More density, less parking and ‘Freyplexes’: What Minneapolis’ comprehensive plan update says about the city

After one element of a proposed update of Minneapolis’ comprehensive plan led to an unscripted, hair-on-fire introduction to the public, city officials are looking for less drama with the official roll out of the plan.

Presented to the city planning commission Thursday afternoon, the update is meant to guide city policy making around development, zoning and infrastructure investments through 2040. Mandated to be completed every 10 years by state law and subject to Met Council oversight, the new comp plan will be open for public comment until July 22, with city council approval expected in November.

Lengthy, complex and, yes, comprehensive, the plan reflects directions by the council for the city to absorb a growing population as well as build denser neighborhoods with better access to transit, employment and services. An interactive website provides details of the plan and includes maps that allows parcel-by-parcel searches to reveal what is proposed.

This graphic includes 12 future land use categories.

Minneapolis 2040
This graphic includes 12 future land use categories.

Users will find some terms that will be unfamiliar. Previous plans have referred to types of land uses as commercial corridor, growth center and activity center. This one uses the terms interior, corridor, transit and core. Interior means residential areas that are interior to arterial roads that might contain commercial buildings and multi-family buildings.

In the past, such plans also focused on systems such as land use, utilities and infrastructure. But this one also attempts to integrate broader policy goals of the city. And because it is the first rewrite in a decade, the plan was produced with an eye on two topics that have emerged since then: racial equity and climate change. “We really want to examine and recognize the relationship between built form in the city to the social fabric of the community,” said the city’s long range planning director Heather Worthington.

Affordable housing will also play a starring role in the plan, though Worthington said how it will do so is still in play. While the entire document is a draft, she dubbed the affordable housing section a “drafty draft.” There is currently no discussion of what is called inclusionary zoning, for instance, an idea that calls for developers of large residential buildings to have a certain percentage of units affordable to lower income residents. That topic is expected to be on the city council agenda in the summer and fall and could end up in the comp plan later, she said.

The plan does propose changes to parking requirements to take advantage of improved transit options, make production of new housing somewhat cheaper and reduce car use. And it calls for more commercial nodes in neighborhoods to reduce the need for cars for errand-running. “Car-trip reductions are a big part of the overall plan,” Worthington said “Nine out of 10 trips are taken for errands, not on commuting. So building more retail and commercial into our residential areas can help people access those on foot or on a bike or using transit.”

There is also an emphasis on energy efficient construction to help the city reach its carbon reduction goals. And areas that are already seeing intense development will likely see it increase should the plan be approved.

The ‘Freyplex’ fracas

While there are controversial elements in the draft — increased density and fewer parking requirements, among them — none stand to be as controversial as what some have taken to call “Freyplexes.”

After council members were given a background briefing earlier this month — and after one detail of the plan was reported on by the Star Tribune — a sweeping plan became embroiled in one issue: whether the city should allow up to four units on a single-family lot in residential zones.

The purpose of allowing more “fourplexes” was to both increase density and to make more neighborhoods available and affordable. But with the leak, the narrative became that the city would allow apartment buildings in single-family neighborhoods.

The revelation put the city on the defensive, and sent both Mayor Jacob Frey and City Council President Lisa Bender to Twitter. “I strongly support adding more housing options in Minneapolis neighborhoods,” tweeted Bender. “We have a housing shortage, with a very low rental vacancy rate. Over 50 percent of residents are renters. Over 40 percent of people live alone.”

Tweeted Frey: “Affordable housing is a right. Addressing our housing supply — and shortage — is going to be a key part or realizing that right. I look forward to seeing the full Comp Plan and to the conversations ahead about building a more affordable MPLS.”

Yet the plan says such buildings would likely look like existing houses, and even be conversions of existing houses, coming in at no more than two-and-a-half stories with similar setbacks. “We’re saying up to four units,” Worthington said, which could include an accessory dwelling unit and three units within another building. “But importantly, the massing and the scale of the building cannot be more than the surrounding buildings which may be single-family homes.” 

Total population in Minneapolis

Sources: Decennial Census, Metropolitan Council
Total population in Minneapolis

Council Member Steve Fletcher said he has heard from residents about fourplexes. He said he understands that some individual pieces of the plan might feel disruptive, but he said he tries to reminds residents that separate ideas shouldn’t be taken out of the context of the overall plan.

“The thing I’m reminding people about the comprehensive plan is that it’s supposed to be comprehensive,” Fletcher said. “If you pull out one piece of it, that piece does or doesn’t work in relation to the other things. So a relaxation of the zoning code works hand in hand with an increased investment in public transportation.”

Fletcher  said the plan puts into place a lot of proposals elected officials have been talking about for years and “frankly people are frustrated haven’t already happened.”

Chipping away at ‘decades of mistrust’

In the course of drafting of the updated plan, the city spent the last two years doing public outreach, holding 50 meetings and emphasizing contact with groups that haven’t always been listened to.

Rattana Sengsoulichanh, the city planner who led the process of reaching communities of color, the young, seniors and immigrants, said there has been a lot of distrust but said he thinks the process had some success. “We have been able to get some meaningful conversations and feedback that has informed a lot of this policy content,” he said. “But in other degrees there’s a lot of chipping away at years and hundreds of years and decades of mistrust.”

