If you haven’t figured this out by now, I’m interested in how and why things change in our cities. Uptown has been the location of most of my analysis and has greatly shaped my perceptions of change. But I do get around a fair amount and love to meet with people in other cities to ask them about why their community is the way it is.
When I was in Portland, OR in 2010, one of the urban development surprises was that they had a lot of smaller-scale newer buildings in their neighborhood business districts and corridors. Some of these areas would be similar to say a busier Bryant Avenue but less traffic than Lyndale south of Lake. Buildings that were engaging to walk by, that were pretty, and smaller in scale so that they were more in context to their surroundings.
This style of development is difficult to do here from conversations I’ve had with colleagues in the real estate industry. Partially because land is expensive, smaller buildings still need a lot of the same infrastructure like sprinklers and elevators, and underground parking. And unlike Portland, Minneapolis is generally a little more affordable (ie. rents aren’t high enough generally to support it) and there is more sprawl here. That said, we have seen tremendous apartment growth with much higher rents, so perhaps these developments are more viable today than they were 3 to 5 years ago.
Below are a series of photos from various places I’ve visited that show what I’m calling smaller infill development.
Why am I sharing these with you?
I accept the assumptions that urban living will continue to be attractive to more and more people over the next 20+ years, that we do not currently have a large enough supply of urban housing stock to accommodate growing demand, and that there will continue to be demand for housing in neighborhood locations like Uptown.
What I thus interpret is that Uptown will continue to see a growing demand for housing, which will drive up rents and house prices and therefore continue to create pressure for more housing to get built in Uptown. The core of Uptown has a number of sites left that seem ripe for redevelopment (Calhoun Square’s vacant lot, Cheapo, Arbys, McDonalds, Sons of Norway lot, etc). But many of those sites are more likely to be redeveloped as larger infill projects due to high land costs.
I believe we will see some pressure, though not a lot in any short- to mid-term period, on housing creation on Hennepin Avenue south of 31st Street, on Bryant Avenue south of Lake Street, on 31st Street, and along Lyndale Avenue and Hennepin Avenue between Franklin and 28th. Most of these projects would likely be very small in scale relative to what is currently being developed.
Thus, I wanted to take a look through the files at what some smaller (though there are projects that can be even smaller than this, like townhomes) projects look like and reflect on what we should set as expectations.
Now after viewing all of this, please don’t take it as a suggestion that we NEED to go knocking down buildings to construct new. I have a deep appreciation for history, but I also recognize the benefits of growth and the consequences of not growing if demand keeps growing. So there is a very delicate balance that needs to exist between preserving our heritage and the character of our communities with environmental sustainability, economic sustainability, and affordability.
What I’d argue is that as we grow and as growth starts to migrate to the smaller commercial corridors in Minneapolis and Uptown, then we need to ensure the expectations are right to ensure compatibility and to ensure we have an enjoyable place to live in and travel by.