All aboard! Introducing Link FM Downtown Connector

Link FM is a fun, fast, and free circulator bus that connects Downtown Fargo and Moorhead starting Monday June 1st running from 7 am to 7 pm M-F and 10am – 5pm Sat.  The route will have a continuous loop starting at the Moorhead Center Mall to the Plains Art Museum and back with an average 15 minute frequency for a loop as a goal. The concept is to keep the route and operations simple and flexible enough to make it fun, fast, and free.

Unlike Matbus scheduled routes with established timetables, Link FM will stop at the designated sites only as needed to pick up or drop off passengers. If no one is at a particular stop, it’ll keep moving to the next one.

Look for the Link FM signs at these sites. Mon-Fri there are 8 designated pick-up/drop off areas from 7am – 10am starting at 7am on the east side of Moorhead Center Mall parking lot.

  • East side of parking lot of Moorhead Center Mall
  • 1st Ave at Hjemkomst intersection
  • Fargo Library
  • Gate City
  • Plains Art Museum
  • Renaissance Hall
  • Matbus Ground Transportation Center
  • Fargo Community Health

At 10am,  two additional pick-up/drop off areas on the north and south side of the Moorhead Mall until 7 pm M-F and from 10am – 5pm on Saturdays.

Link FM is another step forward to help grow the use of our Matbus system and continue the regeneration of the core of Fargo and Moorhead making better use of existing infrastructure and parking.IMG_5059

Using a bus already in our fleet, Link FM will start out with a “quiet” start, white with no wrap to begin with. We’ll be adding features over the coming weeks like local music inside and out (be ready for pop up live performers), vibrant and distinctive wrap on the outside, and revolving local art on the inside. By the first week in July, you’ll see it coming from blocks away and will want to jump aboard!

Since 2004, Matbus ridership has almost tripled to now over 2.1 million annual rides with over half in the 18 – 25 age group. Our downtowns and city cores are regenerating and community’s transportation culture is changing with more people walking, biking, and using transit that all help reduce congestion.

This circulator concept has been featured for several years in both our transit plans and  parking plans as a strategy to make better use of thousands of existing public and private parking spaces in both our revitalizing downtowns, reduce congestion, and continue to increase ridership on MATBUS.60 on a bus

This Link FM route is within walking distance of three blocks of several popular destinations and our theme is fun, fast, and free! Link FM will also help navigate around areas on NP Ave and 1St Ave corridor reconstruction and flood protection construction projects that start now and will be going on for the next few years.
Link FM will be using an existing bus and will be an addition to existing routes so will not negatively effect current riders.

It’s great working with the sub committee chaired by Moorheads Steve Ghertz, and members Nancy Otto, Dave Piepkorn, Melissa Radamacher, Matt Maslowski, Joe Nigg, Lori Van Beek, Mike Hahn, Gregg Schildberger, Matt Peterson, and Michael Redlinger.

The Fargo Commission and Moorhead Council unanimously approved this venture and are eager to see how Link FM works. Transit experts have told us it often takes 6-8 months to build ridership and we plan on giving it time and measure how much it’s used.
Both cities can decide to stop with a 30 day notice in the MOU, but we are planning for success and will make funds available in the coming budgets. The idea is both cities will budget for future funding to be made available when it’s proven to be successful with at least 15 – 20 riders per hour by the end of the 9 month trial.


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How to best build our city? Love it


This Strong Towns article could have been written about yesterdays efargo, Alley Fair, and The Hotel Donaldson Earth Day love yesterday. efargo launch, 2 hours of 50 people cleaning alleys and streets, partying at the Ho Do Fargo with the efargo “Earth Piano” and Diane Miller singing sweet tunes.

Sara Watson Curry jamming on efargo's solar powered "Earth Piano" that Raul Gomez and I built.

Sara Watson Curry jamming on efargo’s solar powered “Earth Piano” that Raul Gomez and I built.

To learn more about how we can grow well together and make the best community investments, we invited Charles Marohn of Strong Towns to tour Fargo and will be making presentations May 13th and 14th. Hope you can join us.

Here’s Gracen Johnson’s article about an unmatched economic development strategy in today’s Strong Towns post:


Love, folks. It’s love. Love conquers all. At least that has been my almost unbearably hackneyed conclusion so far.

Last week, I was asked to join a panel discussion posed with the question, What role does placemaking have in building sustainable communities? This gave me a great excuse to break down and map out my personal theory of change. Here it is: love and working together. Have no doubt, the triteness is not lost on me – I grimace even writing this, but I really believe there’s something to it.


I arrived in the world of regeneration and “sustainable development” with an honest-to-goodness optimism about policy-driven change. Call it institutionalism or what have you, but I believed like so many of us do that the right policies and incentives could build the world we want. My MPhil (in something called Planning, Growth, and Regeneration) was an entire degree focused on the policies and economic tactics employed in regenerating places. I still believe policy is important and essential, such as putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions and installing feedback systems like road pricing. There are housing policies and anti-policies that I believe in as well, and let’s not forget about parking maximums. Where my confidence falters is in the zone of economic development policy, the stuff of business parks, tax perks, and a long aisle of pig-lipstick.

The revelation occurred while attending a conference about struggling rural villages, desperate to create jobs and retain young people. I had just been contemplating these same challenges for large cities like Liverpool, UK and it hit me that everyone feels like a struggling rural village in the globalized economy, except the top dogs like New York, San Francisco, Tokyo, London and Shanghai, etc.

Common practice favours what I call vacuum-driven economic development, where your goal is to suck up more talent, resources, and”job-creators” than your neighbours. We’ve seen all the tricks to do this, mostly resembling some form of bribery, freebies, or pleading with the government. It’s naively self-interested and doesn’t scale well. These policies don’t work for most of us because no matter how much money we throw at it, we can’t compete with the awesome vacuum power of the cities at the top of the food chain.


