The City of Minneapolis is trying to figure out where to house more people. The current population of 416,000 is projected to grow to 465,000 by 2040.
“We can put our head in the sand and say we don’t want change, but it will happen anyway,” Planning Manager Jack Byers told residents last May at the Black Forest Inn.
Minneapolis 2040 is the city’s plan that will guide land use and policy ideas for the next 10 years, with an eye toward the year 2040. For the first time, solving racial inequity is a major issue guiding land use. The draft plan is based on the idea that as the city grows, everyone must benefit.
The city’s population was larger in 1950 — 520,000 people — but at that time, between seven and nine people often lived in the city’s three-bedroom homes, Byers said. Today, it’s often one or two in a home.
In the past 10 years, developers have typically built “mini-mansions” near the lakes or six-story apartment buildings along the Midtown Greenway, Byers said. Now the city is looking at new zoning districts to encourage more types of housing throughout the city. Allowing single-family houses to split into several units within the same building footprint is one example.
Built Form Map
The draft proposal guides the scale of development for every parcel of land in the city
Apart from adding housing, city officials are currently investigating new policies that would address affordability and gentrification.
The proposed density in the long-range “comprehensive plan” isn’t finalized — public input continues through July 22, the council would adopt the plan in December, and an update of the zoning code would take about three years to complete, according to staff. But the first draft suggests bold changes.
On streets like Nicollet Avenue in Southwest Minneapolis and Central Avenue in Northeast, reworked zoning districts would allow 2-6 stories or more. Key spots like the Kmart site at Nicollet & Lake could hold 4-15 stories, and areas near Hennepin & Central could see 8-30 stories. Portions of land northwest of Bde Maka Ska between the Greenway and Excelsior Boulevard could be zoned for 8-30 stories. The heart of Uptown at Hennepin & Lake could be zoned for 2-10 stories. Part of the North Loop might open to 30-story buildings.
“The density that we’re calling for is substantial in terms of other cities,” said Heather Worthington, the city’s director of long-range planning. “…I don’t know other cities that are calling for that level of change. Again, it’s a draft at this point. But I think other cities aren’t experiencing the level of challenges that we are, either, and the level of development pressure.”
Minneapolis has the widest nationwide unemployment disparity between African American and white residents, according to the Economic Policy Institute. And while median income for white residents has improved since the recession, for African Americans, median income has dropped.
“We have a community that’s not working for everyone. We have haves and have-nots, and we need to get ahead of that and fix that, or we’re not going to be sustainable in the future,” Worthington said.
Think of the city’s “comprehensive plan” like Jenga, she said, where the pieces interlock as part of a very complex city.
“Minneapolis is not just a collection of neighborhoods, and it’s not just your block,” she said. “… I’ve asked people in Southwest if they’ve been to North Minneapolis lately, and not a hand goes up. … It’s hard to think outside of your immediate reality, and I think that’s what we’re asking people to do, and I think that’s hard stuff.”
Policy ideas aiming to fix racial disparities include a focus on pre-K, support for small businesses, better job opportunities for people with less education and more affordable housing near transit.
The environment is another theme in the plan. A goal to dramatically reduce car trips would aim to address climate change, but also help people who can’t afford a car or are driving less as they age.
“Even if we were able to decrease our car trips by one or two a week, we would start to see significant impact,” Worthington said. “…We are a very car-centered world.”
To get there, the city would add retail closer to homes, use street designs that prioritize walking over cars, and incentivize transit use and zero emissions technology.
“Nothing is finalized,” Worthington said. “I want people to know that we’re taking their comments very seriously and that they will shape the final draft.”
A sample of the 97 policy ideas proposed in the city’s draft comprehensive plan
Create housing for residents of all income levels
Minneapolis added more than 12,000 units between 2010-2016, but lost nearly 15,000 rental units since 2000 that are considered affordable to people making half the area median income (affordable to a single person making $31,650 or a family of four making $45,200 in 2017). The issue is compounded by rising rents and decreasing wages for renters. The city currently spends $10 million annually to produce and preserve affordable housing.
