Pride of Place

Hawaii has sunshine and coconut palms. Chicago has skyscrapers and hot dogs. France and Italy top the list for the world’s best food, wine, cathedrals, art, history, and stylish eyewear. And Minnesota? So glad you asked: We’ve got snow, ice, killer tax rates, thousands of lakes and billions of mosquitoes, and the kind of climate that makes Murmansk look like a spring-break destination.

Naturally, that’s only part of the story. But if you’ve lived in Minnesota more than a year or two, I’m sure you’ve trotted out similar half-truths more than once when stuck in conversations with strangers or relatives who aren’t from the Midwest. Such clichés do double-duty: They keep us from having to reveal the real reasons we live here (great schools, clean air, lots of theater, standout restaurants), and they tend to keep the riffraff at bay. You know who I’m talking about: the kind of people who, if they moved here, would only regret it and then—what’s worse—would talk nonstop about how much they regretted it. If you can’t learn how to stuff your emotions, how are you gonna hack it here anyway?

The truth is Minnesota is a pretty swell place to live—despite the bugs and blizzards. It’s affordable, clean, relatively uncrowded, inhabited by mostly decent people, and unlikely to be struck first in the event of a giant tsunami or nuclear war. But please don’t go around blabbing about it. You’ll just ruin it for the rest of us. Honestly, I think Twin Cities boosters got it exactly right a few years ago when, after much deliberation, they came up with this slogan to promote tourism: “Minneapolis St. Paul: More to Life.” Exactly what “more” there was, they didn’t bother to say, of course. That’d be bragging. But despite that confusion, everyone agreed the new motto was much better than the original slogan: “The Cities: Could Be Worse.”

What makes a place a good place to live? That’s the question senior editor Chris Lee pondered as she put together this month’s cover story on the Cities’ best neighborhoods. The idea of identifying the metro’s “best” blocks, burgs, and ’burbs might have made a lesser writer blanch, but Chris, who also serves as the editor of Midwest Home magazine, took to the task with gusto. She decided to evaluate neighborhoods not just by residential real-estate values, but by livability. What did each area offer in terms of community amenities, such as parks, lakes, bike paths, restaurants, shopping, nightlife, and culture? How did they rate in terms of crime, schools, diversity, and commute times to downtown areas? What did they offer that was unique—in terms of shopping, culture, and general cachet? And finally, how had home values changed over the past five years—a tumultuous period for residential real estate?

In the end, Chris settled on 15 liveable neighborhoods that stood out among their peers in the Twin Cities. Her picks may surprise you, and I expect we’ll get letters from a few folks in Kenwood and Sunfish Lake about the great things we missed in their neighborhoods. I’ll be more than happy to admit, of course, that the Twin Cities has more than 15 spots that qualify as great places to live. Put more opaquely, there’s more “More to Life” here—even if we don’t have
coconut palms.

Joel Hoekstra, Editor

Joel Hoekstra writes frequently about design and architecture for Midwest Home and has contributed to a wide range of publications, including This Old House, Metropolis, ASID Icon and Architecture Minnesota. He lives in Minneapolis in a 1906 Dutch Colonial that is overdue for a full remodel—or at least a coat of fresh paint.