Towards a dense, multipolar metro

TC beltway with Paris Metro & RER overlaid approx to scale

 

The Transport Politic recently had a piece on Downtown Washington, D.C., which has a unique problem among cities in parking-obsessed USA:  it is running out of room for new office buildings.  Responding to proposals to lift D.C.’s (similarly unique) 10-story height limit, Yonah Freemark makes a point that “there is a direct relationship between a downtown’s growth and the transportation provided to it.”  Basically, in order for a CBD to continue to grow, more transportation facilities must be provided.  If a city chooses an auto-focuses transportation strategy, a parking lot studded downtown will result.  If a city chooses transit, it will get a denser downtown with fewer gaps between buildings.

This relates directly to my Potential Population Series.  One of the reasons I think it’s worth my time to think about how much residential development could occur in Downtown Minneapolis is because I think it has already overdeveloped office space.  Obviously the extreme concentration of employment has had many positive effects, but it has also created a nearly unmanageable traffic situation.  As MnDOT recently reported, highway congestion in the metro area increased last year despite VMT remaining generally flat.

American cities are notable for their extremely low densities, but also famous for the skylines created by their extremely dense CBDs, a density which globally is only matched by Asian cities.  Unfortunately American cities also match the traffic congestion often found in Asian cities.  While in Asia the congestion is caused by uniformly high density, in the USA it is caused by extremely unequal density.  To see why, watch the 4th St Viaduct at rush hour sometime.  Half the road will be clogged with cars, the other half will be virtually empty.

Unipolar cities are required to build twice the transportation capacity: one road for morning and another for the afternoon.

That’s what is so great about the Central Corridor and the re-zoning that is being written to greet it:  it’ll allow for very-high density office space to be concentrated in two areas.  The West Midway and the East Midway have the potential to become supplementary downtowns.  There are several other areas even in the central cities that, with some zoning finesse, could accommodate high-density office space also – off the top of my head, I’d say Hi-Lake, NE Broadway, Broadway-Washington, and South Windom easily could handle a cluster of office buildings.

But what would be the downside to continuing to focus new office development in Downtown?  Anyone who has caught a bus on Hennepin at 5pm on a weekday has experienced the problem:  buses sit at the stop for minutes, ingesting passengers who are forced to stand nose-in-armpit crammed in together.  Would trains help?  Sure, to some degree, but it would be expensive, for the same reason highways are expensive:  the crushload trains going in the peak direction pass nearly empty trains, wasting the drivers’ time and the transit agency’s dime.

Besides, once your downtown has grown enough, you can’t run enough trains to meet the demand.  We will end up with an expensive system that is a nightmare to ride, like our highway system has become.  The problem would only be exacerbated by the decision to sever most of the rail lines that once led to downtown, limiting the ways to mitigate congestion with commuter rail.  There are only two options for commuter rail that I can see, one being the existing line on the western edge of Downtown, which can only accommodate so many more trains.  The other alternative would be to rebuild a line along Hiawatha, but considering the frequent grade crossing that might be just as expensive as tunneling, and anyway terminates far from the core.

So it’s time to start planning for a multipolar city.  In some ways it’s an advantage that it already exists, in the form of the scattered suburban strips.  The Met Council should officially designate the strips that exist in or on the beltway as office clusters, directing cities to designate them as such in their next comp plans so they can start rezoning these areas for high-density, multi-use districts.  Minneapolis’ comprehensive plan has already laid the foundation for multi-polar development with four Growth Centers, and the Transit Station Area designation.  More of these types should be added, included Transit Station Areas for the “BRT” stations (including Lake St) on 35W.

By working to spread out the downtown love, and by working towards a multimodal transportation system, the Twin Cities might be able to share DC’s problem of running out of places to build Downtown.

Twin Cities with DC Metro overlaid approx to scale

The Core / Gateway

Overview

The Core is what most people think of when they hear the word Downtown:  you have to make a right angle with your neck to see the top of buildings that perpetually shadow concrete strips jammed with cars.  The Gateway is also very high-rise, but as a creature of renewal there are vast parking lots and empty grass lawns dividing the towers.  In my study of density in multifamily buildings in Minneapolis, the 11 buildings I found in these neighborhoods had an average density of 222 units per acre.  Only one building, 6 Quebec, had a double-digit density (50 units per acre – the units are bigger than most single-family homes in Minneapolis), and more than half had densities greater than 200 units per acre.  Symphony Place was the second-densest of the nearly 400 buildings in my study at 403 units per acre.  Even the Atrium, an MPHA high-rise with a large surface parking lot, runs with the big dogs at 249 units per acre.

