There’s something about Woodbury. But what?

Behold! The 12th best place to live in America. Bob Collins/MPR News

Don’t get me wrong. I love Woodbury. It’s been our home for 21 years. It has great bike trails, a decent school system, a hospital and several clinics, politicians who haven’t been arrested (well, we did have a mayor years ago of ill repute involving the nearby Target and young people) and — let’s see, I’ve mentioned the bike trails, right?

Woodbury’s a pretty good place. No complaints.

But if you squint your eyes, it also could be Anywhere, USA, which doesn’t do much to explain how it made Money Magazine’s Top Places to Live List.

I’m burying the lede here because Maple Grove finished No. 2, just behind McKinney, Texas. But I don’t know enough about Maple Grove, other than famous TV people live there.

Eagan finished No. 11. A lot of planes fly over there, a man who wanted to be president lived there, and you can pick any of dozens of chain stores to shop in. This concludes everything I know about Eagan.

Except that it looks a lot like Woodbury, which, by the way, is in the process of plowing under the last remaining farm fields to build another shopping center. It’ll have a grocery store, a gas station, and a bunch of places you go into and then get confused because you forget which city you’re in. Beat that, everywhere else!

Let’s see what Money has to say about the 12th best place to live:

Frigid Minnesota winters aren’t so bad when you have your own indoor park. That’s right: Even in deepest February, Woodbury residents can hang out among the trees and other plant life at the enclosed Central Park, which connects to the to local library, seniors’ residence, and YMCA.

Of course, folks in Woodbury have plenty of outdoor options, too. More than 130 miles of paved multi-use trails connect the city’s lakes, parks, and neighborhoods.

And Woodbury is also wrapping up construction on its Bielenberg Sports Center. The facility—over 100,000 square feet—is already open to the public for skating, soccer, lacrosse, and other seasonal sports. When it’s finished, it will also become the practice home of Minnesota United FC, the state’s pro soccer team.

The whole Twin Cities region has low unemployment and high job growth, and Woodbury is no exception.

The healthcare industry is particularly big here. Woodwinds Health Campus is the city’s largest private employer; Allina and Woodbury Healthcare Center also hire lots of people. Some residents also make the short commute to Maplewood, home of Post-It and Scotch Tape creator 3M.

It’s true, Central Park is nice, except when they close it because some bridal parties take pictures there. It’s reminiscent of St. Paul’s Town Square Park, back when St. Paul had a Town Square Park.

The YMCA is pretty neat, too, although it hasn’t expanded since it was surrounded by cornfields. I quit when they got rid of the racquetball courts in order to create more things for little toddlers and their parents. But if screaming kids indoors is your thing, Woodbury calls you.

And, sure, the economy is good. Lots of people are working and driving out of Woodbury to do so.

This is the part where I note that you can’t get a bus after 7:50 a.m.

But, oh those bike trails! They’re some of the finest in the Twin Cities, for sure.

Still, Woodbury lacks a “there,” an affliction which affects many suburbs in America. And it hasn’t quite figured out how to make a “there” there without a chain store of some sort. When I moved in, you could pass a field of Holsteins on the way to work. That’s the sort of thing that makes a “there.” But not there. Not anymore. There are no more working farms.

Woodbury is what it is and for lots of us, that’s good enough. We can take the slings that come over from the city.

And we can just wave the survey in front of the naysayers faces, even though we know it is some seriously hyped-up PR.

  • joetron2030

    I work in Maple Grove and have for the past 15 years. From what I’ve seen of it (albeit a somewhat fixed area of it), it sounds like it’s Woodbury but 5 to 10 years into the future. In other words, with that new shopping area already established.

    EDIT: I should clarify that I don’t live in Maple Grove. But I’ve worked here and in the bordering part of Brooklyn Park long enough (20 years) to have seen the changes first hand.

  • Robert Moffitt

    Blaine has got the Sports Center, as well as a first rate Curling Rink. Oh, and a wooden outdoor velodrome.

  • Jack

    I live in an old part of St. Paul. Surviving old buildings with original masonry, old saloons with living quarters above that have been renovated to unique living spaces. Then I think of the suburbs and what happens to buildings past 20 years old…modern commercial architecture really hasn’t any redeemable qualities that make their older buildings worth saving compared to the inner city. What becomes of a Sports Bubble 30 to 40 years down the road? Housing?

  • Jim Hartmann
    • joetron2030

      The first Four Firkins is a couple blocks from my house. I love those guys. 😀

      • jon

        I used to live just up the street from the first first four firkens before they moved, back when Alvey was the only one working there…

        New location in SLP is nice, and they expanded quiet a bit with the move, but it’s easy to miss being greeted in a tiny little store with a spirited “G’day mate!”

