Local View: Fix Duluth's population stagnation with urban innovation
As a young person who recently moved to Duluth, I am somewhat of a rarity, it seems. Duluth's decrease in population over the years always perplexed me. As someone who did his college thesis in landscape architecture with an eye on solving this i...
As a young person who recently moved to Duluth, I am somewhat of a rarity, it seems. Duluth's decrease in population over the years always perplexed me. As someone who did his college thesis in landscape architecture with an eye on solving this issue, I have some advice to make our city more appealing to people of my age group.
It really comes down to two things: housing and walkability.
I work at an architectural firm downtown and was hoping to find a place to live within a few blocks of my workplace. This proved very difficult; anyone else my age or any age would have similar difficulty. Duluth's downtown has a serious lack of housing, and this makes very little sense to me. There are things to do, places to work, and great views of the greatest of the Great Lakes. Residential properties downtown I'm sure could fetch a great premium. Developers, where are you at?
The other thing is getting from place to place. Many young people either cannot afford to or would prefer not to drive a car. Duluth is made for cars. The city needs to invest more in better connections to existing walking and bike trails and in building new connections by slimming drivable street lanes.
The local business community should get behind this. Pedestrians spend, on average, 65 percent more than drivers, and businesses on pedestrian-oriented streets typically earn 176 percent more revenue. Improved walkability not only would create a ripe environment for a thriving downtown but also trim the exorbitant cost of maintaining our city's overbuilt vehicular infrastructure.
With new housing downtown and better connections, our city could have a more consistent economy.
Increasing walkability between Canal Park and downtown would benefit both areas. Residents of downtown, drawn over by the lake and its amenities, would create a year-round market for businesses in Canal Park, compared to the current summer-boom-and-winter-bust tourism trend. Conversely, if it was easier to access downtown from Canal Park, more tourism money would be spent at businesses there.
Ideally, improving downtown-to-Canal Park connections could be accomplished by redesigning the Lake Avenue overpass to be more accommodating of bicycle and pedestrian traffic. Additionally, extending Lake Place to Superior Street, as originally was intended (Local View: "One more plea to finally finish downtown-lake connection," Aug. 24), would further strengthen this connection and improve safety in these areas.
The recently adopted Imagine Duluth 2035 plan puts it best: "Duluth has a history of identifying opportunities, however complicated, to achieve outcomes that will directly benefit its residents, commerce, and the livability of the city. Such projects result in transformative, long-term change."
These outcomes would directly benefit residents, commerce, and livability. I think it's time for a transformation.
Jordan M. van der Hagen lives in Duluth after recently graduating from North Dakota State University with bachelor's degrees in landscape architecture and environmental design. His college thesis was on Duluth's downtown and waterfront. He currently is working in landscape architecture at Architectural Resources Inc.