So it is a dense neighborhood, and density generates the vitality that truly defines the neighborhood.  In my experience, Nicollet Mall is the only street in this city where you can count on pedestrian activity any time of day or year.  While Downtown certainly isn’t the retail powerhouse it used to be, it still has a lot of shops and restaurants to serve the immense numbers of people that come to this area.  So it follows that immense numbers of people might want to live in this area.  But is there room for them?

The Map

The Details

  • In a neighborhood full of prominent sites, one that sticks out even here is the empty lawn that fronts on West River Parkway, in the shadow of the Post Office and the Hennepin Bridge.  While I and many others might prefer that it become a park, it is owned by the Post Office, which financially is more in a position to make a quick buck on land than to bestow assets for the future enjoyment of citizens.  And think of the views, although hopefully one view would be of a perpetual protest against the aesthetic crime of placing a high-rise so close to the towering pillars of the bridge.  More generally pleasing, I think, would be to build condos above the stumpy single story that that juts out of the Post Office parking ramp at the corner of 1st & Hennepin.  While this is also a phenomenal site, there is probably a law against combining living space with post office, so I colored this orange.
  • This neighborhood has many large parking ramps, a few of which have retail or the appearance of retail at the ground floor but are otherwise single-use.  I personally view that as a waste of space, but I’m guessing the owners would say otherwise, if their mouths weren’t stuffed with caviar that they bought with the piles of cash they make off the ramps.  Even though this series is attempting to tell the future, none of us can tell the future, and therefore I can’t know for sure that gas will only get more expensive and no electric or hydrogen car will ever be viable, dooming these hulking ramps to obsolescence.  For that reason, I left them off the map, even though I think they should be redeveloped into something that isn’t just a place to dump your car and leave, and I think that they will be in the next 30-40 years.
  • I’ve noticed a pattern in the more built-up neighborhoods (Harmon Place, Warehouse District):  most of the parcels are designated as High Potential for Redevelopment.  That’s true here too, and it’s true because most of the buildings are already pretty dense.
    • There are a few exceptions on this map:  on the block between 11th, 12th, 2nd and 3rd, I gave that old office building Medium Potential due to its age and the ridiculous degree to which the Ivy towers over it.  On that same block, the Church of Christ, Scientist gets Low Potential because it seems likely that most downtown institutions will continue to draw enough parishioners to sustain themselves, but this one has a really good site relative to the Convention Center that will draw more interest from developers than, say, St Olaf’s.
    • Anyway, most of the High Potential parcels are parking lots, but there are a couple notable exceptions on this map:  the cluster of buildings at Nicollet and 10th that were planned to become a condo tower, and the Normandy Hotel, which due to its age and poor site utilization I believe will suffer the fate of the old Ramada on Hawthorne.
    • A final note along these lines:  the corner of Marquette & 2nd has four developable lots flanking it, two High and two Medium Potential.  Two of the lots are currently used for surface parking, which is easy to cash in for a building and therefore labeled High Potential.  The other two are being used as amenity areas for their buildings; a pool for the apartment building and an awkward plaza/picnic area for the office building.  I thought that because they are adding value to their buildings, they may be less likely to be developed, although obviously both would be just as useful on the roof of a building as at ground level.

The Numbers

Potential Low Density Med Density High Density
High 2292 3152 4012
Low 77 105 134
Medium 298 410 521
Total 2667 3667 4667

Prognosis

The interest in development in this area will be high, but residential will have to compete with office interests.  Despite the bad market for office space, there are rumors of at least one new office building planned for Downtown.  It seems to me that there are enough office towers downtown, and it’s time to start working on concentrating jobs in clusters along radial transit lines, but obviously there has rarely been political will for that kind of planning in the metro.

The best bet for new residential is in the Gateway, which has seen this type of development in the past and could use more.  Because the buildings will likely be built at much higher density than the 140 units per acre that I used for the High Density column, I don’t think it’s unrealistic to expect an additional 4,000 residents in this neighborhood by 2040.  My hope is it will be more than 8,000.

Harmon Place

Overview

Tucked away in the southwestern corner of Downtown, Harmon Place is officially grouped with the Loring Park neighborhood, and likely few make a distinction between the two.  But Harmon Place seems to me to have its own identity, especially considering the significant presence of large institutions like St Thomas and MCTC.  Loring Park feels like the extension of Nicollet Mall, orderly but fast-paced, whereas Harmon Place is the extension of Hennepin, a little sketchy but beautiful.

