Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

A Small Urban Victory – The Individual Unit Entrance

Dateline: 2:55 pm January 16, 2011 Filed under:

It seems a fundamental part of the design of urban residential buildings is to have individual unit entrances at the ground level. Versus a building with just one common entrance off the sidewalk, individual unit entrances enliven the pedestrian realm, are more pleasant to look at, provide more eyes and activity on the street, create opportunities for more neighbors to meet and interact, and quite simply create a more inviting urban environment and are more neighborly. That is why I’m so happy to report that Klodt Development, at their proposed 64-unit apartment project in Minneapolis, has decided to add seven individual entrances to the ground floor units facing the street.

A month ago, John Bell, a representative at Klodt Development, came to the Business, Development and Transportation (BDT) committee meeting at the Standish-Ericsson Neighborhood Association (SENA) offices. I’m vice-president of the SENA board and on the BDT committee. Mr. Bell was there to get our approval of their proposed apartment project prior to taking it to the Minneapolis Planning Commission. The building, a 64-unit, four-story apartment building on 29th Avenue near 37th Street, will be located on the same block as the 38th Street light rail station – you cannot ask for much better proximity. (I care because this building will be two blocks from my house and Joe Urban headquarters, and I want my ‘hood to look good.)

At this building, tenants will be able to walk out their door, around the corner and on to the train. And yet, the 38th Street Station Plan, approved several years ago, while encouraging density near the station, was not specific enough on buildings’ actual relationship to the street and contribution to urbanity – just walk through the Pearl District in Portland or the Yaletown neighborhood in Vancouver to see how fundamentally improtant this is. Klodt was merely following the existing plan and zoning, and the proposed buidling included one common door facing the street. Not good enough.

The funny thing is, I checked through “Death and Life of Great American Cities” by Jane Jacobs and “A Pattern Language” by Christopher Alexander to see if either address the individual entrance directly. I could be missing something, but the closest either book comes is Alexander arguing that buildings should not be monolithic. Well duh! Regardless, there isn’t an urbanist out there who would favor a four-story apartment building with only a common entrance instead of individual entrances off the sidewalk. They’ve got my back!

So I apologized to Mr. Bell for being a resident and BDT committee member with no skin in the game, yet here I was requesting the developer add someting to their building that look good but also add cost. Mr. Bell seemed receptive, but requested that I write a letter to Paul Klodt, the owner. I did just that, and copied some Planning Commission members and a city planner assigned to the project.

I’m so tickled that it worked! I hold no illusions that every time I try this it will be so easy. But quite simply, I believe it is the right thing, and apparently so does the devleoper and Planning Commission. THank you all! I guess urbanists have my back, and as Joe Riley would say, no building should be built that doesn’t add to the overall beauty of the city. The proposed Klodt Development project will add 64 residential units a stone’s throw from the 38th Street station platform, good metropolitan policy, to be sure, and I believe individual unit entrances will dramatically enhance the look, feel and urbanity of the area.

I’m glad to see the neighborhood, developer and city work together to make a positive improvement to the neighborhood. It will benefit us all.

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