Is Lower North Gentrifying?

It’s no secret that the Mankato housing market is doing well. Houses are on the market for sometimes hours and usually at most a few days. This article from last year does a good job of explaining the quandary that we’re in when it comes to housing. Not enough single family, not enough affordable rentals, not enough affordable single family.

Markets like this are often driven by, well, the market. The job situation in Mankato is particularly good (The U.S. as a whole is crushing it) and people are most likely moving here for said jobs. The push to live in and around Mankato is causing the most desirable neighborhoods to sell the most houses or, at the least, sell them the quickest and at a premium.

When you combine the positive economic factors along with couples having children later in life and/or just simply not having them at all, you start to realize that the “big house in the burbs” narrative is evaporating. Likewise, younger people are looking for more traditional, walkable neighborhoods  more than their parents were. The value that my generation has put on the  proximity to shops, parks, things to do are the reason the “urban millennial” trope has gained so much steam.

However, this push for old school neighborhoods has lead some to decry the plight of “Gentrification.” The definition I pulled for Gentrification is described as: the process of renovating and improving a house or district so that it conforms to middle-class taste (per my two second Google search.) I think that Lower North has probably always been “middle class.” If we were to use a more colloquial definition of gentrification, a place that’s becoming “hip,” Lower North fits the bill.

The proof is in the pudding. Anyone of you that’s been around Lower North can tell that things are notably improving. Houses are getting snatched up and ones that are in disrepair (like mine) are getting fixed. Furthermore, its no question that the central business district is improving. A quaint little barber shop, a cool new coffee place and a soon-to-be rooftop restaurant are hallmarks of a place becoming “cool.” The only thing holding back Belgrade right now are the two worst building projects in the valley, the Marigold…thing and the F-bomb inducing suburban “townhomes” built last summer right behind.

I will never, ever stop hating these

The city is now also offering low interest loans to help improve properties. The Northside Revivals program is meant to improve existing housing stock in North Mankato (specifically Lower North.) This coupled with the improvements to the Spring Lake Park aquatic facility, roads, the plans for the library, etc… are signs that the area is about to “improve.”

All this sounds good, but there’s obviously a darker side to gentrification: it pushes people out, or at the very least, sets a bar of who’s allowed in. As an area improves it demands more money and makes it more unaffordable for working class or lower income people. While I can see this happening to a degree, it seems unlikely that Lower North will command any real semblance of “high end” market rates (despite what this cringe-inducing Marigold video would have you believe), the city as a whole is just too small and the demand probably won’t be high enough to really threaten anyone. Furthermore, a lot of the people that already live in Lower North are middle class working families or retired (or close) boomers already. They’re probably not going to leave because they own their home.

This is an important point to remember, Lower North probably is “gentrifying”, in so much as its becoming a cool place to live, but the vast majority of the neighborhood is still single family, so “rent” won’t probably go up.

If I had to coin a term for what’s happening to Lower North, I’d call it psuedo-gentrifamaybecation. The reason its easy to see what’s going on in Lower North and identify that things are indeed improving is because Lower North is so easily definable, thus making any type of widespread improvement obvious and more susceptible to a label. It has very obvious borders and no real bleeding edges into other parts. I would say one of the only other neighborhood in Mankato with such rigid boundaries is West Mankato, which has been a mainstay of upper middle class homes for quite some time now.

I’d also surmise that the lack of college student rentals makes Lower North a bit more desirable than some of Mankato’s traditional neighborhoods (like Lincoln Park). We obviously have rentals, but they generally tend to be more stable or more working class than the college student scene (though, I’m open to hearing an argument against this.)

In the coming years, it honestly wouldn’t surprise me to see Southern MSP suburban commuters come down to Lower North given its proximity to 169, its distance from the southern burbs and its affordable housing (comparatively) which would only exacerbate what we have going on now. 

This whole argument begs the question of what makes a desirable neighborhood to begin with? Well, its pretty clear that Lower North is walkable, dense(ish) and has local amenities. Maybe if some of our suburban builders in town would take a hint, they could replicate it in other places and we would have great neighborhoods all across Mankato.

I’m curious to hear what other Lower North residents think. Leave some comments on the Facebook page.

Here’s What’s Coming In May

Every month there is a packet that comes out called the “Site Plan and Traffic Advisory Committee.” This usually makes its way on to the city website way before planning commission or city council packets and gives us the best idea of what’s coming to Mankato in the coming months. I like to distill that info into a quick little article so you don’t have to download the 100+page packet. I don’t do it every month, and I usually skip stuff I think is irrelevant.

