Steve Berg gets my nomination for King of Urbanists in the Twin Cities. A talented writer, I consider him the most eloquent Minnesotan activist for safer, more inclusive streets, smart density, and mixing uses.
He’s been writing lately about the 2010 census results (2 more census articles than either of the local newspapers, by the way), and while I agree with his conclusion – municipalities in the Twin Cities need to do a better job of encouraging dense, transit-oriented growth as well as transit for the growth to orient to – I’ve been a bit irked about his decision to compare us to the same three cities of Denver, Seattle and Portland.
Portland does a great job encouraging growth along transit lines in developed areas, but it also has a dirty secret: The greenfield area around Powell Butte was a significant contributor to the city’s growth. As Portland’s annexation map makes clear, it has annexed land as recently as the early 90s, and plans to eventually annex the entirety of its urban growth boundary. That means that Portland has as much in common with Forest Lake as it does with Minneapolis.
The population growth in the Powell Butte area accounted for a greater share of the city’s growth than the downtown area – although downtown had a higher growth rate and is a smaller area. Still, it’s not really fair to ask a city that has been built out for decades to grow as fast as a city that still has a greenfield advantage.
Denver is an even worse comparison, since its population was boosted by massive redevelopments of Air Force bases. The Lowry and Stapleton developments added a cumulative 16,664 residents to the Mile High City, way more than Downtown Denver’s 9,815 added residents. Those three areas account for more than half of the 45,000 residents that moved into Denver in the oughts – other areas of the city grew as well, but there were also substantial sections that declined, specifically the Highland area across the river from Downtown. It doesn’t seem to me that Denver’s census change pattern deviates all that much from MSP, except that it grew a lot more:
These maps are from Data Pointed and I’m pretty sure they’re not to scale.
Edit: Data Pointed apparently doesn’t like hosting images for my blog so for now you’ll have to find the maps yourself on that site. I’ll maybe screen print the NY Times maps or grab them from Transport Politic this weekend – I live to serve.
Seattle, however, is a more fair comparison to Minneapolis-St Paul. I wrote a few months ago about how it contains more recently-built suburban areas than Minneapolis, but not necessarily more than St Paul. Still, it hasn’t annexed any land since the 50s, so there isn’t any greenfield development in the city proper.
There is no question Seattle has done a better job encouraging growth in the center city than Minneapolis. If you look at their growth map, you see strong growth in the downtown and around the university, like the Twin Cities and most cities nationwide. But you also see people moving into areas outside of downtown, such as Ballard, Northgate, and NewHolly – these growth areas were codified in their most recent comprehensive plan as Urban Villages, areas where a dense mix of uses will be encouraged. It’s a similar concept to Minneapolis’ Activity Centers, but Seattle sets aggressive targets for job and residential growth in these clusters.
So if only one of Berg’s three comparison cities is actually comparable, are there other cities that are more like the Twin Cities, if just so that we’re not adrift in a sea of relativism? Let’s look to our neighbors, who are of a similar vintage, and who were similar choked off by the upper classes seeking their own municipalities safe from the votes of the teeming, ethnic masses.
Milwaukee, St Louis and Cleveland are of similar size, age and metropolitan structure, and at first glance Minneapolis and St Paul look good in comparison. St Louis and Cleveland each lost tens of thousands of residents in the last decade, and Milwaukee lost about two thousand – eerily similar to the Twin Cities’ combined losses. But the three rust belt cities also had population booms in their downtowns – all three had growth rates that surpassed Minneapolis and St Paul, and St Louis beat Minneapolis in absolute increase as well.
Just for kicks, I’ll throw in this info for the cities Steve Berg likes to compare to the Twin Cities:
You can, of course, find similarities and differences between most cities. And certainly all of these cities are auto-dependent, Euclidian-zoned (although I think Denver is experimenting with a form-based code) and in the Anglo-American tradition. And, honestly, Berg’s points hold up in all of them – the USA has a racial ghetto problem, and while it’s less pronounced in cities with smaller minority populations, the Twin Cities is one of several metro areas that have failed to handle this problem. Denver seems to have the same problem, and I don’t think we should follow Seattle’s lead by exporting the ghetto to a different city (Tacoma, in Seattle’s case; we’ve already gotten a start on sending minorities to the Brooklyns). Instead we should continue the Met Council’s work on increasing affordable housing opportunities in the suburbs. Here is some data to back up these assertions:
Because of the racist nature of American settlement patterns, it’s predictable that cities with greenfield development (Portland, Denver) would have a smaller percentage of minority populations. Conversely, it may be that the Twin Cities, with relatively small central cities relative to suburbs, have actually done a better job than these “peer” cities of reducing minority concentration, although a large ghetto remains on the Northside and Minneapolis sure suffered for it in the 2010 census.
Steve Berg’s other point, that successful cities develop their transit systems and encourage dense growth around stations, is more supported by census data. Looking at the percent of metro area growth that occurred downtown, it roughly corresponds with the level of transit investment, although Milwaukee is a major outlier. Also the metric doesn’t work with metros like Cleveland that lost population, although the fact that the downtown nevertheless grew is a major triumph.
I’m going to put my spreadsheet out there for people to look at and build on. This rambling entry is not meant to be the final word on anything, so feel free to engage in the discussion by tearing my points to shreds in the comments. I’m going to add more and more stats to this spreadsheet and maybe eventually I’ll do a another post when I have a more complete picture.
A note about the data here: it is always debatable how to define unofficial geographic areas such as downtowns. As you might expect, I have my own opinion about what constitutes Downtown Minneapolis and Downtown St Paul, but amazingly I don’t consider myself an expert on the neighborhood geography of other cities. Therefore I’ve relied on others’ definitions, which I’ve referenced in the spreadsheet. When I pulled the census data myself, I’ve referenced the census tracts I used, which usually didn’t correspond exactly with the downtown boundaries. But then life itself is inexact. As always, feel free to disagree, but if you do I ask you to specify your disagreement in the comments.