"Everybody's going Uptown. That's where I wanna be."
So says the website of Meet Minneapolis, the city's convention and visitors association, citing a song lyric. It continues:
"Made famous in Prince's song 'Uptown,' the area surrounding Hennepin and Lake Street in Minneapolis is a youthful fusion of global cuisine, local retail, and lively nightlife with nature rooted just beyond the bustling main intersection."
That indeed has been the perception for a few generations now. But — if you'll forgive an easy play on words — things are looking down in Uptown. Major retailers began bugging out a few years ago, and the pandemic has swatted at the stragglers. Anchor restaurants have closed. The familiar shopping complex that sparked an earlier renaissance is being reinvented yet again, and a name change has been squared away.
As in other parts of Minneapolis, public safety has become a concern.
Meanwhile, a streetscaping project meant to promote walking, biking and bus-riding paradoxically made the area less inviting, replacing the shabby-chic feel of a key block with a flinty appearance, an evolution in keeping with Minneapolis' incorrigible tendency of whiteboarding the colorful etchings of its past. The changes also did away with some street parking, which, as you'll see in a moment, still matters.
Why should this commercial district be of special concern in a city roiling with needs, including an equitable reconstruction after the summer's riots? The previously mentioned cultural cachet is one reason. Another is that Uptown has been a regional destination, with relatively easy access to its amenities for those coming from afar. That should continue to be the case despite the buildout of residential units in the area in recent years and notions that catering primarily to those residents may be the best path forward.
In an article in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, Denny Magers, owner of the Magers & Quinn bookstore, explained that two-thirds of his customers drive there. "I need to draw from a bigger trade area than a circle around the store," he said, yet he's competing with suburban stores that have free parking.
We would add: Healthy sales for a business district convert to healthy tax collections for the city and the ability to pursue larger goals.
Beyond that, the main thing — in Uptown as in the city at large — is to put a lid on the uptrend in crime. Both residents and visitors have a stake in that.
Uptown has always been a mix of intentional and organic change. The need for a reset should prompt reflection over any purposeful moves that may have been counterproductive. There's a case to be made as well for not dwelling too intently on the past and for giving the area room, within reason, to evolve naturally.
As a headline for a recent column by the Star Tribune's James Lileks put it, "Uptown Minneapolis is Schrodinger's neighborhood." The column did not elaborate directly on the metaphor, so here's some further exposition that suits the point we just made:
The physicist Erwin Schrödinger (1887-1961), attempting to show the absurdity of quantum mechanics as understood in his era, had envisioned a theoretical cat inside a chamber with a vial of radioactive material that may or may not have been released. Under the conditions of the thought experiment, the creature would be both alive and dead until the moment someone opened the container to observe the situation.
After that, it would have to be either dead or blissfully alive, and where's the drive for invention in that?