The Evolving Campus
For most alumni, their image of campus stays under glass—like a pressed flower—as it appeared on the day they graduated. College memories become snapshots of a favorite study space, a specific hallway walked for years, or the leafy Mall filled with students and their ever-present backpacks.
But as with most things, time passes, and the “living environment” on and near the U of M Twin Cities campus continues to change. Old buildings and houses are razed and replaced with high-rise student housing. Departments where students spent thousands of hours relocate to more updated spaces. Local restaurants appear and disappear as tastes change and economic realities intervene. Young trees grow and shade replaces sun-dappled corners.
In this issue, we look at how the campus area and its related neighborhoods have evolved over the past few years and examine both short- and long-term plans for how they may change in the future.
This type of change doesn’t happen without intense planning, however. In December 2021, the Board of Regents approved an updated Twin Cities Campus Plan, a guidepost for future expansion and refurbishment that stretches decades into the future. The document takes a broad look at how campus may evolve, which helps guide decisions made today.
Not everything identified in the plan will happen soon, of course. For instance, the prior master plan, unveiled in 2009, identified a number of campus buildings it recommended be demolished. Those buildings still stand in 2023—although so does the recommendation that they be replaced in coming years.
Major planned projects in coming years include The MIX neighborhood, an innovation corridor near campus; changes to the medical school, hospital, and biological sciences areas near Stadium Village; and a proposed move for the “superblock” of dormitories onto the slope to the river to better engage the Mississippi as a central campus feature.
And then there’s the U of M’s sometimes complicated dual mandate to preserve historic campus buildings while also updating them to meet the needs of today’s students. That’s an issue that’s been hampered by a lack of funding from the legislature in past years, which provides money to update building infrastructure for the state’s higher education centers. That issue remains a concern for the University.
Finally, for many graduates, the Dinkytown neighborhood remains a treasured memory, even though it lies outside campus proper. A grassroots group called Preserving Historic Dinkytown successfully lobbied Minneapolis in 2015 to have the four-block commercial zone at Fourth Street and 14th Avenue declared an historic preservation district. Today the U of M is supporting these efforts with the purchase of the former Gray’s Campus Drug (more recently the Loring Pasta Bar) with plans to renovate the location for future use, including a sit-down restaurant space. We look at the Dinkytown of today and also revisit the iconic neighborhood’s colorful past in photos.
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