Phone: 612-624-5551
unews@umn.edu
24-hr number: 612-293-0831

Advanced Search

Feature

A row of shops in West Bank neighborhood.

The West Bank or Cedar-Riverside neighborhood is one of five that border the U's Twin Cities campus.

Home by the U

Workshop encourages living close to the Twin Cities campus

By Pauline Oo

March 21, 2006

Before Ann Forsyth applies for a job, she digs up as much information as she can about the neighborhoods surrounding what could be her future work place. The urban design expert has to know if she can walk to work.

"I'm kind of an eccentric," says Forsyth, who heads up the U's Metropolitan Design Center on the Twin Cities campus in Minneapolis. "I don't take a job unless I can walk to it." Forsyth hoofs it daily from her home in Marcy-Holmes to her office in Ralph Rapson Hall. Walking was also her form of commute as an associate professor in Massachusetts and an urban planner in her native Australia.

On Monday (March 20), Forsyth and seven University of Minnesota colleagues told more than 30 people about the benefits of living within the five neighborhoods that ring the Twin Cities campus--S.E. Como, Prospect Park, Seward, West Bank, and Marcy-Holmes. The workshop, "Living Close to Campus," was cosponsored by the Relocation Assistance Office and the Office of University Relations as part of the U's Wellness and Work/Life initiatives, which promote activities encouraging better health and well being for University employees and their families.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, walking is one of the easiest ways to be physically active and regular physical activity greatly reduces the risk of dying from coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. Physical activity also reduces the risk of developing diabetes, hypertension, and colon cancer, and enhances mental health, as well as fosters healthy muscles, bones, and joints.

"Living near a coffee shop is not good enough," quips Forsyth. "We're suppose to get a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, and I get that by walking to work."

U tackles walkability

Researchers from the U's College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture and School of Public Health are collaborating on "Measurement of Walkability in the Twin Cities," a two-year study to learn how the design of Twin Cities neighborhoods affects the level of exercise among residents.

"While social and economic characteristics are generally found to be more important predictors of whether people will walk than physical factors, the environment does make a difference," says Ann Forsyth, principal investigator. "This study will measure how much of a difference the environment makes and which factors are key."

To learn more, visit the Metropolitan Design Center.

Forsyth, who is involved in a project that measures walking in different urban designs (see sidebar), says there are four factors that can help determine if a neighborhood supports walking: density (are there a high number of walkers and those who use alternative transportation?), street pattern (do the streets offer a direct and safe path to your home or do you have a variety of routes?), mixed use (is there something valuable to you, such as a library or grocery store, nearby?), and pedestrian infrastructure (are sidewalks and trees for shade?)

Bill Dane, an attorney in University Student Legal Services, has kept his home in S.E. Como for the past 20 years because of the proximity to shopping facilities and Gopher sporting events and the ever-changing student body.

"As I get older, my neighbors don't really age... but that's okay," says Dane. "We have lots of students in our neighborhood and they keep us all young."

Which neighborhood?

All the neighborhoods that ring the Twin Cities campus have their own characteristics. Ann Forsyth offers insight into each.

S.E. Como
"If you're a gardener, you'll love it because many residents are into gardening. It's also a pleasant place of small homes."

Prospect Park
"It's the most designed place among the neighborhoods, with gorgeous parks, a high ownership rate, and access to the river."

Seward
"Underappreciated by people of the U. It has lovely duplexes and a funky, creative commercial area."

West Bank
"Recognizable because of its [residential] towers, which were designed by a former dean of the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. Terrific shopping opportunities and close to the light-rail line."

Marcy-Holmes
"It has larger buildings and historical architecture, [as well as a fresh crop of] new development."

For Calder Hibbard, a forest resource researcher who works on the Twin Cities campus in St. Paul, living close to campus means not having to fight traffic, taking his children to the U's natatorium for swimming, and saving on gas and car maintenance. In the seven years that Calder and his wife have lived in S.E. Como, they have become a single-car family--ridding themselves of one car.

Although the neighborhoods that border the U are attractive to the University community for their adjacency to campus and unique characteristics (see sidebar), not everyone who wants to live there will end up there.

"It can sometimes be challenging to get into these neighborhoods because people who live there are lifers--they like it there so much that they don't move out," says Susan Hoffman, a realtor and Seward resident. "Larger homes--10,000 sq feet or more--are also harder to find, but if you're looking for a two-bedroom or smaller, you may have a little luck."

Hoffman says there are two ways to land a home in a University neighborhood, in which houses can range from $150,000 to $625,000: find a real estate agent who knows the neighborhood that you want to live in and ask your neighbors and friends to keep their eyes and ears open. The latter is often your best bet, she says, because "houses are passed from neighbor to neighbor or from friends to friends."

A companion workshop, "Financing a Home 101," will be held on Tuesday, April 4. For more information or to register, visit the Office of Human Resources.