPs) in City contracts. In response, Council Member Don Samuels authored a new SUBP ordinance–unanimously passed by the City Council and signed by the Mayor–that simply doesn’t require SUBP participation until a contract is over $100,000. The old level was $50,000; apparently the new way to measure “progress” is don’t look to count it at all. And CPED is bidding out their foreclosure demoes and rehabs as one building at a time–more likely to have bids come in under $100,000–so no SUBP, no minorty/women hiring goals, no Davis Bacon requirements for wages.
    If you do have hiring goals on a project with public money in it, Civil Rights says it OK to deviate from that goal by 2%–close enough for government work.
    Many of us on the Northside have been saying for decades if you want to address the adverse conditions on the Northside, you need to gentrify the people of the Northside. Help folks get living wage jobs, and the rest will take care of itself. Yet the City keeps finding excuses why it can’t use the tools we’ve given them to do just that.
    And as the schools–well, the school board has no members from the Northside. Enough said.

  29. Submitted by David Greene on 04/26/2011 - 11:22 am.

    @Neal Gendler,

    Good call on LGA, but you missed the other half of the story. When LGA was enacted, cities agreed to give their sales and other local taxes to the state and get state aid in return. Minneapolis now contributes a net of ~400 million to the LGA program. That’s good. We _should_ contribute more so that other communities can survive. However, that’s $400 million that could have been used to resurface roads, hire police officers, etc. So it’s not just the LGA cut that hurts. It’s the fact that the agreement brokered in the ’70’s is no longer being honored by the state.

    @Steven Prince

    I too live in Uptown, in the Wedge, which is the only Uptown neighborhood that grew over the last decade. I think this is telling for a couple of reasons. For one, it’s the only Uptown neighborhood surrounded on all but one side by high-frequency transit corridors. Transit access was one of the primary factors in my housing choice.

    The Wedge also seems to have much less of a NIMBY attitude than, say, East Isles, ECCO, Lowry Hill, CIDNA, etc. There are probably many reasons for this. I would guess The Wedge also has a higher concentration of rental housing, but I don’t know that for sure. But the relative lack of NIMBYism and in fact embracing of development around the Midtown Greenway has worked so far. I can count only a handful of new housing and retail developments outside the Wedge. I believe it’s driven by the excellent transit access as well as the willingness of residents to welcome higher densities. The fact is we are rapidly approaching the point where higher densities are not simply desirable, but necessary. Past development patterns are not sustainable with $5/gal. and higher gas. Density is not in opposition to a family environment.

  30. Submitted by David Greene on 04/26/2011 - 11:27 am.

    @Lauren Maker

    Right on. We have a lot of systemic racism to undo in Minneapolis and throughout the metro area. Communities are working to do that. For example, the Northside Transportation Network (NTN), imperfect though it may be, is confronting the issue head-on with respect to the Bottineau transitway and other transit issues. They’re asking the right questions about access to opportunity and wealth building in North Minneapolis. I’m encouraged by this and other efforts but we all need to organize our power to confront the current system head-on and call it out for what it is. Racism.

  31. Submitted by Shannon Drury on 04/26/2011 - 12:53 pm.

    Thank you, Lauren for speaking the word (RACISM)that most folks were simply dancing around, particularly Steven Prince, who gave us his observation that “middle class families do not want to live in a city where 72% of public school students are eligible for free or reduced lunch. (2010 figures.)” Why? He offers no explanation, but here’s what I gathered: no one likes poor folks. And in Minneapolis, poor folks are disproportionately people of color.

    I’m a middle class white woman with two kids in the district. The majority of children on our neighborhood attend our community school. We are committed to urban education, that a rising tide lifts all boats, as it were. The impoverished kids in the district will be WORSE off if those SW parents leave.

  32. Submitted by Matthew Steele on 04/26/2011 - 04:14 pm.

    While I find Lauren’s point to be valid, I think Shannon goes a little too far. You are putting words (specifically a very accusatory and negative word) into Steven’s and others’ mouths. Is it racist not to live in North Minneapolis? Of course not. Is it a shame that North Minneapolis has struggled for decades and feels abandoned by the rest of the city? Of course it’s a shame.

