A statistical portrait of our neighborhoods

This is the first in an occasional series of articles in which writer Judy Woodward examines changes that have taken place in the Bugle’s communities from the 1980 U.S. Census to the recently published 2010 U.S. Census. This month, Woodward looks at statistical changes in St. Anthony Park and Falcon Heights.

In 1983, geographers Judith Martin and David Lanegran described St. Anthony Park as “an isolated community of rather young people in old housing.” Writing in their landmark portrait of the Twin Cities, Where We Live: the Residential Districts of Minneapolis and Saint Paul (University of Minnesota Press), Martin and Lanegran dubbed St. Anthony Park—like the Crocus Hill neighborhood of St. Paul and the Prospect Park, Kenwood and Lowry Hill areas of Minneapolis—a Protected Genteel Zone.

They meant it was a neighborhood that was shielded for various reasons from many of the urban ills and social pressures of the third quarter of the 20th century. They noted that the looming presence of the University of Minnesota, as well as Luther Seminary, influenced the area’s demographics, its housing arrangements and its socio-economic character.

“Conventional wisdom,” they wrote, “argues that stable, family-oriented households and transitory tenants cannot survive in the same restricted community. Yet in St. Anthony Park that seems to be exactly what is happening.”

Nearly 30 years have passed since that assessment. The houses of St. Anthony Park are still old, but the “rather young people” of Martin and Lanegran’s description have reached middle age and beyond.

It’s time to take another look. Lanegran and Martin focused on the section of St. Anthony Park that lies north of the railroad tracks, but three decades on, it’s worth extending their portrait to the larger community.

How has the face of St. Anthony Park and the surrounding communities of Lauderdale, Falcon Heights and Como Park changed over the decades? What do the dry statistics of the recent 2010 Census tell us about the living face of our neighborhoods? Who are we now?

This is the first of a series of occasional articles that will try to answer those questions by looking at the demographic facts of our area as they relate to the people who live here.

One of the major worries of the St. Anthony Park community of 1983 was whether the family-oriented nature of the area would change as more students and other renters moved in. From 30 years on, it’s clear that the community was both right and wrong to be worried. Household size has decreased and there are more people living alone in 2012 in the area than there were in the early 1980s. Only 23.9 percent of households were made up of singles then. That figure has risen to almost a third of north St. Anthony Park and more than 40 percent of south St. Anthony Park.

The neighborhood balance of renters versus homeowners has also tilted away from owners. In 1983, 55 percent of the houses in north St. Anthony Park were owner-occupied. That figure has fallen to 42.7 percent for the neighborhood as a whole, although home ownership rates in the northern section remain close to earlier levels.

On the other hand, the tilt away from family presence hasn’t exactly signaled the downfall of the neighborhood. St. Anthony Park remains stable, prosperous and well-educated. Housing vacancy rates—although higher than in 1983—remain low, household incomes continue to range slightly above average, and education levels are far above average. In north St. Anthony Park, for example, nearly half the adults hold a graduate or professional degree. If we’re so well-educated, why aren’t we richer? Lanegran and Martin probably provided the answer to that. “The academic profession is generally … not well paid,” they wrote in 1983, and in 2012, the largest single source of employment for the neighborhood remains education. One in three workers in south St. Anthony Park are employed in education or allied social service fields, as are nearly half of all workers in in the northern part of the area.

Lanegran and Martin drew attention to the relative youth of the neighborhood, but 30 years later do we retain that collective youthful glow? Statistics are mixed. The median age in 2010 for north St. Anthony Park was nearly 33, and almost 15 percent of the population qualifies for senior citizen discounts. South St. Anthony Park remains more youthful, with a median age of 26.5; about 44 percent of its population falls in the 20-something age group.

Lanegran and Martin didn’t discuss race or ethnic background, but it’s reasonable to assume that St. Anthony Park was as at least as diverse as neighboring Falcon Heights. According to the 1980 Census, a little more than 10 percent of the population of Falcon Heights was born in another country. By 2010, that figure had doubled to just over 20 percent. And the immigrants came from places far from traditional Minnesota’s Scandinavian roots.

In the 2010 census, only 10 percent of the population of Falcon Heights claimed Norwegian ancestry, but more than 13 percent spoke Chinese or another Asian language at home. Overall, one in four residents of Falcon Heights currently speaks a language other than English at home.

Diversity is the key to other parts of the portrait of our area today, as well. The 2010 Census has revealed household configurations and backgrounds unrecognized by the people of the ’80s. Less than 20 percent of north St. Anthony Park residents currently live in nuclear families with a husband and wife raising children under 18. But 10 percent live with nonrelatives, including unmarried partners and unrelated children and seniors. Three percent of south St. Anthony Park claims bi-racial heritage, with backgrounds that range from white and black to Native American and South Sea Islander.

Then there are the really quirky facts about us. Although St. Anthony Park is an urban place, loaded with professionals and information experts, a full 2.1 percent earned livings in 2010 in agriculture, forestry, fishing or hunting.

There are paradoxes. Not one person in south St. Anthony Park claims to be of plain “American” descent, although more than 2 percent of the area lists their race as Native American—arguably the only ethnic group entitled to claim purely “American” ancestors. In north St. Anthony Park, the situation is reversed. Almost no-one claims Native American blood, but nearly 2 percent list themselves as having “American” ancestors.

Finally, there are the deceptively simple statistics that reveal a changing world. How many of us telecommuted to work in 1983? In those pre-Internet days, only 75 residents of Falcon Heights worked at home. By 2010, the world was wired, and the figure had risen to almost 7 percent of the town’s population.

After all these years, Lanegran himself is unsurprised by the continued prosperity of the area. “St. Anthony Park has been affected by shrinking family size in general,” he says, “but that doesn’t affect its stability or middle-class values.” He adds that the construction of the light-rail line and the anticipated development of the University Avenue corridor have provided a new focus for the neighborhood.

“My hunch is that south St. Anthony will go through a little boomlet,” Lanegran says. “I’m no prognosticator, but those [condominium] units [along University] are selling!”

If there’s one lesson to be learned from looking at Census data, it’s that times change—in some places more than elsewhere. In the months to come, we’ll take an in-depth look at some of the data that define our neighborhoods.

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Next up in November: How have our politics changed over the years? Our area is now one of the most reliably Democratic districts of the nation. Was that always the case?

Judy Woodward is a reference librarian at the Roseville Library and a regular contributor to the Park Bugle.

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