So I began pondering how we could create new value that is independent of the vacuums. Is there a form of value and meaning that creates an unbeatable stickiness, bound up in place? Of course there is: love. Love makes us do irrational things, like stay in a place where we need to fight tooth and nail to create opportunity for ourselves. The number of times family and memories came up when I asked my friends Why do you live where you live?is testament to that.

I came across a beautiful quote the other day and I don’t know who to credit it to.

“Men do not love Rome because she is beautiful. Rome is beautiful because men have loved her.”

— Leopold Kohr (Thanks commenter Mike Polen for solving that mystery)

We protect, improve, and beautify the places we love. Nowhere is this more obvious today than multi-generation farmers or the First Nations that are putting their lives on the line to protect the places they love and depend on from toxic spills and emissions. In the book, This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein shares the words of Montana rancher Alexis Bonogofsky:

“It sounds ridiculous but there’s this one spot where I can sit on the sandstone rock and you know that the mule deer are coming up and migrating through, you just watch these huge herds come through, and you know that they’ve been doing that for thousands and thousands of years. And you sit there and you feel connected to that. And sometimes it’s almost like you can feel the earth breathe. That connection to this place and the love that people have for it, that’s what Arch Coal doesn’t get. They underestimate that. They don’t understand it so they disregard it. And that’s what in the end will save that place. Is not the hatred of the coal companies, or anger, but love will save this place.”

— Alexis Bonogofsky as quoted in This Changes Everything

The words of a rancher can easily be transferred to our awe for the cities we love. Who doesn’t gaze from the street and appreciate the hours of sweat and care that went into building places we love? Who doesn’t ruminate on the thousands of days before, where someone has sat just like you and watched the daily activities unfold? Who doesn’t feel a tingle of connection when walking along a well-worn footpath? I believe love will save our places too, if they are indeed loveable.


Answering this question has become my raison d’étre – I only take on work that I deem “projects for places we love.” So far, what I’ve found is that it comes down to working together, intervention, and celebration.

The working together part has been my key learning from adventures in the human side of city building. The process of working alongside others on something worthwhile or just plain fun has actually created my strongest ties to this city. Working together creates bonds with people and place, and powerful memories of joint accomplishment. It’s an investment in relationships and the place you live, and motivation for others. For example, I just saw some lovely women doing a cleanup in their Halifax neighbourhood last weekend and now I’m feeling more inspired and obliged to participate in my own block cleanup this weekend. Many hands make light work!

Photo by Jim Kumon.

Photo by Jim Kumon.

The trouble is, we often lack venues and opportunities to work together or even be together nowadays. We live in an isolated world and most of our city spaces are in need of an intervention. We can use small interventions like Tactical Urbanism to give people excuses to linger, to volunteer, to ask questions and take part. This is the physical side of city-building that we are rapidly prototyping across the world. Our interventions can reinforce the humanness of our cities and give us reasons and avenues to work together.

Finally, it’s important to celebrate. Like the harvest feasts of yesteryear, we can validate hard work with the act of celebration. Food, drink, music, dancing – this is all so much more wonderful when it’s well-deserved.

Our situation is obviously precarious. We’ve done some serious, perhaps irreversible damage to our climate, ecosystems, finances, and communities. Current levels of inequality are staggering and our political systems are broken. It can be hard to have any hope at all. But I believe in the places that are loved. I believe that the survival skills we need are gratitude and generosity – caring about each other and our homes enough to learn, adapt, and be resourceful. Humanizing our cities is both a means and an end in doing that. I believe that as long as we’re walking that path together, we’ll have reason to celebrate.

And there you have it: your daily dose of sickly sweet, anti-wonk, actionable EcDev.

GRACEN JOHNSON is a communications designer living in The Maritimes. While she finished her MPhil in Planning, Growth, and Regeneration in 2013, she has never stopped studying the city. Gracen thinks of her day-to-day as participatory action research, diving into the question of how Strong Citizenship can transform a city. She wears many hats trying to crack that nut herself, including as the designer and coordinator of an accelerator for small businesses that build community. She also freelances around the vision of “Projects for Places we Love” and has a video blog called Another Place for Me.

This year, Gracen is sharing field notes on her experiences with Strong Citizenship. In this regular column, you’ll get snapshots of life as a friendly neighbour in a quintessential Little City that feels like a Big Town.

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Check out the efargo “Earth Piano”

Come celebrate Earth Day with us! Hear about some ways our nationally selected efargo team and partners are creating new ways to save energy and make better use of resources. Lots of ways to  more involved in helping reduce energy use and have some fun doing it.

Here’s the recent efargo news release:

Community invited to eFargo kick-off events!

 FARGO, N.D. (April 20, 2015) – The City of Fargo, North Dakota State University, Cass County Electric Cooperative, Xcel Energy and area K-12 schools are proud to announce the launch of efargo with community kick-off events taking place during Earth Week (Wednesday, April 22 and Saturday April, 25). Locals are invited to join in the fun activities such as seeing Fargo’s first “Earth Piano,” making a conservation pledge in a high tech photo shoot, creating the super villain Dr. Waste-a-Watt, learning the top-ten easy and affordable actions for reducing energy use and visiting the official website and more!

eFargo map

efargo is a partnership between the City of Fargo and North Dakota State University to enter the two-year Georgetown University Energy Prize competition which aims to reduce energy use in cities around the country. The efargo team was one of 50 semi-finalists selected to participate in the two-year competition (2015 & 2016) for a chance to win the $5,000,000 prize. By employing a comprehensive strategy, efargo aims to reduce energy consumption and increase renewables by 5% by 2016. The ultimate goal is to reduce emissions in keeping with the city’s Go2030 policy.

