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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.
June 12, 2013, 11am PDT | Melody Wu
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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. 

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Published on Saturday, June 8, 2013 in Star Tribune
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