Twin Cities On Track For Increased Population Density

A new report projects growth in the Twin Cities, including a trend reversal that will bring more people to the core cities and to inner-ring suburbs.
Twin Cities On Track For Increased Population Density

The debate over increased population density in the Twin Cities is old saw, as residents have opted for suburban life in recent decades and planners’ visions of multi-story residential buildings and increased transit options have been met with stiff resistance in certain city neighborhoods.

But a new forecast from the Metropolitan Council suggests that the Twin Cities will grow in the coming three decades—and much of the growth will occur in the core cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, as well as in inner-ring suburbs.

In the wake of several decades of declining population, Minneapolis in 2011 began seeing a modest uptick in its core city population. Some hoped the shift heralds a step toward increased population density in the city, while others have opposed the idea, wanting their neighborhoods to remain as is. The dilemma, of course, is that more people and a growing tax base is precisely what Minneapolis and St. Paul need most if they hope to remain viable and competitive cities. In other words, the city may need more taxpayers in order to pay for the services its residents expect.

Nearly a year ago, Twin Cities Business explored in an in-depth feature story the economic impetus for increased population density.

And a recent Star Tribune editorial echoed some of the points of TCB’s feature story—saying that Minneapolis needs to boost its population not out of civic pride, but rather, out of economic necessity. It referred to Minneapolis’ growth as “a survival issue.” The editorial lays out several suggestions for Minneapolis: accept density, expand transit, solve problems with the city’s public schools, control crime, keep property taxes in check, and beautify public spaces. (Read the whole story for details about how it suggests accomplishing those goals.)

Now, the Metropolitan Council is projecting regional population growth of nearly 900,000 people during the coming three decades, including significant growth in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and nearby suburbs.

Overall, the Council anticipates 41 percent growth in the region’s number of households to 2040, 37 percent growth in employment, and 31 percent increase in population. And a major change in real estate demographics is that “younger Millennials show a preference for walkable, connected, and more centrally-located neighborhoods served by transit,” the Metropolitan Council said.

Minneapolis is expected to add about 105,000 residents between 2010 and 2040, a growth rate of about 27 percent. That’s after the city’s population dipped slightly between 2000 and 2010. St. Paul’s population, meanwhile, is expected to grow by 54,000, or about 19 percent, by 2040, after also dipping in the 2000s.

The Metropolitan Council’s report projected that, throughout the Twin Cities, there will be an increase of 570,000 jobs between 2010 and 2040. Too, it forecast other demographic changes; for example, the number of residents over age 65 will grow by 150 percent by 2040. For more information, click here.

Regarding a shift toward higher population density, Libby Starling, manager of regional policy and research at the Met Council, told Twin Cities Business that her organization is forecasting increased population in both the core cities and suburbs—“and once you have more people in one area, you naturally have more density.” Municipalities will have to determine on a case-by-case basis how to address that increase, she added.

In terms of a shift toward more people living in the core cities, Starling pointed out that when the Met Council made its 2030 projections roughly a decade ago, the agency forecast that 30 percent of household growth would occur in central cities and “developed suburbs.” In its latest projection, the agency said it expects 55 percent of growth to occur in those areas, which include Minneapolis, St. Paul, inner-ring suburbs, and some more established second-ring suburbs, such as Oakdale and Brooklyn Park, Starling said.

The Metropolitan Council described its forecast as “preliminary” and said that its staff will now work with local officials and review their input.

But there may also be indicators that so-called “suburban sprawl” could return. In a recent story, the New York Times drew attention to Otsego, a city roughly 30 miles from downtown Minneapolis that is seeing new housing developments. The land under development there was already slated for housing when the bust arrived, and the developers buying lots there are landing a better deal because some of the planning and grading had already been completed, the newspaper reported. When breaking ground on new projects, developers appear focused on land closer to the city—but experts have differing opinions regarding whether the return of the housing market will necessarily spark the return of “sprawl.”