On the upper North Side of Minneapolis, a modest dose of gentrification feels like tough medicine to swallow for some, but it’s just what the ailing patient needs.
When developers last week proposed to fill 90 vacant lots along and around the Humboldt Greenway with new homes valued at $200,000 to $300,000, some neighbors greeted the good news as if it were the plague. That’s understandable — to a point. The median home value in the adjoining Lind-Bohanon neighborhood is just under $103,000 — and even that represents a 20 percent increase over the past year, the biggest percentage jump anywhere in the city.
For some, a hotter real estate atmosphere dredges up bad memories of the last housing bubble that, a decade ago, lured so many residents into selling homes to unscrupulous flippers who converted properties to rentals and let them slide toward disrepair and disorder. The bigger worry is the bugaboo of gentrification — that pricier homes along the greenway will drive up values and taxes for everyone else and that longtime residents will be forced out. But that fear is grossly exaggerated.
While gentrification has dramatically disrupted much of New York, San Francisco and a few select parts of other cities, Minneapolis and, indeed, most cities are far more threatened by growing concentrations of poverty. Between 1970 and 2010, the number of high-poverty census tracts in the nation’s 50 largest cities tripled to more than 3,000. Maps of Minneapolis and St. Paul, produced by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity, clearly show the alarming spread of poverty during those years. Indeed, the upper North Side — sandwiched between poorer neighborhoods to the south and north — still wobbles on a tipping point.
That’s why the recent rebound in the upper North Side’s housing market is such good news, and why the prospects for resuming construction along the Humboldt Greenway should spur optimism and excitement, not fear.
“Sometimes people have limited horizons,” said City Council President Barbara Johnson, who represents the area and rightly celebrates the push for new homes and higher incomes in a district where housing values had declined for a decade. “We have to look past the negativity,” she said.
The new flurry of homebuilding would validate impressive public investments in the greenway’s trails and parks as well as in the innovative new swimming pool and soon-to-be-renovated public library in Webber Park. It’s not a bad thing that the far North Side is headed upward.
Research gathered by the Brookings Institution shows that the gentle kind of gentrification in store for the Greenway neighborhoods tends to establish the very kind of mixed-income communities that so many city dwellers hold up as ideal. Slightly higher incomes bring expectations for better schools, safer streets, and more neighborhood stores and restaurants. The result is an overall increase in stability.
Those with less tend to find ways to stay in neighborhoods that have more amenities. Clearly, a mixed-income community is preferable to one that slides toward the abyss of concentrated poverty. Happily, the upper North Side seems headed in the opposite direction.