    It’s not racist to live in an area with more amenities, lower crime, better transit and parks, and better schools. Maybe parents want to send their children to schools where the average kid has parents that ensure they are staying out of trouble and on a positive career/leadership track. Nowadays I guess it’s a luxury for parents to be so involved in the lives of their children.

    Is a school’s performance correlated to the involvement of parents? Yes. Does this involvement correlate with income? Yes. In Minneapolis, does income correlate with ethnicity? Yes. Does that mean it is racist for a parent to want their children in schools alongside other children are successful? Of course it’s not racist.

    If you are really interested in solving the problem, why not identify the problems facing poor children and work to solve those? Parents who are stretched too thin, children who have to work to support their family instead of focusing on school, peers who fall into gangs and other traps, schools who concentrate good teachers on ‘good’ schools, etc.

  33. Submitted by David Greene on 04/26/2011 - 05:05 pm.


    You make valid points but are missing important historical context. North Minneapolis is the way it is because of deliberate policy decisions by government and the private sector. It’s not an accident that many more poor people live there and many more black people live there than in other parts of the city. It is also no accident that white people moved to the suburbs. It was official post-WWII federal housing policy.

    So while the individual choice is not necessarily racism, the system that set up the conditions to favor one choice over another most certainly is.

  34. Submitted by Steven Prince on 04/26/2011 - 11:09 pm.

    Several posts seem to suggest I am speaking in code when I talk about percentage of kids eligible for free or reduced lunch. I am simply pointing to a statistic that captures very dramatically the change in demographics that has overtaken our school district over the last twenty years. Most Minneapolis residents do not even understand the problem, because they have no contact with our schools. They assume the Minneapolis Public Schools reflect the demographics of their neighborhoods.

    The reality is an increasing disconnect between City demographics and District demographics. The District educates children who are much poorer and racially diverse then our City’s general population. That results from a two part process: families in poverty are increasingly concentrated in Minneapolis, while middle class families go elsewhere. If we want to change our schools, we need to make Minneapolis a more attractive place for middle class families with kids . We are moving in the opposite direction. That is not the fault of our school district, it reflects an indifference or lack of understanding in City Hall about how to make Minneapolis more attractive to middle class families.

    This is not just a Northside problem. Both of our kids attended our neighborhood school, but we were in the minority in our neighborhood, where most families choose instead to attend SW Minneapolis schools with demographics that are not reflective of District realities. When some people talk about their commitment to an urban education, they know they send their kids to a diverse public school. Do they understand that their school does not reflect anything approaching District demographics?

    The District created new neighborhood boundaries last year, for our neighborhood school that meant eliminating the upper income areas around Lake of the Isles that had traditionally been part of the school’s neighborhood. It was an acknowledgment that families in those areas would not consider a neighborhood school that, coincidentally, had become over 87% free and reduced lunch in a neighborhood that certainly does not match that demographic. Those families are now assigned to a neighborhood school that is 38% free or reduced lunch. The Minneapolis schools that are less than 50% free or reduced lunch eligible are all in neighborhoods where middle class families cannot afford to live.

    This thread has talked a lot about transit and other amenities, but I am not seeing an acknowledgment that Minneapolis is losing the battle to attract and keep middle class families with kids.

  35. Submitted by David Greene on 04/27/2011 - 10:27 am.


    “It was an acknowledgment that families in those areas would not consider a neighborhood school that, coincidentally, had become over 87% free and reduced lunch in a neighborhood that certainly does not match that demographic. Those families are now assigned to a neighborhood school that is 38% free or reduced lunch.”

    This is a perfect example of what Lauren is talking about. This is a case of systemic racism promoting school segregation. It is not the mission of the school to please people in Kenwood. The mission of the school is to teach kids and that means creating diverse classrooms. Study after study show that ALL kids learn better in such environments.

    The demographic truth is that the younger population is much more diverse than the older population. The reason the school districts look more diverse than the general city population follows from that.

    I would like to know what, specifically, city hall can do to attract middle class families with kids. Can you give some examples?

  36. Submitted by PJ Hannam on 04/27/2011 - 10:28 am.

    Census stats are snapshots. Why no analysis of the rapid run-up of Northside housing prices (faster than metro) and spectacular collapse? How much did population change from 2000-2007–and since??

