North Mankato. Duplexes. Insanity.

Lions and Tigers and Duplexes! Oh my!

In the Mankato Free Press: “North Gate zoning change moves forward” … And, more recently: “No duplexes in N. Mankato Neighborhood”If you’re not familiar with the North Mankato subdivision “North Gate 2″, then I recommend taking a quick look around: Google Maps. Or, check it out …


Turns out the North Gate subdivision has actually bankrupted the City. Well, not exactly bankrupted, but the City fronted the infrastructure and this development has been such a failure that it was the primary reason North Mankato had it’s Bond Rating decreased. This is a financially losing subdivision and is subsidized by all other North Mankato taxpayers.

This subdivision costs the City of North Mankato more money than it brings in. North Mankato gambled on suburban growth in a cornfield and lost. Now, the least they can do is understand that they need to maximize their return. Allowing duplexes is part of this process.

Here we go …

NORTH MANKATO — The North Mankato Planning Commission approved a zoning proposal Thursday that would prevent developers from building future duplexes in the North Gate and North Gate No. 2 subdivisions.

So, this hardly built out subdivision will now have an even lower density? Okay, it’s not the end of the world and it hasn’t gone to the City Council yet. This is just the local planning commission. The article continues:

Around 2011, 17 of the lots went into tax forfeiture, and within the past year, Nicollet County sold four lots in the center of the subdivisions to developer Troy Donahue. City Planner Mike Fischer said Donahue purchased the lots with the assumption he could build duplexes on them.

We’ve got a subdivision where 17 empty lots have entered tax forfeiture. No one has wanted to touch them until this past year. At this point, only four of them were sold at bargain prices. The guy who bought the lots has already built one duplex (or, two dwelling units on one city lot).

Now, here is the fun stuff:

“The building of the first duplex prompted concern from residents and the current proposal.”

Neighbors (40 of 41 people who live there) don’t like it. They don’t want duplexes. But, why don’t they them duplexes?

“He said he has a number of issues with the current duplex, including that it’s unfinished, that it has made access to his mailbox more difficult and that its caretakers push snow in front of his mailbox.”

Let me summarize. This particular neighbor doesn’t want future duplexes because:

  1. There is currently a duplex being built in the neighborhood and it’s under construction (?)
  2. It’s more difficult to get his mail
  3. The people working on the duplex have pushed snow in front of his mailbox

I can’t decide which one of these complaints is the most absurd.

“It’s kind of hard to see our neighborhood kind of step back to an apartment-type feeling … If the whole neighborhood gets built up as (multi-family) … it’s going to be hard to live there with kids.”

Ahhh! That’s it. He doesn’t want that “apartment-type feeling” and it’ll “be hard to live there with kids.” Okay, instead of using sarcasm, let me show him how wrong he is. Here is where he lives. Now, here is a development composed of 4 unit townhomes. These locations are about half a mile away, on the same side of town, same school district, and adjoin the same city park.  Notice how these “hard to live here with kids” townhome developments are actually more expensive per unit than the single family homes in the ‘North Gate 2′ subdivision.

The bias against duplexes (and multifamily) needs to stop.


Reading: Why Nations Fail

I am about about 100 pages into Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power Prosperity and Poverty. It’s a great book. I strongly recommend it. 

The book talks a lot about (of course) why some nations are doing well and others are failing. I couldn’t help but relate it back to our policies on urban planning and economic development and the power structures that concoct contemporary policy (e.g.: Southwest LRT and how in 2012, a parking garage in Duluth was considered by a State Agency (DEED) as the MOST IMPORTANT economic development project in the State of Minnesota). Read here.

Anyway – Here’s a sample …

“Most economics and policymakers have focused on “getting it right, while what is really needed is an explanation for why poor nations “get it wrong”. Getting it wrong is mostly not about ignorance or culture … They get it wrong not by mistake or ignorance, but on purpose. To understand this, you have to go beyond economics and expert advice on the best thing to do and, instead, study how decisions actual get made, who gets to make them, and why those people decide to do what they do.”