Community events:

eFargo launch and panel discussion: Wednesday, April 22 from 3 – 4 p.m. at Fargo Theater Second Stage, 314 Broadway. Panelists include Marshal Albright (CCEC), Mark Nisbet (Xcel Energy), Jennifer Pickett (City of Fargo recycling), Malini Srivastava (eFargo Project Lead & NDSU). Moderated by Karen Stoker.

Alley Fair events: Wednesday, April 22

  • Downtown Cleanup! Meet for Alley Fair cleanup at US Bank Plaza any time between 4 – 6 p.m.
  • Cleanup Thank You Party: 6 p.m. at the HoDo  (1st Avenue and Broadway). Play Fargo’s first Earth Piano and make a conservation pledge in a high tech photo shoot! Learn the top-ten easy action items for your home!

Party for the Planets: Saturday, April 25 from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. at the Red River Zoo, 4255 23rd Ave. S., Fargo, ND. Come see us at the eFargo booth and help us design and color the evil Dr. Waste-a-Watt for the eFargo K-12 Energy Challenge! Also, learn the top-ten easy action items for your home.

– END –


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Smile and wave when you see people walking, on the bus, or biking

Thanks to all that helped celebrate and proclaim yesterday as “Stand up 4 Transportation Day” NDSU President Bresciani spoke and introduced all four Metro Mayors that signed the proclamation. 

They invited me to say a few words and I shared that along with a lot of good work by many along the way, the students have been the driving force for alternative transportation here.

Walking: Cool #walkyourcity sign project downtown thanks to Joe Burgum, Simone Wai and friends show how many minutes walk it is to some of our community treasures. 

Matbus: ridership has grown from 800,000 rides 10 years ago to now 2.2 million annual rides, over 1 million college age. We’re working on giving our award winning Matbus team more support to continue to grow in a robust way that leverages the many values they provide. We need to double and triple ridership again in the next 5 years. Watch for the Google Bus app coming soon

Downtown Circulator: We’re still working with Moorhead to have the Moorhead Mall as the east stop and the Plains Art on the west. We’ve approved the funding on the Fargo Commission for a free fare, 15 minute route 7 – 7 m-f and 10-5 Sat.

Even if Moorhead doesn’t want to join right now, this circulator would add opportunities for more people to try out Matbus and see how clean and convenient they are. This adds value by making any parking lot in a 8 block area North and South and 12 block area East and West more accessible and useful.

Bike facilities: Fargo’s first protected bike lanes will be built this summer on the first phase of NP Ave.  Working with NDSU student leaders for a fun community service project to paint the bike lanes on University and 10th Green (Maybe even some gold hoofprints or Bison busts along the way?)

Great Rides Bikeshare is setting national records for use, already over 11,000 rides in about 3 weeks since launch. You can buy a day pass membership  for unlimited rides 30 minutes at a time, or monthly $15, or annual for $75. There is reciprocity with select B-cycle systems around the nation.

For perspective, the Minneapolis “Nice Ride” system and their great director Bill Dossett has been helpful in our research and things to consider, did 100,000 rides their first season with 700 bikes.


We’re making improvements day by day, but we have a ton of room to add value to our growth policies and public investments that encourage active transportation featuring people first while accommodating cars.

Working together, the best is yet to come,



Chart of the Day: Social vs Individual Mode Costs

by  on April 3, 2015 in Chart
Here’s a “chart” of sorts, that attempts to compare the individual and social costs of trips using different modes. It’s part of the “cost of commute” calculator in Vancouver, British Columbia. Obviously this is a really complicated thing to do, but at least they’re trying!Cost of carsHere’s a quote from the engineer who made the calculator:

“Although these costs are easy to overlook, that doesn’t make them any less real,” says George Poulos, a transportation engineer and planner who analyzed the data behind the Cost of Commute Calculator. “Sometimes we pay them upfront, other times indirectly. But, at the end of the day, we still pay them, so we should consider them in our calculus when making big decisions.”

At least they’re honest about the complexity! I’d like to see more externalities included in our decisions. is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

space required to transport 60 people
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Though never built, the Cultural Bridge project was a bridge to the future

It’s fun to reflect on some of the projects that didn’t come to fruition, but still provided inspiration and impetus for wonderful derivative projects.0324-n-downtowndreams-graves

I spoke to Michael Graves back in 2000 and he was still passionate about the beautiful Cultural Bridge project that won him national recognition and helped spark his career though it was never built. He was eager to hear our plans for Fargo and I’m sad I didn’t invite him before his recent passing.

While we know there’s much room for improvement (we’ve added value in the Renaissance Zone from $150 m in 2003 to now $600 m in improvements and new development), the article missed some of the progress and highlights of what’s making downtown better everyday. Here’s just a few that come to mind, there’s a ton more, and if you ask people they’ll have many more examples for you.  It’s also fun and worthwhile to point out several successes for a more complete reflection and context of the incremental and sustained progress over time.

During the 2001 Framework plan our committee and participants recognized that it would be better to not just wait or plan for a huge homerun project for a vibrant downtown and community. For sustained growth and entrepreneurial spirit, a compilation of several quality projects and ventures that add to our quality of life and value more everyday is a proven strategy with positive results.

Here’s to helping Fargo grow better everyday!

