Recently released census results show the degree to which the area has become a more diverse place.
In Columbia Heights, the changes are writ large on the storefronts.
Central Avenue through the city is home to Middle Eastern restaurants, Latin groceries, a Hmong-owned insurance agency, African-American hair salons, a Sharia real estate agency and more.
"We are moving from a metropolitan area to a cosmopolitan area," said Community Development Director Scott Clark. "This is part of the natural growth of an urban area."
As elsewhere in the Twin Cities metro area, growth in minority populations looms large in new U.S. Census data for the northern suburbs. In Columbia Heights, for example, although the city's population grew by only 5.3 percent in the past decade, to 19,496, the minority count rose 153 percent and is now 30 percent of the total.
Following the trend set by the northern suburbs closest to Minneapolis, Crystal's minority population grew 87 percent and Brooklyn Center's and Brooklyn Park's rose by 78 and 67 percent, respectively. Brooklyn Center, population 30,104, is now 50.9 percent minority, while Brooklyn Park, 67,388, is 47.6 percent. At the same time, on the northern reaches of the seven-county metro area, St. Francis' minority population fell from 4.3 to 4.1 percent, despite explosive growth of 47 percent overall, to 7,200. In the center of the county, Andover's minority population doubled, but people of color account for only 6.8 percent of the city of 30,600.
Andre Koen is cultural coordinator for Anoka County, which comprises much of the northern metro. He believes that the county's minority growth in particular can be traced to availability of amenities and services such as mass transit, affordable housing and jobs.
"You can't have one without having all of them, and I'm not sure how you build all of them simultaneously," he said. "They are so intricately connected, to create equitable communities we have to figure out how to get that mix."
In Andover, noted City Administrator Jim Dickinson, most of the city's recent growth has been in "step-up" houses, possibly making the city less appealing to the newest generations of immigrants.
At the same time, Crystal, just up Interstate 94 from Minneapolis, may have it all.
"We have affordable, modest housing," said City Manager Anne Norris. "I think the combination of location and cost of housing stock and type of housing stock makes it an attractive place to live."
But like other rapidly changing cities, Crystal is trying to figure out how to be inclusive of all residents. Officials are looking to neighboring cities for guidance, Norris said. There are plans to pick up New Hope's Know Your Neighbor community dialogues, for example.
"We recognize the face of Crystal is changing," she said. "We just haven't figured out how to be more inclusive."
Across the north metro, cities are in different stages of preparing to meet changing demographics.
Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park, which even 10 years ago had relatively high minority populations for the north metro, have worked to incorporate native-born and immigrant people of color into the daily operations of their cities, from the police departments to the city commissions that help set the tone of each city.
"We're probably more of an American city than any other city in Minnesota. ... Progressive people come here for that whole American dream," said Vickie Schleuning, Brooklyn Center's assistant city manager.
In Brooklyn Park, officials have worked hard to increase the percentage of people of color from 14 to 32 percent of the city's volunteer commission members. One effective approach was to invite leaders of ethnic groups to join, overcoming a cultural reluctance to step forward, said Denise Rene Wollenburg, the city's community outreach coordinator.
The next step may be bringing the majority culture on board, Koen said, noting that government types may not always be on the same page as long-term majority residents.
"As I get older, I realize the value of moving quickly, as well as making sure we are bringing people along," he said.
Staff writer Paul Levy contributed to this report. Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409