Thanks for Steve Berg’s thoughtful review of the ongoing debate on urban density (“Density is destiny,” July 22).
As an architecture student at the University of Minnesota’s Community Design Center studio in 1970 and 1971, I was one of a group of students who studied that issue and took it out into the real world. We worked with the South St. Anthony Park neighborhood association in St. Paul to help educate residents about denser urban environments around the world. The pushback then, although considerably less intense, seems about the same as the pushback now. The previous quarter, we were all excited to study Twin Cities regional mass transit, which had just been, theoretically, kick-started by the Metropolitan Council.
In 1986, my growing family abandoned the gritty, urban enclave of south Minneapolis and moved to the leafy, idyllic spaces of St. Louis Park. As an architect, I had snobbishly resisted crossing the city border, having bought two previous houses in south Minneapolis and refusing, on principle of course, to ever live in the dreaded suburbs. Or, even worse, in a lowly rambler. Unfortunately, we were priced out of the south Minneapolis neighborhoods where I’d lived since my student days. Fortunately, we ended up violating both “principles.”
About 15 years ago, the first phase of Excelsior & Grand, one of the early higher-density developments in the area and a half-mile walk from our house, started the densification of our neighborhood, which has proceeded apace. It was a well-designed and well-planned project, with reduced parking-space requirements traded off for shared public parking. Some of the ground-level retail still struggles, but blame Mr. Market. Traffic in the neighborhood is not noticeably worse than it was in 1986, although our neighborhood is reverting to NIMBY-hood in opposition to more of the same housing.
We now live in what has become one of the most walkable neighborhoods in the region, with Trader Joe’s, Target, Lunds & Byerlys, Whole Foods, Fresh Thyme, Bde Maka Ska, world-class regional bike trails, Park Nicollet clinics, a dozen restaurants, a hardware store, a boutique bakery and my very favorite — a wildly successful brewpub — within a 1-mile radius. I regularly walk or bike to all of them. As demonstrated by our escalating property taxes and by the veritable orgy of teardowns around us, property values have soared.
I cringe every time I read about those who decry “social engineering,” which is nothing more than representative government doing its job. (The U.S. Constitution was the epitome of social engineering.)
I also cringe when I read that, even though “the market” is now demanding it, those whose only previous argument against regional planning was to “let the market decide” are now singing a different tune.
And I fervently hope that the Koch brothers’ dark money will fail to buy enough Republicans to derail Southwest light rail, a crowning urban touch enhancing connection of our already wonderful, walkable, bikeable neighborhood to our eminently livable region.
William Beyer lives in St. Louis Park.