Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Uptown - Neighborhood or Commercial District?

I hadn't realized it, but apparently there is, among some people, a debate about whether Uptown is a neighborhood or a commercial district. Granted, I first came across this discussion on Wikipedia and the people involved may be the only ones out there who think this is a debate, but it's also possible that this is a bigger question than I'd realized. One Wikipedia editor goes so far as to suggest that Uptown is a creation of "suburbanites." Is this is a real debate? Are there others who consider "Uptown" to be only the district's main commercial hub?

First, to get it out of the way: Uptown is, of course, not an official "neighborhood" as defined by Minneapolis city maps. Minneapolis has formally-defined neighborhoods with official neighborhood leadership organizations and which have historically received NRP funds. The neighborhoods most often considered to be Uptown, or at least that encompass Uptown, are the Wedge (LHENA), CARAG, ECCO, and East Isles.

And yes, "Uptown" is defined differently by different people. The Uptown Association, the Hennepin-Lake district's chamber of commerce, has a commercially-oriented view of the area. The city's Uptown Small Area Plan focuses heavily on Uptown's commercial core. I would agree that Uptown is anchored by its commercial district, centered at Hennepin and Lake and radiating from there.

What do others who live, or who have lived, in Uptown think? Do renters and owners have different views? Do new residents- say, those who have lived here five years or less, have a different opinion than those who moved here ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty years ago? What do people who don't live here, but who perhaps work, eat, or shop in the commercial areas think about this? I would be more likely to guess that people who live around here think of Uptown as a neighborhood, while those who only come here to shop or eat would be more likely to think of it pure terms of its commercial district.

I believe it to be misleading and irrational to say that Uptown is not a neighborhood. Admittedly "district" might be a better term, given that in this city "neighborhood" in some circles carries with it a distinct and formal meaning, but for all intents and purposes Uptown is a neighborhood. I grew up here, and I never once thought that my childhood home - not in the commercial core, but certainly within easy walking distance (and within one of the official neighborhoods encompassing Uptown) was somewhere other than Uptown. I was an Uptowner. And as the writer of this blog, my vision of Uptown today certainly includes both our neighborhood's commercial and its residential areas.

The term Uptown has also grown in popularity in past decades, so perhaps there is some truth to saying that people who moved here long ago (and I'm talking pre-1985 or so) are less likely to have always thought of this area as "Uptown." The term Uptown itself has been around since the 1920s and was initially used to refer specifically to the commercial district, so I suppose the commercial argument supports might get some traction there - IF they were talking about Uptown of years past. There's no question in my mind that in the past 20 years most people living within close walking distance of Hennepin and Lake would define themselves as living in Uptown. Because really, are you seriously going to tell your friends or coworkers from the 'burbs that you live in CARAG or ECCO? No, because no one would have any idea where you were talking about. Tell them "Uptown" and they'll get the picture. If you're talking to someone who knows the area well you might give a different answer, but at that point you're probably going to say "31st and Irving" or "28th and Girard" or some other specific location rather than cite your formal neighborhood or neighborhood association.

Uptown, Minneapolis - commercial district or neighborhood. To me the answer is clear: a residential district (or neighborhood, if you will) anchored by its commercial core.


  1. Great blog!

    As someone who grew up in CARAG, I used to have a very narrow view on what Uptown was. I think that a lot of locals forget that the greater community views an area much differently than the locals do. I used to see Uptown as Colfax to Lake Calhoun, 36th to 24th or so.

    Now I've come to view Uptown as the larger community of approximately Grand Ave to the west side of Lake Calhoun from 36th north up to 94, including all of the area along Lyndale. I see Uptown as having districts within it, such as LynLake, West Calhoun, The Wedge, and South Hennepin, with Hennepin and Lake being the center of the general Uptown community.

    If I'm talking to a local, I may say I lived in CARAG, but like you said, someone from the burbs just wants to know if you live in Uptown as CARAG doesn't ring a bell.

    The Uptown Association used to have an incredibly narrow view of what Uptown was. In their minds it was Dupont to Lake Calhoun, 31st to 28th. Some would get upset if the papers reported a mugging at 27th and Girard as in Uptown. They saw Uptown as a very small business district and those using the name outside as eroding the brand.

    Today, the Uptown Association takes on a more global view similar to the one I share. Our Board of Directors realize that the Uptown area is considered a larger area by most people and we should embrace it. That's not to say that we think that other districts, such as South Hennepin or LynLake, shouldn't keep their identities, rather we should encourage their businesses and residents to participate in both communities.

    Again, great blog.

  2. Very interesting comments. I noticed while reading the Uptown Association's website that there is slightly confusing language. Specifically, the following comes straight out of the Board member expectations document:

    "Board members must be a resident, property owner, business owners or employee in the geographical area described as Uptown. (The boundaries of the district are as follows: south side of 28th street to the north side of 31st Street, east side of Lake Calhoun Parkway to the west side of Dupont Avenue).

    Any persons with an interest or commitment to Uptown are welcome to hold positions on the board as well."

    I'm guessing that the last sentence was added there as a nod to the newer, broader interpretation of Uptown?

    Understandably a formal business district organization will need to have some official parameters. But I do agree with you that it is in the benefit of everyone - including the business community - to embrace those who self-identify as living in Uptown. If nothing else, those who feel connected are more likely to spend their money in "their" neighborhood. A sense of community is good for business.