Rail attracts many to city

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For 117 years, Episcopal Homes, a senior housing complex, has been located on University Avenue in the Midway section of St. Paul.

New transportation such as the light rail line being built along University will provide more access to the city for residents of Episcopal Homes than ever before.

With shopping malls, pharmacies and convenience stores nearby and mass transit handy, city living has become more attractive to many in an age of high gas prices and heightened environmental concerns.

“I think a lot of people now are becoming aware of using cars less,” said Sandra Coleman, 81, a resident of Episcopal Home. “A lot of people take the bus or walk to get their groceries, so I believe that a lot of people in our society are aware of the havoc that we are causing on our environment.”

Coleman has lived in the senior community for three years, and she said she believes people now are learning about the impact they have on pollution caused by vehicles.

“If we didn’t have TV or Animal Planet there would be less awareness, so there is some good in the media. I think because different people in our society are talking about this, what we are doing to the environment,” Coleman said. “Let’s save the animals, cut down on cutting down trees. My son is 40 and I want him to be more able to have a healthy environment. We are more knowledgeable now.”

In Minneapolis, the Hiawatha light rail line has led to development of places like Hiawatha Commons, an 80-unit apartment building that targets low-wage workers but includes people of all incomes. There is commercial space for lease along with an underground parking ramp.

Right: Hiawatha Commons off of Minnehaha Avenue is an example of housing built to take advantage of the nearby light rail line.

According to a 2009 report by the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Minnesota, the Hiawatha line has led to far more housing construction close to the line. In addition, nearby housing values increased thanks to the rail line.

Another report by the center found that the light rail line made it easier for many low-wage workers to get to their jobs and created more low-wage jobs close to the rail.

Mandy Jacobson, Hiawatha Commons housing compliance agent, believes many people will choose to live in city apartments and condos because they enjoy the lifestyle.

“I think Minneapolis is becoming more of a metropolis of people that want to … feel the vibrancy of life around them instead of being stuck by themselves somewhere … Especially for the baby boomers. I don’t see them getting old in the same way.”

A resident of Hiawatha Commons can walk two blocks to Lake Street to places to eat and stores such as Sally Beauty Salon, Target and Subway. Walking three blocks brings them to the light rail station and Lake Street bus lines.

In St. Paul, two bus lines serve Episcopal Homes. One of these lines, the 16, is the second busiest bus line in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

“[Episcopal Home residents] have connections with their relatives that may well live locally. There are churches, there are shopping places, there are pharmacies for medications, connecting with friends and former neighbors, etc.,” said Marvin Plakut, president and CEO of Episcopal Homes.

Verona Beaver, who moved to the complex in 2005, is happy with her location.

“We are right on the bus line, right on University and can go just about anywhere,” Beaver said.

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