Why Minneapolis Part 1. Walkability: Minneapolis vs. The Midwest

Chicago has long been thought of as the only ¨real¨city in the Midwest: that sprawling region between the western frontier of Denver and the east coast outpost of Pittsburgh. Walkscore has its problems to be sure, but its current methods do rank NYC, San Francisco, & Chicago in the top five most walkable American cities, with Minneapolis in 9th place out of the top ten. The average urbanite probably didn’t expect any other city outside of Chicago to come close and for the most part they’d be right (Chicago alone has over 100 neighborhoods that rank as “very walkable”). After Minneapolis the next highest ranking Midwestern city is Milwaukee which trails at 15th place.

While Walkscore isn’t perfect, you can add up the number of “very walkable” urban neighborhoods (ranked anywhere from 70-100). After all, isn’t the number of walkable urban neighborhoods what people are looking for if they’re looking for urban living? From the ones listed I subtracted “city” neighborhoods that depend on dense suburban developments for a high score, particularly in cities that have annexed like crazy (see Columbus, Indianapolis, and Kansas City). Then on top of that I subtracted realtor-oriented labels which divide a single neighborhood (see Old North Columbus in Columbus, OH for a good example) into many subdivided ones which only give the illusion of more walkable neighborhoods than there actually are (in Old North Columbus’ case one walkable neighborhood’s boundaries were divided into five: Old North Columbus, North Campus, Indiana Forest,  Glen Echo, and Iuka Ravine). For some cities you have to dig up the walkability of neighborhoods since some cities themselves don’t value their neighborhoods enough to define them: Indianapolis and Omaha are the worst offenders where Walkscore had to resort to zip code boundaries and others like Columbus allow realtors to over-zealously subdivide and name areas ad nauseum, so here are total approximate numbers of walkable neighborhoods  in other similarly sized Midwestern cities with a population of at least 300,000 or higher:

  • Minneapolis – 36
  • Milwaukee – 25
  • St. Louis – 18
  • Kansas City – 18
  • Columbus – 15
  • Cincinnati – 11
  • Cleveland – 7
  • Detroit – 8
  • Omaha – 5
  • Indianapolis – 5

As you can see, Minneapolis is in a league of its own with Milwaukee coming in at a pretty distant, but respectable 2nd and from there you get around half the neighborhoods that offer the walkable urban amenities that Minneapolis does: if you’re lucky. It’s rather surprising that other Midwestern cities are looking to cities outside of the region, from Portland to Austin to Charlotte, when there’s a very successful model to follow right in their backyard. When one city has well over a dozen as many walkable neighborhoods than all of the others in the Midwest, and isn’t Chicago, there might be some lessons that can and should be learned in other Midwestern cities.


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