BY: MORTARR STAFF CREATORS
REVOLUTION OFTEN GROWS FROM CHAOS.
It was during the middle of last decade’s recession that Dean Dovolis began seeing the winds of change. Dean, an architect in the Minneapolis area, had, with partners, founded DJR Architecture back in 1985. Based out of the emerging and immigrant-dense Phillips Neighborhood, he had made his name in community development and affordable housing. While it had already been a career many would be proud of (including a Master’s degree in Architecture and Urban Design from Harvard), Dean found himself simply trying to survive.
“New construction in Minneapolis had all but dried up,” says Dean. “Nobody could afford to develop.” To stay afloat, Dean and DJR began taking on jobs in the oil fields of North Dakota.
“IT WAS A TOUGH FIVE YEARS. ESPECIALLY BEING SO FAR AWAY FROM MY HOME AND THE COMMUNITY WE HAD WORKED SO HARD TO ESTABLISH OURSELVES IN. BUT IT KEPT US GOING.”
It was during this low point that a revolution started to form back home in Minneapolis. A revolution he’s now a thought and project leader in, presenting and advocating to the Twin Cities Metro Transit back in April of this year. What "new ways" did these winds of change bring? Here’s a few:
1. The suburban model of community development was dead.
Dean: “We were able to find affordable land in the city. This made development much more possible, not to mention there was still a great need for housing within the city limits. We needed to fit these buildings into the spaces that were available.”
2. Housing began to specialize.
Dean: “Due to how hard the recession hit; people began prioritizing living in a place that fit exactly what they needed. This opened the door for development of smaller housing complexes instead of the typical three-story monsters we were used to. We began to see a need for a range of housing-types, from micro-apartments to full-on luxury suites. Gone were the days of the ‘standard apartment.’”
3. Cities started growing from the inside out.
Dean: “The suburbs were bloated, and land was expensive. Due to the low land prices and available run-down or under-developed lots in the city, it was more reasonable for people, especially immigrants to live there. All we had to do was meet that need with affordable housing.”
4. Residents began prioritizing experiences over convenience.
Dean: “I think as the new generation was growing up and trying to move out on their own, these changes were already happening; the recession just accelerated them. You could really see the shift happening with them, though. They seemed to care much more about what was close and accessible to their residence, rather than the convenience of having a car or quick access to
the interstate system.”
5. Changing regulations encouraged higher density living.
Dean: “One of the great things Minneapolis did was change the required number of parking spots for commercial residences within a close proximity of public transportation and along main city corridors. This really opened up opportunities for new development in the inner city where construction locations are a lot tighter.”
6. Technology adapted to current economic needs.
Dean: “As with any sort of business, in order to make something affordable for the end user, you need to be able to build it in an affordable way. With how robust the commercial housing market is, there isn’t enough government funds at any level to successfully subsidize. So, we had to find ways to make things cheaper. Things like, standard exterior materials, panelized walls and entire sections built offsite, and modular furniture that is built right into the building.”
Not only is this revolution not contained to the American Midwest, but it’s finding its way to the other side of the planet.
“I’ve been asked by the President of Djibouti to come and consult on the fast urban-growth that country’s experiencing.” He elaborates, “The main problem developing countries have when urbanizing is, they tend to follow the American suburban model which rarely works for them. We’re hoping to take the lessons learned in Minneapolis and apply them in a much more thoughtful and effective way.”
Back in Minneapolis, these changes are catching fire not only on a project level, but with the people making the projects happen.
“We’re excited,” says Dean. “At DJR, we’ve got quite the youth movement happening. We’re up to forty employees, with most of them under the age of forty. This, along with many of our clients being increasingly younger, means there’s a collaboration between people who aren’t afraid to push boundaries and try things that haven’t been done before.”
There is, however, some groundwork to be laid in order to facilitate this growth and change in other metro areas.
“Robust public transportation and an understanding of the culture and energy of a place you’re building are a must.” He continues, “The more things there are to do in a community, the less amenities are needed for housing. And vice versa.”
Dean continues, “It’s this energy and community that’s not only driving many of the living decisions of the new generation, but the way urban and community development will look generations into the future. I can’t wait.”