Once the plan is approved by the council and gets the Met Council’s okay, the city will begin making sure the zoning code meshes with the new plan. That could take up to two years. The city would also have to begin working to align the comp plan neighborhoods’ small area plans. Some of the current plans mesh with what is being proposed but others do not.

Here are some additional policies included in the draft comprehensive plan for the city:

  • “Direct newly-established retail uses in buildings connected by skyways to be located primarily on the ground floor with an entrance facing the street.”
  • “Designate Production and Processing Areas that comprise large contiguous tracts of land historically used for industrial purposes, that are well-served by transportation infrastructure for both people and freight, and that also contain building stock suitable for production and processing businesses to expand access to higher wage job opportunities.”
  • “Identify and limit new heavy industrial uses that harm human health throughout the city.”
  • “On development sites encompassing most of or an entire block, encourage multiple buildings on the site to increase visual interest.”
  • “Ensure that buildings incorporate design elements that eliminate long stretches of blank, inactive exterior walls through provision of windows, multiple entrance doors, green walls, and architectural details.”
  • “Integrate components in building designs that offer protection to pedestrians, such as awnings and canopies, as a means to encourage pedestrian activity along the street.”
  • “In new developments and additions to existing buildings, retain mature trees, replace lost trees, and plant more trees if none were there originally.”
  • “Provide equitable and ample access to walking, bicycling, transit options, and a shared mobility economy.”
  • “Establish parking guidelines and requirements that reflect changing car ownership models, both on-street and off-street.”
  • “Eliminate off-street parking minimums throughout the City.”
  • “Create strategies to retain existing housing types that are not currently being constructed in the marketplace, such as single room occupancy, large family and multigenerational housing.”
  • “Develop and implement policies and programs that support the preservation and rehabilitation of naturally occurring affordable housing to prevent the displacement of existing residents.”
  • “Expand programs that support existing homeowners in affording and maintaining their home, with a focus on people of color, indigenous people and vulnerable populations, such as low-income households, the elderly and people with disabilities.”
  • “Continue to support a growing residential population downtown.”
  • “Encourage the recruitment and retention of retailers in downtown that help office workers and residents fulfill daily needs.”
  • “Require a minimum level of development near METRO stations to ensure that land is used efficiently near major transit investments.”
  • “Line main pedestrian routes leading to METRO stations with active uses on the ground floor of buildings.”
  • “Expand the use of non-enforcement, community-driven public safety strategies and responses such as restorative practices that can address and repair the harm caused by a crime.”

Comments (43)

  1. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 03/23/2018 - 11:32 am.

    A different view?

    When traveling to Japan, Korea, China, Singapore etc. one will notice, very tall Flat complexes. As an example, a city block in North Minneapolis has ~ 28 lots say 3.25 fo0lks per dwelling, ~ 91 folks. If this were say Singapore, there would be ~ 3 buildings in the same space each say 14 stories tall and 4 flats per story same population per flat we get ~ 546 Folks ~ 6X the population density. Looking a little deeper, folks there typically own their flats, they don’t rent, the buildings are built on a partnership between the Government and private industry. Taxes are lower because you have higher density, the same street that wears out serves almost 6x the population. The cost of ownership for the flat is significantly less than a single family home, 1 roof for 182 folks vs 3.25, etc. etc. These programs tend to be well run, as bad actors will definitely get their feet held to the fire. Lets think a little larger than a 4-plex, many of us see some LLC slumlord that lives in Florida, and could care less about livability, neighbors, neighborhood etc. as long as they get their monthly rent check. Are we thinking about building problems or solutions?

  2. Submitted by Robert Franklin on 03/23/2018 - 11:34 am.

    Parking

    Those who would dramatically decrease parking requirements should be forced to live in Uptown during the winter.

    • Submitted by Joey Senkyr on 03/23/2018 - 12:18 pm.

      Many of them do. It’s just fine, unless you’ve made the life decisions to wedge a Woodbury car-dependent lifestyle into a home two miles from downtown.

    • Submitted by Morgan Bird on 03/23/2018 - 12:45 pm.

      I do. It’s fine. I’d rather increase density and transit availability so the city is walkable and affordable for everyone. I would just as soon get rid of my car.

      • Submitted by Barbara Lofquist on 03/27/2018 - 09:27 am.

        Carless in Minnesnowta

        You may change your mind if you ever have a kid or 2 that is involved in after school and weekend activities. Till then, get rid of your car and free up space for others

    • Submitted by Matthew Steele on 03/23/2018 - 01:45 pm.

      Requirements

      People are welcome to build parking even though it’s not required. Just as I may order a pizza tonight even though the city doesn’t require it. Individuals are highly capable of figuring out what they need without the heavy hand of government forcing them to pay for something they might not need.

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 03/23/2018 - 05:54 pm.

      If the Twin Cities transit system were good enough, living in Uptown without a car would be just fine for many people. Actually, someone with no reason to go to the suburbs can live quite well in Uptown without a car, and I know some people who do.

      The main problems with public transit in the Twin Cities are:

      1. Its main purpose seems to be getting people back and forth to work downtown, Monday through Friday. As far as I can tell, it does that extremely well, carrying people to places like Maple Grove and Apple Valley.

