Near North or Nearly Gone?

Where in the suburban world?

Can you guess where the aerial above was taken?  The form of the streets, curvy and cul-de-sac-ridden, suggests a post-war suburb.  The buildings, single-family homes with attached garages, make me think of Bloomington.  But this actually a picture of Lyndale and 14th Aves N, just a mile north of downtown Minneapolis.

It is also where a cyclist was struck Wednesday night by a hit-and-run driver, inflicting life-threatening injuries.

A vehicle doesn’t have to be going fast to inflict lethal damage on a pedestrian or cyclist – but the faster they go, the more likely death will be.  On this stretch of Lyndale, most drivers vastly exceed the 30 mph limit – partly due to the suburban form mentioned earlier.  There are no buildings along Lyndale, and berms separate the road from the neighborhood in places, lending a freeway-like atmosphere.

The other half of the deadly equation on Lyndale Ave N is street type – the City of Minneapolis classifies this stretch as a Commuter Street.  According to the Design Guidelines for Streets & Sidewalks, that makes it “a high capacity roadway that carries primarily through traffic, serves longer trips and provides limited access to land uses.”  The only designated Commuter Street in the city that runs through a residential neighborhood is Lyndale Ave N, and this stretch makes up about a third of the approximately 1.5 miles of designated Commuter Street that doesn’t directly line a freeway or highway.

Look familiar?

It isn’t an accident – this area of the Near-North was torn up by the Minneapolis HRA in 1968.  The image to the left, taken two years before the clearance project began, shows the familiar post-automobile Minneapolis cityscape: a healthy mix of apartments and detached houses, a few too many parking lots, a park here or there, and commercial buildings lining the major streets.  Minnesotans of the 60s saw no future in that sort of city, and took advantage of the low prices on land to try to import the suburban neighborhoods then in fashion.

A typical pre-renewal block* had 18 houses, implying that at its peak of development, the 25 blocks between Bryant and 4th and Plymouth and 18th had about 450 residential structures.  Today there are about 130 houses in the neighborhood, and a smattering of townhomes (Lyndale Manor’s 290 public housing units, though north of 18th, probably supply most of the neighborhood’s streetlife).

The park running through the neighborhood is actually very pleasant, if unnervingly empty.  It’s hard to see how it could be anything but, considering the forced depopulation of the area.  At one end of the green space stands the ghost footing of a bridge over I-94 that never came to be – despite a billion dollars a year of capital spending on roads at the state level, no one has yet been able to find the money for this Northside pedestrian bridge.  (Certainly it would be an expensive bridge – the freeway here manages to be wider than a long block.)

I hope that this type of redevelopment is now unanimously considered a failure.  It isn’t clear that a negative opinion is widely held, though – an example being Public Works’ designation of Lyndale as a Commuter Street, when it could easily be called a Community Connector – a distinction that has real differences in design characteristics.  Another example is the continued construction of single-family homes in Minneapolis, often replacing multi-unit buildings.

To build a safer, more inclusive community, the last vestiges of auto-oriented street design should be removed from the city and single-family home construction should be banned.  Minneapolis is never going to out-suburb the suburbs – instead it needs to focus on being the best city it can be.

 

 

 

 

 

*I’m looking at the block between Lyndale and Aldrich and 15th and 16th using the 1912 Sanborn.

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2 comments on “Near North or Nearly Gone?

  1. Stephen gross says:

    Thanks for the analysis! Do you think mpls has abandoned the ridiculous notion that it can survive and grow by being just another suburb? Do mpls leaders grok that they live in a city, not a suburb?

  2. […] of Plymouth Ave was cleared in the 70s in the distant wake of the riots, and also that a portion of the enclave of suburbs in North and Northeast were built in the 70s, at half the density of the urban fabric they […]

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