The Block Exercise in Brief PDF Print E-mail
The interactive block exercise is a hands-on opportunity for community members to explore different development options and find out whether their development ideas are financially viable. The process helps people understand the financial issues and tradeoffs a developer will be working with when considering options for a specific site (i.e. mix of residential and commercial uses, surface level or underground parking, amount of green space, number of units, integration of affordable housing, etc.). The goal is to give community members a greater working knowledge of what it takes to make a development project financially viable and to identify a range of preferred development concepts to help guide future development in the area. It was developed as part of the Corridor Housing Initiative, convened by the Center for Neighborhoods.

Working from a large aerial photo of a hypothetical development site, citizens create development options from block models representing standard unit sizes. Two designers are at each table, one to help with the layout and one to sketch the result.

Development option costs and revenues are calculated by a development consultant during the workshop using standard assumptions about developer fees, subsidies, construction costs, and rental/sales prices.

One model takes about 15-20 minutes to design. Designers photograph the residents' models and then the model is sketched from the photograph as the next model is being built.
Drawings reflect the architectural styles preferred by the participants.

Residents leave with a deeper understanding about economic constraints of development, design opportunities in their neighborhood, in addition to issues relating to density, land use, and housing types.


Communities chose from a menu of activities so while there were many similarities in the corridors, each process was unique. Specific activities are listed in the web pages for the five urban corridors that participated in the first phase of the initiative, from 2003-2004, and three corridors from the current phase of the initiative:

  • Nicollet Avenue in Loring Park
  • Lake Street
  • Nicollet Avenue in Kingfield
  • South Lyndale Avenue
  • West Broadway
  • Standish Ericsson Neighborhood Association (SENA)
  • 38th Street and Chicago Avenue
  • Central Avenue
  • Como/St. Anthony Park
  • Rice Street
  • University Avenue in Fridley
  • Richfield

In the initiative, neighborhood groups applied to be part of a participatory process that brought together the Design Center, development, marketing, and process consultants, and relevant government agencies. This planning process was intended to result in realistic design and development options that reflect community values, development constraints, and city goals. Each corridor prepared a simple design guidelines or principles document--downloadable from the individual corridor web sites above.

This initiative was coordinated with the Corridor Housing Strategy of the City of Minneapolis.