So, here we go.

First on the docket is “Miller Creek 1st Addition.” If you’re wondering, “Hey, is this more bullshit suburban sprawl built on greenfield way on the edge of town?” the answer would be a resounding “yes.” Our appetite for paving over cornfields seems to be insatiable as we build more and more vinyl housing that’s likely to fall apart within half a century.

Here’s the site plan and where it’s going:

The old Meyer and Sons building at the corner of Mulberry and Broad St. is getting a new tenant and a facelift. Unfortunately, I’m not sure if the original prefab concrete walls or the new “sci-fi” metal siding is worse. Zero brick, zero limestone, tons of that generic square architecture we’ve come to know and love. I guess I’m glad that it’s not vacant… I guess.

A new tenant will be filling the long-vacant space in the Block 518 building.  Nolabelle Kitchen + Bar will the latest addition to the downtown restaurant scene. This doesn’t appear to be a franchise or chain and according to the packet they “…will be open seven days a week, Monday – Sunday, 8am – 10pm, catering to early birds with breakfast and brunch, and serving super-fresh salads, soups, sandwiches and hearty, but healthy, entrees for lunch and dinner.

If you want to see their tentative menu click here. I wish them the best in their endeavor, opening a restaurant is incredibly risky, I hope they do well.

Mt. Olive Lutheran Church and School will be adding a large addition to their school and narthex. Namely for the purposes of defining their main entrance, adding security and increasing their narthex size. Churches are integral parts of a neighborhood so I’m happy to see they’re doing well.

APX Construction and Evanson Concrete will be building a new building next to the old Verizon call center. No real problem with this as its straight industrial and basically just a box in an industrial area with utilities already existing.

Finally, Echo Food Shelf is doubling down on their ridiculously stupid idea that more parking will somehow feed more people. In what will eventually be prime land downtown, their proposing to knock over a perfectly good building (built in 1896 and was housing a chiropractor) to make sure that people have an easier time to park. I’ve written about this before in another article.

Go ahead, leave your hate, I don’t care. Echo food shelf is wrong and you won’t convince me otherwise. Taking out historic structures, that pay taxes and house businesses, to put in parking for a nonprofit is the antithesis of what we should be doing in our downtown district.

I’m glad to see you’re wisely spending $300k on a parking lot instead of using it for, ya know, food. 


I think you should care more about car crashes than gun violence.

It’s become an uncomfortable familiarity: innocent children killed in a school shooting and subsequent political pandering shouted from both sides ad nauseam. Some call for gun control, some blame the NRA, some blame “gun free zones,” and so on and so forth.

I’m a gun owner. I own three rifles and I want to buy an AR-15 because this is America and I think I should have the freedom to do that. It looks like a cool gun and I think I would enjoy shooting it.

Does that make you angry? That I want to buy a weapon that was recently used in the slaughter of children simply because I can? If it does, I understand. It seems so arbitrary and inherently violent—almost “evil”—to own it, especially when there’s no need for it.

If I said I wanted to get a car that could top out at 150mph and did zero to 60 in 3.4 seconds, would you care? Nah, you’d probably think that was pretty cool. Or what if you were riding in the car with me and I was texting and driving? Or if I said, “I probably wasn’t that drunk when I drove home the other night”? Does it trigger the same response as me wanting that gun? I doubt it. In fact, I bet many of you have participated in some of those scenarios and forgiven yourself afterward because everything turned out fine.

The debate over gun control is fine and necessary. We should criticize easy accessibility to weapons, especially to the mentally unfit. We should absolutely throw the NRA under the bus for continually lobbying to prevent the CDC from studying gun violence; however, we need to recognize that legal gun owners generally don’t kill people willy-nilly and going after legal guns is more impulsive than anything.

If we’re going to debate an object of death, get outraged equally. Cars kill, indiscriminately, many more people than guns every year. In our society, the “background check” for a car is a joke. “16 years old? Know how to parallel park? Cry during your driver’s test to pass? Great! Here’s a 2-ton metal death machine that you can drive as fast as you want. It comes with marginal training, zero limitations, and zero safeties for speed. Be back by eleven!”

Guns, while designed to kill, are nothing without the motive attached to them (gang shootouts, domestic disputes, suicides, etc.) Very rarely is gun violence random, so we don’t treat it as “random.” We don’t accept gun deaths as a “necessary evil” or “status quo.” We get sad, angry and frustrated.

