Density, diversity, and markets

minneapolis, density, markets, urban design, transit

A new streetcar line in Minneapolis looks well on its way toward approval, and construction has begun on a new central station where five rail lines (some completed, some underway, some planned) will converge. And controversy over the preferred route for the Southwest Light Rail continues to bubble and boil over. Discussion and debate have naturally flowed forth. At the core of the debate is the recurring urban theme of the 21st century: How do you make the city competitive on both a national and a global scale? And how do you attract and keep new residents? A recent argument was made that transit and a more urban environment were what young people sought as amenities and incentives to live somewhere, and thus they could help make the city competitive. While true, we must argue that the diversity and robustness of markets play an equal if not greater role in helping the city maintain its competitive edge and attracting a broad cross-section of people who are in it for the long haul. And that market diversity can only come with increased population density.

Dense, diverse concentrations of people in urban areas translate into diverse constituencies of buying power. Manhattan is a logical example of this phenomenon. Despite high commercial rents and an increasing presence of chain retail, the island is still populated with large numbers of smaller independent businesses, oftentimes highly specialized, highly niche-oriented businesses. The only way that this is possible is that the island’s density and diversity allow for critical masses of specific, niche-oriented consumer groups. So, for example, there are enough people both within access to and who have a fondness for a Hungarian bakery on the Upper West Side that the bakery can manage to compete with the numerous other bakeries – including chain bakeries – in the city. Likewise there are enough people within access to and who have a fondness for Japanese baked goods to keep a small Japanese bakery in the East Village going strong. Bolstering these businesses even further are influxes of capital from both foreign investors, foreign consumers, and in some cases those who divide their time between New York and another city abroad. These extra boosts of capital can only emerge within cities that attract a broad cross-section of people at high densities.

In the case of Minneapolis, the city is, save its downtown core, by and large a low-density city. It has also been heretofore a relatively inexpensive city as compared with other cities it is often compared to – Seattle, and Portland, to name a couple. While the relatively inexpensive nature of the city can allow businesses to set up shop with low overhead, it cannot solve the problem of small, relatively un-diverse markets. As such, low overhead means little to a niche-oriented business if the necessary revenue from niche consumer markets is not there. And this is the conundrum that Minneapolis currently faces. Yes, we can hope that people will move to MInneapolis for its high quality of life, for its expanding rail system, for its unbelievable amounts of greenspace, but they will not all be able stay in Minneapolis if the population density and the corresponding diverse markets to support them are not there.

We could be content to argue that niche-market businesses are not needed in Minneapolis and thus who cares? We’ve got our nice concentration of white-collar employers, and this is enough. This attitude would be a mistake. The city is fast falling behind when it comes to supporting and fostering innovation, in large part because of small, limited markets. Innovators and entrepreneurs seek out cities with actual markets for their innovations, and markets that are robust enough to allow their businesses to flourish for the long haul, not simply those that provide a dose of cash here and there for a flash-in-the-pan one-off product. We can speak directly from our own experience in this case, having had to expand our reach to Los Angeles to capture a larger market for our work, a market that would otherwise be too small if we only worked in Minneapolis, despite the city being a lovely place to live, ride your bike, and so on.

In a day and age when American cities are no longer all the same and when cities are actually competing with each other for residents, capital, and jobs, Minneapolis needs to get serious about density and markets and understand that its hope that young people will move here and stay for the long haul will only be a pipe dream if the markets aren’t there to sustain their employment and entrepreneurial endeavors on a long-term, enduring level.

John Kamp

Drought sets in again, Irrigation-Free Landscape unfazed

irrigation-free landscape, prairieform, landscape design, water conservation, minneapolis, saint paul, los angeles, drought, Minnesota, solutions
The Irrigation-Free Landscape in early September 2013

We probably could’ve called it, but we are settling once again into a late-summer drought. This is an all-too-familiar pattern we have obsverved for the past several years in the Twin Cities area, and it is in part why we created the Irrigation-Free Landscape in the first place. We wanted to create something that could grow and thrive in spite of the droughts that now seem to arrive like clockwork every summer. And, well, one year and three months in the ground and the Irrigation-Free Landscape is going strong and looks completely unfazed (see photo above for the proof that is in the pudding) by the latest drought. Aside from the five replacement plants we had to plant in early summer (only five casualties out of 203 total plants in the landscape, actually, which is a very low mortality rate for even a conventional landscape), none of the other plants have received supplemental water. So this means over a year of no watering. Meanwhile the local paper ran an article this morning on how you need to water your entire landscape and lawn with an average of an inch of water a week during these dry spells. For a conventional landscape of an equivalent size as the Irrigation-Free Landscape (658 square feet) you are thus looking at 410 gallons of water a week, or 1640 gallons a month. In contrast, and in our case, we have simply removed the need to water from the equation. No time and money spent watering, no added pressures on overtapped water supplies, but still a beautiful landscape. Pardon our French, but this is such a no-brainer.

Okay, over and out and ’til next time.

Come to the Mother Earth Gardens winter seminar on the irrigation-free landscape

prairieform, mother earth gardens, irrigation-free landscape, xeriscape, drought, drought-tolerance, minneapolis, saint paul, twin cities, landscape design, landscape architecture, climate change

We will be giving a seminar on the Irrigation-Free Landscape on Februrary 4 as part of the Mother Earth Gardens winter seminar series. The seminar will cover the nuts and bolts of the Irrigation-Free Landscape, how it works, what we have learned from the first pilot landscape, and how you can apply some of these lessons and tips to your own landscape or garden. The seminar starts at 7:00 p.m. and will be held at the Riverview Wine Bar, located across from Mother Earth Gardens at 3745 42nd Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN. The event is free of charge, but the nursery asks that you RSVP to the following email address: [email protected] The seminar line-up contains tons of informative and instructive seminars on landscapes and sustainability. To check out the other speakers, click here.

What we do in winter. . .

Indian grass under a blanket of snow in a PRAIRIEFORM landscape

People ask what we do in winter here when we can’t be outside installing landscapes. This year we are spending the season giving presentations on the irrigation-free landscape, what we have learned, and what are next steps are. As far as those next steps go, we are searching out new sites with new variables and wider audiences for new irrigation-free landscape installations. If you are interested in having us give a powerpoint presentation (very visual, minimal text, and we promise we don’t just read off of lists on the screen), contact us: [email protected] .

Last step for the irrigation-free landscape: bulbs

irrigation-free landscape, allium, minneapolis, saint paul, drought-tolerant, landscapes, prairieform, landscape design, xeriscape
Planting Allium giganteum in late fall in the Irrigation-Free Landscape

The Irrigation-Free Landscape is almost ready for its winter slumber. Just before it goes to sleep, we wanted to plant some bulbs to ensure good late-spring color. The perfect bulb for a cold-climate but drought-prone garden is Allium. It will appreciate the drier conditions in the garden and reward you with electric-purple globes of color come late spring. Leave the spent seedheads on through summer to add additional form, texture, and color to the landscape. Loveliness.