For decades, Mary and Dick Kollen sipped their morning coffee while watching wildlife roam their 42-acre spread near Granite Falls, Minn.
These days, they see only cranes when they look out their windows — construction cranes, that is. Their condominium, on the 22nd floor of the Carlyle in downtown Minneapolis, offers a bird’s-eye view of work on the new Vikings stadium.
“We love to watch our city,” said Dick, 70, a retired car dealer.
The couple don’t spend much time gazing out their wraparound windows. Their days and nights are busy, often with activities in their 253-unit building, with its on-site yoga classes, book club, movie nights and themed dinners.
“We bought this place for city weekends in 2007, but we were having so much fun we moved here full time three years later and never looked back,” said Mary, 59. “A big part of the attraction is our friendships with our new neighbors here.”
With a steep increase in the number of multifamily residences in the Twin Cities, the definition of neighborhood is getting a do-over. Instead of living side by side, the new neighborhood is up and down.
“In some ways, this kind of urban living provides more opportunities to interact,” said Tom Fisher, an architect and dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota. “In a traditional neighborhood, houses are next to each other, but family rooms are in the back and people drive into attached garages half of the year and never see each other. Residents of buildings see neighbors all the time, in elevators and hallways.”
Or around the rooftop fire pit, in the mailroom or at a residents’ barbecue.
Activities and opportunities to connect abound — and vary — in new vertical villages. Residents at the Bridgewater can lace up their sneakers with the building’s running club or attend a quarterly salon, with wine, a speaker and discussion. At the Phoenix on the River, residents rub shoulders at third Friday happy hours and the “Paella on the Roof” event in the summer. Residents at the Herschel Lofts in the North Loop work out together on their building’s green space with fitness classes on warm-weather Saturdays.
Seven years ago, novelist R.D. Zimmerman, 62, and his partner (now husband) moved from their home of 30 years to the brand-new 22-unit Edgewater overlooking Lake Calhoun.
“We all moved in at the same time, so that put everyone on a first-name basis,” Zimmerman said. “You know who to call if you need a cup of sugar or if there’s an emergency.”
Zimmerman credits an annual party that moves from floor to floor with jump-starting friendships.
“Lots of times we bump into someone and decide to go to happy hour or catch a movie,” he said. “We found in this building what people used to look for in suburbs. You run into people casually, at the mailbox or in the garage. It’s an automatic way to be around other people, a natural way of engaging.”
While a large percentage of occupants in multifamily buildings are empty nesters, an expanding number of families are choosing condos instead of cul-de-sacs.
When Anna Lima’s preschool daughters seek companionship, they visit friends via elevator instead of a car. Lima, 35, lives with her husband and girls at the 501 Lofts in the North Loop.
“There are something like 35 kids under age 7 in our building,” she said. “They’re growing up together.”
Lima was raised in a traditional neighborhood in Shoreview, but likes downtown living and her building, with its impromptu play dates, birthday parties in the community room and summer pizza dinners with other families on the shared rooftop overlooking Target Field.
“Every month there are social activities for the building, so we meet everyone,” she said. “We have a lot of retirees, and we like being in a building with different generations; it’s more real that way. The empty nesters enjoy having kids around, and we’re glad for the age mix.”
Encouraging social bonds between residents is not just a good idea, it’s good business — and a key part of the marketing strategy for developers.
“Creating these microcommunities builds a cohesive and stable building,” said Mary Meehan, CEO of Panoramix Global, a Minneapolis-based consumer trend research firm. “We are by nature social creatures, and people who love their neighbors are more likely to stay put.”
Christy Lewis, director of business development for Opus Development, said new buildings are designed and constructed to showcase ways that residents gather.
“Community spaces distinguish buildings from the competition and are important when people decide where to live. Amenities have a return for the owners of the properties,” she said.
Buildings work hard to impress renters, too, not just condo buyers.
When Joe Famiglietti, 45, moved to Minneapolis from Florida last year, he knew only a few colleagues from his sales job. That changed quickly.
“I’ve met people who will be lifelong friends,” he said. “They started as my neighbors.”
Famiglietti lives at 222 Hennepin, the 286-unit apartment building constructed on the site of a former Jaguar showroom at the intersection of Hennepin and Washington avenues.
A self-described extrovert, he struck up conversations on the pool deck or in the elevator on the way to get takeout at the Whole Foods on the building’s ground floor. He relaxes with friends in the lounge, which offers a fireplace, TVs, kitchen and pool tables.
“There are lots of successful young professionals here looking for a social life,” he said. “We can hang out without leaving the building. I absolutely love it here.”
Community connections now extend beyond invididual buildings.
A year and a half ago, Laurie Jones was on the association board in her building, the Whitney Lofts, when she put out the call to other condo associations. An informal get-together became the Homeowners Association Collaborative, which brings together residents from 23 buildings on the downtown riverfront for socializing and tackling shared civic concerns.
“We’re looking to foster cross-community connections,” Jones said. “If your building is like the block you live on, then downtown is your neighborhood.”