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Rybak, mayoral candidates set Minneapolis population goal of 500,000 by 2025 — but is that realistic?

Minneapolis skyline at nightCreative Commons/Philip Edward SimonsonThe Met Council estimates Minneapolis’ population 27 years from now will reach 487,700.

In 1950, the population of Minneapolis was 521,718. It was the 17th largest city in the United States, with more people than Dallas, Denver, Miami or Seattle.

U.S. Census Bureau estimates for 2012 ranked Minneapolis as the nation’s 47th largest city, with 392,880 residents. Dallas, Denver, Miami and Seattle all have bigger populations.

Does it matter?

Mayor R.T. Rybak thinks so. In his August budget speech, he said Minneapolis should aim for a population of 500,000 by 2025, an increase from the 450,000 goal he set in his State of the City speech in April.

At a forum last week on urban design and development, several candidates who are vying to succeed Rybak also endorsed the 500,000-by-2025 goal.

The mayor said in his budget speech that the half-million benchmark is about more than bragging rights. The larger the population, “the more people there are to support strong schools, shopping districts, restaurants, art groups” and other amenities, he said.

“Equally importantly,” he said, “more people living in Minneapolis means that more of us share the costs of running a city: When we split the costs of police, firefighters, roads and water with more people, each of us pays less.”

Can it be done?

That translates into a reduction in property tax burdens. Sounds good, doesn’t it? But how realistic is Rybak’s goal?

In September, the Metropolitan Council released preliminary population projections for 2040. It figured Minneapolis’ population 27 years from now will reach 487,700.

If the economy stays strong and Minneapolis continues to grow, says Metropolitan Council demographer Todd Graham, the city could add 20,000 housing units and be home to 450,000 people by 2025.

Minneapolis population

“Economic growth is the main driver,” he says. “It’s the main pull and magnet for attracting people here from other parts of the country and other parts of the world.”

The city has experienced a strong rebound from the Great Recession and has experienced “substantial growth” of more than 10,000 residents since the 2010 Census, Graham says.

A building boom in downtown apartments and falling rental vacancy rates are feeding that gain, he says, but those factors can’t be counted on to be permanent trends.

For any city that wants to grow, Graham says, “the biggest challenges are can you find the land, can you build and can you find a market demand for what’s being built.”

At last week’s mayoral candidate forum, there was general agreement that Minneapolis’ expanding transit options, including light rail and a proposed streetcar, will attract newcomers who want to live in the city but don’t want to drive — and draw developers who will build housing along those transportation lines.

“We think we are seeing a shift in real-estate preferences by people looking for housing,” Graham says. More younger people and seniors want “central locations and accessibility to work and things to do.”

Ironically, changes in transportation fueled Minneapolis’ population drop after it peaked in the 1950 census. The metro area’s two main conduits, Interstate 35 and Interstate 94, were built in the 1960s, helping to lure people from the city to the suburbs.

Analysis of census reports by the Population Reference Bureau shows that the United State’s biggest cities are experiencing growth rates that exceed the national average.

Biggest cities

The 10 largest cities are New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas and San Jose. They represent 8 percent of the country’s total population. After net population declines between 2003 and 2005, they were responsible for more than 11 percent of U.S. population growth from 2011-2012.

Giant jumps in population are possible, but often are a result of singular circumstances. New Orleans’ population has grown 28 percent since 2007 to 369,250. That’s about 81 percent of its population before the city was decimated by flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Detroit, on the other hand, is the poster child for population loss. In 1950, it was the nation’s fifth largest with city 1.8 million residents. Census estimates for 2012 put the population now at less than half that number — 701,475.

William Frey, a demographer and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., says Minneapolis’ growth rate rose from an annual average of 0.4 percent from 1990-2000 to zero growth from 2000-2010. The rate increased 1.3 percebnt between 2010 and 2011 and 1.2 percent from 2011 to 2012, he says.

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“Minneapolis would have to sustain a 2-plus percent annual growth rate to come close to reaching 500,000 in 10 years,” Frey says. “Right now, the only cities doing that are in rapidly growing Sunbelt cities like Austin or Charlotte, and they are also located inside rapidly growing metro areas.”

Still, Frey says Minneapolis has clearly rebounded from a period of declining population and has the potential for further increases.

“The growth would be especially useful if it included a mix of professionals, retiring boomers with disposable incomes, but also young people willing to raise their children in the city – leading to stable neighborhoods,” he says.

St. Paul’s estimated 2012 population was 290,770, up from 285,068 in the 2010 census. The Metropolitan Council projects the capital city will have 338,900 residents by 2040.

Graham sees reasons for Minneapolis’ optimism. “We’re now in the fourth year of employment growth,” he says. After the city issued 1,500 to 1,700 permits for housing units each year from 2002 to 2006, there were 3,346 in 2012 and the city is on a similar pace so far this year.

Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Alex Bauman on 10/02/2013 - 10:29 am.

    1950 population was impacted by housing shortage

    One factor that is often forgotten in discussions of population levels in American cities is that at the time of the 1950 census most northern cities were still feeling the effect of a housing crunch caused by the return of GIs after World War II. This was also the case in Minneapolis. It is probably more reasonable to use the 1930 or 1940 figures as a high water mark for urban population in the northern US.

  2. Submitted by Janne Flisrand on 10/02/2013 - 10:39 am.

    For Transit Corridors to Succeed, they Need…

    If density along transit corridors is going to succeed — which I believe means the transit needs to offer an advantage over driving for many destinations — the transit needs to be sped up. Currently, buses get stuck in the same congestion as everyone else, and when you add in stops to pick up and drop off people, they end up substantially slower.

    I believe the only way transit can have an advantage is if there is dedicated space on our streets for transit to get around congestion, development along transit-ways just isn’t going to be good enough.