      2. Outside of commuting hours and standard commuting routes, it’s inadequate. There are not enough crosstown routes, and some major through streets (e.g. the Park/Portland pairing) have no service at all.

      3. Routes are confusing, in that those that split up to go to totally different places or run on different streets for part of their length have the same number.

      Examples: #4 and #18, and especially #11, which seems to tie itself into knots at various points.

      Route 6 has six letter designations, 3 of which (C,E, K) take you south on Xerxes and 2 of which (B,D) take you south on France Avenue. Then there is the 6A, which terminates at 36th and Hennepin. This route is deceptively labeled “frequent service,” but that is true only between the downtown library and 39th and Sheridan. The C, E, K lines and the B, D lines go to East Hennepin and the U only at different times of the day.

      This spaghetti tangle of routes could be simplified by running frequent service buses on all arterials, whether north-south or east-west, for their entire length. Since I travel on 36th Street several times a week, I can’t help noticing that the 23 is another zigzag route that veers off this heavily traveled street at Bryant to drop down to 38th and may terminate either at the Veterans’ Home or in Highland Park.

      4. I still can’t figure out why the Green Line terminates in the caverns of Union Station, where you have to go down to the old train platforms to catch a bus, and not in the area of the Ordway, the Xcel Center, the Science Museum, and the Landmark Center, all destinations that would draw people from Minneapolis, or why the proposed Bottineau Line doesn’t go past North Memorial Hospital or up West Broadway, or why the proposed Southwest Line barely touches the North Side, despite its stated purpose of making suburban jobs accessible to residents of that area.

      5. The lack of consistent frequent service on arterials and the lack of attention to major destinations creates a lot of “you can’t get there from here” situations.

      6. The stops are poorly marked. A person new to the neighborhood could stand at a marked bus stop on an infrequent route with no indication of if or when a bus will come by on that particular day. Even the poles that announce the bus stops can be fitted with laminated, wraparound mini schedules, as a group of “guerrilla” riders showed in Portland after being fed up with the lack of signage at minor bus stops.

      All these factors make for a system (or slapdash non-system) that is difficult for all but the most dedicated or desperate riders to use. The actual experience isn’t bad and can even be fun and social, given the right mix of people.

      • Submitted by Scott Stocking on 03/24/2018 - 08:04 am.

        While I agree with you generally,

        I would quibble with some of the specifics you mention. Yes routes follows the hub and spoke layout of the old trolley system, and that brought people to downtown. As far as point 2, I live on Park Ave, and while it would be nice to have bus service on my block, I am well served by the 5 and the 11 (and the 21 and 23 actually) I walk a couple of blocks and I can get “front door” service to Midtown, 48th and Chicago, MIA, Mall of America and the Convention Center.

        Point 3: Yes the 6 is a mess. I’ve gotten on the wrong bus more than once. I agree that the number of routes should be slimmed down, but I think there really has to be a France/Xerxes split. If you choose to only go down one of those streets, then the residents on the other will be stuck in the “you can’t get there from here” trying to go to downtown or Southdale. The 23 really isn’t that zigzagy other than the detours caused by the 38th St bridge over 35W being out. The 11 is kind of odd at the south terminus with its big loop. I know that some new letter route and loop were added to accommodate Washburn students when MPS stopped busing them.

        Point 5: Related to point 3. Some routes make big turns to get to major destinations. The 23 ends at Uptown on one end and either the Veterans Hospital or Highland on the other. I’m not sure what major destinations are not being served.

        Point 6: This is actually getting better. Stops aren’t just marked by the old red “T” sign anymore. The stops will have the route(s) listed. At very frequently used stops there are shelters with full schedules. At other well used stops there are maps that show the route. All the stops have a code you can use to look up routes and frequencies. Metro Transit assumes riders will be doing a bit of due diligence, by either calling or planning the trip online. The mobile app is pretty useful, if you have a smartphone.

        A lot of the route craziness boils down to barriers. Lakes, rivers, creeks and freeways all contribute to not having a nice neat grid layout for bus routes.

        Back to the density discussion. We do need improved service on the system if we really want to increase the density of the city. I am looking forward to the new C and D Rapid bus lines being rolled out. More of those please.

        • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 03/24/2018 - 05:30 pm.

          When I first moved here in 2003, the current #6C, E, K was called #28. Since they followed the same route from downtown to 36th Street, turning them into another variety of #6 allowed the MTC to claim that the #6 was “frequent service.”

    • Submitted by Barbara Lofquist on 03/27/2018 - 09:25 am.

      Parking

      Touche’! If the city wants families to put children in their schools and keep parks full, do not reduce available parking! For parents that work full time with 1 or 2 kids, shopping for groceries and transport to activities requires a doggone car. My son played hockey for Minneapolis South Tigers for 10 years. Our games and practices were all over the metro. He was a goalie. Try packing that stinky bag on a bus or a Choo choo! Very few folks choose to ride bikes in the winter. Even if one could, it’s not safe to put a child on one. Progressive fantasies work better in California. That is where most of the city’s leaders should move to.

      • Submitted by Joseph Totten on 03/27/2018 - 06:37 pm.

        Indeed!

