It’s no secret that the University District is in for some major changes. A recent study by the city of Minneapolis indicates that Southeast Minneapolis, as a whole, is expected to grow in population by 25 percent in the next two decades and that the number of households is expected to grow by 30 percent over that same period.
With those projections and a number of new facilities sprouting up in and around Prospect Park — including the university’s Biomedical Research Park, Fairview’s Ambulatory Care Clinic and the new Gopher Stadium, not to mention the high probability of light rail in the area in the next several years — the Prospect Park/East River Road Improvement Association (PPERRIA) is taking a proactive stand and hoping to define the kind of development it wants to see in the neighborhood in the future.
This past summer, PPERRIA created a subcommittee charged with developing a framework for growth for the neighborhood. Since July, that body has met every two weeks to create a comprehensive picture of what the neighborhood should look like in the future and what kinds of development it would support. The timing coincides with an assignment from the University District Partnership Alliance (UDPA) for local neighborhoods to come together to form a unified vision for the district. According to PPERRIA President Dick Poppele, the process “provides some basis for the neighborhood to understand itself.”
Master plan informal but ‘a good process’
Speaking to The Bridge in December, Haila Maze — a principal planner for the area from the city’s department of Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED) — commended the neighborhood’s efforts. “It’s a good process, and I think they’re ahead of the curve,” she said, but she added that there is a distinction between what PPERRIA is doing and a formal master plan. When a neighborhood makes a master plan that’s adopted by the city, the plan is tacked on to the city’s comprehensive plan and becomes part of city policy.
In PPERRIA’s case, the current visioning process is not part of a formal master plan, meaning it will be viewed by the city as “thoughtful input, versus official neighborhood guidance,” Maze said. Should the neighborhood be interested in turning the visioning into a more formal plan in the future, the city could help in that capacity, though ultimately, “it’s up to them what they want to go with,” and no one way is necessarily better than another, she said.
Poppele said the neighborhood is opting for a less formal option at this point because an official city master plan can be a long process, and the neighborhood wants to start responding to external pressures more rapidly.
An outline of the vision and process was presented at a recent PPERRIA meeting. Aspects include:
Planning Committee Chair Dick Gilyard said his committee had taken into account the “tsunami of forces barreling down on us” and decided the neighborhood really needed to establish its own vision. The hope, Gilyard said, is that planning would help to preserve and reinforce a sense of place, identify missing pieces in the neighborhood, enhance connectivity to other neighborhoods in the area and the university, and reinforce the public realm.
Committee member Tamara Johnson said preserving and identifying the characteristics of the neighborhood, maintaining the diversity of architecture, residents and businesses, promoting alternate modes of transportation, and encouraging economic vitality were central to the planning effort.
Committee Member Karen Murdoch joked that she “felt like God” when given the chance to help define the characteristics of Prospect Park. Murdoch said the gorge of the Mississippi, the hilly topography, the dense urban forest and green spaces were key features of the neighborhood. She also mentioned the curvy streets, historic buildings like Pratt School, pedestrian lights and high-quality, pre-World War II housing stock.
The neighborhood’s well-defined physical boundaries, highly educated and vocal population, number of multiple generations from a single family living in the neighborhood, strong neighborhood group involvement, progressive political ideals and close relationship with the U were also mentioned as defining characteristics.
Mix and mingle
Committee Member Christina Larson said that, to have a lively, vital community, people need a variety of reasons and times to be there. Prospect Park is currently lacking a centralized business community, or an “urban village” of consolidated shops, restaurants and entertainment. Larson said such an urban village would need to attract business throughout the day to be successful (not just the University lunch crowd) and promote “incidental customers.”
Corridors through Prospect Park
Committee Member John Wicks said very few neighborhoods have the number of transportation corridors and kinds of transportation systems Prospect Park does.
Committee Member John DeWitt explained the concept of “complete streets” that balance vehicular, bicycle, mass transit and pedestrian needs. He demonstrated visually, using computer-generated images, how the concept could be applied to streets in the neighborhood. DeWitt also talked about the concept of “streetscaping” and giving streets a sense of place.
Committee Member Jim Witte presented several examples of what high-density owner-occupied residential, commercial and office developments could look like in “gateway districts” on University and Franklin avenues. ESG Architects helped with the visioning, he said. Bedford and University was identified as a potential place for a central business district, and planning could include the redesign of the intersection at the east end of the Franklin Avenue bridge.
Concepts and comments
A series of comment sheets were distributed for people to describe what they liked about the concepts that were presented, what could be improved, and to give people a platform to share their own ideas. Gilyard said the point of developing a framework is not to generate a master plan that will be typed, bound and boxed-up on a shelf, but rather, to come up with a comprehensive, flexible plan to show developers in the next six months.
“We look at it as a working plan we will pursue into real projects,” he said. Poppele said PPERRIA wants to be able to have a useful dialogue with developers, which means having a plan of what the neighborhood does want, not simply what it doesn’t.
To comment on or become involved with the plan, contact PPERRIA through their wesbite, www.pperr.org.