    Personally I think better basic government, better basic schools, better basic societal institutions, better basic services (including transit), better basic criminal justice services–and less saviours (e.g. universities, social service agencies, urban renewal, etc etc etc)–would do the Northside real well.

    The run-up in housing prices was fed by public policies; and the foreclosure crisis and collapse was aided by the same. It will take a couple decades to climb out of the new hole we dug.

    The same could be said about schools.

  37. Submitted by Dara Grumdahl on 04/27/2011 - 12:56 pm.

    I have to say I’m curious about Whittier too – lost 1,600 residents, but gained 181 housing units / households? Is that one type of family being supplanted by another?

  38. Submitted by Steven Prince on 04/27/2011 - 11:02 pm.

    @ David

    Here are two suggestions to make the City more attract to middle class families.

    1) Encourage family housing in all neighborhoods

    In the Wedge we have a significant number of 100 years old homes and duplexes. Twenty years ago families were buying and renovating these properties. The trend is in the other direction today. Poor code enforcement coupled with multifamily zoning encourages disinvestment in those properties so they can ultimately be torn down. City policy in much of the Wedge is to destroy houses and replace them with 3-4 story apartment buildings. The net effect is to replace family housing with non-family housing. Zoning the remaining homes to remain single family or duplex (as the neighborhood has repeatedly requested) would create more opportunities for families to buy or rent houses, something City practices discourage.

    Creating housing opportunities for middle class families in higher cost neighborhoods would also be good. Right now there are many development incentives that allow increase density. Creating units with 3 or more bedrooms is not (I think) one such incentive. It should be. Of course, most high value neighborhoods in Minneapolis don’t contain areas zoned for high densities. That needs to be addressed.

    Developers are often willing to create tot play areas, but not basketball courts, or other recreational facilities used by kids over the age of ten. We need more of those facilities, and we need to address the hostility toward these facilities that exists in the City.

    2) Treat recreational facilities for kids as necessary amenities, not profit centers

    I’ve been involved in Minneapolis youth soccer for over 25 years, we have never had a greater shortage of soccer fields. There used to be three soccer fields at Bryn Mawr Park, they were eliminated to make room for downtown (adult) softball leagues and adult cricket. Yes, the Neiman Complex was built during that time, but critics of the Park Board complain that the facility doesn’t generate enough revenue. You never hear that complaint about investments in passive recreational facilities (for adults) along the River or around the Lakes.

    I don’t think the highly touted design process recently completed to create a recreational vision for the Riverfront included any soccer fields, basketball courts, or baseball diamonds. The Neiman Complex is overused, and the fields are sub-par because of it. Youth soccer competes with adult leagues for limited playing time there, practice time is not available at Neiman. Many Minneapolis youth cannot afford to play club soccer, if they could there would be no fields for them to play on. For the youth teams that do exist in Minneapolis, their clubs are routinely told by the Park Board that there are not enough fields for all of their home games.

    If your kid plays traveling soccer in Minneapolis, your team pays the Park Board $75 for use of a field for each game. You probably practice on a patch of grass somewhere without goals, because the Park Board wants $25-$45 an hour for a practice field, and it may not have any you can use. For a team of 12 kids, six home games, 20 practices – your kid pays $112 a season just for fields(if you have access to a practice field).

    In Edina, your kid pays $9 a season for use of practice and game fields. Is it any wonder that in Minneapolis soccer is increasingly a sport that is only available to high income families? If you live on the Northside, forget it, there is nowhere to play. But there are plenty of Northside parks with well groomed softball fields for those who work downtown.

    Last Fall the SW High School soccer team made it to the State Championship in the Dome. The team practiced on the turf field at Edina HS because it was cheaper then renting the turf field at Parade from the Park Board. When teams at high schools like Roosevelt make it to the State Tournament they don’t get to practice on turf, their athletic budgets can’t pay for it.

    Armed with that information, visit Nicollet Island and take a look at the athletic field built on Park Board land by DeLaSalle High School. Ponder why it took years, and hundred’s of thousands of dollars of legal fees, to make it happen, because the empty-nesters on the Island didn’t want kids playing sports in their (Park Board owned) backyard. DeLaSalle planned to install an all-weather (turf) field, and the deal was that the Park Board would get 1/2 of the field use for City youth. Island residents convinced the City Counsel to require DeLaSalle to install a grass field – it would be used a fraction of the hours of a turf field. The losers in all this, school aged kids.