RZ ppt 4
RZ Graph

 Here’s a quick review of just a few projects that come to mind, there are lots more. Our resurgent Downtown is a work in progress and the success to date is a result of lot of good work by many, many people over the years:

  • First large infill project? 1985 Radisson Hotel office tower
  • Old Broadway repurposed retail 1976 revamped continuously
  • Repurposing/art: 1997 Plains Art Museum
    Plains art
  • 2004-5 Dike East and West
  •  2003 Hotel Donaldson repurpose:
  • 2004 Renaissance Hall repurpose brought first NDSU students downtown:
Renaissance hall
  • 2003-2008 Broadway  reconstruction from Framework plan:Broadway recon
  • 2004 – 2009 Voters approve 18month 1/2 cent sales tax to fund two new libraries and a branch. The projects were completed in 2009 on time, on the $15.6 million budget ($13 m sales tax and $2.6 m donations) and paid before they were finished. Over 45,000 people voted with 61% approval in 2004
new library

  • Downtown library completed 2009 has over 500,000 visitors annually, that’s even more than the fabulous Fargodome
Carlson library

Carlson Library on 32nd Ave S

  •  2008 Broadway becomes a shared roadway for bikes to share the lane
  • 300 Broadway
  • 300 Broadway Kilbourne/Burgum mixed use infill


  • 2009 Barry Hall completed now with Klai Hall, Renaissance, and Barry Hall over 4,000 students in Downtown campus
NDSUBarry 1_300_220_c1
NDSUKlai 1_300_220_c1
  • 2010 Fargo’s first on street bike lanes on 4th Ave, now over 33 miles on street lanes
Bike lane Istock
  • 2011 Cityscapes mixed use infill
    Cityscapes 1
  • 2012 Change NP and 1st Ave back to two way traffic, over $30,000,000 in new investment on the corridor already
2004 – 2013 Matbus ridership rises from 700,000 riders to over 2,000,000 riders, over 1 million college age, 2011 first Hybrid buses
hybrid bus
2015 Great Rides Bikeshare begins

great rides kickoff
  • 2015 First protected bike lanes approved and will be built on NP Ave from University to 10th St.     Fargo ranked a as a top 50 city  for biking in Bicycling magazine, now awarded a Bronze for first bike friendly city in North DakotaNP+Avenue+Bike+Lane
We’ve still got a long way to go to reach our potential downtown, still lots of surface lots where vibrant mixed use buildings used to be. Let’s keep looking for ways to grow well, adding value and quality of life and great places for people. Working together, the best is yet to come!
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Tour de Art and Parking to Sioux Falls and Lincoln already paying off

It’s an exciting time to live in Fargo. It’s fun to see the rest of the nation finding out what we already know, our quality of life is high and it’s a nice place to live.

While its interesting to see our city rank well in so many economic and livability lists we know we can do better.

At this time when our community is making needed investments in key large scale projects already underway, there are wonderful possibilities. We heard from over 8,000 people in creating our Fargo GO 2030 plan, that it’s important to make the most of these opportunities to add value and create beautiful spaces for people to use and enjoy for generations within these projects:

  • Downtown flood protection
  • Moving 2nd Street west to more stable ground that provides an expanded greenway and river walk
  • New city hall
  • Incorporating more public art and functional art
  • Adding strategically placed mixed use parking facilities that keeps high value space on sidewalks for retail, commercial.

Our 37 hour whirlwind Tour de Art and Parking is already paying off. On Tuesdays Fargo commission agenda two items are:

1. Feasibility of converting Civic or another existing building to a 2,000 – 2,400 seat performing arts facility.

2. Thorough comparative analysis of use, size, siting for most overall community benefit of a possible conference/convention facility

It was very helpful to see some examples of these types of projects already in place in peer cities.

Thanks to wonderful leadership of Charley Johnson and the Fargo Visitors Center working with the city of Fargo, a group of 40 Fargo leaders took a two day bus trip to visit Sioux Falls South Dakota and Lincoln Nebraska. The tour group included artists, architects, developers, Fargo Visitor Center staff, Downtown Community Partnership, Fargodome staff and board members, NDSU, representatives from the FM Chamber and FMEDC, city planners and administration, media, and Fargo elected officials.

Our Fargo group for Tour de Art and Parking to Sioux Falls and Lincoln

During a portion of our travel time, some tour members shared what they or their organization are working on for goals, trends, challenges and opportunities.

The tour group met the people that helped bring these projects to fruition at the sites. Projects we visited and learned about in Sioux Falls were:

Falls Park and connection to downtown,

Falls Park in Sioux Falls

Sculpture Walk a defined area downtown exhibiting sculptures from around the globe

Forum reporter Erik Burgess took this nice picture while on our Tour de Art and Parking


Washington Pavilion a historic high school transformed into performing arts and science museum.

magnificent 1,800 seat performing arts space built into Washington Pavilion in Sioux Falls

Downtown riverfront a newly constructed River Greenway along the Big Sioux River

While in Lincoln:

New developments in the Haymarket a tired warehouse district converted to a vibrant entertainment and technology hub,

Haymarket/Railyard in Lincoln Nebraska is growing well

New Pinnacle Bank Arena and events center in Hay Market district is in the background and has been a catalyst for more fun and development.

New mixed use parking facilities that have retail, commercial and office on sidewalks and residences or hotels wrapped around, or on, parking structures that add value and spin off benefit for increased economic activity

Larson Building is mixed use with integrated parking

Panel sessions where people that helped with these developments shared various ways they’ve collaborated to plan and finance these successful community projects.

Here are a few links of news stories from our whirlwind Tour de Art and Parking:

Lincoln news 

Sioux Falls:


We’re doing well in Fargo but there’s lots of room for improvement. Working together, and continuing to engage people to implement the priorities of Fargo GO2030, the best is yet to come.

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Best city for recent grads? Boston, D.C., Madison, Austin, San Fran, with Fargo at the top

Several cool peer cities are in this list. Madison, D.C, Austin, San Francisco, Boston. Fun to see Fargo on top! The students learning, living, working, and playing downtown have helped drive the revitalization of Downtown and there are a ton of underdeveloped flat lots ripe for mixed use development.

