Bloomington grew five times as much during the past two years as it did in the previous 40 combined — just one sign that inner-ring suburbs that were once stagnant or declining are shooting back to the forefront of population growth, according to the latest round of census estimates.
Affordable homes, high gas prices and access to transitways are helping places such as Bloomington, St. Louis Park and Minnetonka attract more and younger residents as a wave of redevelopment rejuvenates communities once considered “fully developed.”
“Minnetonka is turning old industrial sites into housing, Richfield is creating great little places to live on streets like Lyndale, and St. Louis Park is completely off the charts on multifamily projects, I mean, holy cow,” said Bill Neuendorf, who’s overseeing the city of Edina’s plans for an ambitious new urban village just off Hwy. 100.
Minneapolis’ growth still towers over every suburb. But on a national landscape of robust urban comebacks, it trails far behind Austin, Texas, Seattle and other “creative class” hot spots.
So far this decade, Minneapolis leads the state with an increase of 10,300 residents, the federal government estimates, with St. Paul second at about 5,700.
Among suburbs, Bloomington leads with 3,140 new residents. Maple Grove is second with 2,853, followed by a number of familiar cornfield’s-edge growth leaders such as Woodbury. But Minnetonka, Maplewood, St. Louis Park and Edina are in the mix, gaining between 1,100 and 1,400 people each since 2010.
To put that in perspective, that’s not much less than Edina gained the decades from 1980 to 2010.
“We’re seeing people moving here from outer Scott County who want to be closer to downtown and the lakes, but not too close,” Neuendorf said.
“For all the talk of ‘back to the cities,’ now it’s ‘back to the suburbs’ as well.”
Most of the suburbs he mentions stand out on the latest list for turning in strong growth numbers after long periods of stagnation. It’s a trend the Metropolitan Council has noticed and is expected to recognize in the very language it uses, said Steve Elkins, who represents Bloomington on the board of the seven-county regional planning agency.
“We’ve long used the term ‘fully developed’ for places like Bloomington,” he said. But in era when construction activity in such places can be far more robust than in the newer, subdivision-dominated areas the council has labeled as “developing,” a gap has developed between lingo and reality. There’s an informal consensus to recast them from now on as “redeveloping.”
The trends behind the changes are similar from place to place, a number of city officials and other experts agree:
• The aging of those cities, which emptied them out as kids grew up and moved away, is about over in its population impact.
• A sharp spike in affordability is drawing in younger families, and in some places the larger families associated with immigrants.
• High and volatile gas prices are creating a competitive advantage for cities closer to people’s jobs, many of them in the suburbs. Vacancies are declining as the market strengthens.
• There’s a new magnet in the form of a growing system of rail transitways, which draws interest from developers.
There’s a mountain of dirt, for instance, near the Mall of America in Bloomington, in a grim landscape of parking lots and abandonment that the city envisions as a major new high-density population center in decades to come, close to multiple light-rail stations with easy rides downtown.
“About 2,000 people live in that part of town, east of Hwy. 77,” said Bloomington’s planning manager, Glen Markegard, “and we are forecasting that will more than triple, to over 6,700, in the decades to come. Remember, it’s an area adjacent to the wildlife refuge, it’s one station away from an international airport — there’s a lot to the area besides the Mall of America.”
Bloomington’s population shot to just short of 82,000 by 1970, and, with the old Metropolitan Stadium hosting Twins games and a vibrant “494 strip” of hotels and bars, was a happening place in that era.
But by 2010, despite the global profile of the MOA, its population of 82,893 was barely above its 1970 mark. In most decades it declined.
Now development is popping up all over, Elkins said, and “most of it, especially the apartments, is market rate. There’s a boom on, and the people who have gotten off the ground first — a lot more is on the way — are leasing up quickly. They’re surprising everyone, how quickly.”