Market District/Twinsville

The Market District (I made that name up) is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Minneapolis, though I rarely go there.  Neither does anyone else – it really just kind of sucks to be in this area.

The map below will show why – the neighborhood is almost entirely walled off from the rest of the city by grade-separated highways.  Whether you’re passing over the noisy, smoggy trenches of Is 94 & 394 or under the dark, dirty stonehenges of the 4th St viaduct (nothing in Minneapolis can have a real name), it sucks to get here.

And once you’re here, you need to dodge the zooming cars on the wide roads that bisect this neighborhood (Olson Highway, 7th St N, the city calls them commuter streets).  Unless, of course, you’re in one of those cars, in which case you won’t be here long, as you are doing the zooming.

If you manage to get to the Market District, you won’t find much.  There are gems (the Market itself, the fire station, um… is that all?), but mostly there are low-slung industrial buildings.  And watch out for the Garbage Rain!

But it wasn’t always this way.  Many, many years ago, this was a leafy residential district called Oak Lake.  Its winding streets were about as far as you could get from the barren industrial parks that are there today.  I once came across a fascinating first-hand description of growing up in Oak Lake, but forgot where it is.  This blog has a cool synopsis – including the story of the murder of the blogger’s grandfather – and cites Millet regarding the eventual demise of the neighborhood.  The epitaph chiseled by Millet is brief: “In the early 1930s the city had cleared out the Oak Lake section of Glenwood, relocating the municipal market there.”  I was surprised to read this, as I can’t think of a building in the area that predates the 1960s.  Millet cites Judith Martin from her book Urban Renewal, which is required reading for any student of Minneapolis history, and includes a map of urban renewal phases in Minneapolis.  I think I’ll check it out from the library again and get to the bottom of this.

I digress, but that is the point:  the Market District is one of my favorite Minneapolis because it personifies (neighborhoodifies?) the history of Minneapolis: the tearing down, the building anew, the abundance of layers for such a young city.

Very little of this has much to do with my potential population analysis of the area, but perhaps is a good illustration of why this district may have the highest population potential.  It has already been cleared of almost all of its historic legacy – in other words, there’s not much left that’s worth saving, so there is a lot of room to build.

I’m going to digress again to express bewilderment at what redevelopment has already occurred in this area:  I can’t understand for the life of me why they would take a neighborhood that is so close to the densest concentration of jobs in the state (i.e. the Core) and concentrate the least-efficient land use (i.e. auto-oriented light industrial parks).  Okay, I can see the need for light industry and the jobs they create, but I just don’t get why they didn’t make the connection between the high-density housing districts (they usually called them slums) that ringed downtown areas across the country and the natural efficiency of marrying those two land uses.

Well the high degree of under-utilization that exists here yields a very high potential population:

Market 80 un/ac 110 un/ac 140 un/ac
High 7456 10253 13049
Medium 2628 3613 4599
Low 2211 3041 3870
Total 12296 16907 21518

And looking at the map above, there are tons of huge red parcels!  Here are a few of these in closer examination:

  • NAPCO:  I put most of the Napco buildings in orange.  While it seems inevitable that land economics will force the redevelopment of most of the industrial land uses around Downtown (Scherer Brothers), I certainly can’t use Google maps to predict when that will – chances are the owner of the land doesn’t even know.  So orange in this case means – will happen eventually, probably, but who knows when?
  • The Fire Station:  The red lot next to the fire station indicates my thinking about how Downtown will develop: as a city.  So, while I think the fire stations of that design are beautiful (there are three in Minneapolis), the plainer side could be covered by a closely-placed building.
  • Metro Transit:  It is hard to believe that a cash-strapped agency like Metro Transit would move around willy-nilly – they have an expensive facility here, and it seems likely they’ll stay.  But their site is under-utilized, and it seems reasonable that parts of it could be redeveloped.  The parking lots for sure, and I imagine that some office could be built over the bus barn.  The green designation is a symptom of this uncertainty.
  • Wells Fargo: I love this super 70s building, but it really isn’t a very good use for a prominent site.  At the very least, build a wing over the drive-through.  Orange for you!
  • The Farmers’ Market:  Next to the concentration of jobs in the core, this is the best argument for living in this neighborhood.  It stays.
  • The shelters:  This will reveal a bit about my bias – I didn’t consider the shelter at Glenwood and Lyndale redevelop-able, but game on for Sharing and Caring Hands.  Most of this distinction lies in the hideous appearance of Sharing and Caring hands (its suburban layout is also a poor use of its site).

So why would anyone move to this neighborhood, where you need a steel raincoat to fend off the garbage rain?  Twinsville is one answer – an existing (at one time, anyway) proposal for very high density housing here.  If you’ll permit me to dream a little, I think that this neighborhood will have loads of opportunities for rapid transit.  Southwest will come through sooner or later, but the Cut is also an existing right-of-way that you could probably cram another light rail line into.  It’s my opinion that if Minneapolis ever gets serious about commuter rail, it’ll outgrow the Intermodal Station (I’ve forgotten what the most current generic name for it is).  At that point, Glenwood and Royalston will be the perfect corner for a terminal cantilevered over the tracks.   Finally, the 4th St viaduct is another awesome existing transit right-of-way, for which an obvious station location would be 10th Ave N.

So it’s possible, eventually, to fit 21,000 people in this area.  That’s a quarter again the population of Whittier in a neighborhood a third the size.  It may be crucial to bringing urbanism to Minnesota.

Next:  Warehouse District/Theater District.