Pick up a copy of Why Nations Fail. I’m only 100 pages in and it’s blown my mind. It’s not about the policies themselves, but more so how bad decisions were made and why they were justified. Also, here’s a good podcast with the author of the book.


The Culture of “Let’s Not Go There”

After injuries and deaths on Snelling Avenue in St. Paul, pedestrians are fighting back. Members of a local college group have placed flags in buckets to aid the crossing of this busy street. However, a man on a soapbox – a man who’s opinion is not unpopular with the voting public – thinks that these flags are a “stupid” idea.

“Everyone, motorists and pedestrians, is safest under the old tried-and-true etiquette, which worked for 100 years. Why we are trading the safety of the historic etiquette for a reinvention of the rules can be traced to the progressive idea that it is more important to feel good about change to convention than it is to understand the consequences of the change. Pedestrians have foolproof safety by waiting until the coast is clear to cross the street. Foolproof. It is understandable that the demonization of the automobile has resulted in brainwashing.”

This quote summarizes nearly ever conversation I’ve had about changing our transportation system. That being, it’s not about any particular design, but a mindset. It’s our human nature to become set in our own ways. This is why towns will oppose things as simple as roundabouts when it’s clearly their best option. They aren’t use to them and don’t see a problem with what’s already there. So, why change?

Let’s take the above mentioned dangerous road: Snelling Avenue.

It’s urban. It’s suburban. It’s a highway. It’s a local street. It’s a lot of things. It tries to appease everyone and therefore, appeases no one. This is precisely why there have been so many unfortunate pedestrian collisions.

The question can boil down to who is to blame?

Do we blame the engineers and planners? They were the ones who built the five lane road designed for highway speeds through a historic walkable neighborhood adjacent a college where literally thousands of students live car free.

Do we blame the standards? Those apparently unbreakable rules engineers are skittish to challenge. Those standards that are written into law for which acquiring a variance requires the moving of both Heaven and Earth. Do we blame the professional organizations? The institutions in place to maintain the status quo, whether that be boosting membership, profits, or employment over that of the public’s best interest?

Do we blame local politicians? Those who refuse to take a hard stance because they’re more interested in not dealing with it, or merely don’t have the political willpower. Or, do we blame state politicians who keep blindly allocating money into these highway reconstruction projects that local governments often times don’t even want?

What about the citizens? Those who’ve fully dove into the status quo of car culture, one which has existed and has been subsidized to such a degree that all other alternatives are either unpleasant or simply not feasible. What about those citizens who see nothing wrong with a highway through a neighborhood, in so much as it isn’t their neighborhood?

Do we blame the individual drivers? The ones who drive careless, distracted, or drunk? Those who have been classically conditioned to drive, drive, drive! But, who’s to blame them for driving? Have you tried to walk through our cities? They aren’t comfortable places, and it’s faster to drive anyways. Plus, there’ll be free parking.

This brings me to the last question: what about the pedestrians?

To answer the questions form the soapbox:

  • Why don’t pedestrians cross at signalized intersections? Because those “safe” intersections are spaced so far apart.
  • Why do they think orange flags will make a difference? They don’t have great expectations.  What we’re seeing is one of the few responses that non-drivers can take in a systems that’s relegated them to second class citizens.
  • Why are they challenging a system that’s worked well for 100 years? The system hasn’t worked well. That’s the point. What we’ve created has been deadly for drivers and pedestrians alike.
  • Why do the “virtuous’ hate cars more than they care about kids’ safety”? They don’t. They walk precisely because they do care about safety. Ironic, but yes, the  most dangerous and life-threatening thing you can do to your child is put them into a car [CDC].

If you’re curious how deep our cultural misunderstanding goes, look no further than billboards sponsored by the Minnesota DOT proclaiming, “Hey Walkers … Distracted Walking is Dangerous Walking”.

