Border Wars: Where’s Uptown?

Community, Featured — By on November 6, 2010 12:21 pm

Just yesterday I got a call from the City of Minneapolis asking about where I thought the borders of Uptown run. It’s not an uncommon question, and depending on whom you ask, the answer varies widely. The view I hold today is different than my view on it 10 years ago.

Historically, Uptown got its name back in the 1920s when business owners at the Hennepin-Lake trade area decided they wanted to associate the area with the nice Uptown neighborhood in Chicago. It seemed to stick, with numerous businesses opening in the area with Uptown in their names. Even in the 1920s through the 1970s, there wasn’t necessarily wide spread adoption of the Uptown name. The City of Minneapolis, many businesses, and customers called the area Hennepin-Lake and rarely called it Uptown. It wasn’t until the early 1980s when widespread adoption of the Uptown name occurred.

Uptown as Hennepin-Lake
It seems like in the late 1990s was when the Uptown brand started to extend well past the Hennepin-Lake node, whether it was self-identification by businesses or residents over past Lyndale or north near Franklin Avenue. Around 2004, I listened to a business leader tell me that a crime that took place at 27th and Girard Avenue was listed in the paper as occurring in Uptown and that his leader called the media to complain that it was really in South Hennepin.

The business community had stuck to traditional boundaries of where Uptown ran, which extended only to 28th Street and Hennepin Avenue on the north, the east side of Lake Calhoun on the west, Dupont Avenue on the east, and 31st Street on the south.

Today, it is extremely common for the media to talk about Rudolph’s BBQ at Franklin-Lyndale to be in Uptown or for residents at 36th and Grand stating that they live in Uptown. In talking with one business leader recently, their thought was that extending the brand outside of the Hennepin-Lake node was a concern, as it dilutes the brand’s value. This individual thought that a lot of effort was made to establish the Hennepin-Lake area as Uptown and to allow it to be extended to areas a long walk away from Hennepin-Lake is confusing to visitors and reduces the clarity as to what and where Uptown is.

Uptown as The Community
Perhaps the widespread acceptance of the Uptown brand is the result of its positive perception and enough people, media, and businesses referring to the Hennepin-Lake area as Uptown. The name itself doesn’t have a geographic connotation with it, so it’s possible that it’s expansion to include areas outside of the immediate Hennepin-Lake node is the result of a lack of a definition. Uptown isn’t even “up” from Downtown, that is, it isn’t North of Downtown.

Uptown as a larger community, as I advocate, is approximately everything from 36th & Grand north to I-94, west to the east side of Lake of the Isles, west on Lake Street to the RR tracks and Minikahda Club, and inclusive of everything from the east side of Lake Calhoun south of Lake Street to 36th Street over to Grand. The center of Uptown is at Hennepin-Lake and expands outward into several other districts, such as Lyn-Lake, The Wedge, West Calhoun, and potentially South Hennepin if you don’t consider that a part of the Wedge (though I think it’s only a matter of time until we can finally ditch the name South Hennepin as it’s confusing and a mostly unknown brand).

It’s a huge area, yes. But I would argue that it’s representative of how businesses, residents, visitors, and the media generally sees the boundaries. With Uptown being a popular place to live and a large rental population, it seems that the area gets a large amount of transplants to Minneapolis, whether college students or those coming from other cities. In my conversations with newcomers, they often don’t know what the individual neighborhood names are and usually talk about their community as being in Uptown. In talking with those who live outside of the Twin Cities but slightly familiar, residents will sometimes just say they live in Uptown Minneapolis rather than East Calhoun. Uptown’s brand is well known outside of the Twin Cities with those who have visited. So it’s not a huge surprise that residents would describe their location, even if more than a 10 minute walk from Hennepin-Lake as Uptown since they are certainly not living at the University of Minnesota, in Downtown, Northeast, etc.

Businesses also see an advantage of being associated with the Uptown brand name and have, for years, been incorporating Uptown into their name or into their location description. Whether it’s a coffee shop on Lyndale stating that its their Uptown location, or a pizza place calling themselves Uptown Pizza at Grand and Lake Street.

I advocate that it’s the larger area because I don’t see any value in going against the grain with the vast majority of people who think of it as a larger area. I’d rather talk about the great amenities, businesses, and residents we have in Uptown and be able to include the Bryant Lake Bowl, Soo Line Garden, Jungle Theater, the Wedge Co-op, Temple Israel, Thomas Beach, Lakewood Cemetery, and much more as part of the Uptown community.

With the continued bonding together of the Hennepin-Lake and Lyn-Lake districts, through the additional of new buildings facing the street, the addition of housing units, and a new streetscape, there is less of a distinct character border between the nodes. In the future, it’ll be clear that both are independent draws but that they run together and are highly connected. This will continue to confuse visitors but if we embrace Lyn-Lake as a distinct district within the Uptown community and do some wayfinding signage and larger marketing, I think we can embrace and economically support all of the Uptown business districts.

Borders of Uptown districts

Approximate borders of various Uptown districts and the general Uptown community

So do others agree or disagree? Let’s hear your thoughts.

