8.11.07

Manchester is to London as Minneapolis is to Saint Paul

I'm reading Robert Fishman's excellent history of suburbia, Bourgeois Utopias, and came across a chapter detailing how suburbia took off in Manchester during the early 19th century. Fishman claims the the sudden growth of suburbia in the Northern industrial English cities (Manchester being the prime example) happened in large part because the ruling elite there weren't historically grounded, because they "lacked legitimacy", and that they didn't have the accumulation of social and aristocratic connections that came with being part of the ruling elite. Fishman writes that:

In Manchester the bourgeoisie found themselves captains of industry, employers of large numbers of workers but lacking in the older trappings of aristocratic authority.

In other words, the suddenness and scope of the industrialization processes going on in Manchester made it possible for newly wealthy people to move out of the city and create idyllic neighborhoods on the outskirts of town, places that combined country and city into a wholly new utopian vision, and arrangement that Engels famously descried in his Condition of the Working Class in England some years later.

There's even a wonderful description of how one particular merchant, Samuel Brooks, made the decision in 1834 to abandon his 'in town' residence and transform the digs (on the main, fancy, wealthy street) into a warehouse, a move that spearheaded the wholesale transformation of the neighborhood into the very first, unified Central Business District

The argument reminded me of Macalester professor Mary Lethert Wingerd's book, Claiming the City, which details why and how Saint Paul is so very, very different from Minneapolis. (In case you're one of the people that things the two cities are exactly the same, Wingerd explains why that might not be true.) For one thing, Minneapolis boomed a few decades later than Saint Paul, so that Saint Paul's economic and population growth peaked sometime around 1890, while Minneapolis grew faster a few decades later, largely fueled by large-scale industrial milling (vs. Saint Paul's role as a commercial trading and wholesaling center). According to Wingerd, this difference greatly affected the development patterns of the two cities, particularly changing where wealthy people lived in the two towns. The wealthy, rich folk of Minneapolis largely lived in the far southwestern areas of the city, particularly settling in the area between the chain of lakes and Lake Minnetonka. In Saint Paul, on the other hand, wealthy people stayed on the middle of town, building grand homes along Summit Avenue along the hill directly overlooking Downtown. She claism that this spatial proximity between rich and poor translated into greater understanding and cooperation between workers and owners in Siant Paul, which is one of the main reasons why giant labor battles (like the 1930s Minneapolis trucker's strike) didn't really happen in the capitol city.

It struck me that this was similar to the development patterns of London and Manchester, descrbied by Fishman. There's a way that rapid change allows for development of dramtically new types of social, material, and physical organization, in much the wayme way that a forest fire will clear the land for new species composition in a forst.

Waht do you think: Is Saint Paul a more stable urban environment than Minneapolis? Are these long-term differences still important? Still visible?

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

To some extent I would agree. One could say that the different way in which each of the Twin Cities has grown up has endowed St. Paul with more desirable urban neighborhoods. What Minneapolis has, which has had been more of a challenge to foster in St. Paul, are large areas of its old central business district (see the Warehouse District) transformed into new and desirable neighborhoods.

Charlie Quimby said...

St. Paul is more stable, for reasons good and bad.

Another age difference, I'd wager, is that in St. Paul, street cars cemented what was there, while in Minneapolis, they influenced development. (See history of Kings Highway area, etc.)

CitySlicker said...

The author makes good arguments about why the cities are what they are. Does anyone associate Mpls with families and tradition? No. We associate it with partying and skyscrapers. The comment about the streetcars is spot on. That's why it would be so much easier to reintroduce streetcars to St. Paul!

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I'm not agree, all these cities haves their own idiosyncrasy.