But suburbanization and cars changed all that. Today, its very different, and most of time (except around Nicollet Mall or the Warehouse district), the downtowns look like something out of a post-apocalyptic video game. A huge percentage of the downtown Saint Paul office space is sitting empty. (And, if it wasn't for the Target corporation, Minneapolis would likely follow suit.) Sure, a few people are moving back to live in the downtown areas, but its just a slim fraction of the kind of density you used to find.
And that's why Saturday was such a cool day for downtown Minneapolis and Saint Paul. First, you had an absolutely insane number of people show up for the Red Bull Flugtag, a way-better-than-advertised event that combined the folly of Icarus, the imagination of Galileo, and the aquatic gravity of Cannonball. By police estimates (which tend to under-report political protests), there were 90,000 people flooding the streets of downtown Saint Paul during the afternoon. That's as many people as I can remember being downtown during the RNC or the Obama rally.
Then, later that same day, a new crowd gathered around the Minneapolis riverfront to see the wonderful Aquatennial fireworks. Again the streets were filled and bustling, and even without the fireworks, it was an exciting place to be. And both these events could only have been held downtown. (Just imagine if they tried to get 90,000 people into Eagan or Anoka?)
Of course, with the freeway partialaly closed to cars, the traffic was supposedly horrendous. Just imagine how many people would have come downtown to see the Flugtag or the fireworks if we had a few more convenient transit lines up and running. How many of those car drivers would have taken the Central Corridor or the planned SW line?
I think the future of Downtowns is looking up. Ten years from now, the skies will be filled with Flugtags and fireworks!
[In 1910, Snelling Avenue resident Fred Parker participates in the 1st ever Saint Paul Flugtag with his hand-made flying machine. Img. MNHS.]