Thatcher Imboden

How cities work and change, how they are the product of their inhabitants and outside forces, and the resulting livability keep me thinking and dreaming about the future. I work in transit oriented development and have a background in urban real estate development. I am Past President of an Uptown business organization, grew up in Uptown, was on an Uptown neighborhood association Board, and am an Uptown and Lyn-Lake historian.

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  1. Aaron Vehling says:

    When I lived in the West Calhoun neighborhood, I did not consider it Uptown and several locals did not either. If anything, the culture was more Linden Hills (which you will know, Thatcher, but others may not, as being more affluent, family and residential). When we would walk over to Lund’s or to the other offerings in the Henn-Lake area, we would say we were going to Uptown.

    Otherwise, I agree with the remaining boundaries. When I lived on 26th and Hennepin, next to the Brave New Workshop, that area was generally understood as Uptown, and more precisely “The Wedge.” Across the street, to speak to your point about business identification, is the Uptown Diner. So clearly they see it as Uptown.

    • Aaron Vehling says:

      And several people who lived in the Wedge saw that as more of the “real” Uptown in the sense that it was where people actually lived.

      The tourists and suburban shoppers generally stuck to a few blocks around the Henn Lake intersection (ask Blue Sky if anyone even ventures two blocks away), so those of us who lived further north on Hennepin understood it was the more authentic neighborhood and less of the corporate-run Disneyland the shopping area is.

    • Thatcher Imboden says:

      I’ve found a variety of opinions on the West Calhoun area. It seems like some of the businesses see themselves as Uptown businesses, especially those in the office buildings, but the residents I’ve met do see themselves as different than Uptown. But at the same time, I’ve known at least one person clearly tell someone they lived in Uptown by Lake Calhoun when describing where they lived to someone only slightly familiar. Again, I claim that West Calhoun is its own district but within a greater Uptown brand. I’m curious to see what others think. I very well could be the minority on this.

      • Aaron Vehling says:

        It felt like “Mpls Lite” – as if there was almost more in common with SLP than Mpls.

        • Thatcher Imboden says:

          I could see that. Did you go to Hennepin-Lake much while you lived in West Calhoun? If so, did you walk, bike, bus, or drive? I’m starting to think views may be influenced depending on the mode of transportation.

          • Aaron Vehling says:


            We walked around the northside of Calhoun to go to Lund’s for groceries and to go out to eat. It’s a 20-minute walk, which isn’t a lot at all; but the geographical boundaries still impose a separateness.

            If I was feeling lazy, I would drive.

  2. ML says:

    When I first moved to Uptown, I clung to the very restrictive definition centered on Hennepin and Lake. Nowadays, my definition is pretty much the same one you have. I’m still not sold on West Calhoun, though. I think it’s because of the natural barrier that the Lakes act as. It just doesn’t seem as naturally connected as the other mini-neighborhoods do.

  3. christina says:

    I live in the Lyndale neighborhood and it feels wrong to say I live in Uptown. I consider Uptown’s eastern boundaries to end at Lyndale Ave. Now with the Uptown bar moving into the neighborhood though, perhaps perceptions could change.

    Also it seems like a stretch to call West Calhoun neighborhood Uptown. Agree with the commenter above that it is more Linden Hills.

    • Thatcher Imboden says:

      Thanks for your thoughts on this. Interesting comments. I love how everyone’s response is well thought out. I don’t see it as a stretch to include West Calhoun because I feel like a number of the businesses in the area already see themselves as a part of the greater Uptown area though they do see themselves as distinctly different. I think you can have it both ways, as they’re clearly living it that way.

      As for the Linden Hills connection, I can see it as a resident if they do their shopping there or participate in politics, as the Bakken is a polling place, meeting place for the neighborhood, and are represented by Betsy Hodges who lives in and represents Linden Hills too. But it’s a brief walk and short bike ride to Hennepin-Lake, so I’m not sold that it’s somehow more Linden Hills than connected to Uptown. In addition, it’s got that energy that Hennepin-Lake has with all of the people at the Lake, at the shopping there, and the density of Uptown.

      As for Lyn-Lake, I see all of Lyn-Lake extending to about the east side of Grand Avenue. And by definition, I have a hard time thinking that Uptown includes part of Lyn-Lake but not all of Lyn-Lake.

      Don’t get me wrong, I used to see it as a very narrowly defined area but in listening to how nearly everyone except longer term residents and businesses sees a much larger area as Uptown convinced me that Uptown’s definition has morphed over time. And I’m not convinced that neighborhood geographies can’t evolve (or dissolve) over time.

      • christina says:

        I totally get your reasoning and agree that it would be silly to include only some of Lyn-Lake in the Uptown distinction, but not all of it. That’s the interesting thing about this discussion, there seems to be no real right or wrong answer.

        Also wanted you to know that I really enjoy this blog and like Cedar’s ‘on this date’ posts!

  4. Cedar Phillips says:

    Interesting conversation. I admit, it would never, ever even cross my mind to consider West Calhoun anything remotely similar to Linden Hills. SLP, maybe, but not Linden Hills. I’m not completely sold on it being Uptown, though, but could be convinced. I think if the connections were better for pedestrians, and traffic was not so overwhelmingly unpleasant, I’d probably feel a stronger Uptown/West Calhoun connection.

