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.