        • joetron2030

          Yeah, that was a cozy location. Emphasis on “cozy”!

    • jon

      Four Firkins is great, but even it is a chain now…

      Damn these companies being successful and opening multiple locations!

    • Ringo

      The Casanova is just over the river in Hudson, Dennis Brothers in Cottage Grove and now the Firkins …. Woodbury is in a triangle of beer goodness.

  • johnepeacock

    Take into account that the list was compiled by Money magazine, most likely by an editor that has never travelled to any of these locations. They chose it on statistical info alone I would bet, and then backfilled with info they Googled on the locations. It’s very similar I would bet to the Reuters reporter who highlighted the “best” of the Twin Cities with a trip to Potbelly Sandwiches in the IDS tower: http://blogs.citypages.com/blotter/2013/07/reuters_reporter_gets_defensive_about_his_absolutely_terrible_twin_cities_travel_guide.php

  • John Peschken

    Pretty much all your comments about Woodbury apply to Maple Grove. I’ve lived there for 33 years. Little House on the Prairie back then, a front yard with goats, and a corn field across the county road. Now with the “Shoppes” at Arbor Lakes it’s a generic retail wonderland. They made an attempt to do a Main Street, but that turned out to just mean the parking is around back instead of in front of the mall. On the other hand, I can be in Mpls. in about 20 minutes if I want to get away from chain retail and restaurants, and I do that often.

    • Pretty much this. Faux Main Street? Give me a break.

      I lived most of my life in an inner ring suburb and live in “The City” now mainly because of strip mall fatigue and cul de sacs. I can literally walk to everything I need now: banks, grocery store, hardware store, several good restaurants (not chains), even a top notch liquor store. It’s a shame the exurbs aren’t really pedestrian-friendly.

  • Jen

    I live in Vadnais Heights, which I like because I found a neighborhood that I refer to as the land where time and zoning laws forgot, it’s developed but like old Minnetonka. I understand Bob’s concerns (plus, he reads all my MPR news to me in my head) and I like to believe that even though VH keeps building up what little space they have left, most of it is still park land or already developed and so will not build much further, at least I hope so. There is very little unique about the suburbs anymore, it almost doesn’t matter which town you choose to live in because it will be the same in the next town over.

  • John

    Don’t you run this story about once a year, – just change the “outer ring” suburb names – Apple Valley, Eden Prairie, Maple Grove, etc?

    Having lived in none of them, they’re all pretty close to interchangeable for me. Applebees, Lowe’s, Costco, Home Depot, Super Target, Olive Garden, sports complex, etc.

    It’s a good formula, but certainly not one that gives a place a sense of “thereness.” (not that my burb of choice, SLP, is that much different, but I’ve found a few redeeming qualities that I haven’t taken the time to find in other places).

    • FWIW: SLP is a pretty cool suburb. Yes it has its chain stores, but it also has a ton of small, independent locales and “vintage” housing, not the fake main streets and cookie-cutter McMansions of other suburbs.

      • John

        It does, but I’m trying not to rub it in people’s faces. I think there’s also potentially some nice areas in the outer rings too.

        There’s some serious cookie cutter housing in my part of town. It’s 50’s cookie cutter, but it’s there. I’m in an old farm house (from the teens), but walking down the block I live on, 14 of 16 houses were exactly the same, or mirror images of each other – probably built in the same year, varying only in color. It had to be some creepy stuff back in the day. One tree in the yard, perfectly mowed, etc. Fast forward 60 years, and there’s some character, because people have added bay windows, some front porches, a half story here and there, etc. I hope that the lack of thereness that Bob talks about begins to disappear as the neighborhoods age and people modify their housing to suit their taste, and the trees mature, and maybe they’ll put in a sidewalk here or there.

        • >> I think there’s also potentially some nice areas in the outer rings too.<<

          Agreed, but then a lot of those areas were their own "towns" to begin with (Hopkins, Excelsior, etc.)

    • joetron2030

      If by SLP you mean St. Louis Park (and not Spring Lake Park), I’m with you there. We love our neighborhood and schools. Now, if only I could raze our house and build a better one. Not a McMansion though. Something that architecturally fits in with the others but is better designed.

      • John

        I do mean Saint Louis Park. See my reply to Onan above for why I didn’t call it out more in the original comment. I’m with you on the schools and the neighborhood I live in. Our house sort of stands out, because it’s in a neighborhood of 50’s cookie cutters, but we’re in one of three original farmhouses. Fortunately, there are lots of tall trees to take the edge off.

        • joetron2030

          Nice! I live across the street from a former farm house, too. When we first moved in, another neighbor had been there long enough to have moved to SLP post-WW2. I felt lucky to have heard lots of stories about how the neighborhood looked back then.