— Find ways to retain naturally-occurring affordable housing.
— Find ways to build housing types that few are developing today, including space for large families.
— Remove barriers for creative housing options, such as co-ops and bungalow courts.
Design for pedestrians
Cars would be the city’s last priority in the design of buildings and streets. The city would first prioritize walking, followed by cycling and transit, and lastly cars.
The city would frown on new surface parking lots, drive-throughs and gas stations. It would encourage street-level activity and windows.
— Design narrow streets with wide sidewalks, and minimize vehicle curb cuts.
— Continue to build a bikeway network.
Add retail close to homes
This proposal would provide more flexibility to add commercial space, such as a bookshop operating out of a house on a busy street. People take more trips running errands than going to work, so adding commercial space dovetails with the goal of reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
— Allow more commercial space in areas with frequent transit.
Reduce the numbers of people driving alone
In Minneapolis, 9 out of 10 trips are taken in personal automobiles. To meet the city goal of an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the number of car trips would need to decline by 37 percent.
— Give people the chance to meet their daily needs closer to home.
— Enforce the city’s idling ordinance, which limits idling to no more than three minutes.
— Encourage car-sharing and bike-sharing.
More than half of Minneapolis residents are renters.
— Expand landlord participation in Section 8 vouchers that subsidize rents.
— Ensure tenants and landlords are aware of their rights.
— Reduce evictions, support tenants’ rights organizations.
— Support groups that counsel homebuyers, especially those with low incomes and people of color.
— Watch for early changes in neighborhood rents.
— Prioritize affordable housing in new development.
Expand production and processing jobs
The city wants more employers like the Peace Coffee roastery, Kemps on West Broadway and Coloplast, the medical equipment supplier on West River Road. For people without college degrees, these jobs offer much higher wages than other sectors like retail and food service.
— Open historically industrial land for production and processing.
Ensure all Minneapolitans live within a 10-minute walk of a park
Ninety-seven percent of residents live within 10 minutes of a park, with the exception of small pockets of the city.
— Build new parks where needed.
— Make parks welcoming to all, regardless of age and cultural background.
— Create open spaces and public plazas as part of new development.
Eliminate off-street parking minimums in new construction
— The marketplace, rather than city regulation, should determine the right amount of off-street parking, according to city staff.
Improve the land surrounding present and future METRO stations
— Develop affordable housing near stations.
— Break up large blocks into small, walkable blocks.
— Hide parking and prohibit park-and-ride lots.
— Add plazas and open spaces.
How to handle skyways
— Encourage new retail to open at street-level.
— Keep skyways transparent, help walkers navigate them, and limit them to the downtown core.
Eliminate serious injury and death caused by crashes
— Protect pedestrians through speed limits and design decisions.
— Create a task force to investigate the issue.
Boost creative jobs
Creative jobs in Minneapolis have grown 10.4 percent since 2006, although people of color are under-represented in the sector. The city reports that creative sales generated $4.5 billion for the local economy in 2015, nearly eight times the revenue from sports.
— Encourage affordable spaces for creative work.
— Encourage public art projects.
Increase the tree canopy
Trees provide energy savings, absorb carbon and improve air quality.
— Keep or add trees to new development.
— Add to the tree canopy, carefully place boulevard trees.
Stable and safe housing is at the core of these efforts.
— Prevent evictions, and provide timely emergency rental assistance.
— The emergency shelter system should help make homelessness as brief as possible.
— Deepen partnerships related to job training.
Address health hazards in housing
Hazards include lead, mold, pests and radon. Indoor air quality is more important as people increasingly spend time inside — the EPA says people spend 93 percent of their time indoors.
Improve air quality
— Install technology at gas stations to reduce benzene emissions.
— Boost enforcement of laws related to noise, after-hours work and excessive dust.
