First Impressions: Thoughts on My New Neighborhood

August 27, 2015

After two years living in Minneapolis’ North Loop neighborhood we recently relocated to the western edge of a neighborhood called Whittier. This was not an easy decision to make. The North Loop was the first place we lived in Minneapolis after selling our home in Saint Louis Park, and we loved living there. It’s an exciting part of the city with a lot going for it, and I’ll miss it even if I know it’s also possible we’ll be back someday and that we’re only a couple of miles away as it is.

But it was also the right decision made at the right time.

At some point in the next few years, it’s likely we’ll become property owners once more. Though we feel we know the city pretty well, living in a different neighborhood with a different feel from downtown seemed like a good idea before making any decisions about where and what to buy. One of the things on our radar as a possibility is purchasing a small multifamily building to do some renovations, live in for a while, and then own as rental property long-term. These kinds of properties are nonexistent downtown, but they are plentiful in many other Minneapolis neighborhoods, including the one where we moved. What better way to think about whether we want to own rental property than to be renters in a logical neighborhood to do that?

So now that we’ve been here for almost a month–

Wait, what? A month? Already?

*looks at calendar*

*confirms dates*

*ponders existence as the rate of passing time seems to approach the infinite*

Okay, yeah, I guess it’s really been about a month. Geez. That means it’s almost September and–

Wait…September? So I have to finish that hiking book in, like, one month?

*checks calendar again*

*cries*

*vomits into garbage can*

*cries again*

So…I’ve got a bit of work to do, which means we should keep this quick. Here are some first impressions, good, bad and otherwise, of my new neighborhood.

Trees! Flowers! Plants!

The North Loop has its own sort of industrial beauty, but it’s pretty great being in such a lush neighborhood. Many, though certainly not all, of the homes and apartment buildings around here are in really great condition and often have gorgeous gardens to match. Check these out!

The Fair Oaks Apartments look like an east coast boarding school campus.

The Fair Oaks Apartments look like an east coast boarding school campus.

Grass lawns are boring. This is better, and it's all over the place in Whittier.

Grass lawns are boring. This is better, and it’s all over the place in Whittier.

Location, Location, Location

It’s tough to beat the convenience of the North Loop. Walking distance to the train and to the heart of downtown, proximity to the river, short bike rides to the taprooms in Northeast. It really was the center of the action in many ways. Living on the western edge of Whittier comes as close as any spot for similar convenience. Lyndale Avenue is basically out our front door, and we’re about equidistant to both Hennepin Avenue and Nicollet Avenue. This puts us remarkably close to well-known areas like UptownLyn-Lake and Eat Street. It’s maybe a ten minute walk to the Minneapolis Institute of Art, which is one of my favorite places in the city. We’re also close to the Midtown Greenway as well as Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles. I liked living near the river downtown much more than I thought I would, but it’s great being close to the lakes again, too.

Great Cheap(er) Food

I just told you we’re walking distance to Eat Street, so you’d expect this to be pretty good, right? While the North Loop is rightly known for having many of the best restaurants in the state, they aren’t exactly giving it away in those places. Just about every type of cuisine that you can find in the city is represented somewhere in this area, which ought to be the case if you call yourself  “the international neighborhood.”

Reason enough to live here: World Street Kitchen. Good God. Go there. NOW! Get a Bangkok Burrito with Korean BBQ beef short ribs or the Moroccan fried chicken sandwich. I only recently ate there for the first time, and it was so good I shook my fist in rage for not going sooner.

Cars drive way too fast

This is a citywide problem, but it feels worse here than the North Loop in a few ways.

  1. There’s less traffic overall than there was downtown, which gives drivers more time to speed up.
  2. With otherwise quiet, treelined streets, it’s jarring how fast people cut through the neighborhood.
  3. The system of stop sign installation is confusing as well. In order to facilitate cars getting through faster, stop signs aren’t at every intersection. They’re generally every other block.
  4. Unfortunately, they aren’t always easy to spot with cars parked on the street and the dense tree cover.
  5. One-way streets. Lots of ’em, for some reason. When all traffic points in the same direction, everyone drives faster because there is less variability in what drivers expect to happen.

I’d love to see fewer one-ways (everywhere), but we could really use some pedestrian-friendly bump outs, more striped crosswalks, and maybe some roundabouts like the ones on some of our bike boulevards as shown below.

 

The Buzz, The Pizzazz, That Special…Somethin’

So far, I like Whittier a lot. Even more than I expected to, really. But I’ll admit that I miss the energy of the North Loop a bit. It’s an up-and-coming neighborhood that’s growing and changing rapidly. It seemed like there was a new project announced almost daily–a brewery or two, apartments, a boutique hotel, an innovative office building. It was exciting to feel like I was a part of that. There’s certainly change happening in Whittier as well, but it’s nothing like the pace of the North Loop. This is less good or bad and more just a change of pace.

The flip side of this is that Whittier and its surrounding neighborhoods are WAAAAAAAY more chill than the North Loop. Downtown it felt like you needed to look on point everywhere you went. Here? If you’ve got pants on, you’re good to go.

Off to a Good Start

It’s only been a month, but thus far I like Whittier a lot. Even more than I expected to, really. I already knew the area pretty well so I thought that experience would tell me more or less all I needed to know about what it would be like to live here. I was both wrong and right on that count. While it was true that I knew a lot of the places to go and how much I enjoyed many of them, I’d somewhat discounted how nice it would be to have them just a few blocks away. I used to bike 20+ minutes from St. Louis Park to go to Muddy Waters or Common Roots which are now 10 and 5 minute walks, respectively.

In a four season city like Minneapolis, you’ve really gotta live through all of them before you know how well you like a place. It’s easy to like a neighborhood when almost everyday has been 75-80 degrees and sunny, so we’ll see if anything changes as the weather begins to turn.

But for now? So far, so good.

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Photo above, “Stevens Avenue,” provided by Tony Webster under Creative Commons 2.0. As you may have surmised, Stevens and 24th is an intersection in Whittier.

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