But what about car crashes? There was a family in Illinois last year: A pregnant mother, her three children (1, 4, and 6) were all killed on their way to vacation Bible school when a driver blew a stop sign. In moments, a  proud father and husband became a heartbroken survivor. The man who hit them walked away from the accident without injury and might get 10 years in jail. This was a tragic, unnecessary loss of life.

Where was the outrage? The calls for legislation? The politician photo ops? The pressure on “big car” to do something? It didn’t happen. There was just a man left to pick up the pieces of his broken life.

This, by government standards, would be considered a “mass shooting” if a gun were involved. It would be chalked up on the board next to all the others we’ve had and used as a weaponized statistic.

See why this debate frustrates me? Gun deaths are bad and they are often times preventable, but so are car deaths. The difference is that we’ve accepted car deaths as a natural order of a system that we’ve created. A system that we both maintain and perpetuate, with little ability to change it.

America, much like guns, has the highest rate of automobile accidents in the developed world. Statistically, it’s the most likely way for any child to die, but we’ve all been told that it’s  “the way of life.” If guns and cars got into a “who can kill more people” contest, guns would be crushed by the sheer loss of life caused by cars (abstaining gun suicides).

Much like the Florida shooting, kids didn’t ask for this nor do they deserve it. This death cult was forced upon them, and now we’re sacrificing them on an altar of drive-thrus and “personal space.” But, at least cars come with wifi now, so it’s probably all worth it.

I’m sure you’ll point me to an article that talks about how much progress we’ve made in car safety and how we could use that same strategy for guns, but that’s not the point. With firearms, you can at least lower your chances of being killed by a gun by not owning one yourself. Cars, however, are forced upon the majority of Americans. We get, ostensibly, no choice in whether we can own a car, whether we have to risk our lives every day just to get to work.  

Even if you had the opportunity to live without a car, you’re still at a huge risk for being hit by one, your taxes are still being gobbled up to support them, and you’re simply a drop in the bucket for promoting change (i.e. you’re not making a difference, sorry). If the amount of money that we spent on unnecessary roads was diverted to making sure the wrong people didn’t get guns, we would see a precipitous drop in gun homicides.

Americans have become addicted to outrage, but only when it’s an event that stands out. A tragedy that says, “this was too much, something has to change.” It’s sad that we’ve had to act this out over and over again for gun violence without much effect. What’s even sadder, though, is that we’ve simply allowed this creeping death by car to be part of our way of life, a dull pain stuck to us that we’ve learned to ignore.

It’s been 9 weeks since the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. On that day, 17 children had their future stolen from them by a deranged gunman. In that same time period, about 3,600 people (on average) have been killed in car crashes. Do you know any of their names? Any of their stories? Any of the people left behind?

No, you don’t—and I don’t either. That’s what makes me so mad. It could be my mom and dad, my sister or brother, my wife and child.

I’m not asking you to be less upset about gun violence. Keep that righteous anger and use it to effect change. All I’m asking is that you have enough to share with the victims of a broken, backward transportation system that attacks all of us.


No, snowbanks don’t make streets more dangerous

Every winter I’m plagued with the same argument on Facebook: “Those snowbanks pile up on the curbs and then that makes the street narrower and more dangerous!” I’m sure you’ve heard a similar argument at some point or even had that idea yourself, however, the fact is that it’s not true. “Fake News” if you will.

Mankato has foolishly adopted many blanket “no parking” ordinances that cater to this misconception. Along 6th street, there’s no parking on the east side of the street from November 1 to April 1, even if there’s no snow on the ground (because you know we can’t predict the weather).

Usually, I’m not one to complain about parking, but I have a friend that I frequent on sixth street and I’m always annoyed when I can’t park there because of this misguided ordinance. Its particularly annoying because most people rely on off-street parking in that neighborhood and the city is artificially restricting a public asset for no reason.

The problem with “muh snowbank” argument is that we’ve wrongly defined what “dangerous” is. Smaller streets are not more dangerous, they are more inconvenient. It’s important to note the difference because our lazy asses think they are the same when it comes to cars.

If you’re driving down a street with snow banks and cars parked on both sides, you slow down, you have no option. You can’t go fast because you know that you have less time to react to obstacles, be they cars, cats, or cyclists (say that with a hard “c” so you get the alliteration.)

