It is hard to keep pace with the ever changing trend of where people want to live. One week we seem to be moving back into cities, the next the suburbs are back on the rise. Larger trends like the suburban flight of the 1950's and 60's are easier to see, but the year to year progress is more disguised. Urban cities were finally gaining momentum as people, and millennials more specifically, moved back inward. The city has so much to offer with the ease of traveling by bike, bus, or on foot. No car needed. Many articles have been written in the past year stating the trend has seen its peak, people are moving again to the suburbs.
Regardless of whether people want to live in urban, suburban, or rural areas, we need to be thoughtfully planning for an increase in population. The Twin Cities population alone is projected to rise from 3.1 to 3.7 million by 2040. Cities are naturally more capable of taking the increasing population because of their established infrastructure. A new suburb must run utilities and roads. At a certain point if the construction is far enough out, you need another fire station, increased police force and code enforcement.
Any city focused on growth and advancement will have a long range planning component that projects what their city will look like twenty years into the future and then creates a plan of action on how to accommodate that change. Municipalities in the Twin Cities metro area are currently updating their comprehensive plans to push out their visions into 2040. Most cities are engaging residents to determine how and where they will grow. A city not growing is declining, so finding a way to accommodate growth is essential.
Cities with no horizontal room to grow must find a way to grow vertically in order to handle the population increase. Minneapolis has a unique opportunity in the coming years because it still has not returned to its highest population prior to the suburban flight. In 1950 the census population was 521,718, just over 100,000 more people than currently reside in the city today. Our boundaries have not changed much, therefore we have already proven we can handle more people than we currently have.
Leaving the metro area this weekend, I saw construction occurring everywhere. The most popular building type appears to be a 5-6 story apartment complex. This is the model a developer can make a return on their investment without building too much. This density should be thoughtfully place where it will benefit the most such as near transit stations, employment centers, and activity nodes.
Accessory dwelling units are another option for adding density in an incremental way. Lubbock, Texas used this method to house soldiers returning from World War II. Today these units house college students looking to live near campus for cheap. We used this concept when we had a housing crisis in the 1940's and it worked out well. More cities should approve accessory dwelling unit ordinances with the proper regulations to bring a little more density to established low density neighborhoods.
Some housing strategies are worth repeating, however others like the Cabrini Green projects (demolished about 30 years after construction because of high crime and neglect) in Chicago should be rethought. We can learn from our mistakes and create better, more inclusive communities. We should never again regulate an entire segment of our population to a desolate high rise, especially if proper maintenance is not planned to keep it as vibrant and active ten years after it is completed.
The answer to rising populations is not the same for every city. Each government agency needs to actively engage their residents to determine the best option to accommodate their projected growth. Density is not something to be feared, but welcomed. Density allows the neighborhood bistro to thrive, the local bar to keep operating, and buses to run at a higher frequency. The projected growth is nothing new, our population has fluctuated for many years. We can learn from the past however, and grow in a more thoughtful and planned manner.