Minnetonka is a well-known, affluent suburb with wetlands and quiet wooded neighborhoods. That’s why it may seem an unlikely place to worry about recruiting and keeping residents.
But city leaders, looking for ways the suburb can stay vibrant amid rising competition from other communities, have hired a futurist to help guide efforts to freshen its image. They also plan to collect community feedback in new ways and see how the city might rebrand itself to draw new people.
“We’re at a really critical point of time, that we want to stay relevant,” City Manager Geralyn Barone told the community earlier this year before the start of the “Imagine Minnetonka” process.
“We want to be a place people want to move to.”
Like many Twin Cities communities, Minnetonka’s population and housing stock has aged. The population has topped out at about 50,000 residents, and the city is considered fully developed unlike many outer-ring suburbs.
“How does Minnetonka continue to be a relevant community for future generations?” said Rebecca Ryan, a futurist whose Wisconsin-based Next Generation Consulting is helping oversee the city’s “visioning” process.
Minnetonka officials are ramping up public feedback this summer beyond the traditional city meetings, tapping residents by going out to where they are — places like a farmers market, a senior center, parks.
They’re hosting a virtual town hall and, like many cities, they’re turning to social media — launching #imagineMTKA on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for residents to share what Minnetonka should have or look like in 20 years.
By October, the city will analyze the trends and compile feedback from what residents want to see, such as amenities like trails and better transit.
That could help the city determine new goals for its strategic plan or changes to the city’s comprehensive plan, which is due by 2018.
“Minnetonka wants to maintain an edge,” said Ryan, who has worked with cities like Eagan and Willmar on similar initiatives.
Minnetonka may have a perception problem, as younger adults and families bypass it for suburbs they think are more affordable.
“I think we’re a well-respected community but we’re probably also a misunderstood community,” Mayor Terry Schneider said. “When I ask people what their perception of Minnetonka is, it’s ‘Your real expensive homes on the lake.’ There’s a perception we’re too unaffordable and we want to try to modify that ‘brand,’ if you want to call it, to be more broad.”
Raising its game
Minnetonka blossomed in the 1960s with the opening of Interstate 494. Its population rose from 25,000 in 1960 to 35,000 in 1970, two years after officially becoming a city. By 2000, it topped 51,000 residents.
Many residents have stayed put; only 22 percent of residents have moved in since 2005, according to census data. Like the rest of the metro area, the city has grown more diverse and drawn more people of color. And it has aged, with its over-55 population nearly doubling since 1990.
That’s why Minnetonka has looked for ways to draw younger families. While the city long has boasted large home lots nestled in wooded, curving neighborhoods, it’s shifted to higher density construction to draw downsizing baby boomers and younger families.
That’s meant taller apartment buildings, or smaller lots carved out of open land wedged into established neighborhoods, prompting some resident opposition.
It’s that tension between growing and staying the same that Minnetonka will have to navigate over the next few decades, Ryan said.
While most residents seem to like living in Minnetonka — 99 percent of residents rate the quality of life as excellent or good in a community survey — the city doesn’t brag much about itself. Even its logo, with a lowercase “m” for Minnetonka, shows it wants to keep a low profile, Ryan said.
“Nothing is really going wrong in Minnetonka,” Ryan said. “[But] what’s Minnetonka going to do to raise its game? They can’t just watch and wait. If they don’t adapt, they’re going to be less relevant.”