        I played hockey too, all through college. I am really wondering why my neighbors, who did not play hockey, should need a larger garage because I play hockey… Yes, families will probably use a car, but each household does not need the 2.5 parking stalls required in many cities, and if their kids don’t want to play hockey, or want to play on the local rec center’s basketball league then why should they be required to buy an extra car?

        People have varied needs, if a family chooses to save more for college by eliminating one car, let them and don’t make them build their garage bigger. You, or anyone who plays hockey, can build a garage that will store 2 cars. Not everyone needs it, so why should we force it?

  3. Submitted by Alex Schieferdecker on 03/23/2018 - 12:50 pm.

    This is a really good plan

    It removes many of the regulatory rules that are artificially driving up housing prices, protecting mid-century residential segregation, and encouraging car dependency.

    Here’s hoping the council passes it, and here’s hoping St. Paul moves in a similar direction.

  4. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/23/2018 - 02:44 pm.

    A cautionary note

    I could be mistaken – again – but it’s my impression that Minneapolis’ master plan, like most, or even all, master plans in Minnesota, is not “enforceable.” That is, because of other state laws, a city’s master plan does not have the force of law. The result is that, if you’re a developer who doesn’t want to adhere to the plan, but you own the ground, the city can take you to court, and there will be a lot of shouting and arm-twisting, but if your development plan collides with the city’s development plan, the law, in many cases, will be on your side, not the city’s.

    In practical terms, this means that much of the hysteria over “Freyplexes” and even, God forbid, the sort of density that Dennis Wagner mentions, is perhaps premature, unnecessary, or even irrelevant. Comprehensive plans in Minnesota are guidelines, and if city attorneys and council members are really adamant and persuasive, they may even become “rules,” but they are not laws, and if it’s deemed necessary or desirable, the city can, and may, violate its own master plan. Established norms can be violated whenever it suits the city to do so. I know that can happen when a plan is not “enforceable” because I saw it happen when I was a planning commissioner in another state wherein master plans were also not “enforceable.”

    It’s also worth noting that zoning of the Euclidian type, which seems to be the prevailing type in most Minnesota circumstances, is designed **NOT** to be “inclusive,” but instead to keep some kinds of activities and uses **OUT** of particular areas. In most cases, an area zoned by ordinance for one type, or a related group of types, of activity, cannot be changed to a different type of activity without specific legal action taken by the city council or whatever legal entity speaks for the city in court. This is part of the reason why the Twin Cities are as segregated as they are – to keep out the riff-raff, or whoever or whatever is deemed undesirable, along with that animal rendering business that no one wants next to their home.

  5. Submitted by Betsy Larey on 03/23/2018 - 04:14 pm.

    Freyplexes

    What has not been mentioned is this. One of the reasons Minneapolis is so desirable is because it’s beautiful. Fourplexes are not terribly attractive. And what happens to the value of your $750K home when the house next door is raised for a fourplex? Your value plummets. Don’t kid yourself that it won’t.
    If would not be surprised if this passes, you’ll see many of the higher priced homes being sold, with those residents moving outside of the city. Wayzata and Minnetonka are beautiful. And you will not have to worry about what happens to your neighborhood.
    I am all for giving developers TIF money and tie it to affordable housing. But to change zoning so anything goes is a BIG time mistake. And once they are built, you’re stuck. And of you think I’m kidding, you’ve got another think coming.

    • Submitted by Valerie Hurst on 03/24/2018 - 09:44 am.

      Priorities

      There are plenty of attractive older duplexes and fourplexes in South Minneapolis. If this this passes, I’m sure that requirements could be put in place to encourage new construction that blends well with the character of a neighborhood. There are also plenty of folks (myself included) who like the idea of a fourplex where all units are owned rather than rented, given the dearth of smaller homes on the market.
      More importantly though, it’s quite a luxury to prioritize a city’s aesthetics over other characteristics sich as affordability, safety, walkability, etc when choosing where to live. Cities are dense and diverse, and Minneapolis is only continuing to grow. If you only care about beauty and the value of a $750k house that was likely purchased years ago for much less, feel free to move to Wayzata.

      • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 03/24/2018 - 05:32 pm.

        Fourplexes are nothing new. I first heard the term as a child in the 1950s. In fact, there are a couple of older ones in the Linden Hills neighborhood, and at least one of them is a condo.

    • Submitted by Jim Kumon on 03/26/2018 - 10:07 am.

      Fourplexes Aren’t Attractive? Good thing they are so valuable

      Betsy,

      Perhaps you’ve not been in the market recently for a rental unit. Rents for a 1 bed unit in an average older quadplex in SW MPLS (where most of the 750k houses are coincidentally) are commonly $900-$1200+.

      This is a very modest one at $1195. It’s not brick or fancy, but certainly not ugly.
      https://www.apartments.com/3427-harriet-ave-minneapolis-mn-unit-3/bptw759/

      What it is though, is valuable. It’s listed on the county assessors website as worth $450,000 while on a meager 45×130 lot. It’s 3300 sf. Unlike single family houses which are valued purely on appraisals that are riding on comparables, rental housing is priced on the value of the rent that the building makes. As rents continue to go up due the lack of available housing units, this building will continue to rise in value. In fact, the building has risen 114k in the five years since it was last sold. I live in walking distance to this unit for rent and my house is barely half its value. While my single family house has gone up significantly in value, not anywhere near that kind of rise.

