The view from Prospect Parkby Dan Olson, Minnesota Public Radio
The people along University Ave. in St. Paul and Minneapolis were told 25 years ago there was a light rail line in their future. Now with state bonding approved, the Central Corridor line is a step closer to reality. We wanted to know how the light rail line might impact the colorful and complex history of University Ave. We visited different points along the route to find the answer. The first stop is Minneapolis' Prospect Park neighborhood, which is bounded on one side by University Ave.
Minneapolis — You know you're in or near Prospect Park when you see the Witch's Hat water tower, the most familiar neighborhood landmark and the highest point of land in Minneapolis.
When you ask the question here, "How big a deal is light rail on University Ave?" you often hear the answer, "Not as big a deal as 40 years ago, when road builders aimed Interstate 94 at the neighborhood."
Neighborhood resident and activist Joe Ring leads a tour.
"We're next to the Frank Lloyd Wright home. That home would have been gone, the area we're parked in would have been gone. This would actually be an exit that would be going to University Ave. It would have cut right through Prospect Park," Ring said.
We're near the sound wall next to Interstate 94, which is just steps away from a beautiful small, red brick house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Prospect Park has always been smack dab in the way of anyone wanting to get from Minneapolis to St. Paul in a timely fashion.
That's been a geographical fact from 150 years ago, Joe Ring says, to the ox cart trail days of the 1850s even before there was a Prospect Park.
"All of those ox cart trails literally came through Prospect Park," Ring said.
This neighborhood faced one the biggest threats to existence 40 years ago. Residents rallied to change the Interstate 94 route.
They helped convince engineers to alter the freeway plan and take 100 homes, instead of slashing through the center of the neighborhood and destroying many more.
That hasn't been the only challenge to Prospect Park's existence. The neighborhood has witnessed the coming and the going, Joe Ring says, of farm equipment manufacturing, heavy industry, and even the Twin Cities electric street car system.
"We had International Harvester...we had the trolley barns where all the trolleys were constructed," he said.
Ring's view is the expansion of the University of Minnesota poses a bigger threat to the existence of Prospect Park's varied collection of homes and its small town atmosphere than the Central Corridor light rail line.
"It's moving a lot of its campus population off campus. It is developing -- like many people have heard -- its biotech corridor, which will be going right through us," Ring said.
Prospect Park's newest effort to ensure its survival is historic designation.
Residents are working with local, state and federal government to be labeled a historic district.
The designation means any plan that changes the character of the neighborhood has to pass through more hoops.
- All Things Considered, 05/28/2008, 5:36 p.m.