Harmon Place is definitely more oriented towards commerce, and the titular Place has been designated a historic district because of its automotive past.  Today the dealerships have filled in swamps and cut down forests in the suburbs and made their home there, and Harmon Place has been abandoned to ad agencies and other small office uses.  The historic district is good and bad news for developers: the neighborhood has the authentic feel you don’t really get in parts the Mill District or the North Loop because the historic fabric is still largely intact.  Unfortunately the regulations of the historic district mean more hoops to jump through, although for new construction they are more lenient.


The Harmon Place still has substantial room for development.  Before the sky fell, sometime around 2008, there was movement to develop the block north of Hennepin, between 11th and 12th.  Lund’s signed on, and an old hotel on Hawthorne was torn down.  This may mean that these blocks may be prime targets for development once things are developed again, especially because parking is less profitable here, further from the CBD.

The Map

Bing labeled it MCAD but it is really MCTC.

  • Many of the parcels here will certainly not be developed as housing, but rather as expansion space for the neighborhood institutions.  Though things haven’t been looking good for education in Minnesota lately, I was told recently that enrollment at Metro State (which leases part of the MCTC campus) has been growing at 15% annually for the past 20 years.  I labeled MCTC’s parking ramp as medium, but I certainly hope it is the first to go or be expanded.  I don’t think that any of the schools here have done much housing development here, but certainly they could, and it would fit right in.
  • I carved out a couple parcels out of an empty space next to one of the Loring Green condo towers and in the parking lot of Booth Manor.  I actually think the former is less likely, even though it is currently used for absolutely nothing, just because the residents can afford not to.  The Salvation Army and other affordable housing providers aren’t so lucky, and will eventually have to make use of the wasted space mandated by zoning codes.  For another example of this, see the designated parcel in the Jeremiah.
  • The days are numbered for the post office here, and its specialized and one-story building is ripe for a tear-down.  I’m curious to see what effect 394 has on the parcels unfortunate enough to line it.

The Numbers

Potential Low Density Med Density High Density
Low 22 31 39
Medium 248 342 435
High 2297 3158 4020
Total 2568 3531 4493

Prognosis

For such a small geographic area, Harmon Place has a lot of potential for development; according to this analysis, if all of the high-potential parcels are developed at 110 units per acre, there could be around 3,000 additional residents.  Most of this is clustered in the blocks that surrounding the intersection of 11th and Hawthorne, which are likely to be developed as residential, based on past proposals.

The area north of Spruce Place is lucky enough to be zoned as a downtown district, which not only allows high-density development, it actually requires it using minimum FARs of 2.0.  Most of the rest of the neighborhood is zoned OR3, which allows buildings up to 6 stories but is a bit restrictive in uses.  While OR3 is probably appropriate for some of the blocks surrounding the colleges, the proposed B4N downtown neighborhood district will better fit much of Harmon Place, since it allows for more and larger retail uses and higher density.

Even if the city support isn’t there, I predict the Harmon Place neighborhood will be a focus of future development activity.  Its perks in the form of parks and centrality, combined with its high visibility due to its location at some major entry points to Downtown make it likely that lots of dense development will work its way into Harmon Place.

Going back downtown

This blog started as a distraction from insomnia, and ever since has been consistent in its fecklessness, skipping from topic to topic and dropping themes like a child does an old toy.  As much as I’d like to stick to my guns, it’s time to pick up again a series I started several months ago, the Downtown Potential Population Project.

I think I gave fair warning that I’m obsessed with the idea that having a substantial urban population could change this city in important ways.  For as long as I’ve been alive, urban living in Minnesota has just meant parking on the street, or maybe walking to the bar sometimes.  The recent ACS numbers estimate a downtown inside-the-freeway population of just under 30,000 (which I think undercounts the new growth in the Mill District and the North Loop).  What happens to perceptions of urbanism when that population is 100,000, or 130,000?

Even though many parts of Minneapolis would benefit from a change towards urban living (i.e. walking places and talking to your neighbors every once in a while), the part of town where that is most politically feasible is Downtown.  There are many obstacles in the way of the density that would be required for urban living, foremost of which may be that zoning in most undeveloped parts of Downtown still limits building heights to 4 stories.  There is a new downtown residential zoning district under development in Minneapolis that would allow buildings up to 10 stories, but it is not being proposed for the area with the most potential, East Downtown.  Of course, Minneapolis has always governed by exception, so this is all a theoretical exercise.

