Efforts to Boost Walkability Meet Hostility in Twin Cities’ Suburbs

A fragmented network of sidewalks is commonplace in the suburbs of Hennepin County, Minnesota. Mary Jane Smetanka reports on controversial efforts to fill in the gaps and retrofit these suburban neighborhoods as walkable places.

In the suburban communities of St. Louis Park, Hopkins, and Edina, a lack of sidewalks leaves residents with few safe solutions for reaching their destinations on foot. Cities like Hopkins historically had sidewalks, but when homeowners were held responsible for their maintenance, many simply removed them, rather than pay for their continual upkeep. In other places, changing policies and piecemeal sidewalk building by individual developments left a fragmented network.

However, as residents demand more opportunities to ditch their cars and connect to their neighbors, these communities are responding with sidewalk-building programs. “[Walkable communities] are a lifestyle asset, and cities are hip to that,” says John Archer, professor at University of Minnesota. “We have to keep attracting people who want to move here, and make this an attractive place, because people who are moving in don’t have the same affections that the old people did.”

Yet, not everyone is on board. “Sidewalks are difficult projects,” Hopkins City Engineer John Bradford said. “Everybody loves the sidewalk — on the other side of the street. That makes for contentious projects.” For long-time residents who’ve managed without a sidewalk for 50 years, the idea of replacing a strip of lawn with concrete is hard to swallow.

St. Louis Park will proceed with its 10-year plan to put a sidewalk within a quarter mile of every resident, although its project list was cut back 20 percent due to objections from residents and physical barriers, notes Smetanka. 

Full Story: Sidewalks gain in the Twin Cities suburbs, even as some residents protest

Comments

Prepare for the AICP Exam

Join the thousands of students who have utilized the Planetizen AICP* Exam Preparation Class to prepare for the American Planning Association's AICP* exam.
Starting at $199
Planetizen Courses image ad

Planetizen Courses

Advance your career with subscription-based online courses tailored to the urban planning professional.
Starting at $14.95 a month
Book cover of Insider's Guide to Careers in Urban Planning

So you want to be a planner...

Check out our behind the scenes look at 25 careers in the Urban Planning field
Starting at $14.95
Woman wearing city map tote bag

City Shoulder Totes

Durable CityFabric© shoulder tote bags available from 5 different cities.
$22.00