Saturday, September 19, 2009

Uptown is Worth the Fight

As some of you may have noticed, I haven’t posted much lately. Some of that is due to practical issues; I’ve been busy with work, done some traveling, and have been entertaining visitors. Some of it, though, is because I’ve been a little depressed about the future of both Uptown and Minneapolis. While I’m sure that both neighborhood and city will continue to be pleasant and desirable places to live, it’s frustrating to feel like I’m on the losing side when it comes to vision for the future. I envision Uptown as a vibrant, bustling, exciting urban neighborhood, a neighborhood where people of different ages and backgrounds live side-by-side, where residents can walk to all the essentials of life, and where a car is unnecessary.

The problem is, lots of people don’t seem to share that vision. Despite the rhetoric, a lot of local activists, mostly the NIMBYs, seem to prefer a quieter neighborhood. Sure, they like local stores and give good lip service to the importance of walkability and public transportation, but their actions send the message loud and clear: no city neighborhoods wanted here. They'd prefer to see Uptown as a slightly larger version of Linden Hills. Uptown has historically been an urban neighborhood, and I want to build on that tradition, to bring back streetlife and vitality and a better mix of people and businesses, rather than trying to remake the neighborhood in the image of a (perfectly pleasant)neighborhood located just a couple of miles away. I love Linden Hills, but if I wanted to live the Linden Hills lifestyle I would choose to live there, not Uptown.

The most recent frustration has been light rail. I understand the various pros and cons of each line, and why some people think that any line is better than no line. I’m still hoping that 3C will come through in the end, but mostly the ongoing debates have highlighted the fact that many people in the Twin Cities, and even in our city neighborhoods, don’t see public transportation as a regional need. They see light rail as primarily something to serve the needs of commuters (whether to the suburbs or to the city), and not as something to be integrated into the many different needs of daily life. When we were living in Los Angeles I took my local light rail line on a regular basis. I used it to bring my son to and from daycare, to go to work, to go to the doctor, and to go shopping. Most of my trips involved short distances: five stops to get to daycare, followed by three stops to get to work; one stop to the doctor and to the pet store, two stops to get to the bookstore. Light rail, subway, bus, commuter rail, and Amtrak were all integrated into one larger transportation system, and I used all of them depending on my needs. Obviously the transit-dependent among us in the Twin Cities will do the same thing, but it’s frustrating that so many people are willing to accept the notion that light rail is only for home to work commutes. It seems part of a larger willingness to give up and accept as fact the idea that Minneapolis is not worthy of the same quality public transportation found in so many other cities around the world.

It’s not just public transportation, of course. The focus on height has overtaken almost all other issues when it comes to Uptown’s “character.” Many of Uptown’s self-appointed leaders have decided to focus their time and energy on preventing any tall buildings from entering the neighborhood. Where’s the outrage about auto-centric, short, suburban-style buildings? Why the focus on height at the expense of all else? I still believe that these outspoken residents do not reflect the majority of Uptown residents, but unless there’s massive change it seems likely that the NIMBYs will continue to hold enormous power over neighborhood issues, and to continue to represent themselves as the voice of the neighborhoods.

I love Uptown, and think a vibrant, urban Uptown is still a cause worth fighting for. Still, the NIMBYs are wearing me down, and sometimes I wonder if it’s easier to just give up and just move somewhere like New York (or, yes, LA) where dense, vibrant, urban neighborhoods are plentiful and appreciated. After having some time to think it over, though, I’m starting to get reenergized. Why should we have to move to another city simply to enjoy urban living? Why should a handful of outspoken local homeowners get to shape Uptown into a vision of a quieter, less urban neighborhood? Minneapolis has plenty of neighborhoods like that already. For many of us, Uptown’s primary appeal is that it’s one of Minneapolis’s nicest urban neighborhoods. Let’s run with that, and give Minneapolis city lovers a chance to enjoy the best of urban in our own backyards.


  1. Would be cool if I could talk to you. Can't seem to figure out your name or e-mail, but I think we share alot of the same priorities. If we can meet I would appreciate it....

  2. Great post. Don't give up the fight. And on the LRT topic, this New York Times article on the Phoenix LRT demonstrates your point wonderfully:

  3. Minneapolis needs people who appreciate vibrant urban environments, to balance out all the others who are resistant to that kind of change/progress, so I hope you stay. In my opinion, the Southwest light rail line is not the best way to connect uptown to downtown. It functions best (and, unfortunately, qualifies for funding) as a commuter line, which most big cities have. Rather, it is my opinion that Minneapolis desperately needs its own unique rail transit system that moves people efficiently throughout various parts of the city, so that now fragmented neighborhoods become connected. It will take bold leadership and involved residents like you to make sure a new system, rather than just a diverted light rail line, gets built.