What are you at a greater risk for? Maybe scratching your paint, knocking a mirror or not carelessly flying down the road. Those things are not dangerous, annoying, sure, but not dangerous.

Even if someone were to step out in front of your car and you did hit them, the chances that you will kill them is far, far less likely. I’ve posted this image before on here and I’ll reference it again. The slower the car is going, the more likely the person you hit is to survive.

The same complaint goes for intersections. “That snow piles up and then I can’t see around the corner! It’s dangerous!!” What happens when you can’t see around a corner? You slowly ease your way into the intersection, paying close attention to see if cars are coming from either direction.

I experienced this just the other day on the way up Mulberry street. I came to the below intersection and all the cars parked on the west side of the street plus the snow made it pretty hard to see around that corner. I crept out into the intersection making sure cars had ample time to see me and brake. Guess what? I didn’t die, neither did anyone else and it would have been pretty impossible for me to die because everyone was going slow.

We’ve been fed this lie that it is narrow space that is dangerous. People constantly get up at city council meetings asking for the ordinances to be passed or rules to be made about parking and snow and this and that. The fact is that we should leave it all alone, or communicate the removal of snow and/or the temporary reduction in parking that comes along with it. In Lower North, where I live, the city did this. They came by, told us to move our cars and then they came and plowed the boulevards. It was simple, effective and non-disruptive. Likewise, it didn’t require a 5 MONTH PARKING BAN.

Interestingly enough, snow is a really good way of showing that we don’t need extra space on our roads. Sneckdowns are a natural way of showing where cars don’t drive and how we could actually eliminate the for cars and use it for people or traffic calming measures.

However, the real underlying problem here is that American urban planning and city government reward meddling. We love to enact and tweak rules for our cities, every city manager and council think they are “helping” every time they come up with some convoluted ordinance instead of letting cities grow organically. Whether it’s over zoning, parking regulation or side setbacks, city councils love to make rules (see the stupid 21+ smoking ban that thankfully died) because it looks like they are doing something, when in the long run, things usually just sort themselves out.

So next time that grumpy neighbor is telling you how someone “going to die” because of some snow on the boulevard, tell him that it actually makes the street safer and they should read this article.

Do We Owe Waldorf Anything?

We’ve all heard that the current administration is hoping to pump $1 Trillion dollars into infrastructure spending in the coming years. This type of rhetoric has been slung by almost every President since I’ve been alive and probably more. “We need to fix our roads and bridges!” often evoking the painful memories of the 35W bridge collapse in Minnesota. Who could be so heartless as to not want to fix a bridge?

These proposals are often innocuous, or at least so vanilla that they are palatable to members of any political affiliation (except members of the Strong Towns party). They often claim to have bipartisan support or at least aim to.

The problem with these bills is that they are high-level. Drafted almost like there is some kind of infrastructure vending machine that we can throw money into and expect great results. The reality, however, is obviously far tougher.

This is becoming evident in the tiny town of Waldorf, MN. They have asked the state legislature for $2m (a paltry amount) to fix their near defunct sewer and water system. The residents and local officials have already figured out a way to raise $10m to cover the rest of the expenses, the amount they are requesting from the state is the gap. A city of 250ish people, Waldorf’s bill would settle up at around $40k per person (not including the tip.)

However, this begs the awkward question… Why should we pay for this?

Literally Waldorf

On the outside, it’s pretty clear that Waldorf does very little for the state as a whole and that even fixing its infrastructure is probably not going to save it from its inevitable death. It’s not on a railway, it’s not on a river, and it’s not on a major highway, this would be giving a new liver to stage 5 cancer patient.

It’s somewhat in the American ethos to “settle the land” and I think some of that “manifest destiny” ideology has held on for a long time, but a loss is a loss any way you cut the cake. While what they are asking for is small, it simply serves no purpose and benefits a stark minority. This is not taking into account the LGA that the city probably already receives or the subsidies for the highway that appears to serve them alone.

Waldorf is a canary in the coal mine for many Minnesota communities, it’s the victim of the urbanization and suburbanization along with the death of family farms. I actually feel quite bad, I think that small towns just like Waldorf add to the rich tapestry of rural culture that we have in Minnesota, but feelings don’t repair necessary infrastructure.

If we are not going to fix their infrastructure, the question now is does the state resettle them? Does the state owe them, as citizens, money to move somewhere else? No matter your view on what should happen, I think that the Waldorf situation and others like it will raise serious ethical questions in the years to come.

Thanks to Lakes  n Woods for the feature image