There was a fun surprise in the May 1st agenda of the Community Development committee of the Minneapolis City Council, which is considering a gazillion dollars’ worth of subsidy (edit: that is, subsidy and bonding, see James’ comment below) for a rehab of the Pillsbury A Mill into affordable apartments for elderly diabetic artists or something.
I don’t know if it was a mistake or what, but the Data Worksheet for the project actually featured a rendering of an earlier incarnation called East Bank Mills, conceived of and consumed by the condo craze, which in addition to the rehab would have constructed at least six mid-to-high rise buildings. Instead, the site was split between two owners, one of which is rehabbing the mill complex and the other of which is building this:
I’m not a skyscraper fetishist, but I do have a fervent belief that Density Will Save Us. Low rise buildings like the ones proposed for the A Mill site are some of the most efficient, if not always attractive, ways to add density, but only if they can be dispersed throughout the city. They don’t need to obliterate the traditional housing stock, but if sprinkled liberally along bus routes they can provide riders for those buses and justification for transit upgrades, as well as a base of customers for local businesses.
Unfortunately, NIMBY forces have thus far prevented the diffusion of this building type. Even those corridors that the city identifies as appropriate for low-rise, high-density infill languish under low density zoning. So growth needs to be maximized in areas that already have high-rises, like this one. On the upside, these areas also tend to be close to major job centers and the last dying vestiges of urban retail, maximizing walkability.
So while the 300-400 units to be added in the current A Mill proposals should be welcomed, Minneapolis sure could have used the 1,000 units East Bank Mills would have brought. That project may have been the product of a greed-fueled credit bubble, but it may have delivered something more in the public interest than the timid footsteps of a wheezy recovery. (Of course, that same credit bubble produced a massive expansion of low-density fringe development, so it’s all random.)
Again, I’m not saying Tall = Good. I’m saying Tall = Good IF Density = Good AND Density is not allowed in 95% of the city.