Blessed with bike paths that are crowded during blistering summer heat and the dead of January, lakes that give us a place to cool down in August and a place to ski and fish in winter, the Twin Cities can claim what few other urban centers can: a symbiotic relationship between nature and city.
But we are ignoring the most important relationship of all: the one between the city and itself.
The plan to move the new Vikings Stadium to the abandoned ammunitions site in Arden Hills reflects a misunderstanding of the intricate relationships at play in the Twin Cities urban area.
To illustrate this point, I unabashedly use a metaphor from the urban theorist Jane Jacobs most famous work. In it, she explains that a great city is a complex ballet. Each performer moves separately from the other, but when put together, they create a seamless work of art.
So what does ballet and “works of art” have to do with the new stadium? It’s simple. The deprivation of a new stadium for downtown Minneapolis is the equivalent of removing a ballet dancer from our metaphor: it effectively renders the ballet ineffective and incomplete.
Let me explain.
Today, the area around the Metrodome could not be described as “pleasant”. There are hundreds of thousands of square feet of surface parking lots and bland office buildings.
This was all born during the 70s. At that time, Minneapolis officials had declared a crusade triumphing modernity over historicism.
Of course, this meant that the automobile ruled, and so did the places where it was stored: parking lots. Historic building after historic building was torn down and replaced with the grey field of concrete we see today. Coincidentally, these lots also provided the perfect spot to store one’s car while watching a game at the new Metrodome, built in the 1980s.
But in 2004, the odd Roman aqueduct-esque structure erected alongside the light rail station outside of the Metrodome suggested an inevitable renaissance for the area. It hinted at a clean slate of urban planning; a future that had seen unsightly parking lots put underground, a surge of family owned businesses, and around-the-clock activity on the newly sculpted sidewalks and pedestrian promenades.
These didn’t have to be lofty goals. A new “Home of the Vikings” at the old Metrodome site would have been much more than a stadium: it would have provided a catalyst to begin rebuilding what Minneapolis lost in the 70s. Acting as a “growth pole” around which new businesses could anchor themselves, the new stadium complex would have spurred the growth of an entire new block-level economy.
Indeed, things had been looking up for the stadium district lately. The new Central Corridor will be intersecting the massively successful Hiawatha line near the old Metrodome, and for a while will bring citizens of Saint Paul to weekend games without the hassle of a car. And future plans for the Southwest Corridor light rail line would have brought the new stadium within a transit ride for tens of thousands of people living as far away as Eden Prairie.
Mom & Pop businesses would have sprung up, serving the before and after game needs of the 75,000 fans (many of whom would have arrived to the game without a vehicle, cutting down the need for massive parking infrastructure). Restaurants and bars would have become the norm, giving life to the sidewalks after the game and making the streets safer after the sun went down.
Taking advantage of these new amenities, apartments and town houses would eventually have sprung up, which in turn would cause even more local businesses to move to the area.
If managed well, something spectacular would have sprung from this symbiotic relationship: a brand new Minneapolis neighborhood.
So why won’t this happen at the Arden Hills location? I’ll paint you a picture: Arden Hills is not centrally located; it is connected to few transit lines, so most everyone will have to drive there. This means a vast sea of parking lots surrounding the stadium. There are few existing local amenities such as parks, hotels or music venues like there are in Minneapolis, and people will have no desire to loiter long in a parking lot after the game.
In Arden Hills, the tired stadium goers will get back into their cars and drive the 10-15 miles back home, leaving the stadium empty, dark, vast, and joyless until the next sporting event.
So why deny Minneapolis the chance to undergo one of the most exciting transformations in its history? It is the cheaper, more beautiful, and more economically sound option. Bring the party to where the people are. If not, we will be like Jane Jacob’s audience after leaving a badly conducted ballet: left wanting so much more.