 Continuing to target and prioritizing the core helps us recruit and retain talent. All these high rankings have a common denominator, it’s the vibrant core and opportunities to engage that differentiates us from the rest, not the anytown USA strip-malls and sparse segregated cul-de-sac developments.

 We have some new opportunities/offers to work with peer cities to leverage this further to continue to recruit and retain working and competing with some peer cities.

Let’s grow well and target areas where we get the most value and create the most interest for interesting people.

 Another example of becoming a more dynamic city is the unique student led bikeshare program announced May 16th 2014. It’s been so much fun working with them and Tom Smith for these past 3 years. This was a key initiative listed in Fargo GO2030Forum story on how Great Rides Bikeshare developed>

The Great Rides Bikeshare system will be installed in the fall. You’re all invited to learn more at:

 Let’s keep pedaling Fargo forward!

Here’s the article in Business Insider this week:

1. Fargo, ND

Fargo had the lowest unemployment of all of the cities we looked at, with a remarkably low 3.3% rate. Fargo also has a huge number of young adults, with 28.4% of the population falling between 20 and 34. Fargoans are also more likely to be single than others, with 37.6% of the population having never been married. The city is also quite well educated, with 37.1% of Fargoans having at least a bachelor’s degree. Housing is also quite affordable, with 67.5% of renting households paying less than 35% of their incomes on housing expenses.

North Dakota as a state has seen a renaissance in the past couple of years, largely powered by the oil boom in the Bakken formation in the western part of the state. While Fargo is in the east, as North Dakota’s largest city, the boom may have had some effect on Fargo’s economy. Fargo also is the home of North Dakota State University, and we have seen many college towns on this list.

The only measure where Fargo lags behind the other cities on this list is in income. Median worker earnings were just $30,104, slightly below the national median of $30,155.

 The 13 Best Cities For Brand-New College Grads

  • MAY 12, 2014, 12:20 PM
College Students Graduates GraduationOli Scarff/Getty Images


For people in their mid-20s to early 30s who have finished their education and are starting their careers, figuring out where to live can be difficult.

With local economies varying from place to place and recent grads potentially looking for a partner to start a family, it’s good to be around other people in your age range.

To try to figure out where newly minted young professionals should live, we evaluated the 200 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. on a variety of measures that might be important to recent grads.

We used six measures to evaluate the 200 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. From theCensus Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey, we took the share of the population of each city that had young adults between the ages of 20 and 34, the percent of people who had never been married as a proxy for single people, the share of the population with a bachelor’s degree or higher, the median earnings for a worker in the city, and the percentage of rental households that paid less than 35% of monthly income on housing expenses as a measure of apartment affordability.

We also took the March 2014 unemployment figures for each from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Local Area Unemployment Statistics.

Each city was given a ranking score from 0 to 100 for each of these measures, and then those rankings were averaged together to find the final ranking.

12 (tie). Sioux Falls, SD

12 (tie). Sioux Falls, SD

Wikimedia Commons

Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Sioux Falls had an extremely low unemployment rate at 3.9% in March. Sioux Falls also, by one measure, has the most affordable apartment rent in the country: 71.1% of apartment households spent less than 35% of their monthly incomes on housing costs, a much higher proportion than in any of the other cities.

Something that might give a 20- or 30-something college graduate pause is that Sioux Falls has somewhat fewer highly educated people than the other cities on this list, with just 29.2% of its residents holding a bachelor’s degree or higher.

12 (tie). Omaha, NE

12 (tie). Omaha, NE

REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Investor Warren Buffett

Similar to Sioux Falls, Omaha has very low unemployment, at 4.5%, and very affordable apartments, with 63.5% of renting households paying less than 35% of monthly income on gross rent.

Unfortunately, for single college grads trying to decide where to settle down, Omaha has fewer singles than the other cities on this list, with just 32% of its population having never been married.

11. Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN

11. Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN

Stuart Wilson/Getty Images

The Twin Cities are economically dynamic, home to Target and many other large employers. It’s not that surprising that Minneapolis and St. Paul are very well educated with 39.5% of residents having a bachelor’s or higher. Median worker earnings are solid at $36,358 a year, and unemployment is relatively low at 4.9%.

On the downside, there are fewer people in the earlier stages of their careers in Minneapolis, with just 21.1% of the population falling between 20 and 34.

10. San Francisco/Oakland, CA

10. San Francisco/Oakland, CA


Over the last decade, the Bay Area has become a natural destination for ambitious and highly educated people, being the heart of the tech industry. A full 45% of San Franciscans have at least a bachelor’s degree, and median earnings for workers are a very impressive $41,265.

9. Columbus, OH

9. Columbus, OH


Ohio State University’s marching band forms a man firing a cannon.

Columbus scored reasonably well on each of our measures. Unemployment was at 5.0%, the median worker earned $31,589, and 34.1% of residents had a bachelor’s degree or higher.

8. Seattle/Tacoma, WA

8. Seattle/Tacoma, WA

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman

Seattle has solid median worker earnings, at $36,864, and 37.7% of Seattleites hold bachelor’s degrees or advanced degrees. However, there are fewer singles than most of the other top-ranked cities, with just 32.8% of Seattleites having never been married.

7. Durham/Chapel Hill, NC

The research triangle is very well educated. A full 44.7% of the population of Durham/Chapel Hill holds at least a bachelor’s degree, as one might expect from the home of Duke and the University of North Carolina. There are also a fair number of single people in the area, with a better than average 36.3% of residents having never been married.

6. Lincoln, NE

6. Lincoln, NE

l’interdit via flickr Creative Commons

Over a quarter of the population of Lincoln falls in our young-adult age range: 25.2% are between the ages of 20 and 34. Unemployment is very low at 3.5%, but having a job is not as lucrative as in many of our other cities. Median worker earnings were just $27,100.

