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Thread: Urban density meets suburban sloth

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    Urban density meets suburban sloth

    At this link, you can read an interesting artciel about the pros/cons of a ‘downtwon’ redevelopment.

    http://www.startribune.com/462/story/540017.html

    I’ve highlighted some statements that I find particularly funny or emblematic.

    St. Louis Park's Excelsior & Grand project a success, but still experiencing a few growing pains.

    David Peterson, Star Tribune


    Dusti Kugler tried the parking lot at the busy new Trader Joe's in St. Louis Park's Excelsior & Grand town center once -- and doesn't plan to try again. She couldn't even back out to escape the crowded lot. Now she parks on the street, even if it means walking a block or more with heavy groceries. "It's ridiculous," she said.

    Sally Carlton manages a store down the street and says her business is on the upswing -- but she's exasperated, too. "You come here and it's like, 'Where do I park? Is it five blocks down a side street, or what?' "

    The arrival this summer of the popular grocery chain at St. Louis Park's $150 million downtown is proving to be a lesson for the entire region, many agree. While the three-year-old town center is succeeding on many levels, and many cities around the metro want to emulate it, day-to-day use and the development's growing popularity are bringing some surprises and a realization that the much-lauded design still has a few bugs to work out.

    "It's new to the market and has been somewhat successful," said Terry Schneider, a St. Louis Park-based development consultant. "But there will be failures along the way."

    Urban, suburban expectations
    Fed by millions of dollars in public subsidies to demonstrate what life could be like without all those "acres of asphalt," as Schneider puts it, Excelsior & Grand has drawn lots of awards and enthusiastic praise. But it turns out those acres of parking asphalt perform a useful function -- and the beautifully landscaped alternative brings with it some headaches of its own. For example, whole rows of street trees, meant to provided cool, shady walks, are dying. A possible cause: de-icing chemicals from the sidewalks. And the trees that are thriving are hiding merchants' signs. "I spent $15,000 on a sign, and it's covered with trees!" exclaimed Nancy Sherman, owner of the newly opened Shorty's Loft, just down from Trader Joe's.

    Neighbors of the 15-acre high-density project who nervously supported it as a much-needed civic focal point, are getting jittery again as they see developers eying more and more of Excelsior Boulevard for projects that might make the area even more dense. "St. Louis Park needed this," said Tom Stutzman, a real estate broker who lives nearby. "It was just this 'burb -- and now it's a 'burb with a heart. For us, it's fabulous and we go there all the time. But now that I see five stories leading to 10 stories, in the eyes of developers anyway, I have some regrets."

    Projects such as Excelsior & Grand are intended to counter the downsides of a car-centered culture. Parking ramps replace oceans of surface parking, allowing for pretty, tree-lined sidewalks. Hundreds of housing units -- an estimated 1,000 people eventually will share just a few blocks of space -- make for more compact living and Manhattan-like walks to stores instead of a dozen short trips per day by car.

    "We felt that if we could get just one of these built, we could change the whole development pattern in this region," said Ted Mondale, former chairman of the Metropolitan Council.
    The center has made an impression on city officials throughout the region, said Carolyn Krall of Minneapolis-based Landform Engineering, who consults with many of them. "The Champlins, the Hugos, all these guys would love to have something like that. I toured Anoka people through it, Shoreview is coming up. It's group after group after group. But it's very challenging to make it work."
    The project's developers, TOLD Development Co., agree. "It's 'urban density meets suburban expectations,' " said Gary Wilson, the company's asset manager.

    'Everything's right here'
    Industry observers say the clearest point of success has been the residential portion. Wilson and his colleagues at TOLD describe that side of the project as "stellar," with no vacancies among 337 apartments and all but 12 of the 210 completed condos sold, with more being built. Geri Schiavino moved into her new condo in May. "I totally don't use the car half of what I used to," she said. "I take the bus, and when friends come over, we walk to coffee shops or dinner. Everything's right here."

    Still, two major commercial tenants, a restaurant and drug store, have vanished, though developers say that had little to do with the type of project it is. Both were quickly replaced.

    TOLD and outside observers agree the key test for the retail and restaurants will arrive in a couple of years, when the first wave of leases comes up for renewal. For the moment most residential and commercial tenants seem happy, though they are concerned about how parking will work in the long run.

    Some merchants think the answer to the parking problems will have to be the purchase of nearby space for parking lots. Others say there's plenty in ramps, and it's more about training customers that they're there and they're free. Schneider, the development consultant, is also a Minnetonka City Council member. He said the pioneering project and St. Louis Park's effort to make it a reality are to be admired.

    "Maybe it isn't 100 percent successful, but neither is Southdale. And when you look at what it is compared to what it was 10 or 15 years ago ... the difference is huge. The city took big risks and has achieved major goals."
    Life and death of great pattern languages

  2. #2
    It doesn't surprise me that theres alot of trouble, in some ways its a clashing of two worlds. But as the development ages a-bit I don't think they're going to have the same problems. People just need to realize that they're going into a downtown and not to another commercial strip...it'll take some time.

    Honestly, give the Trader Joes a few months and it's traffic/parking issues will cool down too. A similar thing happened when I was living in Santa Fe, a Trader Joe's came into an older style strip mall without much parking, and when it was all new and had a Buzz around it was impossible to park there, after their adveritizing blitz and slaes were gone so was the problem.

    My favorite quote:
    "I see five stories leading to 10 stories, in the eyes of developers anyway, I have some regrets."
    This sounds like every town board meeting I go to trying to get more density in the downtowns... what they don't realize is that there are already 4-5 story buildings... just no one notices them because they were built in 1919.

