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On the social implications of design in Minneapolis

c.1992 [Aerial View along Washington Avenue, downtown Minneapolis]
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I’ve been a resident of three disparate urban areas within the past eight years. Growing up in a suburb of Milwaukee and having lived in the city proper for nearly six years, I had the opportunity of seeing it transform from a series of middle-class neighborhoods into a mosaic of gentrified pockets situated within the greater conglomerate of long-established communities. The city is now littered with warehouse-converted lofts in districts that were once at the heart of the working class. Though I only just moved to the Twin Cities in early 2005, I can draw some of the same distinctions by simply traveling along Washington Ave. towards downtown. The photos you see illustrate this same sort of transformation. Once a barren wasteland of concrete, this stretch of land is slowly emerging as a high-end destination of loft apartments, restaurants and retail/commercial spaces. According to the Metro Council website, in the early 1980’s, it was little more than an abandoned industrial area with little public access. Today, this access is greatly improved, with the cultural and historical features topping the list of improvements recently imbued into the area.

I started thinking about the social implications of this transformation and what affect it will have on the surrounding communities. I can’t deny the aesthetic improvement that is taking place, some of the new buildings are arguably attractive, and certainly more so than the piles of rubble they are replacing. New businesses will require new labor, and the location makes it easily accessible by public modes of transportation. I also feel that building housing units in areas such as these is a positive thing. While it isn’t going to solve the problem of outlying suburban sprawl, it is encouraging to think that some people will choose to live in areas like these where it is preferable to travel by bus, light rail, or bicycle and enjoy the cultural smorgasbord that is available right outside their door. Some may argue that all of this new development is going to alienate lower-income individuals in the area due to its upscale nature. While this may be true to an extent, we have to remind ourselves that by redeveloping a public space that was once nearly dead, we are designing a better future for the greater community of downtown Minneapolis. It will serve to bolster local commerce and attract visitors from out of town. For these reasons, I believe this redevelopment design will serve our community in a positive way.