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
Advertisements

4 comments on “Going back downtown

  1. […] in Minneapolis by neighborhood and year for my downtown potential population project.  I have compiled the units per acre density for 343 buildings in Minneapolis – that includes just about every building built downtown […]

  2. […] 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 […]

  3. […] areas; but in the meantime almost no residential buildings of consequence were built in the city.  Recently I attempted to document all multifamily and row/townhomes built here in the postwar era; in the 90s […]

  4. […] impressive, but Downtown is already on the way to doubling its population.  By my count, Downtown added around 5,000 units in the last decade – the DTC says 15,000 units will need […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s