Changing the Dinkytown story

Last week, the City of Minneapolis unveiled its preliminary outline for a small area plan for Dinkytown.

The plan is the first step in shaping the future of the neighborhood, which recently went through controversial development, and Minneapolis as a whole.

Last month, the Minneapolis City Council aptly approved a residential development in the heart of Dinkytown, citing the project as a trendsetter for density in the area.

The project incited a proposed moratorium on development in a four-block area of Dinkytown’s business district. The City Council narrowly rejected it, but the moratorium’s purpose is troubling in an activity center like Dinkytown.

The neighborhood needs denser developments to use land more effectively, such as building over surface parking. The small area plan must lay a foundation supporting quality development and healthy growth akin with the goals of greater Minneapolis.

Problems with Dinkytown

“The problems of Dinkytown are the ‘problems of the successful,’” Minneapolis planner Haila Maze said.

Maze is the head author of the small area plan and the main figure behind city planning in Dinkytown and the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood.

Maze said the area typically sees too many developers vying for space.

Although it attracts large, corporate developers like Doran Companies and Opus Group, the area lacks a growing local business community with the strength to develop densely.

In the City of Minneapolis’ small area plan for Dinkytown, Maze stressed maintaining local businesses and recruiting new entrepreneurs. If local developers can muster it, the mix should have more local entrepreneurs.

However, students are on the other side of the equation.

Because the University brings in many students, especially local renters, the area is known for its transitory nature. Students come and go, often leaving behind private property that doesn’t see the investment that homeowners would put into a residence.

“Everyone has their own Dinkytown story,” Maze said.

This is precisely why groups like Save Dinkytown fight to preserve the area. Nostalgia for college life, local art ties or a bohemian romanticism still hang heavy in the area.

But few Dinkytown residents have the resources to invest in private property enough to appeal to property owners. Chances are slim that students will be choosing to stay in Dinkytown after graduation.

Advantages of Dinkytown

With its proximity to downtown and high traffic, Dinkytown seems to be an ideal area for leading Minneapolis in development and residential growth.

New upgrades to transportation in the area, such as the Dinkytown Greenway and the Central Corridor Light Rail Line, will also connect Dinkytown to job centers.

The University draws a lot of people into the city through education and its status as the state’s fifth- largest employer. If the small-area plan and the future of the Dinkytown area are to be successful, the University should be involved — whether via transportation recommendations, parking utilization or even residence halls.

“By 2025, we want 450,000 people to live in Minneapolis — about 65,000 more than today,” Mayor R.T. Rybak said in his final State of the City speech in April.

To gain about 65,000 people in 12 years, the city could try keeping more students through development to become Minneapolis’ vital young, creative class.

A new mayor means new possibilities

The election for the next mayor of Minneapolis is the first race in 20 years without an incumbent on the ballot. This allows voters to choose a candidate with a strong vision for large-scale city projects.

Currently, candidates for mayor have not yet stepped forward to campaign to students. If there were ever a mayoral issue more central to University area interests than neighborhood development, candidates would be hard-pressed to find it.

Going forward, the small area plan must represent a mixture of local and corporate quality development. Dinkytown requires density. Its residents must move past the nostalgia in creating guidelines for future development.