Meaning, someone thinks that distracted walkers – not distracted drivers – causing all these deaths on our roadways. The clueless nature gets worse when you consider the platform for advertising (an auto-oriented billboard) is specifically designed to appeal to motorists, not pedestrians. By the way, this isn’t the work of an organization that doesn’t care. It’s the work of an organization that doesn’t get it.

In the end, it’s the structure of the system that’s created these outcomes and we’re all bit players; and it’s tragedy that befalls the pedestrian. We’ve spent the better half of a century making all non-automobiles second-class citizens. This has seeped into our culture understanding of transportation so deeply that virtually nothing else matters.

We’ve created a vicious cycle. We change our landscape to accommodate cars, but in doing so make it inhospitable to be anything else. But now, why should we expand pedestrian facilities, because nobody walks.

What to do? I suggest starting off by picking up an orange flag and crossing a street.


Urbanist Manifesto: 8 Simple Things To Improve Your City

We need to stop building bad places.

We don’t need to build Rome or Paris. We just need to stop building Houston.

The following eight rules apply to every major and mid-sized American and Canadian city with no exceptions. If your leaders don’t do these, somebody else’s will. And, you’ll have people asking in 10 years time why you haven’t already done them.

1. Make Accessory Dwelling Units Legal

This is the easiest way to add density without adding “density”. This won’t change your city overnight, but it’ll help lay the groundwork for improved urbanism. We need to see a rise in these types of dwellings because they add to affordable housing stock, expand housing options, add tax revenue, and are Jane Jacob’s “eyes on the street”. Except in this case, it’s eyes on the alleyway. Read more about accessory dwelling units here.

2. Eliminate Parking Minimums As Soon As Possible

There is no bigger detriment to urban centers than parking. It adds costs to private development and drives up rents. Car storage is a terribly inefficient way to allocate land, especially in existing walkable neighborhoods. If you want to make your downtown more livable, the first policy move should be to eliminate (or, reduce if elimination is not politically feasible) all parking requirements.

If you worry about parking (and “congestion”), you might lose great local institutions to the suburbs. I’m looking at you, St. Paul. 

3. Four-Three Conversions of Stroads

Most four lane collector roads are ugly, unsafe and do a poor job of moving traffic. They are the worst of all worlds.

These stroads take up a lot of space and don’t allow for either bike lanes or on-street parking. Conversions have been well studied and the results are conclusive. They improve pedestrian and bicycle safety, calm traffic, improve emergency response and have reduced vehicle crash rates (between a low of 17 to a high of 62 percent (source)). When it comes to re-striping roads, four-three conversations are nearly always a solid bet. These are easy sells because they usually don’t effect Level of Service (by the way, which is something cities need to stop caring so much about).

4. Sell Public Surface Parking Lots for $1

Cities and towns are sitting on a gold mine of under-utilized land, specifically public open-surface parking lots. What is open surface parking getting you? The answer is very little.

This is easy: sell them to the highest bidder. Have an auction, start at $1 and sell to the highest bidder. Code the specific site to hit all the urban guidelines fitting of a form based code and require development start within 3 to 5 years. Imagine the benefit to a City like Minneapolis or St. Paul if someone put (just) mediocre mixed-use buildings on each city own surface lot.

5. Better transit, Not (Necessarily) More Transit

Light Rail is awesome. But, it’s also expensive. Let’s start small and improve the transit that we have, precisely bus service. Adding a bus shelter is relatively cheap ($5,000 to $6,000). BRT is also great and relatively affordable. Make these moves first. They are political feasible and improve the lives of people who are currently using transit. This means, making what we have run on time and run faster.

Don’t let good be the enemy of great. Support small incremental improvements to our transit service and don’t wait for the “big and shiny” project. Because, if you’re lucky enough to get Federal funding for a new streetcar or light rail, it’ll be 25 years away  before any improvements happen (take note St. Paul). Read more about improving transit in a cost-effective way here.

