Smart Growth Meets the Road

Now the fun part begins.  For the last many years I have been warning readers about the misguided efforts of Minneapolis and St. Paul to transform their cities from the workaday towns that became the hub of the upper Midwest into…something else:  something where the growth was “smarter” and the new residents more “creative.”  Places that look less like the sprawly, automobile-dependent communities that grew up around them in every direction.

Now, as they say, the rubber meets the road, or in this case, doesn’t.  The Minneapolis Star Tribunereports on efforts in that city to add 100,000 new residents without adding any additional parking spaces,

The debate is playing out in places such as Uptown and Dinkytown, where development is booming and neighbors say on-street parking is becoming scarce. A dust-up over parking near a popular restaurant recently spurred a lawsuit in southwest Minneapolis.

When ideas like “smart growth,” “new urbanism,” and “creative class” remain gauzy, feel-good catch-phrases, everyone is happy to get on the street-car bandwagon.  But when abstract urban planning theories get transformed into building permits, you start hitting people, well, where they live.  Obviously, Minneapolitans are not getting with the program,

“The first reaction of most neighborhoods would be that there’s not enough parking,” said Ted Tucker, president of the city planning commission. “But the trouble with that is, of course, the city may devote too many resources to parking automobiles and not enough to making life pleasant for pedestrians and bicyclists.”

Speaking of Dinkytown—a commercial and residential area near the main campus of the University of Minnesota—that area has become ground zero in the effort to “densify” Minneapolis to improve the prospects of mass transit.  As the Star Tribune reports today,

The ongoing and passionate debate over the future of Dinkytown now revolves around a proposal to build a six-story hotel in the heart of the commercial district.

For his part, the hotel’s developer is helping Minneapolis fulfill its vision of an ever-more-dense cityscape, regardless of the thoughts of the actual city residents,

“We don’t want to look backward 100 years,” [he] said in an interview.  “We want to look forward for the next 100 years.”

Across the river, St. Paul has developed a serious case of bike-lane envy.  The Star Tribune reports today,

After years riding behind Minneapolis in cycling amenities, St. Paul officials are releasing a long-range plan Tuesday that would more than double the number of bikeway miles, create an off-street downtown loop and complete a series of trails and lanes around the city.

As St. Paul races to close the bike-lane gap, a property developer back in Minneapolis inadvertently gives away the game when she is quoted as saying,

“If you keep providing them parking, the city will never evolve into kind of what we want it to be.”

We?  When did we decide that carless was the way to go?  I don’t recall that referendum being on the ballot.  Even though fewer households than ever are going without cars, city planners see it as their task to deliver a city without cars.  And you had better learn to like it,

“As the city becomes more dense, we have to realize that with it comes urban attitudes,” said developer Don Gerberding, of Master Engineering. “And density is not a negative.”

I’ll be watching this debate play out, parking space by parking space, bike rack by bike rack.