  3. Submitted by John Reinan on 10/02/2013 - 11:07 am.

    1930/40 numbers aren’t that far off 1950

    The 1930 population was 464,000 and 1940 was 492,000. Less than 1950, but in the ballpark.

  4. Submitted by David Frenkel on 10/02/2013 - 11:49 am.

    Housing units removed

    Somebody should do a study of how many houses were removed by the major highway corridors through Minneapolis which is significant i,e, I94,I35, Crosstown (62) and Hiawatha Ave.
    Minneapolis needs a major growth engine and loosing companies like NWA, Pillsbury and Honeywell does not help.

  5. Submitted by Presley Martin on 10/02/2013 - 12:14 pm.

    The automobile

    Isn’t the root cause the automobile and the interstate highways that allowed people to flee the city for the promise of the suburbs? Our metropolitan area population is just about equal to Seattle, larger than Denver and is 16th largest in the country. The car + highways changed everything, now we need to make the city worth returning to from the burbs or other areas of the country or world. Better schools, better car-free transport, and vibrant neighborhoods. Architecture and art can have a big role to play in this, as well as keeping-up and adding to the great bicycle network. We can do this!

  6. Submitted by Arvonne Fraser on 10/02/2013 - 12:35 pm.

    renovation of current housing too

    To achieve more density we also need to rezone to allow renovation of existing housing to accomodate more people. Younger workers, professionals and empty nesters all seem to want or need less space so converting some existing larger homes to duplexes or triplexes is also necessary. Demolishing substantial older buildings to build for more density not only contributes to landfills but destroys the fabric of the city. Another problem is over-occupancy in existing buildings. Those occupants are counted in the census. Thus some rethinking about this problem is necessary on the part of our next mayor and city council as well as citizens and voters. Simply rebuilding along transit corridors is not going to achieve the desired population goals, important as the building on these transit corridors is.

  7. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 10/02/2013 - 06:41 pm.


    It’s a tall order to get to 500,000 people by 2025, but you have to have some goals in life to shoot for. Even if you don’t make it all the way up the hill at least you gain something in the attempt.

    Better to try and fail than to not try at all.

  8. Submitted by Ray Marshall on 10/02/2013 - 08:01 pm.

    Minneapolis’ Population

    Just guessing, in 1950, the average family probably had three or four children. Or more. I once owned a home in South Minneapolis where I was told by someone who was born in that home that at one time over 20 people lived (several families) in the 50s.

    Do you really think that people will want, or will be able to afford to, have families that large?

    Houston has achieved its population size because Texas does not allow unincorporated areas to become cities. They have to join the City of Houston if they want municipal services.

    Do you expect that Richfield, St. Louis Park, Golden Valley and Columbia Heights, not to mention, St. Anthony, will want to merge with Minneapolis?

    Get Real, People!

  9. Submitted by Butch Mcfearson on 10/02/2013 - 08:20 pm.

    Apples and oranges

    When you look at just the population of Minneapolis and not at the metropolitan area population you are not getting the entire picture. Minneapolis and Tulsa have a nearly identical population. Tulsa is actually slightly larger than Minneapolis and is the 46th largest city in the US, and Minneapolis the 47th. When measuring the metropolitan areas Minneapolis is the 16th largest where Tulsa is the 53rd largest. Minneapolis is fairly unique in that it is a geographically small city surrounded by a multitude of large suburbs, where most large metro areas are just the opposite, being a large city surrounded by smaller and fewer suburbs.

  10. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 10/03/2013 - 08:17 am.

    Really, Mr. Mayor?

    “The larger the population, the more people there are to support strong schools, shopping districts, restaurants, art groups and other amenities. Equally importantly, more people living in Minneapolis means that more of us share the costs of running a city: When we split the costs of police, firefighters, roads and water with more people, each of us pays less.”

    Ummm, you’re gonna have to give me some data to support that one! More people means greater demands for all these services, which drives up the cost. The key is whether you have the jobs to bring in people who can actually help pay for the additional demand. The last thing you need is more people to create more demand without contributing to the cost. How about creating an employment goal rather than a population goal?

  11. Submitted by Bill Kahn on 10/04/2013 - 12:17 am.

    It’s Magic

    We’re all prone to a bit of magical thinking now and then, but as some have pointed out, ignoring the island in suburbia that Minneapolis and St. Paul have become over the decades following WWII along with the loss of all the past major industries, illuminates the sort of pipe dreams our city leaders have had instead of solid analysis and planning necessary to make a city function well in a larger metropolitan area.

    Housing starts and permits are irrelevant and we need to focus on the industries everywhere in the region who will employ those living in and spending money in Minneapolis so they can make the economy boom again.

    Here’s a clue: employed workers spend everything they make and despite the employment growth pointed out by Graham, we have a dearth of employed workers spending money in this burg (many make it here and spend it elsewhere, and why not?).

    Having more people does not mean more money and more sales tax revenue. Decisions to pay for the toys that transfer what little wealth we have to billionaires, sap our ability to maintain populations of working folks, i.e., it does not and will never help to give away the store. We could get a boost if we would keep out the millionaire and billionaire welfare recipients.

    Milling provided lots of jobs and rooming houses provided flops for tired workers in a Minneapolis that was much smaller and denser than it is today. With success, rails and roads spread us out as far as the rest of the state and metro would let us go, and we will not grow much larger without increases in density.

    Design folks and politicians need to think in ecological terms now. What determines the carrying capacity of a city and the larger metropolitan area containing it? Water, sanitation, and energy demands will determine our numbers, not transportation, something that gets way too much attention in our patch of the Metro.

    Say goodbye to Mayor Rybak and all the would be mayors as that is the best way to limit the magical thinking that gets us nowhere fast.

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