6. Allow more beer/wine licenses

Retail is dying a slow death. Every sale on Amazon, Etsy, or Zappos represents one less sale at a brick-and-mortar book store, gift shop or clothing store. These, and a shift of the nature of work, will make filling retail storefronts more difficult. We need to fill frontages. It’s essentially to walkability.

Food is the rational response as it’s not easily outsourced. And, to make margins for these places, they’ll likely need to sell beer and wine. There is a changing cultural dichotomy going on. More expensive local craft beer sales and high-end cocktails are shifting the nature of traditional 60/40 (or 70/30) beer to food sale requirements. These need to change, too.

If you want to fill your empty storefronts, you’ll need to look beyond retail.

7. Eliminate One Way Streets

The case against one way streets is already solved. The verdict is in.

Converting streets to two-ways has many benefits. These types of streets, as opposed to one-ways, improve pedestrian and bike safety, improve vehicle navigation and overall safety, lower speeds, and improve the financial health of local businesses (source). Many cities have already converted their one way streets to two ways. Your city should too.

8. Allow the “Sharing” Economy to be Legal

Whether the establishment likes it or not, it’s going to happen. The question is, how will you let it happen? Be smart. Be fair. But for God’s sake, don’t make it illegal (I’m looking at you Miami).

Uber and Lyft aren’t competing against taxis. They’re competing against the cost of owning a car. If these services can remove just a handful of cars (or reduce drunk driving) that should be viewed as an urban benefit. And, AirBNB isn’t competing against hotels (which can be expensive), but it more so about providing options for people to safely rent our there apartments and make extra money to off-set the costs of living in an more high-demand urban settings.

The sharing economy might be hard for many to swallow, but it needs to be legal. 

Now, these eight suggestions won’t make your city a success overnight, but they are politically-feasible, small, incremental changes that you can make to help inch your city in the right direction.


So American

UPDATED POST on — Apologies for spelling errors –

When what we’ve been doing clearly isn’t working, counter-intuitive might be our best option. And that option is making our spaces unsafe so we can make them safe.

Ben Hamilton-Baillie gave a top-notch presentation at the recent Congress for the New Urbanism that covered shared space. It was easily one of the best presentations of the week, but also one of the hardest for an American audience to digest.

In a nutshell, shared space is an entirely different way to build our places. It’s an approach to urban design that aims to minimize demarcations (divisions amongst users) between vehicles and pedestrians. It usually involves changing road markings and removing traffic signs, curbs and hierarchical prioritization.

Anyone who hasn’t seen “Poynton Regenerated” needs to do so right now. You’ll notice that shared space can have an immediate impact in transforming a place. Poynton went from a struggling community choking on traffic to being voted one of the best places to live in the United Kingdom.

Before we can start implementing shared space in North America, we’ll need to overcome some bad tendencies. What am I talking about? Well, I bring this up because after Hamilton-Baillie’s presentation, there were three questions from the audience that struck me as symptomatic of our mindset (start here).

I’ll summarize:

Question 1: What do we do to manage storm water?

Question 2: What do we do about being sued by handicap people?

Question 3: Is this a novelty, and what effect might  that have?

These questions strike at the heart of how we operate in North America and the cultural challenges we’ll need to overcome to build shared space.

Question one deals with the role of hyper-specialization; where each field has an equal say at the table at any design process regardless of context. This is what leads to things like ADA-compliant ramps without sidewalks. Storm water management is important, however it’s not the problem they were trying to solve, which was an abundance of traffic and pedestrian unfriendliness.

Hamilton-Baillie politely downplays this question but unabashedly states the intersection redesign was about placemaking and a signal to drivers, not ecology. This is couldn’t be more context appropriate in the sense that the space is small, especially in comparison to the town’s overall size. And, if the goal was to prevent storm water runoff, it’d be best to apply the specialization’s best practices elsewhere. There might be other redesigns that could incorporate these ecological elements, but they don’t need to be installed at every corner as the American model may require.

Question two deals with lawsuits and the power of special interests in shaping our urban environment. We are a litigious society and this has shaped us to such a degree that we won’t do simple improvements because of the perceived threat of a lawsuit.

