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Build it and they will come


In 1904, a stock company in Fargo-Moorhead undertook a trolley line that grew ultimately to incorporate several branches reaching from the Agricultural College on the northwest to the Normal School on the southeast. Other branches eventually served the two county courthouses (Cass and Clay) and the suburban community of Dilworth, which was a railroad service point for the Northern Pacific. Despite (or is it because of) the Great Depression and World Wars I and II, the system survived until about 1950, when a conspiracy of dunces (the automotive, petroleum and rubber industries) conspired to replace cheap efficient public transport with something more consumable. Very soon enormous systems such as the Pacific Electric Lines that served the majority of Los Angeles were driven out of business so that we could have the bloody automobile and all its consequences. I’d be willing to bet big money that LA wishes the “Big Red Cars” had never gone.


As you can imagine, however, even modest systems like ours in Fargo-Moorhead had immediate impact on the areas they served. Open country between pockets of settlement suddenly became gold mines for real estate speculation. Whole block fronts of fifty-foot-wide residential lots were scooped up by developers who took stock plans from lumberyards or pattern books and made vest-pocket investments for generic working- or middle-class clientele. Find a clump of those houses today and compare it with a map of the long-demolished trolley lines that once served the neighborhood and I can predict what you’ll find.


Build it and they will come, though in this case the “it” is cheap, efficient public transport. And what “came” were modest single-family houses or walk-up apartment buildings. Drive the length of University Avenue in Minneapolis-St. Paul this afternoon and see the principle at work as we speak. Grimy commercial strips and used car lots are now apartment/condominium complexes with ground floor shops that will find no end of tenant/owners when the new light rail line is opened this fall. It takes more than a little patience but the rewards will come.

Now all I have to do is find the phenomenon in the little bit of fact-based fiction that is Agincourt.

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