This past weekend, I took advantage of the 30-something degree weather to go on a walk with my wife and infant daughter. We decided to check out the Edina Promenade and Centennial Lakes area in Edina because I’d never been there and it just seemed like something every respectable Twin Cities urbanist should be aware of. In case you’ve never heard of it, Centennial Lakes is a city-owned park nestled in the middle of an office/retail district, and it connects to the Edina Promenade, a bike/pedestrian corridor through the Southdale area.
The verdict? I loved it. I thought it was phenomenal. It was beautiful, wonderfully maintained, and full of people enjoying the weather by walking or ice skating. I loved the trees, the interconnected ice-skating rinks, the trails and sidewalks, and the grade separation from roadways. We walked several miles without having to cross any roadways.
To many urbanists, the entire Southdale area is often dismissed as a worst-case urban scenario – six-lane roads & shopping malls – the poster-child for automobile dependency. But is that fair? I was seeing a mixture of housing – single family homes just over the border into Richfield, easily accessible by bicycle through Adams Hill Park – lower-end mid-rise apartment buildings, townhomes, high-rise apartments and condos, “elder suites”, and luxury townhomes – all in close proximity to retail and offices. I saw retail stores a short walk from office buildings, and two grocery stores (Byerly’s, SuperTarget). I saw office and retail buildings with front doors that open directly into the park. And all this easily connected by grade-separated biking and walking trails.
While walking, I found myself thinking, “I wish my employer would relocate to one of these office buildings,” or “I’ll bet it’s pretty cool to live in one of those townhomes.” I imagined myself strolling around the lakes during my lunch hour, buying burgers by the dozen at Five Guys while watching teenagers throw peanut shells at each other. And free ice skating? I’m in!
Sure, there were things I didn’t like. It seemed a little over-the-top at times, a little bit Walt Disney. And I could do without the easy listening music being piped throughout the area on speakers hidden inside fake rocks. And I also realize that the area is literally surrounded by parking garages and multi-lane roads and that nearly everyone (including myself) drove there. And yes, the magic quickly wore off after we got back in the car and turned out onto the six-lane(!) France Avenue.
I don’t know exactly how to feel about this part of town. On one hand, it smacks of “fake urbanism” a term we’ll have to wait for some other day to define because this post is getting lengthy. On the other hand, I expect it’s actually pretty easy to live a car-free lifestyle in this area (probably easier than in my neighborhood in South Minneapolis). All of the “necessary” urban amenities are within an easy walk. I’ll bet the many residents do walk and bike more often than they otherwise would have because of this unique community design.
So what do you think? Is this the Disney-fication of suburbia – an indication that we have traded in “real” vibrant communities for novelty communities? Or is this pragmatic urban planning at it’s finest, mixing land uses and connecting them with public spaces and trails while still recognizing America’s overwhelming modal preference for driving? Is this a model other communities should emulate?