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The Residential Zones of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Geography of the Twin Cities. David A. Lanegran Geography Department.

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The Residential Zones of Minneapolis and Saint Paul

Geography of the Twin Cities

David A. Lanegran

Geography Department


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  In Minneapolis and St. Paul, these development patterns have produced eight types of residential areas, or zones. The zones can be subdivided into smaller areas, or residential districts. The geographic area of each zone is variable, and some zones contain no more than a handful of districts. It is important to remember that the eight zones are not continuous areas and that their parts may be found widely separated from one another in both St. Paul and Minneapolis. But no matter where the individual parts of the zone may be located, they share a similar physical appearance and are occupied by similar people.

       There are some variations within each category. For example, the level of home maintenance may vary slightly within a zone - all blocks are not necessarily interchangeable. However, each portion of every zone more closely resembles the rest of that zone than it does any other part of the city. The residents of any given zone have similar hopes and experiences. In most districts they share social and economic characteristics as well, including such things as similar incomes, occupations, or ethnic ties. Many residents have developed strong emotional ties to their district. In some districts it is not unusual to find people in their seventies who have lived their entire lives in the same locale. Fortunately, the younger people who now share their districts seem to have the same attachment to their homes and neighbors.


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Located at the edges of the cities, these parts of St. Paul and Minneapolis were left open and undeveloped until after World War II. This zone filled in during the late 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s when freeway construction began to make suburbs accessible for mass residential construction. The housing here is typical of inner-ring suburbs: ranch houses, ramblers, brick and stucco bungalows, and Cape Cods. The population of this zone is predominantly middle-class and white-collar. The suburban-in-city districts of both cities are extremely stable. There are many areas where one can find original owners occupying houses they bought twenty-five to thirty years ago. Needless to say, there is little need for repair in these homes. They have, for the most part, been well cared for, and the immediate surroundings have gradually become quite attractive as vegetation has matured.


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This zone was on the fringe of regular streetcar service in 1920. It includes some of the first sections of either city that catered to residents owning automobiles, as well as some of the first houses built with garages. Most of the housing in this zone dates from after 1920, forming block after block of tidy stucco bungalows. Residents of the prewar grid zone have been and continue to be blue-collar workers with stable jobs, clerical workers, and some lower-level managers. Levels of home maintenance are very high, with few homes being in need of even minor repairs. Nothing about these areas is pretentious; they form a comfortable middle-class landscape.


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This zone encompasses the pre-1900 streetcar landscape that rings the core of each city. It contains large amounts of older housing, primarily built between 1880 and 1910. Types of residence include small frame houses, frame or stucco duplexes, occasional four-plexes, and high-rises for senior citizens. Some portions of the aging inner ring originally housed clerical workers and others with white-collar aspirations. But in recent years these districts have been the home of the stable working class. Levels of home maintenance very greatly. Most houses have decayed somewhat, but on any given block one can find properties that are extremely well maintained right next to some that are severely deteriorated.


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Like the rebuilt districts, the turnaround zone has experienced serious decline since first being settled around the turn of the century. But unlike the rebuilt zone, these districts were originally middle class in character ad housing stock, and did not receive very much public or private attention until quite recently. The first residents of these districts were managers, entrepreneurs, and upwardly mobile young people. More recently, some of the turnaround districts have sheltered a number of the cities' poorest residents. The predominant characteristics of the turnaround zone include the very recent evidence of Victorian restorations, expensive townhouse or condominium construction, or substantial housing rehabilitation on block after block. Although some current residents of these districts fear a wholesale invasion of well-off home buyers, it is still too early to tell whether this will come to pass. These are clearly the places in each city where some of the most interesting things are happening now, and where, some feel, the future of the city will be decided.


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Most of the housing in this zone was build between 1900 and 1920. It consists primarily of medium-sized to very large single-family frame structures, with some duplexes and older brick apartment buildings as well. This zone was built for the middle class and has continued to serve this group, though stable working-class families have always lived there too. There are now signs of deterioration in these areas; some houses need repainting or a new roof. These symptoms are not widespread, tending to be concentrated along the edges of the aging inner ring. In general, levels of home maintenance are very high throughout this zone. If one were to describe the ideal "older urban neighborhood," the odds are very high that in Minneapolis and St. Paul the description would fit major portions of the settled mid-city. These areas have more recently become some of the prime recipients of gentrification, and commercial sectors have arisen around major streets, such as Lake Street, Hennepin, and Grand Avenue.


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Located quite close to the downtowns, these districts were build up around 1900. They originally housed the upper and upper middle classes, the sons and daughters of the "first families." For the most part, they have been unable to retain or attract residents who are financially secure or well educated, or both. Large dwellings, many of them architecturally interesting, are commonplace here. These houses have been and continue to be well maintained. Perhaps the hallmark of these districts is an element of style associated with the leisure activities of residents, who tend to patronize cultural and artistic events en masse.


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This zone contains some of the oldest parts of each city, built up before 1900 and bordering the downtowns. At first, the zone housed industrial workers, day laborers, and some clerical workers, but it began to suffer both social and physical decline as early as the 1920s. Small frame houses originally covered the landscape in most of these districts. With few exceptions, these are long gone.

The distinguishing trait of the rebuilt zone is the substantial amount of clearance and new construction or reconstruction. Whether the rebuilding process was initiated privately or publicly, these districts were at one time the most severely deteriorated parts of each city. The rebuilding process yielded both single-family homes and large high-rise buildings. The population of these areas now ranges from the very poor to the financially secure.


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