5. Boston, MA

5. Boston, MA


The 2014 Boston Marathon

Boston is home to a ridiculous number of colleges, and this is reflected by the 42.9% of Bostonians with bachelor’s or advanced degrees. Jobs in Boston also pay well, with median worker earnings at $37,954.

4. Madison, WI

4. Madison, WI

U. of Wisconsin

The law building at the University of Wisconsin, Madison

Like the other college-centered cities on this list, Madison is young and well educated. Young adults between the ages of 20 and 34 make up 24.7% of Madison’s population, and 42.6% of the adult population holds at least a bachelor’s. Madison has a fairly low unemployment rate of 4.7%.

3. Austin, TX

3. Austin, TX

Flickr / Visualist Images

People walking around at Austin’s South by Southwest festival

Austin looks a lot like Madison by our measures. Just over a quarter, 25.1%, of Austinites are between 20 and 34, and 40.5% of Austin’s population have bachelor’s or advance degrees. Austin had a solid unemployment rate of 4.4% in March.

2. Washington, DC

2. Washington, DC

AP Photo

Protestors gather for the 1963 March on Washington

The capital had the highest median worker earnings of any of the 200 cities we looked at, with the median worker making $44,452, much higher than the national median of $30,155. Washington attracts the educated, with 48.2% of the adult population holding at least a bachelor’s degree.

1. Fargo, ND

Fargo had the lowest unemployment of all of the cities we looked at, with a remarkably low 3.3% rate. Fargo also has a huge number of young adults, with 28.4% of the population falling between 20 and 34. Fargoans are also more likely to be single than others, with 37.6% of the population having never been married. The city is also quite well educated, with 37.1% of Fargoans having at least a bachelor’s degree. Housing is also quite affordable, with 67.5% of renting households paying less than 35% of their incomes on housing expenses.

North Dakota as a state has seen a renaissance in the past couple of years, largely powered by the oil boom in the Bakken formation in the western part of the state. While Fargo is in the east, as North Dakota’s largest city, the boom may have had some effect on Fargo’s economy. Fargo also is the home of North Dakota State University, and we have seen many college towns on this list.

The only measure where Fargo lags behind the other cities on this list is in income. Median worker earnings were just $30,104, slightly below the national median of $30,155.

Read more:

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Growing well matters, let’s do the math‏

Fargo’s in a fantastic situation and we’ve been growing for years thanks to a lot of good work by many. In the past 15 years we’ve seen a bit over 1% population growth a year, but recently Fargo’s population is accelerating three times that. How and where we grow matters.

Here’s an apt cartoon from Trygve Olson in today’s Forum:

Maybe we’re gaining some traction on improving land use? It’s hard to change the status quo but the math shows we have to do better with planning and land use if we’re going to reach Fargo’s great potential.

Here’s some of this weeks articles and interviews on our need to improve land use to grow well:

KVLY Planning/Commission piece 4-25-14

Forum “We want to make sure we grow well” 4-25-14

KFGO Joel Heitkamp interview on growing well: 4-28-14

 Some basic math shows why we need to improve our density and land use in Fargo

Fargo’s been growing for years and we’re in a fantastic situation thanks to a lot of good work by many. In the past 15 years we’ve seen a bit over 1% population growth a year, but recently Fargo’s population is accelerating three times that.

The current footprint of land in Fargo’s annexed area is just over 48 square miles with a population of about 112,000.

48 square miles = 30,720 acres divided into 112,000 pop = 3.6 people per acre.

In Fargo’s comprehensive plan there is a goal of 9 people per acre, this is the density we currently have in our popular mature existing neighborhoods like Hawthorne, Clara Barton, Horace Mann and others.

Planning Director Jim Gilmour recently informed us the that Fargo’s growth by 2040 is 154,170 and metro’s growth is projected population growth by 2040 is 259,950 people.

When we do the math, we find we currently have enough land to accommodate our  population estimate and more if we achieve our 9 people per acre density goal.

30,720 acres X 9 people per acre = 276,480 population in our current footprint. Even if we only add two people per acre in the next 25 years would be 61,440 more people added to our current 115,000 = 175,440 people, far more than the 154,170 that is projected.

Conversely, if we continue to grow at 3.6 people per acre, we would need to more than double our current footprint of 48 sections.

259,950 pop est by 2040 divided by 3.6 people per acre = 72,208 acres needed.

30,720 acres to 72,208 acres or 112 sections compared to our current 48 sections.

The vast majority if not all new development areas south of 52nd Ave are lower than the new FEMA 100 year flood levels. While we’re working diligently to build the diversion, even if we started today, it wouldn’t be complete for 10 years. Even with the diversion, we need in town protection to accommodate flows through town during a 500 year event.

We’re working to protect Fargo with dikes and floodwalls to a level of 42′.5″ to avoid higher cost of flood insurance. We can complete this sooner if we don’t expand our boundaries into low lying land south of 70th Ave.

How do we accomplish this? First we have to acknowledge that we have to improve our land use and work to meet our goals for density. It would be helpful to follow the key priorities set out with over 8,000 people engaged. Prioritize and develop a work plan with measures to implement the goals of Fargo GO2030. The top 5 are:

#1. Flood protection

#2. Infill/strong neighborhoods

#3. Arts and Culture

#4. Bike and pedestrian facilities

#5. Quality design standards

What are some ideas on ways to achieve these? Here are a few of mine:

Leave agricultural zoning in place on perimeter until it fits to reach our density goals.

Be more selective on where to apply incentives and planning focus. Target new home tax incentives and city financing of infrastructure for new development to closer in areas and infill areas that have existing infrastructure and are already covered by city services of Fire, Police, Garbage, Street cleaning/snow removal, Forestry.

