A Sense of Place in Linden Hills Neighborhood
Linden Hills, Minnesota
Linden Hills is a Minneapolis neighborhood nestled into the rolling woodlands running from the south shore of Lake Calhoun to the west shore of Lake Harriet. Its attractive natural features, along with a cozy main shopping district at 43rd and Upton, give Linden Hills a remarkably strong sense of place. Noting its quiet streets of mid-sized bungalows and Tudors, writers have variously praised Linden Hills for its “storybook” appearance and its “small town in a big city” flavor.
Indeed, Linden Hills feels like a place apart. From the south and west shores of the lakes you see the city’s skyline looming in the distance. But the expanse of water seems to insulate you from the bustle and hassle of urban life and create a kind of idyllic lakeside retreat.
First developed as a string of vacation cottages in the 1880s, the neighborhood took shape after the Como-Harriet streetcar line arrived in 1900. (A segment of the historic line still operates between Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun.) The trolley is an emblem for the neighborhood, as are the Lake Harriet Band Shell, the Linden Hills Library, the Grand Rounds walkways and bikeways alongside the lakes, the sailboat moorings at Lake Harriet and the assortment of walk-to shops, bakeries, restaurants, parks and schools.
For Linden Hills, the problem is less one of creating a sense of place than preserving one. National chains have, so far, been unable to break into the mom-and-pop retail scene. Likewise, large-scale redevelopment has been turned away in favor of an incremental approach. Protecting water quality in the lakes has been an ongoing battle. And managing the ample stock of trees has been a nightmare. A tornado/waterspout severely damaged the district’s southern blocks in 1981. And waves of disease—first Dutch Elm and now the Emerald Ash Borer—threaten to reduce woodsy Linden Hills to a treeless plain.
The perceived decline of the city public school system is another threat to the district’s strong family atmosphere. Perhaps the greatest challenge is the precipitous drop in public funds flowing from the state to the city and its neighborhoods. Increasingly, the owners of homes and businesses may have to fend for themselves rather than rely on collective efforts. Keeping a distinct and unified identity, thus, becomes a trickier task.
Among the objectives in Phase II of Linden Hills’ Neighborhood Revitalization Plan (2005) are these:
- Support business while preserving a unique local character.
- Foster a sense of belonging, pride and ownership in the neighborhood.
- Keep the neighborhood and its streetscapes environmentally friendly, safe and livable.
- Maintain and enhance the urban forest and maintain water quality.
- Preserve and develop affordable and life-cycle housing.
- Encourage events that create connections between people, especially teens, seniors and renters.
- Discourage national chains.
- Encourage redevelopment of homes and businesses in scale and character with the neighborhood.
- Campaign against pesticide flow to the lakes.
- Raise private money to plant curbside trees.
- Continue annual neighborhood festival.
- Help fund streetscape improvements in main business district and along trolley line.
- No inroads by national chains.
- New city ordinance aimed at “tear-downs” limits scale of new homes.
- Developers conscious of neighbor concerns on scale of new buildings.
- 1,000 curbside trees planted over three years.
- Much improved streetscape at 43rd and Upton.
- Neighborhood festival continues to grow.
- Awareness that the future will offer less city money and more emphasis on private funding with matches from government and non-profits.