Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

Highland – Setting the Bar for Development

Dateline: 9:53 am October 17, 2011 Filed under:

I have searched the world to find the perfect neighborhood, and perhaps I need look no further than the Highland neighborhood in St. Paul, less than three miles from my home. Is it really perfect? Of course not, but I once lived there and now spend a lot of time shopping and eating there. So I can speak from experience that I believe it offers the right blend of housing, retail, jobs, civic space and transportation options, all in a relatively pleasant walkable setting. And on a recent visit, I took my camera to try and document what it looks like and how it functions. View the slideshow here.

In other words, Highland is a complete, connected neighborhood, and sets the minimum standard for any city or developer to measure what a proposed neighborhood should look and function. No new neighborhood anywhere should have wider or faster roads, narrower sidewalks, less transit service, fewer housing choices, more separated uses, less connectivity or fewer civic amenities than Highland. Sorry for the double-negatives – Highland deserves to be replicated or improved upon everywhere. If only it were so easy!

LEED-ND is the closest metric we have to measure what a complete neighborhood is. This is valuable. We must find ways to create more complete places with a range of housing, retail and commercial in a walkable, transit-served setting. My friend and colleague Brendan Slotterback has some very good insights as to what areas of the Twin Cities can even host a LEED-ND project. Check out his work at Net Density. I’ll let him and the other LEED professionals quantify the ratings system. I want to show what a complete, sustainable neighborhood feels like. The Highland neighborhood of St. Paul does just that.

It all started 12 years ago when I lived (and shopped and ate and played and hung out) in Highland. I was strolling around, window shopping and enjoying the evening when I came upon some teenagers hanging out next to the kiosk at the corner of Ford Parkway and Cleveland Avenue. They were hanging out. I didn’t know too much at that time about cities, but I knew enough that most new suburbs being developed at the time didn’t have many places for teenagers to hang out, much less be able to reach that place without getting a ride from mom and dad. But here they were, having arrived on foot, and feeling every bit like they had a right to be there as anybody else.

It slowly dawned on me that Highland was a pretty diverse place, at least in terms of age. Little old ladies could visit the Lunds grocery store and converse with fellow retirees. People of all ages could visit the library, grab a bite, shop or catch a movie, and could do so on foot, by car, bike or transit. If only everyone could live in such a place! As I mentioned, I still live nearby, and often visit for shopping or dining myself.

Despite a few blemishes, it is a very attractive, busy, approachable neighborhood that is equally accessible on foot or by car. There is much to do. There is a mix of housing styles, a grocery store, pharmacies, banks, two bookstores, a theater, restaurants, coffee shops, gifts, bars, a library and park, health clinics, churches and synagogues. There are places to sit and stroll. People of all ages feel at home here.

Perhaps most importantly, it is used and loved. It wasn’t designed specifically to be this way, but rather has evolved over time. Sure, you can argue it was developed in an era when this sort of mixed-use walkable neighborhood was possible, but that is a cop-out. We know how to do this, and no combination of zoning, financing and road standards should prevent us from setting this development standard as a minimum standard in the future.


  1. […] long been a fan of Highland Park, as I shop and dine there frequently and I believe it is a complete, walkable neighborhood built […]

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  2. […] long been a fan of Highland Park, as I shop and dine there frequently and I believe it is a complete, walkable neighborhood built […]

    Pingback by The Soul of St. Paul’s Highland Park | — January 29, 2015 @ 4:12 pm

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