    • Hikertrash

      I love SLP – it’s a great place to live! Quiet neighborhood, big parks, mostly smaller houses in our area, good walkability to a wide range of businesses (chain and independent) and minutes from major highways. Bike trails are the icing on the cake. I can hop on my bike and reach Calhoun in a half hour, and I’m minutes from the Hopkins Depot where all the regional trails come together.

  • Tim

    As an Eagan resident, I do agree somewhat on the interchangeability, but there are small things here and there that are unique (the Caponi Art Park, Holz Farm, some of the local restaurants, Lebanon Hills, etc). I imagine every suburb has these things, even if you have to look pretty hard sometimes. Having grown up in the south metro as well, I’ll assert that there are definite differences between each suburb, but they’re subtle and it can take a while to see them. Likewise, I’m sure there are differences between, say, Field, Page, and Hale in Minneapolis, but I couldn’t tell you what they are.

    I’d guess that for many suburbanites, though, a sense of place is something that they’d see as a perk, but not a prime reason for living somewhere.

  • Patrick Pine

    Having lived briefly in Golden Valley but having visited many parts of the state and the urban area – I liked Maple Grove, liked Golden Valley, but St. Paul is very tough to beat. There are some very nice places on or near Lake Minnetonka but generally too expensive for most to live there. I really was surprised that it felt like there was a lot of open space even in Minneapolis/St. Paul and all of the surrounding suburbs. You don’t see that in most other urban centers around the country. But I get the question as to whether too many suburban enclaves feel like cookie cutter places. Thought provoking comment.

  • Jackson Kisling

    I moved to Woodbury back in 2007, and I was leery about it at the time–the town seemed a bit soulless compared to St. Paul, where we were coming from. But I’ve come to really like this town! It’s pretty, it’s conveniently situated for everything you’d want to get to on the East side–it’s nice! Oh, and Bob, cows do not make for “there” in a town any more than Wal-Mart does–get over yourself.

    • Jack

      Dear Kis’
      Woodbury is NOT a town. period.

  • J-Doggz

    I hit the bike trails every week in Woodbury. With a normal 20-30mi outing I will to attest to the beautiful sites I have found. What it does need is a little repaving in some places (East side of Colby Lake for example). The one thing Woodbury is missing is a draw. Sure there is a ton of shopping, but what else? Personally I would want one of two things (though one of these would bring the other). We either need an influx of interesting dining options or a focus on the arts (Theater in particular). I have lived here going on seven years now, city planning was done to near perfection, but it’s time to move towards a more affluent change. Bring the home of the arts here or at least make it a pocket where those that try new things can do so. We are only ten minutes away from Downtown St.Paul, lets extend that artsy feel here as well.

  • JJ

    Woodbury is a fungus that feeds off of the suburban american desire for the ‘anti-there’. Calling the library a ‘central park’ implies that there is some underlying strategy to the town’s development. Have you ever driven through Stonemill Farms??

    • There was a strategy: It’d keep taxes low by using the revenue from construction permits.

      However, some planner at some point had the smarts to prevent develop up to lakeshore lines. That gets back to the bike paths/parks.

      Central Park’s main focus actually is the library, which is an outstanding one.

      • JJ

        Bike paths are a wonderful amenity and an asset to recreational enthusiast, no argument. But what exactly is it that Woodbury’s bike paths connect? They link Target to Super Target, Caribou to Starbucks, etc., etc.. How does this serve residents or act to create community cohesion? Wouldn’t it be faster and safer to drive between these destinations (I have never attempted to cross the Valley Creek/Radio intersection on foot – I don’t want to die). Sense of human scale is lacking as are any real great public spaces. If Afton didn’t stand in the way would Woodbury continue its eastward expansion forever, each new super-block eclipsing the last, with a Walmart every 5 miles for convenience?

        • Well, sure, the sidewalks go to shopping centers. but the bike paths primarily connect neighborhoods with the parks and lakes. Unfortunately, when Woodbury built the “it was supposed to be inexpensive and small” Bielenberg facility, it pretty much killed all activity in the parks, which is a crying shame.

          Woodbury (thanks to Washington County) also still has that ridiculous stop sign on Valley Creek Road at which there is no intersecting street. Until that’s gone, I won’t even consider the possibility of it being one of the top places to live.

          You know what WOULD make Woodbury in the top 10 of places to live? If it was Afton.

          • Jack

            “Well, sure, the sidewalks go to shopping centers. but the bike paths primarily connect neighborhoods with the parks and lakes.”
            OMG The paths go right through peoples back yard, and sometimes real close the windows. “Hey, look Marge, there goes Smitty Simpkins, right passed the window. He really should consider a spray tan if he is going to wear shorts…” a bit too cohesive here IMO