The fully built-out suburb of Edina is managing to find stray corners in which to pack an unusually large number of new living units.
And its success suggests a new wave of urbanized suburbia could be on the way.
The west-metro suburb, which for decades averaged just a trickle of new homes annually and a stagnant population, last year recorded 583 building permits for new living units, placing it first among suburbs, according to a data set released this week by the Metropolitan Council.
Among the Twin Cities’ inner suburbs, St. Louis Park and Bloomington also have been hot spots for multifamily construction. St. Louis Park in 2015 recorded 389 new housing units, making a total of 1,356 over the past five years. Bloomington had 426 units, part of a five-year total of 1,489, the Met Council reports.
The trend shows renewed interest in first-tier suburbs that are seeking to bring the bustle and convenience of urban life to typically staid suburban settings.
The U.S. Census Bureau on Thursday named Edina as one of seven American cities last year to breach the 50,000 population mark for the first time.
It’s all the delayed result, officials say, of a decade-old decision to transform the Southdale commercial district.
Said Edina development chief Cary Teague: “We’re turning gray to green — from parking lots to landscaping and green roofs on luxury apartment buildings.”
That multifamily building boom, which is being echoed in other close-in areas, is mirrored by a lagging pace in the outer suburbs and could contribute to a slowdown in the loss of farmland and natural areas.
That’s a concern that, while lifting a bit during the housing bust, is back. A national group warned this week that the West is losing a football field’s worth of natural areas every 2½ minutes.
“A huge part of this is suburbs wanting to compete with cities for people wanting that walkable urban-type lifestyle,” said Alex Dodds of the Washington, D.C.-based Smart Growth America, which advocates for creative re-use of aging, close-in parcels near transit lines.
Rice Creek Commons, the megaproject proposed for the 427-acre former munitions site in Arden Hills, is being planned to offer a variety of residential settings and price points but with an emphasis on a walkable lifestyle — jogging paths, a re-meandered creek and “brew pubs on 18 different corners,” joked Ramsey County Commissioner Blake Huffman.
Edina’s new units tend to be senior or luxury apartments with a sprinkling of affordable units often negotiated by the city, Teague said. The units attract a mix of millennials and empty-nest baby boomers, he said.
Waiting on the millennials
Cities, too, are benefiting from an increasing desire for lively and walkable neighborhoods.
The latest building permit data from the Met Council shows that St. Paul, whose popular light-rail Green Line is attracting construction cranes, recorded 1,336 new units in 2015 after averaging about 440 per year for the previous decade. St. Paul has exceeded the 1,000 mark only one other time since the early 1980s.
Minneapolis, generally far busier than St. Paul, tailed off in 2015 for the second year in a row, to 1,538 units. It reached more than 3,000 in 2012 and 2013 during a boomlet centered notably around the University of Minnesota campus.
In a sign of robust vitality among other regional hubs nationally, the U.S. Census Bureau will report Thursday that Denver has become one of the nation’s 20 most populous cities, moving up two spots to 19th and displacing Detroit, which drops from 18th to 21st.
Seattle moved up two places to 18th, and along with Denver ranks among the nation’s 11 biggest numeric gainers. Denver, whose downtown fringes are thronged with new housing, added 18,582 people to bring its total population to 682,545, while Seattle’s corresponding figures are 15,339 and 684,451.
The matter of where twenty-something millennials will end up as they begin to buy homes is one of the most keenly followed questions just now in the field of demographics, said state demographer Susan Brower.
“We see tremendous growth in center cities,” Brower said, “but will [millennials] stay, or move to the first ring? That 25-to-29 group is a big one, and we see a drop-off typically renting around that age or soon after.
“I do not see from this week’s data or anything in the last five years a strong preference for one kind of city — meaning center cities — emerging suburbs, exurbs. We see growth across the types. I don’t know if it’s too early still, or if there’s not a strong preference.”
[Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article reported a higher figure for Edina building permits for new living units last year. The Metropolitan Council advised the Star Tribune later that it had posted inaccurate data, and has now corrected it on its own website. This version of the story reflects the corrected figure.]