      If one owns a 750k house, even with an aggressive 20% down payment, your monthly mortgage is $2845. I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford that. This 100 year old quadplex sits on a lot a fraction the size of most 750k houses and is rapidly increasing in value. If you are worried about the city’s taxbase, I’d be more concerned finding enough people to buy houses that require 6 figure income as the next generation struggles to buy a starter home. Mathematically, the quadplex is both delivering housing far more people can afford, doing in while on a smaller lot, in less building space, requiring less lineal feet of infrastructure to support.

      While we are on the topic of multi-unit buildings for rent: Somehow, I don’t think that the neighbors around this building (valued at 669k) are worried about their house value going down. And its just a duplex. Imagine the value of a building like that if it had 1-2 MORE units. This is actually in a neighborhood with 750k houses. It’s already there. Has been since 1930. Doesn’t seem to be having the bottoming out of value you are talking about.
      https://www.zillow.com/homes/for_sale/Minneapolis-MN/pmf,pf_pt/apartment_duplex_type/1991207_zpid/5983_rid/globalrelevanceex_sort/44.979917,-93.214617,44.900085,-93.356066_rect/12_zm/

      In short, I caution all who fear the unknown to actually take a look at the current and openly available facts about housing values and costs in this city. A very clear story unfolds. Our zoning code openly represses the amount of housing that can be built in this city and it has for at least 40 years. One of the biggest drivers of housing cost is that supply can’t come on line fast enough because only the largest and most expensive buildings can overcome the costs necessary to get a project done.

      Building a new quadplex today (because of rising construction costs) is going to COST at least $600,000-750,000, let alone what it would be VALUED at based on rents it would receive. If we don’t start allowing that though, modest quadplexes like 3427 Harriett will continue to rise in rents as more people want to live in our neighborhoods. That’s not inclusive nor providing housing diversity. But it does comply to the laws of math. If we are worried about numerical values, we should pay close attention to how that math works.

      • Submitted by Larry Moran on 03/27/2018 - 03:04 pm.

        One caveat

        While I agree with most of what you say I think some caution is needed. I wanted to see the property on Harriet Ave you reference and looked at it with Google maps. It looks like the structures in my MPLS neighborhood as well. But if you look across the street and down the block a bit you can see the result of a previous spate of development. The duplexes and fourplexes blend very well in the neighborhood but the two larger apartment buildings stretching across 2 or three lots seem out of scale. I realize the draft plan expects to limit size and massing, but the current regulations do as well. What’s to stop a developer from appealing for a 3 or 4 story building rather than the 2.5 story limit in order to make the project “economically viable?” What assurances will we have that, if this plan is adopted, that those kinds of exceptions won’t be granted?

  6. Submitted by Dionna Lange on 03/23/2018 - 06:39 pm.

    The construction spate of high density “bee hives” shat upon the city and erosioon of our neighborhoods by the former mayor of unhappy memory, Bike-Lane Betsy (Harvard Loves Me) Hodges and her Council of Clowns. hopefully will stop.

    I agree with Mr. Schoch’s reply, “A cautionary note”. But the history of the Twin Cities, moreso Minneapolis than St. Paul in my opinion, is the story of ghettoization from the earliest days of Minneapolis. It is largely a city of nice talk, smoke, mirrors, and pandering to the greed of the “right people.”

    Minneapolis has yet to “come of age” and move beyond 1890’s provincialism. Perhaps, “FreyPlexes” may be a start, but without the plan being largely unenforceable and given the behavioral history of Minneapolis’ NIMBY-ism, it may unfortunately remain a hope, and vision for another less xenophobic generations to bring to fruition.

  7. Submitted by Joe Musich on 03/23/2018 - 07:18 pm.

    The city has been trying ….

    do deal with allowing the closing of Nicollet st Lake for how many years ? Oh since at least the selling of all sorts of MiniApple products. I am not sure if this city will ever need most of these structures in the end. This may all be nothing but a Super Bowl hangover. Or maybe worse exchanges of political favors. Probably not tho since this never thappens in Minneapolis. Opps maybe it does considering the park by the brain damaging bird killing what does it remind you of structure. Like a humming bird development in this city has flit from place to place. This does not seem to be a master plan but a cheerleading script. If development is coming bring it to places that sorley need upgrading first as in what was the reason the Southwest light rail went into development before the Bottineu project ? The development promised at Chi Lake is still not complete. But I live in a dreamworld.

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/24/2018 - 09:06 am.

    God save us from Urban Studies

    The problem with these “plans” is that instead of solving identified problems they pretend to be promoting principles of some kind that are allegedly based on some kind of rationale. In fact these supposed “principles” emerge from whatever intellectual fad happens to captivate urbanists at the moment.

    I’ve been watching this preoccupation with “density” for over a decade now and the only conclusion I can arrive at is that it’s urban chauvinism and cloistered aesthetics pretending to be “planning” rationale, but promoters rarely actually know what they’re talking about. In theory some level of “density” makes sense for a variety of reasons, but the complexity of reality often nullifies the theoretical assumptions behind density theory.

    My experience has been that urban “planners” have great difficulty answering basic questions that should have been foundation of their intellectual work. To wit:

    What’s the “ideal” level of density in any given location and how is that calculated?

