Recently, local organizers led a tour of Minneapolis' North Loop – the area north and west of downtown – to explore the revitalization of the place as a thriving neighborhood and commercial district. Billed as a "smackdown," the short presentation and tour led by North Loop resident and developer David Frank explored the course of change in Minneapolis and that of a sister district in Portland, Oregon, called the Pearl District.

The North Loop and the Pearl District are roughly the same area, and are located similarly adjacent to prosperous downtown areas. In each place, prior warehousing and industrial uses have given way to formation of neighborhoods. Extension of the Hiawatha Line light rail service, and a multimodal transit hub built in part to serve the Twins stadium, now make the North Loop one of the most accessible parts of the region.

Frank's message on the tour: Attractive places develop most effectively when built with investments in shared spaces, attention to how buildings and the street relate to each other, and when residents and workers have the freedom to choose how they get around. The value of urban land is set to climb thanks to fuel prices, shifting cultural attitudes about city living, and public budget stress that will encourage development in areas served with existing infrastructure. Finite supply of urban land further boosts the importance of quality of development. It also means we need to mix residential, commercial and light industrial uses together carefully and intentionally.

The North Loop faces challenges, despite the rapid and positive resurgence of life there. Many of the block sizes are too big to allow good circulation through the district. Young families are stymied by lack of green spaces. Nearby, the river connects the North Loop to miles of continuous parkland, but barriers inhibit access from the neighborhood to the water and back.

In the end, in lieu of any smacking down, tour participants took an opportunity to think harder about what makes successful places, using the North Loop as a case study. Stay tuned for information about subsequent tours and events from the Minnesota chapter of the Congress for the New Urbanism.