Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

A Golden Opportunity for Minneapolis

Dateline: 7:51 am September 27, 2012 Filed under:

Minneapolis has a golden opportunity to improve its built environment, battle climate change through its zoning code, and create economic value and beauty in its streets and buildings. It is unclear whether the current mayor of Minneapolis, R.T. Rybak will run for a fourth term, but it seems unlikely. Therefore, this golden opportunity can wait for a new mayor November 2013, but whoever that is must place a high priority on establishing a strong urban vision and implementing the tools to achieve it.

For the time being, the city appears to be in treading water with regard to hiring a planning director. Whoever gets hired for that position (maybe the position waits for a new mayor) must be given the keys to pursue a strong vision for urban planning in the city, and this requires not just mayoral but also council buy-in. They must also intend to overhaul the zoning code and replace it with a form-based code that can actually implement the plan.

Want evidence that a form-based code is a good idea? A number of high-profile developments about which I have previously written could have benefited from a form-based code. We know form-based codes have worked in places like the Bay Area and will likely do so in Austin, but could they help in everyday development proposals in Minneapolis ? I think so. It shouldn’t come down to everyday residents to improve urbanism; the code should be strong enough to automatically trigger that. For these reasons and more, I think it is time for Minneapolis to consider a form-based code.

A little upfront spending in the planning department and taking the time to overhaul the zoning code will pay off in spades later through higher value development, better pride in our city, fewer development delays and legal fees trying to get development done. We spend too much time at neighborhood meetings reacting to development proposals rather than envisioning what we want the city to look like. Better planning and the use of a form-based code can reduce NIMBYism as it creates more certainty when neighborhood plans are approved. We run developers ragged negotiating their developments through approvals, and too often good urbanism gets watered down because it isn’t required in the first place. A proper code tells a developer a significant amount of what is expected in terms of size, shape, and frontage of a building, as well as relationship to the street, saving them cost and time and results in fewer revolts from neighbors.

Like I said, this is a golden opportunity for the city and we cannot let it pass. It is time for better urbanism in Minneapolis, and this must be a core issue for the next mayor of Minneapolis.

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