    I do agree with the greater Uptown boundary going over to Grand, although I also agree that Lyn-Lake has a distinct character that separates it from the core Hennepin-Lake area. I think there’s also always going to be some overlap between areas; some of the portions of Lake Street are, and will continue to be, oriented to both Nicollet as well as Lyndale, just as streets like Dupont and Colfax have easy connections with both Hennepin/Lake and Lyndale/Lake. It’s all very fluid.

  5. Greg says:

    We’ve been in the Lyndale neighborhood for 9 years or so and have always told people we’re near Lyn-Lake. But that distinction has become less important these last few years.

    We think you might as well take the Uptown boarders all the way to 35W and down to 38th. Your map leaves the Nicollet corridor oddly cutoff—with the Uptown expansion, this corridor is the new “LynLake” Then east of 35W would be Midtown and south of 38th would be, um, SoUp? Although being south of Lake maybe we’re SoLa.

  6. Kristy says:

    Interesting conversation.
    I’ve lived at what I see as the two “epicenters’ of Uptown over the last few years – first at 31st and Hennepin and later at Aldrich and Lake. There was a brief time in-between when I moved out of state, and it was strange to return and find Hennepin saturated by high-end retailers. The move over to Lyndale and Lake felt a bit more like the “old” Uptown, but with the addition of the new high-end apartments, even that began to feel played out.

    I’m now at 38th and Lyndale and have a hard time referring to it as Uptown, but it feels so close and sometimes it’s easier to explain to people that I live on the Southern border of Uptown, as South Minneapolis seems to extreme. I’m caught in the middle!

  7. Faith says:

    I think your greater uptown boundary makes sense. It’s about the same as my mental map too.

    I think of West Lake as more Uptown than Linden Hills. I think some of the West Lake businesses describe their location as “Uptown” when the other locations are “northeast” or “downtown”. I think Linden Hills is more “southwest Mpls” (i.e. not the uptown part), in the 4000 & 5000 blocks where there is more residential and less retail.

    “South Hennepin” is new to me. If anyone had mentioned South Hennepin to me, I would have assumed the south end of Hennepin downtown from about 12th to MCTC. Second guess would have been 34th-36th and Hennepin, south of your Hennepin & Lake circle. I think as the 4th brand on the list, it won’t be missed if it goes away. Using Lyndale as a comparison, when someone mentions “South Lyndale”, I think that usually means south of the creek but Hennepin doesn’t go that far south.

    I think those conversations about where you live to people you just met say a lot:
    “Where do you live?” (not sure if answer will be St. Paul or Woodbury)
    “In Uptown”
    “Me too! Where in Uptown?”
    “I’m over in West Lake”
    “Oh, well I’m just south of Lyn Lake”

  8. Daisy Nguyen says:

    I agree with your boundaries. If there are distictions, here’s where I make them:

    When I talk to people who actually live in/around this area, THEN, its easy to say, Ohh – the business you’re looking for is near Lyn-Lake OR, I live in East-Isles, etc.

    If I’m talking to someone who’s not as familiar with the area, I just call the area UPTOWN. You’ve explained that really well in your article.

    And by Uptown, I might even go so far as to include Kenwood east of the railroad tracks, I do include West Calhoun (although as a local, I agree they are their own neighborhood), and all the way east to 35W, as Greg suggested.

    BTW – love your blog and great discussion!

  9. Janne says:

    Having lived in the area since 1996, I can’t get my mind around the concept that West Calhoun is Uptown — I agree that the barrier of traffic at the pinch-points between the lakes is what cuts it out.

    I’ve always wondered whether my place (22nd and Dupont) counted as Uptown or not, but I haven’t ever found another neighborhood name I felt OK with — certainly not Lowry Hill. (Technically I am, but culturally no way.) So, I’ve always used Uptown, or more precisely “the north end of Uptown” or frequently “Hennepin and Franklin.” I’m happy to hear that I can safely say Uptown without being perceived as a poser.

  10. I’d define the boundaries of “Greater Uptown” as:

    WEST: The east side of Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles

    EAST: Lyndale

    NORTH: Franklin

    SOUTH: 36th Street

    West Calhoun doesn’t fit in for reasons of geography and character: It’s a suburban neighborhood in the city, with strip malls and a golf course as its dominant features.

  11. Cedar Phillips says:

    I just saw a rental listing on Craigslist titled “wonderful 2 bedroom UPTOWN!” The location? 48th and Grand! Talk about pushing the boundaries.

  12. Uptowner says:

    “West Calhoun doesn’t fit in for reasons of geography and character: It’s a suburban neighborhood in the city, with strip malls and a golf course as its dominant features.”

    Uptown is a suburban neighborhood in the city. Not sure where you are going with that argument, though I agree West Calhoun isn’t uptown.

    • Cedar Phillips says:

      “Uptown is a suburban neighborhood in the city.” That’s about the opposite of how I’d characterize Uptown. What makes it suburban? And if UPTOWN is suburban, what city neighborhoods can qualify as urban?

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