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