Increase incentives on mixed use and affordable housing infill and redevelopment projects in under utilized areas with existing infrastructure and services.

Continue to improve areas to encourage walking, biking, and transit and reduce need to drive. Our residents on average spend 27% of income on transportation, higher than 24% for housing. If a family has two cars instead of three by living in a area where the need for driving is reduced, they save about $9,000 annually.

Fargo’s a wonderful community. We do our best when we work and grow well together. Let’s make sure Fargo is growing well!

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Fargo on its way to the new American dream

People from all over the country are intrigued by what’s going on in Fargo. We’re consistently topping lists for quality of life and vibrant economy.

Perhaps some of the reason we’re attracting more attention is that we’re incrementally becoming a more diverse community demographically and economically with a focus on our greatest resource, our youth and students.

Many young people and others interested in more active and engaged lifestyles see the huge value in vibrant downtowns and close in neighborhoods. Some ways we’re doing that is by making areas more people friendly for walking, biking, and transit opportunities instead of just having to drive wherever you go.

Livability Magazine ranks Fargo #8 for best city for recent graduates for 2014.  Here’s a sample:

“The range of things to do in Fargo swings from cross-country skiing to attending food festivals, visiting art galleries and kayaking. Downtown Fargodraws a hip crowd, including students from North Dakota State University and four other colleges. The downtown area features a collection of bars, music venues, shops and restaurants located close to apartments and condos.


Number of 25- to 34-year-olds: 19,581

*Number of available jobs: 2,579

Hot jobs: Health care, software, farm/construction equipment

Top employers: Sanford Health, Essentia Health, CNH America, Microsoft”

~End quote from Livability~

We’ve got a lot of room for improvement, but we’re well on on our way to becoming America’s dream town.

Here’s an excellent article by Robert Stueteville of Better Cities and Towns:

Top 10 reasons for a new American Dream

Blog post by Robert Steuteville on 21 Apr 2014
Better! Cities & Towns

For three generations, the American Dream was largely defined by continual suburban expansion. The dream was based on exclusivity and “keeping up with the Joneses.” Driving was so essential that all other means of getting around became practically impossible. Privacy was everything.

A new America Dream has emerged in recent years. It is based on social and cultural diversity and the idea of community. This dream is more about great streets than highways. You can drive if you want, but you can also walk, ride a bike, take transit, or join carshare. In this dream, the things you are connected to are more important than who you are separated from.

The old American Dream has not gone away, but it has been eclipsed. Here are 10 reasons why the new dream is here to stay, in a countdown list:

10) Driving has been declining for 10 years. “Our national flower is the concrete cloverleaf,” wrote Lewis Mumford in 1961. Driving per person continued to rise steadily for 43 years after that, and then it stopped.Automobile miles per capita have declined every year since 2004. Also, those concrete cloverleaves have become expensive maintenance problems. One could say the national flower has begun to wilt.

9) Millennials want urban place.

Today’s young adults – the Millennials — were the first generation to be born and raised mostly in communities where the indoor mall was the main street and the parking lot was the town square. As adults, this generation rejected the isolation and generic character of drive-only suburbs. Millennials aren’t the only people today embracing compact, mixed-use neighborhoods — but a dramatic shift in youth preference points to a long-term trend.

8) Walkable places help you climb the ladder of success. The story of ambitious young people going to the city to make something of their lives appears again and again in our literature, movies, and theater. This story is not just a literary device, according to a 2013 study. Social mobility is higher in compact urban places, Arizona State University researchers found. The more walkable the census block — as measured by Walk Score— the more likely someone from the bottom fifth of income will reach the top fifth in their lives. It is no wonder then that New York City — America’s most walkable city — is a magnet for immigrants and other folks pursuing the American Dream.

7) Productivity and innovation thrive as density rises. Studies in recent years have shown that in compact places with good transit, economic activity rises due to more face-to-face contact with knowledgeable people (linklink).

6) You are more likely to be famous if you are born in an urban place. Tiger moms take note! If you want your children to be successful enough to be profiled in Wikipedia, the odds rise substantially if you raise them in a big city — or small city anchored by a university. The New York Times came to that conclusion in a geographical analysis of Wikipedia biographies. Ironically, for several generations, parents have moved to distant suburbs to give children a better chance of success. Notes the Times, “growing up near ideas is better than growing up near backyards.”

5) You are less likely to die in a pool of blood if you are raised in an urban place. Parents have long moved to quiet suburbs for safety. Some are questioning whether this quest for safety has gone too far. The entire culture of childhood has changed, according to a recentarticle in The Atlantic. Children no longer have their own places to roam and explore. Moreover, a 2013 University of Pennsylvania/Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) study challenges the entire notion that suburbs are safer. The study examines, for the first time comprehensively, all kinds of accidental and violent deaths in America. Contrary to conventional wisdom, urban streets are significantly safer than leafy suburbs and rural areas. While counterintuitive at first glance, the finding is not hard to fathom if you think about it. The number one US cause of death from ages 5 to 34 is automobile crashes, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Deadly automobile crashes are far less likely on lower-speed urban streets.

4) Bicycles: The new status symbol.

A generation ago, bicycles were considered to be a child’s toy. Now they are a status symbol for communities. As Jeff Speck writes in Walkable City, “A bold green stripe down the side of a street — or many streets — tells residents and potential residents that a city supports alternative transportation, healthy lifestyles and cycling culture, and that it welcomes the sort of people who get around on bikes. For the most part, those people are the millennials and creatives who will help a city thrive.”

3) McMansions are losing their luster.