    Why does MPLS “need” a greater population?

    Given the current mix of employer and residential locations, what kind transit system do we need to service the economy? In other words, if ALL the employers were downtown (or elsewhere in MPLS), and ALL the employees lived in MPLS, you’re ideal transit system looks a lot different than our existing reality.

    Given the fact that multiple housing booms of all kinds have actually promoted more or less constant rises in housing costs for decades, why do you keep saying new building of some kind will reduce housing prices? For instance we’ve built over 60k apartment housing units in the last 8-10 years, and rents have gone up, not down… how is it not magical thinking to keep saying that we just need build more apartments?

    When you talk about housing “shortages” what are you actually talking about? Are you talking about homeless people who literally can’t find a place to live? Or are you just talking about markets and vacancy rates in a given location?

    MPLS had it’s highest population levels in the mid 1950s, over 500k. At that time there were no fryplexes, and very few if any 5 or 6 plus story apartment complexes like the ones being built now. How did the city accommodate that population at the time? In other words, where did all those people live in 1950’s if not in Fryplexes and giant apartment complexes? Yes, the freeways took down a lot of housing, but let’s see some actual data because those freeway routes didn’t tear down a lot of apartment buildings, they were through the business district of St. Paul and lower density housing neighborhoods. No body tore down block after block of high density apartment buildings, so where did all the people live?

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 03/25/2018 - 08:18 am.

      Explanation

      When they talk about housing shortages, they mean that the demand for housing exceeds the supply. The means low vacancy rates, higher rents, and yes, some people not being able to find housing in the city. While units have been added, it hasn’t been enough to keep up with demand. There is no magical thinking involved. When the supply keeps up with the demand, prices will drop.

      A big part of the reason for Minneapolis’s (and other cities) peak population and subsequent drop was the decline in average family size. Mostly from people having fewer children, having children later, etc. In the 50s families (and average household size) was bigger than today (around 3.3 vs 2.5 per the Census bureau). So the same number of households/housing units today results in a significanly smaller population. A single family home has 2 or 3 residents instead of 4 or 5. So population alone isn’t really a good measure for this question.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/30/2018 - 12:58 pm.

        Not REALLY an explanation

        OK, so the “shortage” isn’t about actual housing needs, it’s about markets. Simplistic supply and demand assumptions don’t explain housing costs, or rents, or development trends. You’re just doubling down on magic when you keep saying if we build more prices will go down. Sure, maybe if you build 20k units and dumped them all on the market at the same time, but that’s not going to happen. In the mean time REAL observations are that new building is not affordable housing, and it raises rents in surrounding older buildings. It’s called gentrification.

        Well, if population density isn’t your measure, what is? What kind of density are you talking about?

    • Submitted by ian wade on 03/26/2018 - 03:03 pm.

      “God save us from Urban Studies “

      It’s posts like this that make me long for the ability to upvote here. I’d do it a 1,000 times if I could.
      Spot on!!!

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 03/27/2018 - 10:33 am.

        Urban studies

        Yes, facts are bad. Understanding the issues is bad.

        If the poster had actually taken the time to understand the “urban studies” the basic questions he poses could have been answered. But maybe ignorance and the denigration of those who try to actually understand problems is what is preferred in the age of Trump.

        • Submitted by Tom Genrich on 03/28/2018 - 12:06 pm.

          Yes, in italics

          Like most of the intractable issues that lawmakers wrestle with, urban planning is a complex issue. Solutions to complex issues often feature interdependent components. As Mr. Fletcher puts it, “If you pull out one piece of it, that piece does or doesn’t work in relation to the other things.” Which is to say, an understanding of a “lengthy, complex, and yes, comprehensive” plan like the one mentioned in this article requires an understanding of the components and the relationship of those components to one another. That kind of understanding doesn’t come from reading one article in Minnpost. Nor may a reading of the plan itself yield that understanding. If one wants to really understand a plan like this one, one may need to dive into the research informing each component. Deep dives like that happen in Urban Studies departments.

          It seems to me that somewhere along the way, we conflated the idea that everyone has a right to their own opinion with the notion that everyone ought to have an opinion on everything. Which is a problem: Those who lack the understanding, or even the tools, to judge things like this plan feel compelled to pass some kind of judgement on it. What they do have is their “common sense.” And so they use their common sense as their frame. And they find their advantage by imagining that those who put the plan together lack that same common sense.

          Thus the series of common sense rhetorical questions that Mr. Udstrand poses. Does he actually mean to suggest that those questions never occurred to the makers of this plan? How could questions so easily spun out of the head of Mr. Udstrand not find some intersection in the planning process, or the studies that informed the planning process? I’d be shocked if the planners couldn’t respond, in great detail, to each of those questions. Not because I think urban planners are infallible. Of course they’re not. But because I don’t think common sense and expertise need be, or are in fact, mutually exclusive.

          None of this is to say that we ought to accept the recommendations of urban planners without question. Of course we shouldn’t. But to set up shop on the other end of that spectrum, to dismiss all things urban planning as the hopelessly misguided products of common sense starved urban studies devotees, is to promote the anti-expert, anti-intellectual sentiment that fueled the rise of Mr. Trump. Surely this country would be much better off if politicians, and their supporters, opined less about subjects they know little about and listened more to those who can claim some expertise on those subjects?

          • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/30/2018 - 01:16 pm.

            Very nicely written..but

            I love your comment, it’s very well written! However, I’m not rejecting the idea of expertise, I’m simply challenging this claim of expertise. I think Urban studies claims of expertise are exaggerated, I wouldn’t dismiss their claims, I would demand more detail and evidence, hence my questions. There’s no Trumpism underlying my challenge. I believe in evidence driven policy, and I believe in legitimate expertise.

  9. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 03/24/2018 - 10:19 am.

    This article refers to long years of “mistrust” between citizens and City Hall on zoning and housing issues in neighborhoods. That “mistrust” is not some vague conspiracy theory; it is based on what actually happened when Minneapolis “loosened” its zoning laws in the late 1950s-early 1960s.

    That loosening constituted a downzoning of many residential areas so that multi-unit structures could be permitted where only single-family houses and duplexes had been allowed. That meant that many larger houses were either razed to construct cheap two-and-a-half-story walkup apartment buildings (not always along transit routes) or even worse, to “convert” larger houses and many not-so-large houses into multi-unit dwellings, sometimes by just mutilating the building to add doors and outside staircases and inside walls to divide large rooms into tiny bedrooms (this happened to porches, attics, and basements, as well). A travesty. that’s why Minneapolis later reverted to upzoning, which brought some relief to neighborhoods that had been exploited by landlords who converted properties they owned, until Minneapolis stopped enforcing its occupancy rules and landlords learned they could simply add bedrooms rather than separate units in a single-family home and charge gigantic rents.

    A city without careful zoning is liable to physical and social disasters, as in Houston, TX, where anything can be built anywhere. For Minneapolis to ignore its own history to revert to a Wild West atmosphere that encourages destruction of existing housing in the name of density over any other value, is not good planning. It’s sloganeering.

    • Submitted by Matthew Steele on 03/27/2018 - 01:50 pm.

      So you’re upset that developers built walk-up apartment buildings in the 60s and 70s that are now in large part our core affordable housing stock. So you’re upset about affordable housing.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 03/27/2018 - 04:45 pm.

      Travesty?

      The “travesty” you describe was the construction of affordable housing. And the “relief” you describe, seriously curtailed the construction of affordable housing resulting in the crisis we face today. Some people (including myself) would switch the terms travesty and relief in this case

      There’s a lot of room between Houston and the fourplex proposal.

  10. Submitted by Serafina Scheel on 03/24/2018 - 03:38 pm.

    Density brings amenities

    I’m pleased with the new businesses increased density is bringing to Prospect Park. In just a few weeks we will finally have a grocery. I want to be able to live my life being able to bike, walk, or take transit for daily activities. Having more neighbors is making that possible.

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 03/24/2018 - 05:44 pm.

      That sounds like smart density as opposed to dumb density.

      “Dumb density” is when you just put a lot of living units–houses or large apartment buildings–on small lots with no stores or services or recreational facilities available except by car.

      Dumb density indeed increases traffic.

      However, I’ve been passing through Uptown almost daily for 15 years, and traffic doesn’t seem any worse than it was back then, not unless there’s a Twins game or some other major event downtown. People who live in Uptown can walk to two supermarkets, to the library, to a drugstore, to countless restaurants, to the movies, to gyms, to clinics, and most other things necessary for life, as well as having transit access to downtown, the Lake Street corridor, Southdale, St. Louis Park, Highland Park, and Excelsior.

      Put that same residential density in Eden Prairie, and you’d have an extra population that would have to drive everywhere.

      • Submitted by Matthew Steele on 03/27/2018 - 01:58 pm.

        Agreed about “smart density” vs “dumb density.” I generally call them livable neighborhoods vs unlivable neighborhoods.

        What’s interesting is that “smart density” and livability are generally what places get – and what they’ve always gotten – when people are free to build grocery stores and apartments and taprooms and restaurants without concern for use-based zoning, parking requirements, etc.

        Meanwhile unlivable places (like Eden Prairie in your example) were initially built under a use-based zoning regime. A color-coded map that said houses over here, apartment complexes over there, shopping over here, office parks over there. And then people wonder why they have to drive everywhere to do everything.

        This new comprehensive plan moves Minneapolis planning away from Eden Prairie and back towards what Minneapolis has always been.

        • Submitted by Larry Moran on 03/27/2018 - 03:08 pm.

          Eden Prairie vs. MPLS Or…

          Your description reminds me of what Houston looks like. If you have ever been there it doesn’t look particularly smart, nor does it reduce traffic congestion or make neighborhoods more walkable.

          • Submitted by Matthew Steele on 03/27/2018 - 03:32 pm.

            That’s because Houston has ridiculously restrictive land use requirements. They just don’t call them zoning.

  11. Submitted by Joe Musich on 03/26/2018 - 08:33 pm.

    Hey…

    Now that is mentioned just where is the coordination with the first ring suburbs ? Or is this a completion to get people to move to Mpls to increase the tax base ? The sloganeering over planning seems to have merit as an argument as was brought into the discussion.

    • Submitted by Matthew Steele on 03/27/2018 - 01:53 pm.