My question is, what are we doing right now that’s so good that doesn’t warrant drastic change?

We’ve had 25 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and what does it have to show for walkability? We have ramps (see here) and audible warnings on crosswalks. But, it’s hard not to view these as mere token gestures when we still create intersections like these and they’re all ADA-compliant.

Hamilton-Baillie responds by commenting that speed is the most important element. If you can calm speed, you can drastically reduce danger for everyone, especially the visually-impaired. Our hurdle here is to eliminate the idea of “priority”. As Chuck wrote over two years ago now, “The concept of sharing space is so foreign to Americans that it is worth deeper explanation. We’re not talking about having a place for everything … but that the concept of “priority” needs to be abolished in favor of an approach where all space is shared amongst transportation options.” 

In the meantime, we need to merely acknowledge that we may be sued, and then proceed. The cost of not creating better places far outweighs that of potentially being sued.

Question three is the most interesting. Is shared space a fading novelty? Hamilton-Baillie says “no” and I happen to agree. This a fair question coming from an American. We seem to always be the one’s jumping on trends enthusiastically (and thoughtlessly) and finding ourselves in unfortunate positions. Every city has a downtown mall, right? Oh, and a nice professional sports stadium.

Our towns have been so eagerly obsessed to “save / attract [insert thing]” that we’ve forgotten the simple things that it takes to make a good place. Shared space isn’t a trend or a fad. It’s the opposite. It’s the historical norm. In the course of human settlement, it wasn’t until recent we decided to separate priority. Plus, how presumptuous to call it a “trend” before we have any real examples in the United States. 

Shared space is an entirely different way to build our places, and one that doesn’t necessarily conform to our American processes or cultural mindset. That’s something we need to overcome. The idea that we need to design unsafe places to make them more safe is counter-intuitive. But, when what we’ve been doing clearly isn’t working, counter-intuitive might be your best option.


Now, here’s the song that inspired the title: “So American” by the best band to come out of Wasilla, Alaska, Portugal. The Man. They’re skipping Minneapolis (booo!), so I won’t have a chance to see them. In case you’re elsewhere, here’s upcoming tour dates.



CNU22 Buffalo Photos & Fun

Lots of photos from CNU22 in Buffalo. It was a great time and I’ll write more when I have the spare time!


People love people who tweet. These were placed all over sidewalks downtown during the Congress.


Beautiful Buffalo City Hall


No shortage of hot dogs in Downtown Buffalo


Excellent restoration job at the Lafayette Hotel. If you’re visiting Buffalo, don’t stay anywhere else.


The World-Famous (and all around good guy) Peatonito rules the Congress. Learn more here.


Left to right: Chuck B., Me, Peatonito, Nate N., Chris H., & Bill B., The Buffalo NextGen Superheros


Downtown Buffalo Sunset from some rooftop.


NextGen Pub Crawl at Founding Fathers (?) – featuring @NewUrbanRoswell


Best stickers of the Congress


Buffalo’s oldest tree with Payton & Kristen. It’s over 250 years old.


Matthias holding Cheese Doodles at the Kunstler Party


Joy built a pop-up park on some parking spaces


Buffalo NextGen team celebrating a job well-done.


CNU NextGen Kickball Champions.


Pickleball @ Larkin Square!



How to Walk to Canada

The annual Congress for the New Urbanism is like a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster; the effects of which are similar to “having your brains smashed in by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick” [find out more]. It’s a shock to your system: refreshing, educating, exhilarating, and completely exhausting.

Bittersweet, has been my only experience waking up on each Sunday of the Congress. Programming was over, and I needed to do something behind the event flight. I got a ride to the Buffalo Airport with Matt Steele (@MatthewSteele) and Matthias Leyrer (@mjleyrer) from the great Bill Banas (@buffalobill1)( – thanks a ton dude! — ). We got a rental car and trekked northbound to Niagara Falls!