  39. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 04/28/2011 - 01:02 pm.

    Good job, Steve.

    I’ve come back to visit the comments several times, and much of what’s been written speaks to the bipolar nature of the city, as well as urban issues in a more general way. Interesting stuff.

  40. Submitted by Jean Bain on 06/15/2011 - 10:16 am.

    It must be pointed out that a large portion of the high foreclosure problem in North Minneapolis was a result of outside investors buying up properties (more than half HAD been owner occupied) and turning them into rental. They mismanaged their rental properties, poorly screened tenants and did all the equity skimming they could manage. Liberal availability of investment loan money and wildly aggressive appraisals and lending from banks at the time created the perfect opportunity for these investors.

    As housing prices declined, they walked away from their “investment” properties with their equity in their pockets. Left behind is the large glut of vacant properties which has only furthered the foreclosure issue in these Northside neighborhoods. You can bet these investors were not North Minneapolis residents. The remaining Northside residents now have to put up with these effects while the investors have returned to their third & fourth ring suburbs and join the bashing of the Northside. Pointing only to poverty and race misses the reality that a lot of monied white folks participated making the situation in North Minneapolis that much worse.

  41. Submitted by charlie meyers on 06/09/2012 - 02:03 am.

    Wow, lots of great conversation here. I’m a lifelong resident, product of Mpls city schools in the 60’s and 70’s and now live and own rental in NE Mpls. I love the city but you can’t help but notice the loss of families with children that has accelerated in the last thirty years. A city is an organism. I don’t care if the family is straight, gay, black, white or brown – you have to have families with children to be a vibrant city. As others have stated, the number one issue for the city is the school system. The reason SW Mpls is thriving is that the people who live there are generally well educated and demand quality schools. Guess what? That attracts more people who want the same thing. Our school system is overly beauracratic, and does not find solutions for hard to reach and teach black students. Other cities do. Ours dosn’t. The results don’t lie. Part of what needs to happen in Mpls is a political power shift. I am glad to see the Somali and East African community gaining numbers and strength. Minneapolis has not had any real power turnover in so long, the same tired ideas keep getting rehashed. Immigrant communities are less idealistic and generally more results- focused. These communities have mutual aid associations which strengthen quality of life for citizens and help to draw more people and families here. In my opinion, Minneapolis should be as welcoming to immigrants as possible. Look at E. Lake St. Its alive. How many streets can you say that about in this town? Another concern I have is the loss of good-wage blue-collar jobs. These jobs are not respected by city planners, in spite of their lip service. Not everyone wants or can work in tech fields. Presently, the city is planning on redeveloping the riverfront in north and northeast. Lots of new parkland, trails, boat launches and amenities. Why does the new zoning not allow for any industry? Can’t they co-exist? Instead, we will see property taxes continue to rise, forcing out working people, and bringing in more single dwellers – just the thing the city should be trying to reverse!! The city says that recreation is an “industry”. Really? And what types of jobs is this “industry” creating? Ice cream vendors, clean up crews, urban habitat guides? I’m not against parks and bikeways – I use them and love them. What I see happening is class warfare. Many neighborhood associations which empowered citizens in the ’70’s are now at the forefront of opposition to working class interests, though they hide behind the proper language of diversity, tolerance and green jobs. Any industry is seen as anathema – God forbid we have THAT in our neighberhood. Lets have a Dunn Bros. instead. On Tyler Street, one block off Central, I have a duplex. On that street I see families with children. Is it the safest, best street in town? Far from it. But I love that street, and I want to see it grow, and the kids go to city schools and stay, and raise their own families. I know most of the people on the block, I used to be a block leader. I don’t know what will happen … I hope our city grows but income disparity has really worsened. On NPR today they were talking about a fishery in Spain which is ecologically balanced. The taste and quality of the fish is excellent because they feed on nutrient-rich algea and proteins. The fishery loses 20% of its fish because pink flamingos feed on them – but they accept this because it is part of what makes their chain-of-habitat system successful. The whole is served. I want to live in more than a safe city with a pristine view. I want to know that a vibrant city, filled with children and schools will be here long after I’m gone. I want the city to be a healthy organism.I

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