In 1860 there was a flyspeck on the map of Minnesota — the town of Eden Prairie with its population of 304 people. Ninety years later, in 1950 — according to the U.S. Decennial Census — the town’s population had struggled to become 1,384 people.
Then the population doubled in 1960, more than doubled to 6,938 in 1970, exploded to 16,263 in 1980, 54,901 in the year 2000, and 64,198 in 2020.
Pundits such as bigcommerce.com provide a partial explanation: “With cars available to the masses, more people were leaving cities and commuting from the suburbs.”
Eden Prairie did have three city-like elements: Flying Cloud Airport, some ramps on the Interstate 494 bypass, and the big-time Eden Prairie Center mall.
According to Eden Prairie’s own website, Flying Cloud Airport started in 1941 as a World War II training airport for Navy pilots.
The airport was then sold to American Aviation and evolved in 1945 to a 60-acre field with two hangars and an administrative building. Sold to the Metropolitan Airports Commission in 1948, the airport built a control tower and in 20 years became one of the busiest fields in the Midwest. It is now a heavily used “reliever” airport — an airport that provides relief to busy major airports nearby.
Attorney Dean Edstrom was an Eden Prairie City Council member in the 1980s and is also a former member of the development commission. He says that the federal government developed a bypass of the Twin Cities consisting of Interstate 494 in the south and Interstate 694 in the north.
Dave Lindahl, current Eden Prairie economic development manager, acknowledges that the regional Metropolitan Council did push for the bypass. The longtime city employee notes that Eden Prairie anticipated the I-494 bypass and partly based its comprehensive plan on it.
Sears and its mall division Homart created Eden Prairie Center in 1976. Bob Lambert, the former longtime Eden Prairie parks and recreation director who retired in 2007, says that Eden Prairie’s City Council and Planning Commission encouraged Sears’ action.
Lindahl observes, however, that the creation of the mall was a purely private transaction between Homart and the Anderson family. Homart’s history on the internet shows that it also created malls in Maplewood in 1974 and in Burnsville in 1977. Lambert and Lindahl both concede the creation of Eden Prairie Center was somewhat premature since the mall struggled during the first 25 years of its existence.
The farmers in 1960s Eden Prairie were confronted with a surge in population.
Lindahl compliments them for deciding to seek the services of architect Don Brauer (Brauer and Associates) to create Eden Prairie’s first comprehensive plan in 1968. Lambert says that Brauer can only be called a futurist. Lambert notes that Brauer served as a consultant to Eden Prairie for 15 years.
As tempting as it might have been to create a grid of streets in Eden Prairie, Lindahl notes that its terrain of bluffs and other natural barriers forced the development of curvilinear streets and (highly desirable) cul-de-sacs. Meanwhile, Lambert notes the Metropolitan Urban Services Area (MUSA) kept Eden Prairie from experiencing urban sprawl by conservatively limiting the city’s location of sewer lines.
Lambert can readily reel off Eden Prairie’s sources of attractiveness. “There are a lot of choices,” he said. “Small lots. Large lots.” Planned development. Sixteen lakes. River frontage. A location 20 minutes from downtown Minneapolis.
He notes that Eden Prairie has had ambitious park planning that requires developers to preserve natural areas so that residents will understand that they will always have parkland to enjoy. Surprisingly, he concedes that young people’s community sports taper off by early high school. Thus, Eden Prairie not only has baseball diamonds but also provisions for “lifelong sports” like fishing, canoeing, trips to the Boundary Waters, gardening, birdwatching, hunting, and the arts.
Bob Hallett, longtime school principal and a former member of the Planning Commission, agrees that a major draw for Eden Prairie is its reputation for good schools. He acknowledges that Eden Prairie has good parents who have supported every school referendum. Early on, Eden Prairie was so small it could only afford to hire young teachers, but these were young, inventive people. He acknowledges that the city has also had a good superintendent and a good school board.
Edstrom and Lindahl emphasize that Eden Prairie’s goal is to have residents who not only have a home in Eden Prairie but also are employed by businesses located in Eden Prairie.
Pursue high-tech businesses? Lindahl says they bring great job opportunities. Edstrom notes that high-tech is cleaner and produces less traffic than a traditional business, and also fits Eden Prairie’s image of a well-educated, prosperous community.
Lambert says, “That’s our future.” He also adds the cautionary note that in the world of tech, change is inevitable and fast; there is then some concern about the sustainability of any high-tech company. Lindahl says that, of course, we do not want to put all our eggs in one high-tech basket.
Aspire: Eden Prairie 2040
Inevitably, we do have to look at Eden Prairie’s new comprehensive plan, Eden Prairie 2040.
The new plan speaks of “attainable” housing, not affordable housing. Lindahl observes that some current development in the community is compact, higher density, vertical, and walkable. Edstrom says that affordable housing is inevitable, and people will have to understand that it brings such trade-offs as tearing down houses and building multi-family housing. He says that the light-rail transit will definitely bring change.
The 2040 plan calls for an Energy Action Plan (EAP). Jennifer Hassebroek, Eden Prairie sustainability coordinator, says the city is working with Xcel Energy on the EAP and the larger Climate Action Plan. Very important is the solar garden that in 2022 will be built on top of the Eden Prairie Community Center. City residents can subscribe to purchase solar energy and then get a credit on their Xcel Energy bill.
Per Edstrom, the 2040 plan’s call for making Eden Prairie environmentally responsible is a required response to what he calls the “existential” threat posed by climate change.
It does seem a bit superfluous for the new plan to make diversity a stated, written goal. Lambert says we probably would not need to make diversity such a formal goal, but “we are confronted with America as it is today.”
An ambitious goal is to improve Eden Prairie’s physical and mental health. Lambert maintains that the city has always had this goal. Lindahl rapidly lists Eden Prairie’s fantastic park and trail system, its Community Center, a healthy volunteer community with lots of opportunities, and well-developed services for mental health.
Making a nod to Eden Prairie’s formal and informal attention to mental health, Lambert says that Eden Prairie works hard to provide “a well-rounded community.”
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