  3. #3

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    Interesting project, it sounds like. Still. One has to ask "WInd chill factor, 25 below. Let's see, go "downtown" and walk five blocks, or go to an enclosed mall or Super WalMart for everything we need." That ain't California.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    Interesting project, it sounds like. Still. One has to ask "WInd chill factor, 25 below. Let's see, go "downtown" and walk five blocks, or go to an enclosed mall or Super WalMart for everything we need." That ain't California.
    It's 90 degrees with 90 percent humidity. Let's see, go "downtown and walk five blocks, or go to an enclosed mall or a Super Wal-Mart for everything we need. Yup, it's kinda like that. There are a lot of factors that go into creating an experience for people, which will encourage them to shop. On a beautiful day the interesting shops of a downtown or lifestyle center may induce people to visit. When the weather is less pleasant, you will find them in the mall. Just as in the same way, somebody in a hurry, or dragging along their kid, is probably going to Wal-Mart.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Reductionist's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    Interesting project, it sounds like. Still. One has to ask "WInd chill factor, 25 below. Let's see, go "downtown" and walk five blocks, or go to an enclosed mall or Super WalMart for everything we need." That ain't California.
    Chicago does dense urbanism just fine and with the harsh winds coming off of Lake Michigan I imagine the wind chill factor is just as bad, if not worse than the Minneapolis area.

    Indeed down in Florida we have the opposite problem with people claiming that no one would want to walk in the brutal heat and humidity, which in all reality occurs for maybe 3 – 4 months out of the year.

    This of course ignores that historically those types of places evolved and did just find without such modern conveniences as air conditioning and automobiles. Not to mention that if you design and plan your city well you can mitigate such climatic variables through street trees, awnings, outdoor fans, misters, heaters and deicers.

    My opinion is that most Americans are coddled wusses raised in a culture that considers personal comfort and convenience as the high possible social good. Ironically these preferences collectively create a feedback loop that through continuous degradation leads to a culture that is completely alienated from its built environment.

    If all those suburban hausfraus want Trader Joe's, then they'll just have to
    put up with the horror (oh the horror!!!) of having to walk one block to their car with bag a of groceries.
    Last edited by Reductionist; 14 Jul 2006 at 3:15 PM.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally posted by Big Green Scott
    It doesn't surprise me that theres alot of trouble, in some ways its a clashing of two worlds. But as the development ages a-bit I don't think they're going to have the same problems. People just need to realize that they're going into a downtown and not to another commercial strip...it'll take some time.
    I live in the area and I completely agree that as soon as people figure out that a massive parking lot isn't the only way to park their car and that walking a couple of blocks (yes, even in freezing weather) isn't going to kill them. Or people could just stop trying to shop at Trader Joes right after work - I go in the off hours and it's absolutely fine.

    The Excelsior and Grand development is certainly experiencing growing pains but it's also a model for many of the surrounding suburbs - everyone wants one though not all municipalities realize the amount of public assistance St. Louis Park ponied up for the project. But all in all it's a great place and I think will only improve with time.

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally posted by Reductionist
    Chicago does dense urbanism just fine and with the harsh winds coming off of Lake Michigan I imagine the wind chill factor is just as bad, if not worse than the Minneapolis area.

    Indeed down in Florida we have the opposite problem with people claiming that no one would want to walk in the brutal heat and humidity, which in all reality occurs for maybe 3 – 4 months out of the year.

    This of course ignores that historically those types of places evolved and did just find without such modern conveniences as air conditioning and automobiles. Not to mention that if you design and plan your city well you can mitigate such climatic variables through street trees, awnings, outdoor fans, misters, heaters and deicers.

    My opinion is that most American are coddled wusses raised in a culture that regards personal comfort and convenience as being the high possible social good. Ironically these preferences collectively create a feedback loop that through continuous degradation leads to a culture that is completely alienated from its built environment.
    If all those suburban hausfraus want Trader Joe's, then they'll just have to
    put up with the horror (oh the horror!!!) of having to walk one block to their car with bag a of groceries.

    I was trolling just a bit I agree with your argument above. Look at the average American. Most of certainly need to walk-more than one block.

  8. #8
         
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    being somewhat expereinced in this and other Minneapolis Suburbs, it doesn't surprise me whatsoever. People are still too attached to thier auto-culture. But really this should have been seen by anyone. You can't give sprawl an urban core to do thier shopping, you must line these things up together. Just like you wouldn't put a walmart with a 12 acre parking lot in Manhattan, you shouldn't put a trader Joe's with 12 parking spots on the corner of Wooded Path of Elms Lane and Little Red Schoolhouse Drive

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    True, but does that mean that the existing urban pattern/way of life is "locked in"?

  10. #10
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal
    It's 90 degrees with 90 percent humidity. Let's see, go "downtown and walk five blocks..."
    People (myself included) seem to handle it here. There were about 500-1000 people watching a Led Zeppelin tribute band down by the river last night after work. They had to park several blocks away and/or walk in 90+ degree heat and 90+ percent humidity. Of course people needed to walk a little bit slower (and the plentiful beer didn't hurt).

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    What's all this I read about 'public assitance' for the project in question?
    Life and death of great pattern languages

  12. #12
    Cyburbian TOFB's avatar
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    EoG is a good project, lots of activity. Us Upper Midwesterners have a unique way to deal with the cold - - we wear coats, hats, gloves.

    My critique is that the other side of the arterial it is on is still crappy '60's strip commercial with insufficient lot depth to effectively re-develop.

  13. #13
    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    True, but does that mean that the existing urban pattern/way of life is "locked in"?
    All cities start out as empty space. There's no such thing as a pattern being locked in.

    City building is an iterative process. You take what you currently have and find a way to make it work better. Then you repeat the process until you have a mature city.

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