Students explore sharing economy for Minneapolis neighborhood

Last semester, 39 students in the U’s Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP) degree program explored ways to integrate a Minneapolis neighborhood—the North Loop (Nolo)—into the sharing economy. Located just north of downtown in the Warehouse Historic District, the neighborhood has experienced revitalization and increasing property values in recent years.

In the class (Public Affairs 5211: Urban Land Use Planning), student teams created 13 proposals on topics such as parking reallocation (see sidebar), bike sharing, and walkability. They showcased their work in more than 100 posters at an exhibit in December.

Fernando Burga, an assistant professor in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, is the course instructor. He shares some insights below.

How did you choose the sharing economy and the North Loop for the study?

The sharing economy is a hot topic, and it has the potential to open different horizons in land-use planning. Discussions of the sharing economy often focus on the private sector and entrepreneurs; I wanted to bring planning into stronger focus through this class. I chose the North Loop in part because it’s undergoing gentrification and lies next to racially segregated North Minneapolis. Gentrification is key: there’s concern that sharing economy enterprises lead to gentrified neighborhoods or tend to have racial bias. That was an interesting tension embedded in the scope of the class.

What are some real-world benefits of the project?

The work gives a comprehensive understanding of what Nolo is now and points to where it’s going. We developed concrete, holistic findings for the community.

What are some recommendations for educators?

I structured the class to be more like a studio than a typical lecture-based course. Instead of final reports, I ask students to create a set of narrative visuals for an exhibit where they can share their results. This helps them develop design and presentation skills and compile materials for job interviews. We also used social media successfully. We created a couple Instagram handles to promote the project, and students seemed excited, and proud, to talk about it.

To obtain a project summary and PDFs of the student proposals, please contact Burga at

Turning North Loop parking into shared public spaces

Image of student exploringStudents explored options for additional green space in the North Loop neighborhood. Image: Max Dickson

One student team—Joanne Cho, Max Dickson, and Jessi Wyatt—developed a proposal for reallocating parking spaces to serve a sharing economy. Highlights:

Parking ramps: Given the North Loop’s proximity to downtown, Nolo ramps could be converted into “rest areas” for self-driving vehicles (SDVs), providing fast and efficient service to users. Much less parking will be needed for SDVs than for existing passenger vehicles—resulting in leftover ramp space. This space could be retrofitted for a variety of uses, such as retail markets and cooperative agricultural plots on rooftops. Changes in zoning and permitting would be needed to allow for mixed-use designation.

Surface lots: These areas offer potential for green space that’s now largely absent from the North Loop. Their transition would provide a public amenity for residents and environmental benefits. Encouraging a gradual transition would start with zoning policies and incentives.

On-street parking: These 18’5” x 9’ spaces could be converted into parklets and bio-swales. Green spaces along sidewalks could enliven the streetscape and provide sitting areas—“a public oasis in a bustling city.” Policy options include an overlay district to augment regulations and incentives that discourage on-street parking, and funding allocation through capital improvement programs and community benefit subsidies.

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