Low-density development patterns have become common around the Twin Cities in recent years, sparking debate over the role of the transportation system in encouraging or discouraging urban sprawl in the metro area. Outside the Twin Cities, Minnesota’s regional population centers are also experiencing shifts in development patterns in response to economic and demographic forces.
A new report from the Transportation and Regional Growth Study examines the changes underway in land use and travel behavior around the state. Urbanization of the Minnesota Countryside traces population change and land development in the towns and townships surrounding 20 regional centers during each decade since 1970.
In most of the areas studied, the researchers discovered a similar pattern of development: where low-density suburban-style development was occurring near the regional center, population increases fastest (or decreases least) in commuter areas near the center. But the researchers found several areas that appear to be bucking this trend, due to unique local circumstances such as overlapping commuter areas or lakeshore property development.
Traffic volumes and travel patterns around the state have been affected by changes in regional centers. While traffic volumes increased during the 1980s and 1990s on all major highways examined, some highway segments did show evidence of reduced travel demand and lower volumes. Some of these reductions can be traced to the development of new, less congested parallel routes; in other areas (particularly the southwestern and western areas of the state), the change may be due to farm consolidations.
Led by Professor John Adams, researchers in the University of Minnesota Department of Geography have published several research reports in the Transportation and Regional Growth series. Their work makes up one component of the Transportation and Regional Growth Study, a multi-year research effort focused on understanding the relationship between the transportation system and the region-wide growth patterns.
Urbanization of the Minnesota Countryside is the tenth Transportation and Regional Growth report. It is available on the Web. All reports in the series are available as PDF documents; selected reports are available in printed form from the Center for Transportation Studies.