Coming home from my week-long vacation, I was eager to catch up with my imaginary internet friends – those bleary-eyed bloggers who continually spout their opinions about urban issues. One of my favorites is Steve Berg of MinnPost, actually a blogojournalist who writes about things going on around Minneapolis and St Paul, and upon my return I found on his site an interesting juxtaposition of two articles that I’d like to mention here.
First, the most recent article is a discussion of the recent CEOs for Cities report called Driven Apart: How Sprawl is Lengthening our Commutes and Why Misleading Mobility Measures are Making Things Worse. I’m looking forward to reading the report as it promises to be full of ammo for showing how land use patterns cause transportation problems that cost money and lives and degrade the environment. Hopefully it’s getting attention from more than the usual band of knuckleheads because Americans usually hide their head in the sand when it comes to the consequences of their sprawling settlement pattern.
Which makes it interesting that the Berg article that immediately preceded was about the Hawthorne EcoVillage project in North Minneapolis. This is a public-private urban renewal partnership between the City of Minneapolis and Project for Pride in Living focusing on a four-block area, according to Berg with a goal of “120 new housing units ultimately added to an improved existing stock.”
Certainly the stock needs improving: the entire block face of the EcoVillage along Lowry is vacant, along with much of Lyndale and many of the lots on the interior streets as well. Berg mentions that the first two properties to be developed in the EcoVillage are single-family homes, but PPL is planning multifamily as well, as depicted below in the plan from their website:
Looks like a New Urbanist wonderland, right? It is a significant increase in density for the area, and should be a shot in the arm for the neighborhood-oriented businesses scattered along Lowry Ave. And it is an example of the congestion-fighting land use pattern described in the “Driven Apart” report.
But I can’t help feeling that this site has much more potential than the EcoVillage project utilizes. As the following illustration shows, it is at the intersection of two bus routes, and just off Interstate 94, which offers a visible, accessible location for businesses and the potential for a BRT station:
Maybe the Minneapolis HRA recognized some of that potential when they built the Lowry High-Rise, which weighs out at 64 units per acre (compared with the first EcoVillage apartment building, on the corner of Lowry & Lyndale, which is a decidedly middleweight 45 units per acre). Then again, maybe they just got a good deal on land (at that time I-94 was just a line on a squiggly freeway fantasy map somewhere in St Paul or Washington). Additionally, the late modernist design left lots of excess land for later infill.
The Lowry High-Rise is also an island of high-density zoning in a sea of R2B. And here is the rub about the EcoVillage illustrating the concept presented in “Driven Apart:” PPL is building it in spite of the zoning, not because of it. The northwest block and the Lowry-facing buildings, shown in the plan as apartment blocks and mixed-use commercial buildings, will require a rezoning. The 32 bus, running along Lowry on its journey from Robbinsdale to Rosedale, has regional aspirations that aren’t matched by the low-density zoning that lines Lowry Ave. And Minneapolis doesn’t have a zoning designation to accommodate the transit villages that would be ideal along the BRT that will eventually be laid over its freeways (and is already beginning to be laid at 46th St).
Minneapolis better revise its policy and start devoting resources to land use patterns described in state-of-the-art publications like Driven Apart, or developments like the EcoVillage will be fewer and farther between.