In the 1990s, a McMansion was the ultimate symbol that the homeowner had “made it.” Inside, the house was luxurious. But the chief selling point was the message it sent from the curb: The owners, and all of their neighbors, have so much money that they can afford to be wasteful on lawn and landscaping, excessive architectural details, pointless variety in rooflines and materials, and general bloat. Today, we have endured a Great Recession and climate change is an ongoing concern. The McMansion’s underlying message of wasteful spending, poor taste, and big carbon footprint projects a less flattering image on the homeowners. As Billy Joel once said, “Is that all you get for your money?”

Photo by Lee Sobel

2) Downtown and in-town neighborhoods are home to the “creative class.” Coming up with this term has made the career of author, academic, and researcher Richard Florida. Whether urban or suburban, big city or small, communities want the educated people that provide the economic spark — known as the “creative class.” Seeking the creative class, businesses have begun moving back into town from suburban campuses.

And the number one reason why we have a new American Dream:

Would you rather have this?

Van Buren Street, Phoenix, today

Or this?

Van Buren transformed, by Steve Price of Urban Advantage

The first image, a commercial strip arterial, has one big advantage: It is legal.

The second image is not technically difficult to achieve. Most zoning codes and the automobile-oriented practices of departments of transportation stand in the way. This new American Dream has the market on its side, but will require coalitions in local communities to muster the political will for reform.

I could come up with 10 or 20 more reasons for the new American Dream. Could you?

~ End Article~

Fargo, we’re on our way!! 

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Fargo series debut piquing interest in the real Fargo story

There’s a new cable series based on the movie coming out on Tuesday (Fargo on FX channel). It likely won’t represent much of what really goes on here, but it does create awareness.

 Forbes Joel Kotkin sure likes Fargo, and says we’ve had incredible change in 10 years. He’s right. 10 years ago a majority of young people looked to move to other cities to build their lives. In a 180 degree turnaround, now according to Fargo Public School student surveys, over 65% want to stay and be engaged in our community, with another 10% wanting to stay in the region.

Fun events like “Chalk Fest”, “Streets Alive!”, and Fargo Marathon are just a few of many reasons why Fargo’s become a more fun and interesting community where people want to live, work, learn and play.


There’s a new cable series based on the movie coming out on Tuesday (Fargo on FX channel). It likely won’t represent much of what really goes on here, but it does create awareness. 

The upside is, the national awareness provides an opportunity to show folks how good we can really be. The way we grow matters, over the years more people, especially young people, are realizing that a strong downtown with strong walkable core neighborhoods provide a lot of value and a more interesting place to live, work, learn, and play.

Good stuff!


Below is an excerpt of Joel Kotkin’s recent article in Forbes Magazine:

Starting Tuesday, the coastal crowd will get another opportunity to laugh at the zany practices of those living in the frozen reaches of the Great Plains. The new television series “Fargo,” based on the 1996 Coen brothers movie, will no doubt be filled with fearsome violence mixed with the proper amount of Scandinavian reserve and wry humor — the very formula that made the original such as hit.

Yet how much will “Fargo” the series resemble the real places? Probably not much. For one thing the series only uses Fargo as a kind of marker; the action actually takes place in Bemidji, Minn., a small town of 12,000 over two hours away. I know distances are seen differently in the northern Plains, but the whole idea seems a bit of a stretch. Located in forest and lake country, many locals would not even consider the Minnesota town part of the Plains.

Less known to the sophistos who will watch the show is that Fargo, a metro area with over 200,000 people, and the state of North Dakota have been enjoying a sustained boom for a decade. This resurgence — in demographics, economics and real estate — follows decades of relative decline and an almost sullen sense of isolation that drove many people out of the state.

In a state where the unofficial motto seems to be “it could be worse” — not a bad notion given the often miserable weather — things couldn’t be much better. North Dakota leads the nation in virtually every indicator of prosperity: the lowest unemployment rate, and the highest rates of net in-migration, income growth and job creation. Last year North Dakota wagesrose a remarkable 8.9%, twice as much as Utah and Texas, which shared honors for second place, and many times the 1% rise experienced nationwide.

The once dreary predictions of demographic decline — epitomized by the proposal two New Jersey academics to turn the area into a “Buffalo Commons” — have been reversed. North Dakota now lures many college graduates from out of state and keeps more of its own as well. Today more than half of North Dakotans aged 25-44 have post-secondary degrees, among the highest percentages in the nation, and well above the roughly 40% number for the rest of the country.

Many will ascribe the state’s rise primarily to the energy boom. To be sure thefastest growth in North Dakota and other Plains states has been in the areas closest to the oil and gas finds. But over the past decade, the population of the Plains has expanded by 14%, well above the national average and far faster than the Midwest, the Northeast or California.

This Plains resurgence is taking place even in areas far from energy development. Fargo, for example, is six hours hard driving from Williston, the center of the Bakken range. Yet despite this the area’s population has been growing, up 20% in the last decade, twice the national average. Since 2010, over 8,000 more people have come to the Fargo metro area, which extends to the Minnesota city of Moorhead, than have left. In fact, the small cities of the Dakotas have been growing faster than the nation for well more than a decade, before the recent energy boom took off.

The growth in Fargo has come not so much from energy, but an expanding industrial and technology sector. STEM employment is up nearly 40% since 2001, compared to 3% nationally. It also leads all other U.S. metro areas in the growth in the number of mid-skilled jobs, providing good wages to people with two-year or certificate degrees. Between 2009 and 2011, mid-skilled employment grew 5%, roughly 10 times the national average. No surprise then that the population with BAs in Fargo has grown 50% in the last decade, well above the 40% rate for the rest of the country.

Yet perhaps nothing illustrates the dramatic changes in Fargo better than its downtown area. Twenty years ago, when I first visited the city, downtown was torpid on a good day. Storefronts were old, funky and often empty. The local hotels ranged between acceptable to sorry.

~End Excerpt~


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