There has also been something uncomfortable with crossing the border. Usually treks between the United States and Canada looks something like this: an endless queue of cars, unhappy border agents, and unnecessary searches. However, instead of driving across the border, Matthias and I decided to hike across the Rainbow Bridge (Matt forgot his passport and worked from a nearby coffee shop).

In contrast to driving or flying, it’s a very human experience. Great views of the falls and no wait. We passed cars on our stretch.


Walking is a tale of two cities. Canada welcomes pedestrians and the United States bumps them into a parking lot. Here’s what it is like to enter Canada …



And here’s what it’s like to enter back into the USA …


Walking is a very human activity. When it comes to walking across the bridge between the two places; one Canadian and one New York – it’s a tale of two cities.

Here are a few photos of the trip:


Need $ to get back in the USA


Me and the Falls


#USA Falls


$5 parking in Canada


Incompatible land uses in Canada

American side streetscape

American side streetscape


Shops on Canada’s side


target field 1

The Death of Neighborhood Schools?

We need an entirely different approach to where we locate schools and how we build them. Our current model – notably in small and mid-sized towns – is that of the destruction of our neighborhood schools in favor of the suburban campus model.

The campus model is a burden on our system: built on an inhuman scale, unwalkable by design, with a disregard to long-term operational costs and devaluing our existing neighborhoods.

An example is happening in my hometown of Mankato, MN. If the school district decides to go through with their new plans, they should immediately start applying for a Safe Routes to School grant. They’re going to need it.


The blue square on the bottom left is Mankato’s new school; right on the corner of US Highway 22 and County Road 83. The yellow squares are soybeans that may become Mankato’s newest low-density residential neighborhood. This should be cause for concern, beyond that of its speculative nature, and I can speak from experience.

After years of walking to and from Roosevelt Elementary, a classic neighborhood school, I was suddenly relegated to catching the bus or begging my parents to zip me off to the new middle school at the edge of town. It didn’t help that the school’s architecture doubled as a minimum security prison. I remember hating this.

Teenage years are awkward, and being shuttled off to a low-slung building surrounded by soybeans doesn’t help. It took away one of the few freedoms young teenagers have: transportation. I went from walking to school to being reliant upon others, specifically my parents. But, it was mostly a burden on my parents. For elementary, if I needed a ride on a cold day, it was a nice short drive – not miles across town.

The large campus model standard is built on such a large scale that it’s hard to put into perspective how inefficient they are as a land use. Mankato’s new middle school covers 65 acres. So, I created some maps to help visualize.


Here’s how Mankato’s two existing high schools fit:

two schools

Both fit comfortably, along with four parking lots, two football fields, full-sized tracks, and a baseball and softball field. Let’s take it a step further:


Over 85 percent of the entire campus of Minnesota State University, with an enrollment of 15,000 plus students, can fit into the site (with room to spare).

The campus model size is unnecessary and wasteful considering Mankato has plenty of available space in existing neighborhoods nearby the former middle school. Site constraints were apparently so tough, this far-out parcel was the only option. Good to know, just in case Mankato wants to comfortably fit four Target Fields (with a capacity 158,016 people) onto the site one day.

It’s widely accepted that many schools built in the last 20 years were deliberately designed to discourage walking. What’s puzzling is that more people weren’t concerned about this? The freedom to roam was one of the most rewarding experiences of growing up. It teaches us not only navigational skills, but personal responsibility. Children need to experience this.

It might be forgivable if student walkers were overlooked, or just an afterthought. That’s not the case. They were specifically considered and the general consensus was to ignore them. It was a conscious decision to save money on initial land costs.

Being smart with limited resources can go a long way. What do you think it’ll cost the district now that it’ll have to provide a bus option for every single middle-school kid on the sprawling east side? Imagine the cost reductions of having 25% to 50% of students within walking distance. Not to mention the savings of having our children share outdoor faculty or our faculty sharing parking lots; both of which are currently over-supplied (If you’re interested in reading more, I recommend checking out: “Subsidizing Inefficiency”).