Anyway, my project was on hold because I wasn’t sure what a good estimate for future density would be.  To that end, I’ve compiled units per acre density statistics for 350 multi-family buildings of post-war vintage in Minneapolis.  Obviously that falls far short of the total number of buildings, but I think I’ve gotten just about every building built downtown since 1945.  I counted buildings with retail on the ground-floor (though I didn’t differentiate them), but I didn’t count buildings that had a substantial mixed-use element, like Calhoun Beach Club (although now that I think about it, the Ivy Building and Centre Village are notable exceptions, as is Riverside Plaza).

I’ve found that my estimate of 110 units/per acre is pretty reasonable for Downtown:

Obviously some of these neighborhoods have a pretty small sample size; there is really only one post-war residential building in East Downtown, and the Core, the Gateway, and Harmon Place have only a handful (the Warehouse District has more, I think, but they are mixed-use).  I was, however, surprised at the low density of the Mill District.  That neighborhood is hampered by low-rise new development (there is that 4 story height limit in the C3A zoning district) and by the luxury income-bracket prevalent there, which requires large unit sizes and therefore a smaller total of units in each building.  The North Loop was more of a surprise:  the neighborhood is mostly high-density, but has a couple very low density developments (the Landings and Renaissance on the River) dragging the average down.  (It should be noted that I averaged by building, not by unit.  This is important in the North Loop, where the 348 unit River Station development, at 51 units/acre, may have pulled down the average a bit.)

There wasn’t much temporal variation in average density Downtown; instead it was all high density except for some of the very high-income buildings.  In the rest of the city, however, the density was very much tied to the year built:

Except for an anomalous spike in 1952 (because of the very high-density Park Terrace Apartments in Loring Park), the 50s and 60s built in the 50-80 units per acre range.  Then from 1970-77 there was a period of very high density that peaked at 156 units/acre and didn’t go below 95 units/acre.  It should be noted that the high-density construction actually began in the mid-60s (thanks mostly to the Minneapolis HRA’s public housing developments), and the high densities in the 70s reflect the decline in medium-density construction, so that the few buildings built were very high-density.

The late 70s and 80s were volatile, with most years in the 30-60 units/acre range, but quite a few in triple digits.  The 90s is what I call the anti-urban decade.  I had trouble finding any multi-family buildings of this vintage, and most of what I found were townhouses, which explains the trough in average density.  The census actually shows a population increase in the 90s, and from what I can tell, a great deal of single family detached homes were constructed, but very few apartments.  This is a puzzle for me, as I believe this was also a decade in which New Urbanism gained popularity.

In the decade we just finished, things started looking up again.  For one thing, the naughts were second only to the 60s in the number of units built, but perhaps more importantly, the density started picking up again.  In 2008, there was an average of 133 units/acre, and that is with 9 buildings in the sample (fairly high for this study).

Again, I think this is a rationale for using 110 units per acre when estimating density of buildings yet to be built Downtown.  Based on only the Downtown neighborhoods, even 140 units per acre may be justified.  The next few weeks should see a completion of my downtown population project – I think we’ll make it to 100,000 or beyond.

Here is the year-by-year list – note that the densities may vary from the charts above due to the addition of buildings subsequently (I’m still adding to the compendium and have started compiling pre-war densities as well – here’s a hint:  pre-war buildings are denser):