      People already do prefer moving to Minneapolis, and first-ring suburbs are now positioning themselves as “almost-as-urban-as-Minneapolis but more affordable.” This plan is simply a plan to get rid of the last half century of heavy-handed social engineering that is exacerbating the housing crisis by preventing people from building housing for people. Though I do like the idea of first-ring suburbs also getting rid of exclusionary zoning. I can think of dozens of sites in Richfield that would be prime spots for fourplexes.

      • Submitted by Larry Moran on 03/27/2018 - 03:31 pm.

        Heavy Handed Social Engineering

        I’ve lived in three neighborhoods in MPLS over the last 40 years, all north of Minnehaha Creek and south of downtown. In each of those neighborhoods most of the housing stock is 70 years old (both single family and multifamily). I’ve lived in two 100+ year old houses. I don’t think there was any “heavy handed social engineering” that created these neighborhoods. I think it’s just what people wanted. So now people want something else–do we take down some quantity of the old housing stock and replace it with new multi-family? Why can’t people prefer to live in the city and find single family housing?

        • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 03/27/2018 - 05:12 pm.

          Some of the housing in south Minneapolis almost was suburban when it was built.

          I know the Diamond Lake Road area is south of Minnehaha Creek, but my grandparents had a house built there in the 1930s, and everyone wanted to know why they wanted to live “way out there.”

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/30/2018 - 03:40 pm.

          But the question is:

          So people really want something else, or do developers just want to build something else? Developers gotta keep building regardless, or they’re not in business anymore. So if tearing down and re-zoning it’s important to ask if your’re meeting a community demand or just accommodating developers latest business model?

      • Submitted by Joe Musich on 03/27/2018 - 08:10 pm.

        And the ….

        coordination of planning ? For that matter any of the “mechanics” do not seem to be in the mix. The whole process at this point is nothing more then a brainstorm or maybe that other brain thing that gets referred to when people momentarily forget something. The discussion might become more productive if it had started with a discussion of the whole. Now it seems like a we’re going to shove it down your throats thing. A graphic display of what is what is going to look like is not exactly a conversation starter. But hey dream on that’s where things begin but be prepared sometimes also end as they should. And if that is the case that’s where things start again.

  12. Submitted by Jon Lord on 04/03/2018 - 12:27 pm.

    There are

    Rents have increased by several hundred dollars a month in the last 5 years in uptown. I’ve seen apartments that were once occupied by one person now must have two people in order to afford the rent and the turnover rate has been interesting to watch. As one apartment has new occupants move in another apartment is vacated. Some sit empty for a month or more. That wasn’t the case 5 years ago. Still the landlord raises the rent yearly now…apparently to cover the cost of the empty apartments. (interestingly awesome math fail going on there) For a recent brief moment in time it was cheaper to move to an apartment in the suburbs. In the last year the rents in the suburbs have been going up, catching up to the rents in Uptown. That puts a lot of renters on the edge of affordability when looking for affordable housing including the retired and disabled including vets. Retirement communities have raised rents also so affordable rents are becoming scarce there also. So, what is ‘affordable housing’ anyway? What number is affordable? How much of a person’s income should be considered when talking about ‘affordable’? I haven’t seen any numbers associated with ‘affordable’! Or for who? How about that.

  13. Submitted by ariel scofield on 08/14/2018 - 10:06 pm.

    To change a Minnesotan …. trying to use only facts

    You cannot change a person and the hardest people to change are those who are trying to change us all. So if I’m not a actually allowed to work up a sweat to get covered in snow or slush and clock into work early to change into a ropersuit and tie before clocking in for work?
    This plan is a great example of counting the eggs before they’ve hatched. This is using the data gathered from an incorrect data gathering method , hence all the backlash. First off the method determining how many bikers are currently moving about the city’s is a tube across a bike path that measures how many bikers cross over it. It doesn’t measure that half of them are are family’s of suburban areas that park their car on a random street to unload 5 bikes to have a leisurely outing in the city’s. It doesn’t take into the equation the stolen bikes or cars in bike lanes illegally it doesn’t show people who have missed their exit and had to backtrack or kids who find joy in walking or stomping on them . It doesn’t seem to account for people on their trip back from wherever and it certainly won’t account for bicycle delivery service. I want to see real statistics from December to march aka a Minnesotan winter . And I want a residents door by door questionnaire of how many blocks their parking requires and then look at the shops already in This area and ask how much they estimate for even customers cars let alone delivery vehicles . That is the biggest gap in this system I see , we are not a moderate temperature State we are in extremes and when weather turns sour there is no b7s left open for us to return home with our bikes. To me this is not critical in any way or even helping . I understand the want and belief behind becoming such an advanced society but the way that it’s worked now is living much beyond our means or ability therefore is not actually affordable housing at all especially when considering central heating/ a.c. as well as access to laundromats( that extra baggage is forbidden on busses) , parking , garbage , electric, heating and or cooling, in the smallest most miniscule fraction will cost altogether $ 1300 a month when many are scrapumg by with 700 at most every two weeks. What is the plan . Don’t just generalize it saying your planning to give more equality housing ….. tell me how you are going to achieve this . You never have actually been able to achieve this in the past so what has changed ? What part does this even more questionable party own and it must the substantial amount.

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