How the density craze is ruining urban life

Today’s Star Tribune features an op-ed headlined, “The density craze is ruining urban life in Minneapolis.” It’s a reader’s response to my April 5 article entitled, “Density in a time of coronavirus.” Donald Wolesky, who wrote the piece, says he has lived in Uptown Minneapolis for over 30 years and has seen the “new urbanist” obsession with density play out. In this vivid, “on-the-ground” piece, he documents its lamentable results.

Wolesky agrees with my points about the dangerous, unforeseen consequences of densification during a time of pandemic. But he goes beyond them—laying out the way urban planners, in their drive to compel us to live in their “ideal world,” are ruining the way of life that drew him to the city in the first place.

“Uptown,” writes Wolesky,

Is the epicenter and guinea pig for increased urbanization. During the past 20 years, a phalanx of pricey six-story apartments and townhouses has been built along the Greenway between Lyndale and Hennepin Avenues and is expanding in both directions along Lake Street and Lagoon Avenue.

Traffic congestion, always bad, has become worse. Side streets are lined with parked cars since surface parking lots have largely disappeared.

“This delights urbanists,” notes Wolesky. He is not delighted, he says.

These people hives are teeming with affluent millennials and their multiple dogs. Whenever I walk in the neighborhood I find myself dodging aggressive dogs as well as bicyclists who use the sidewalks as well as the bicycle lanes. Some even use the vehicle lanes on streets with bike lanes.

And once the electric scooters return, walking will become even more perilous, particularly for older pedestrians.

Minneapolis city planners are doing all they can to drive out cars, and that means banning drive-up services as well. Here’s Wolesky’s take on that:

Before COVID-19, my routines included walks to neighborhood restaurants and coffeehouses to dine or read over a cup of coffee. Now when I walk to the same locations I see darkened building and locked doors.

The places still doing business are places that have drive-up windows such as the Uptown McDonald’s and the Walgreens drugstore on Hennepin. These are a benefit during an epidemic. But they are another feature the urbanists at City Hall wish to eliminate.

How about urbanists’ infatuation with mass transit? Wolesky points out that

high density crowding and distancing are mutually exclusive. Even an urbanist should be able to see that. Even the buses have placards urging us to stay off them, apparently because they, like transit trains, are conducive to the spread of disease.

What does Wolesky—whose love affair with city life is under assault—call for?

Leave Minneapolis the green, uncluttered lovely city that it was before the urbanists determined to fill every green space with high-density housing and to wage war on cars.

Many Minneapolis residents would doubtless echo his plea.