The suburbs appear to be furtively resuming their six-decade binge of eating up productive farmland and scenic woodlands and prairies on the now vast fringe of the Twin Cities metro. That’s a real bummer, because the predatory weasels who build this crap with very few exceptions don’t give a fig about walking, biking or transit.
They should, because for the most part they end up building places that are dense enough to be walkable & bikeable (if not transitable usually). Following the pattern of the most recent wave of suburban development set at the close of WWII, these developers throw down houses with little regard (sometimes disdain) for how they fit into the context of the surroundings, leaving municipalities to deal with the expensive, patchy mess they leave. Most municipalities are unable or unwilling to rise to that challenge, so the suburbs of today are vast, leafy green, packed with jobs and tempting shops, and impossible to access without a car. Many of us carless hoped that the recent recession was a cleansing fire, but I don’t think we have proof of that yet and apparently people who work at Harvard agree with me.
So the blast from the past Toll Brothers is about to shoot into Eden Prairie is unwelcome, familiarly stunning in its brazen capitalism and lack of interest in how its marks are going to actually live in the $600k paper fantasy being sold to them. The plan is for 52 single family homes on 30-40 acres wedged into what is being sold as a conservation area. Enormous, nearly artless houses will surround streets that follow the typical winding, stunted, disjointed suburban pattern. There will probably be sidewalks, but people are as likely to walk on them as they are likely to drive on a freeway that doubles back on itself. Luckily, the Toll Brothers development, called Eden Prairie Woods, isn’t such a twisted wretch that you can’t connect much of it into effective city blocks with multi-use paths, as I did using red lines in Paint:
The developers are kind enough to promise “hiking/biking trails” but as they are not depicted in the site plan, I’m assuming those are being planned only for the “conservation area.” If trails do end up in the neighborhood itself, my guess is they’ll look something like this:
In other words, completely useless for transportation. But is it even possible to bike and walk anywhere around here? The site plan makes it look like these houses will be in the middle of a vast unpopulated jungle, far from the cares and worries of having neighbors or sometimes seeing homeless people. Actually, Eden Prairie Woods is about a quarter-mile from this:
Though it’s a small island in a sea of sprawl, it’s probably big enough to warrant some neighborhood retail to which Eden Prairie Woods residents could (theoretically) also walk to. Also potentially walkable for potential Eden Prairie Woodsians? The Lions Tap, legendary burger joint of the Minnesota River suburbs (about a half mile away). Woodsians could also potentially walk to an enormous church and an enormous park, which both affix to the southeast corner of the intersection of Pioneer Trail and Eden Prairie Road about a mile away. At the upper range of walking distance are the jobs clustered around Flying Cloud Airport (1.5 mi), but if the future Woodsians are willing to climb on a bike, they could easily ride there or a bit further to classes at Hennepin Tech (2.5 mi) or a gazillion jobs and shops around Eden Prairie Center (~4 mi).
The point is not that if only they’d lay down a few strips of asphalt, the residents of Eden Prairie Woods would all sell their cars, or even their second cars. The point is that no one is even going to try to occasionally walk or bike for transportation if there is no reasonable way to do it. If their only options are a few curly-cue paths in the woods that don’t connect to anything, the whole family’s going to pile into their own individual cars for a trip to the Lions Tap. But if there is a reasonably direct route, and maybe nothing good on TV that night, maybe they’ll try to walk for their burgers on occasion instead.
There is the further tragedy that at a density of around 2 units per acre, this development is weighting the area away from ever having regular route bus service. But what really gets my goat is that even developments like these that advertise opportunities for recreational walking and biking by design dissuade residents from doing the same for transportation. Whether out of apathy, greed, or malice, the suburbs demand that you drive, and that’s really why I hate them.