In the six decades after 1950, Minneapolis seemed resigned to a kind of hollow success. Glassy towers filled the skyline, the arts flourished and the lakeside neighborhoods retained their leafy charm. Yet the city as a whole kept shrinking and getting visibly poorer.
By 1990, Minneapolis had lost a third of its population, then grew only modestly over the next 20 years. By 2009, average household income had fallen to 30 percent below the metro median.
By contrast, the suburbs boomed. Over the same 60-year span, the metro population tripled to 3.4 million and, by 2010, the metro economy had overtaken Detroit’s as the Midwest’s second-largest. So, in some sense, the 1950-2010 period was a tale of two cities.
Then something clicked for Minneapolis. Starting in 2011, the city began to grow at a faster clip, adding nearly as many people in two years as it had in the previous 20. New apartment buildings rose by the dozens in the University District, along the Midtown Greenway and even in the downtown core. On the North Loop’s crumbling sidewalks, next to the tower cranes and construction crews, baby carriages began to appear.
Demographers were wary of announcing a full-blown trend. But it was possible to imagine that Minneapolis was finally experiencing something that had started 20 years earlier in similar cities.
After 1990, Denver, Seattle and Portland each added huge chunks of population — between 140,000 to 166,000 residents each — mainly by attracting a larger share of those who otherwise would have settled in the suburbs. Some were empty-nesters enticed by the convenience of restaurants and cultural attractions. But many were young singles and families, people with stronger ties to their mobile devices than to their cars, people searching for energetic urban lifestyles without having to move to ultraexpensive New York or San Francisco.