We must consider alternatives because not even the most fearless 13 year old boy would trek this sidewalk-less highway intersection (the new site has an impressively low “2” Walk Score).

Let’s stop and reevaluate. Let’s assess what’s really important in our community. Building an over-sized school on over-sized road on an over-sized parcel strikes me as irresponsible. We need to return to a neighborhood model. We need to find the locations that don’t need a Safe Routes to School grants and build there. The places we are collectively building are places that our children hate. They’re inhuman, disregard our existing neighborhoods, cost us more money and unnecessarily burden parents.

Let’s make a change.


CNU NextGen 11 Schedule


The Meat & Bones: Download the CNU NextGen Schedule.

The Congress for the New Urbanism’s annual meeting can be an intimidating place for a first timer. I remember walking around clueless during my first Congress; not knowing exactly what to do or where to go.

CNU NextGen is an organization that looks to welcome those new to CNU (read about us here). In our 11th year, we are looking to continue the tradition of hosting events all week designed to welcome and integrate new CNU’ers into the mix.

Our home base will be the beautiful Lafayette Hotel (Google Maps). It’s a magnificent French Renaissance-style building designed by Louise Blanchard Bethune, the first professional woman architect in the United States, and the lobby will act as the meeting and work space for NextGen.

Important Notes:

  • If you’d like to give a short presention at NextGen or debate on Friday, fill out the form here.
  • If you’d like to play Kickball, sign up here. [Note: We need 1 Team Captain, anyone up to the challenge?]

Our events are open to the public. Please stop by and say “hi”.

For updates, please visit one of the following:

Thanks. We look forward to seeing you at the Lafayette Hotel during CNU 22.

DownloadCNU NextGen Schedule.


How To Mitigate Grand Avenue’s “Parking” Problem

The curious case of Cupcake.

It’s two years old now, but it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth every time I meander past Grand and Milton. This is old news. Now, we have a doggy spa. Three parking spaces. That’s the difference between cupcakes and family-friendly self-service dog shampooing.

The successful University Avenue retailer was looking to expand on Grand Avenue. The problem: the City of St. Paul required 10 stalls. Cupcake only had 7. The City granted a variance, but the neighborhood group filed a lawsuit. There was some local political infighting and some back-and-forth, but at the end of the day, none of it mattered. Cupcake decided to abandon Grand Avenue for the Mall of America.

All the drama erupted over 3 parking spaces.


Space is a premium and that makes land acquisition difficult and expensive. This makes adding off-street parking difficult. But, what if I told you I could find over 100 additional parking spaces within a 3 minute walk of the location.


The red square above is Bubbly Paws. The red lines indicate prohibited on-street parking.


Many of our neighborhood streets adjacent to commercial corridors have restricted on-street parking. At best, we’re not making the best use of a public right-of-way. At worst, we’re stifling the ability for places (like Cupcake) to operate within our neighborhoods. What we’ve done is say that they are required to have a certain amount of parking spaces while there is a huge unused resource at the City’s disposal.

Besides the benefit of not requiring off-street parking (nobody wants more parking lots), having vehicles park on both sides of the street slows down traffic and can discourage people from using side streets as a through-street.

What we’re taking about is a win-win-win: fewer parking lots, more businesses and slower traffic.

St. Paul is a city. Emphasis on city. It’s about time it started acting like it. The area surrounding Grand Avenue is a dense, walkable neighborhood with a compact commercial node, existing mid-size apartment buildings and access to transit and bike lanes. There is no better place to not require more parking lots. Instead, let’s utilize on-street parking and slow down traffic in the process.

__ __

Note: I don’t believe Grand Avenue has a genuine parking problem, but yes – it is more difficult to find a spot during peak periods. That, and you might just have to walk an extra block or two. Grand Avenue is a successful, worthwhile place precisely because it doesn’t have convenient parking. Furthermore, St. Paul needs to consider removing parking minimums all together.