Ward Redistricting and Downtown Minneapolis

by Tony L. Hill, Ph.D.

Copyright © 2012 by Tony L. Hill

Most of the interest in the redistricting of wards in Minneapolis pertains to residential neighborhoods. Although most of downtown Minneapolis is unpopulated, decisions of how to redistrict it have often been important as decennial reapportionment is conducted. Blocks that are wholly unpopulated can still be of crucial interest when it comes to development issues, for which the council member for the ward holds great influence. At the time the decision was made to bulldoze the Gateway District, it was contained entirely within the 6th Ward, whose alderman, H.P. "Red" Christensen, was a strong advocate of demolition. Just after that decision was made, the Gateway District was split between the 3rd and 6th wards, which would have complicated the decision to demolish the Gateway District. The relative stability of the Loring Park area (which since 1887 has almost entirely been in the Historic 4th Ward/Modern 7th Ward) is contrasted with the volatility with which the Elliot Park area has been partitioned among wards and shunted back from one to another.

Ward redistricting over the years has dealt with downtown Minneapolis in a number of ways. These maps show the ward boundaries for each redistricting with the area currently delineated by the City of Minneapolis as the Central Community (commonly referred to as downtown) indicated in red. (I use the terms "Central Community" and "downtown" interchangably, although downtown is often used in a narrower sense to refer only to the commercial districts and sometimes in an even narrower sense to refer to only the central business district.)

After Minneapolis and St. Anthony merged in 1872, the west side of the city practically constituted what we now refer to as the Central Community. Each of the west side wards included part of downtown. The 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th wards had almost all of their population downtown. Downtown was much more populous in those days, relative to today, with distinct neighborhoods that obviously didn't think of themselves as being "downtown." The 6th Ward consisted of the North Loop (not yet as prominently a market and warehouse district); the 7th Ward took in the main slice of the central business district, between Hennepin Avenue and 1st Avenue South (now Marquette Avenue); the 8th Ward included the area east of 1st Avenue South, which was then one of the most prominent residential sections of the city; and the 9th Ward included most of that part of downtown called Lowertown, which is almost unpopulated in our day but was then a crowded residential neighborhood. The 10th Ward included the eastern edge of Lowertown and the largely vacant land to the east and southeast.

In 1887, with most of the present territory of Minneapolis now included in the city limits, the city went to 13 wards. In 1878 (not illustrated here), the city had been reduced from the 10 wards created at the merger to six wards. This was the genesis of our modern ward map. The 1st Ward was Northeast. The 2nd Ward was Southeast. The 3rd Ward encompassed all of North Minneapolis. The 4th and 5th wards were not much different from the 1888 map. The 6th Ward also included the 11th Ward on the 1888 map.

Soon after, the city went to eight wards, adding the 7th Ward in South Minneapolis east of Chicago Ave. and the 8th Ward west of Chicago Ave. Then the city went to 10 wards, splitting the 10th Ward from the 3rd Ward north of 26th Ave. and the 9th Ward from the 1st Ward east of 5th Street. (The latter was partially the ward boundary for another 125 years, until it was erased in the 2005 redistricting.) In 1887, the city added three more wards, the 11th halved from the 6th Ward, and the 12th and 13th in the corners of the city they still occupy.

From the 1887 redistricting, parts of downtown were included in the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 11th wards.

In 1931, the wards of downtown and the South Side were redistricted for the first time in nearly 50 years, although the North Side and East Side remained unchanged. The 4th and 5th wards were relocated away from downtown -- the central business district was by this time nearly vacant of residences, and Lowertown was rapidly becoming depopulated. At this time, the 6th Ward expanded westward to take in not only most of the central business district but most of the North Loop market and warehouse district as well. Parts of downtown were still included in the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 11th wards.

In 1947, the wards were renumbered as part of the first comprehensive redistricting of the city in 60 years. Most of downtown remained in the 6th Ward, while smaller parts were included in the 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 8th wards.

With the city now having a regular requirement of redistricting after each decennial federal census, redistricting for 1951 changed ward boundaries only minimally. Downtown still remained mostly in the 6th Ward, with parts in the 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 8th wards.

Redistricting for 1961 pulled the 8th Ward south so that it no longer included any of the Central Community, and the 6th Ward, although stripped of the North Loop, reached farther westward so that it took in even more of downtown. Each of the 3rd, 5th, and 7th wards included chunks of downtown at their peripheries.

Redistricting for 1971 ended the 6th Ward at Cedar Avenue on the east, so that downtown was even more prominently its physical center, even as its population center moved firmly into the Phillips Community. The 3rd Ward had its southern boundary reduced to Broadway so that it no longer included any of the Central Community. The North Loop was contained within the 5th Ward, and the Loring Park area is all of downtown that remained in the 7th Ward.

With redistricting now in the hands of the Reapportionment Commission in 1981 as the result of a 1980 charter amendment, downtown is vastly changed in a conscious effort to put substantial parts of it in three different wards. The 6th Ward now contains only peripheries of downtown in its own periphery. Not only does the North Loop remain in the 5th Ward, but the ward now takes in the entire downtown riverfront. The 7th Ward stretches eastward to take in the central business district and most of the area west of Elliot Park. The 7th Ward now somewhat resembles the old 4th Ward in its 1887-1931 incarnation.

For the 1993 election, the 7th Ward reaches farther eastward to take in nearly the entire Elliot Park area. The eastern part of downtown is now contained for the first time in the 2nd Ward, leaving the 6th Ward, which only 10 years earlier contained the majority of downtown with only a few blocks, mostly in the Stevens Square neighborhood. The 5th Ward continues to contain the North Loop and a truncated section of the central riverfront.

In redistricting for the 2005 election, the Reapportionment Commission opted to use neighborhoods as the building blocks of wards for the first time. This resulted in nearly all of downtown being placed in the 7th Ward. This is the most of downtown that has ever been included in a single ward in the city's history. Only the western part of the North Loop remains in the 5th Ward, and only a small strip of land between I-94 and Franklin Avenue remains in the 6th Ward.

A subtext of this story is how the 6th Ward has been refocused and reconstituted over the city's history. Most of the wards are anchored to the city boundary, which lends great stability to them as they change over the years. From 1878, the 6th Ward was anchored to the West Bank of the Mississippi River near what is now the West Bank campus of the University of Minnesota. Redistricting in 1931 added most of downtown to the ward, but this added little population; the ward was still the West Bank ward. With each redistricting starting in 1947, the 6th Ward took in more population from the Phillips Community, and in 1971, most of the West Bank was deleted from the ward entirely, making it a Phillips-centered ward. In 1981, most of downtown and yet more of the West Bank were removed from the ward, leaving the 6th Ward based in Phillips, Whittier, and Lowry Hill East. (As strange as it seems, both of the council members elected in this period lived in the one and only block that had been part of the 6th Ward since 1878: Cedar Square West.) This illustrates how a ward that is not anchored to anything can change vastly as a result of redistricting. This is the main reason why at reapportionment time, inner-city council members are as nervous as long-tailed cats in a room full of rocking chairs.

Tony L. Hill, Ph.D.