Year built Average Density Units in sample Buildings in sample
1949 44 27 2
1950 70 370 11
1952 180 380 2
1958 65 53 2
1959 56 100 7
1960 54 214 10
1961 55 116 7
1962 51 602 16
1963 47 1251 20
1964 58 251 7
1965 67 823 7
1966 61 837 15
1967 83 521 4
1968 76 364 4
1969 66 1226 11
1970 98 1539 12
1971 96 1699 13
1972 125 894 7
1973 97 1908 6
1974 113 391 3
1975 95 333 2
1976 124 77 1
1977 156 288 2
1978 89 578 4
1979 32 119 2
1980 54 91 2
1981 120 559 3
1982 59 651 9
1983 107 897 7
1984 92 420 5
1985 136 1426 8
1986 53 400 5
1987 58 245 4
1988 79 57 1
1989 139 609 4
1991 90 370 1
1993 19 8 1
1994 11 33 2
1995 15 65 2
1996 15 20 1
1997 20 97 2
1998 10 37 1
1999 47 236 2
2000 54 1412 4
2001 50 382 5
2002 52 819 8
2003 116 213 6
2004 68 1268 21
2005 73 1058 19
2006 89 763 9
2007 93 964 8
2008 133 1014 9
2009 85 159 3
2010 103 568 9
2011 89 862 11
Grand Total 77 30664 349
Row Labels Average Density Units in sample Buildings in sample
1949 44 27 2
1950 70 370 11
1952 180 380 2
1958 65 53 2
1959 56 100 7
1960 54 214 10
1961 55 116 7
1962 51 602 16
1963 47 1251 20
1964 58 251 7
1965 67 823 7
1966 61 837 15
1967 83 521 4
1968 76 364 4
1969 66 1226 11
1970 98 1539 12
1971 96 1699 13
1972 125 894 7
1973 97 1908 6
1974 113 391 3
1975 95 333 2
1976 124 77 1
1977 156 288 2
1978 89 578 4
1979 32 119 2
1980 54 91 2
1981 120 559 3
1982 59 651 9
1983 107 897 7
1984 92 420 5
1985 136 1426 8
1986 53 400 5
1987 58 245 4
1988 79 57 1
1989 139 609 4
1991 90 370 1
1993 19 8 1
1994 11 33 2
1995 15 65 2
1996 15 20 1
1997 20 97 2
1998 10 37 1
1999 47 236 2
2000 54 1412 4
2001 50 382 5
2002 52 819 8
2003 116 213 6
2004 68 1268 21
2005 73 1058 19
2006 89 763 9
2007 93 964 8
2008 133 1014 9
2009 85 159 3
2010 103 568 9
2011 89 862 11
Grand Total 77 30664 349

Warehouse District/Theater District

After veering dangerously and boringly close to the realm of the rant in the last two posts in this series, I’m going to attempt a format to make this more readable and on topic.

Overview

The Warehouse and Theater Districts are some of the more recognizable areas of Minneapolis,and also benefit from a very central location and uniquely abundant historic resources.  In my opinion, these three things will propel these neighborhoods to be some of the most successful in the city at attracting development.  Oh, yeah, and there’s a stadium or two on the edge of the neighborhood to get the bankers excited.

But that popularity could be a downside as well – this area is packed with sloshed sleazeballs every Friday and Saturday night, and do you really want to live next to that perpetual disco beat?  Here the city could make an effort to disperse the clubs a little bit – maybe by being more lenient about allowing clubs in other neighborhoods?

The biggest obstacle to development in these neighborhoods, though, is that they are already pretty much developed.  In this regard it is similar to the North Loop, which surprised me as I actually thought there would be much less space to develop here.  But again we get to the design aspect – the Warehouse district’s parking lots are more dispersed, smaller parcels, and more interior to the blocks, and therefore less noticable.

And it is that patchwork quality to the development opportunities that excites me – I love the surprising, heterogeneous quality of cities made of lots of tiny lots crammed together.  I look forward to to the neighborhood this will become.

The Map

Details

  • Federal Reserve Lots – There are several large parking lots around the Federal Reserve building that are great for residential developmentsdue to their proximity to the river and their centrality.  I’m not sure how realistic it is to expect them to be developed, though, as the Fed is a major employer and presumably wants to keep the parking for the benefit of its employees.  Hopefully a compromise with structured parking lined or topped with apartments will work.  Another wild card is the huge lot to the northwest of the Fed – it is actually owned by the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Commission, which is rarely subject to the profit motive of us mere mortals.  But with the exception of no more than 50 feet adjoining the railroad line on the west, it’s difficult to imagine much transit use for this parcel.  An unlikely exception is the possibility of a rail station here – but that is contingent on a great deal more commuter and regional rail lines than currently exist and could likely coexist with high-density residential (see Vienna’s huge new Hauptbahnhof project).  I predict high potential for development here.
  • Twinsville North – Considering the plans that have already been marketed for this area, it is guaranteed that some kind of development will happen in the Cut north of Target Field.  The only question is what happens in that awkward space between the two viaducts?  My own opinion, to be explored in a later post, is that the viaduct is massively overbuilt (since it’s only need for peak traffic, instead of four lanes it could be two lanes that change direction twice a day).  So my hope is that the northern viaduct could be torn down, leaving one large contiguous parcel.  Regardless, there is huge potential here.
  • Parks -  I have two ideas for parks in this area:  the more likely is the parcel adjoining the Hiawatha station between Hennepin and 1st.  The rest of the block could be finished in a way that would frame the 120 feet or so from 5th Street for a classic plaza.  The other idea is for a traffic circle park at the corner of 1st Ave and 8th St.  It could be built in a way that calmed traffic and improved flow through those bizarre intersections, and still have room for a park of close to an acre (about a 220 foot diameter).  Both of these ideas aren’t even close to the realm of reality until we have a Park Board that has some interest in developing urban parks.
  • And the rest?  – This neighborhood, more than most, has lots of small buildings that are already dense, relative to the rest of Minneapolis, but could be denser.  I’m sure I have left most of these buildings off of this assessment, as I mostly just included existing buildings that are a particularly poor use of their site (Ribnick Fur, for example).  So if interest in urban living does take off in Minnesota, this assessment will certainly be too low.