Expand access to healthy food
Eleven census tracts in low-income areas are located more than a mile from a full-service grocery store.
— Expand areas where grocery stores are allowed.
— Take steps to attract new grocers to low-income areas.
— Explore regulations that discourage unhealthy food outlets.
— Consider changing regulations to allow more urban agriculture and greenhouses.
— Support soil testing for gardens, and consider selling land for market gardens.
Support new transportation technology
— Advocate for new tech to be tested and deployed on city streets, such as automated vehicles or drones used for shipping freight.
— Support the infrastructure for electric vehicles.
— Promote the growth and retention of downtown businesses.
— Continue to support the growing downtown population.
Boost the frequency, speed and reliability of public transit
About 18 percent of Minneapolis households don’t have a car.
— Encourage priority transit lanes.
Encourage renewable and carbon-free energy
Xcel Energy’s projected 2021 fuel mix for the Upper Midwest includes 30 percent wind and 10 percent other renewable sources.
— Develop a city-owned renewable energy concept.
— Study CenterPoint Energy’s renewable natural gas programs.
Meet zero-waste goals
— Recycle or compost half of the waste stream by 2020.
— Expand organics recycling for apartments, and incentivize businesses to compost.
— Expand recycling in public spaces.
Learn more at minneapolis2040.com.
Frequently asked questions
Q: If you rezone my area, will I lose my house?
A: “Absolutely not,” said Heather Worthington, the city’s director of long-range planning. Though the U.S. Supreme Court made it possible for cities to take property under eminent domain for the purpose of economic development, the state of Minnesota heavily restricts that power, she said. The Legislature says eminent domain can only be used for a public purpose, and growing the tax base does not by itself constitute a public purpose.
Q: What will happen to the Shoreland Overlay District (which requires meeting certain conditions to build above 2.5 stories near the shoreline)?
A: “Of course we’re going to protect the lakes,” said Worthington, who added that agencies like the Dept. of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency require the city to do so.
In the future, the city may work to simplify its zoning code and fold the overlay districts into the overarching zoning. The main intent of the state statute that led to the Shoreland Overlay relates to stormwater management and water quality, according to the city.
“We’re aware of [the overlay], and we won’t violate it, and we’re looking at how we can make it more understandable and usable,” Worthington said.
Q: What about neighborhood-led “small area plans” previously adopted by the city?
A: These plans are dealt with one by one. City staff wove each small area plan in to the larger draft plan. Where there are differences, they are explained, Worthington said.
Brian Schaffer, a Minneapolis principal project coordinator, said small area plans are based on outdated city policies. Now the city has 14 goals based on community input that are driving city policy.
To check a particular plan and provide feedback, visit the Small Area Plans tab at minneapolis2040.com.
Q: Will this plan lead to gentrification and displacement?
A: Housing policies in development seek to address this issue. Worthington said no city in the country has solved this problem, however.
“I believe that we can find a way to do investment and not have it result in gentrification,” she said.
The city is exploring options to incentivize and require affordable housing in new market-rate development. Other ideas would prioritize keeping affordable housing in places where displacement is happening, and expand programs that support low-income homeowners.
Q: These policy ideas seem vague.
A: That’s intentional, Worthington said. Details will come out of actions like the subsequent update to the zoning code, and an update to the city’s 10-year transportation plan.
Q: Does the city population need to increase? Can a city be full?
A: Population growth will happen with or without a plan, according to city staff. The city is required by state law to conduct land use planning, and the city has gone beyond those requirements in order to implement goals adopted by the City Council, staff said.
How to weigh in
The initial comment period ends July 22. Visit minneapolis2040.com, where each policy ends with a green box for comment.
People can also submit comments tied directly to a city map.
General emails can go to email@example.com.
A Ward 5 community meeting to discuss the plan is Tuesday, July 17, 6 p.m.-7:30 p.m. at the Minneapolis North Workforce Center, located at 800 W. Broadway Ave.