The Numbers

Warehouse 80 un/ac 110 un/ac 140 un/ac
High 2297 3158 4020
Medium 248 342 435
Low 22 31 39
Total 2568 3531 4493

Prognosis

Due to the lack of space to build in the Warehouse and Theater Districts, this area will not be a huge source of new population for Minneapolis.  But what development does occur will be very dense.  While the new zoning under development for the riverfront may limit some blocks there to 6 stories, I think there is high potential for high rises throughout the neighborhood.  Even without a lot of additional residents, these neighborhoods will be full of people for years to come.

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.

 

A Note about Density

I’ve been obsessing about whether 80 units per acre is realistic for my project about how many more people we can cram into downtown Minneapolis.  In my first post, I speculated that the city may need to institute some development controls to get the density up.  Now I’m not so sure.

My last post, about the North Loop, compared the Holden Building with the Rock Island Lofts as two examples of buildings that use their entire site, and I briefly mentioned the Heritage Landings as a new building that devoted a good chunk of its site to parking.  You may be surprised to see their density characteristics:

Building name Acres Units Density
Holden Building 0.5 120 240
Rock Island Lofts 0.68 61 90
Heritage Landing 2.5 237 95

(it should be noted that I’m only counting the eight-story chunk of the Holden building, not the one-story piece)

It is interesting that the density doesn’t necessarily correspond with the site coverage (it seems to have more to do with unit size), but also interesting that 90 unit/acre seems to be a floor.

So I looked into some other buildings – the earliest being the Landings – the much-maligned suburban townhomes that cut off the neighborhood from the river – and the Mill City Apartments.  The Landings fulfill their suburban reputation, measuring between 4.9 and 6.4 units per acre, depending on whether you count the roads within the development (which I think would be fair, since as a Planned Unit Development, the developers decided how many roads would be built, and how wide they would be – too many and too wide, in my opinion).  That’s roughly comparable to suburban neighborhoods built in the 20′s-40s.

The Mill City Apartments, built in 2001 is sort of a prototype new urban building – it has an urban form (tall and oriented towards the street, with parking in back) but is built of cheap materials and detailing, reminiscent of a 90s strip mall.  It also has relatively low density, mostly because of the large amount of surface parking (more than half the lot)  – it has the density of the typical mid-century walk-up at 35 units per acre.

But it seems that as the years went on, densities increased.  I’m not going to pretend this is a comprehensive list, but many of these details are harder to find then you might think:

Building name Acres Units Density Yr built
Heritage Landing 2.5 237 95 2000
Mill City Apts 1.13 40 35 2001
Rock Island Lofts 0.68 61 90 2004
Bookman Stacks 0.63 54 86 2005
Carlyle 1 280 280 2006
Bridgewater 2.07 283 137 2007
Zenith 0.815 65 80 2008
Ivy 0.29 92 317 2008
Blue 1.59 242 152 2008
Murals 1.02 109 107 2008
Mill District City Apartments 1.26 175 139 2010
Acme Tag 1.81 237 131 2011
Emmanual Housing 0.6 101 168 2011

(Edit: I’ve updated the chart due to David’s information about the number of units at Zenith.  If anyone else stumbles upon this entry, I welcome any additional corrections.)

Please note that some of the info on # units and most of the year built data come from real estate websites – not the most reliable source.  I think it is interesting how high the densities have climbed, especially considering that many of the projects here are in Uptown, rather than Downtown.

To me, it indicates that 110 units per acre is a more plausible assumption for average density.  But just to be safe, I’ve decided to calculate at 80 units per acre and 140 units per acre also.

I hope we get zoning in place and city incentives to build at 140 – but considering there is currently no floor on density and few incentives, it is encouraging that the market regularly supports high-density development.