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Urban Renewal in Minnesota (1960s-1970s): Experimental Cities

Minnesota Experimental City

House with MXC Sign

Image: "House w/ MXC Sign," Minnesota Experimental City Authority Records, 117.H.1.2F

In 1969, the legislature authorized the study of the Minnesota Experimental City [MXC] concept, a plan to develop a totally planned city that would have an urban core surrounded by less densely crowded areas that would serve as residential plots. The city would be built in a non-metropolitan area of the state in the hope that it would provide greater direct employment and training opportunities for unemployed or underemployed citizens, increase the general level of economic activity, reduce outmigration, and improve the quality of life of all residents. It would also test an alternative to increasing densities and megalopolitan growth, new approaches to pollution control and the protection of the total environment, new methods of land use and development, and construction techniques; hopefully serving as a model for the solution of the social problems of urban life.

A national steering committee was established to begin the study. In 1971, the Minnesota Experimental City Authority [MXCA] was created [Laws 1971 c849], charged with planning the various needs of the city and selecting a site. Its members were appointed by the governor. An advisory committee was also appointed to make recommendations or comment on any matter of planning or policy relating to MXC. A federal grant of $250,000 was secured as well as $670,000 from private corporations and foundations. Various studies were carried on, some in conjunction with the University of Minnesota, in such areas as transportation, urban design, telecommunications, climate, education, healthcare, and energy and wastewater treatment.

A 75,000-acre area in northwestern Aitkin County and northeastern Cass County, the Swatara area, was chosen as the site. A growing protest to MXC, however, particularly by the people in the site area, led the 1973 legislature to question the concept. The request of the MXCA for money for land acquisition and further planning was not funded by the legislature and on June 30, 1973, the MXC effort died.

Related Records:

Minnesota Experimental City Authority Records (1963-1987 )
Mainly files kept by Otto A. Silha, Co-Chair of the Minnesota Experimental City steering committee; they include his personal correspondence and speeches, steering committee and Minnesota Experimental City Authority [MXCA] minutes, James A. Alcott, MXCA general manager and executive director’s correspondence, site selection files, subject files, and published records and reports. The records cover all aspects of the steering committee and MXCA’s actions and activities in planning for the MXC, including research, legislation, funding, site study and selection, promotion and public relations, the international new city movement, private business and foundation partners, the University of Minnesota’s involvement, and their relations with various state and federal government agencies. There are also files documenting two Twin Cities planned communities, Cedar-Riverside and Jonathan; steering committee member Buckminster Fuller; and involvement with the National Science Foundation and the Upper Great Lakes Regional Commission. Included in the records are maps, drawings, and photographs of the site and city concept. 
MNHS call number: Digital Finding Aid

Development Recommendations, by the Minnesota Experimental City Authority, 1973
St. Paul, MN: The Authority, 1973.

MNHS call number: HT168.M62 M625 v.3

Education: Preliminary Report, Part 4 of Volume 5, Design Strategy Statement, by the Minnesota Experimental City Authority, 1973.
St. Paul, MN: The Authority, 1973.

MNHS call number: HT168.M62 M625 v.5, pt.4

Energy and Waste Management: Design Strategy Statement, by the Minnesota Experimental City Authority, 1973.
St. Paul, MN: The Authority, 1973.
MNHS call number: HT168.M62 M625 v.5, pt. 6

Health Care: Design Strategy Statement, by the Minnesota Experimental City Authority, 1973.
St. Paul, MN: The Authority, 1973.

MNHS call number: HT168.M62 M625 v.5, pt. 5

Minnesota Experimental City, a Summary, by the Minnesota Experimental City Authority, 1972.
St. Paul, MN: The Authority, 1973.

MNHS call number: HT168.M62 M624

Preliminary Report on Site Selection Recommendations for Minnesota Experimental City, 1972
St. Paul, MN: The Authority, 1973.
MNHS call number: HT168.M62 M625 v. 1

Preliminary Report on Site Selection Recommendations for Minnesota Experimental City, by the Minnesota Experimental City Authority, 1973.
St. Paul, MN: The Authority, 1973.

MNHS call number: HT168.M62 M625 v. 2

Telecommunication: Design Strategy Statement, by the Minnesota Experimental City Authority, 1973.
St. Paul, MN: The Authority, 1973.

MNHS call number: HT168.M62 M625 v. 5, pt.3

Transportation Plan for Minnesota Experimental City, Preliminary Report, by the Minnesota Experimental City Authority, 1973.
St. Paul, MN: The Authority, 1973.

MNHS call number: HT168.M62 M625 v. 5, pt.2

Newspaper Dates:

Minneapolis Star Tribune February-May of 1973:

  • 2/8 “MXC Prospects Not Bright in Legislature”
  • 2/14 “Opponents Term MXC a Trojan Horse” 
  • 2/16 “MXC Threatens Good Hunting Area” 
  • 2/20 “Petitions Opposing MXC Presented to Governor” 
  • 3/13 “PCA Recommends Dropping MXC Plan” 
  • 3/28 “Senate Sub-Committee Votes to Cut Off MXC” 
  • 4/4 “House Sub-Committee Votes Against MXC”
  •  4/5 “MXC Bill Dead” 
  • 5/24 “MXC May Be Moved to VA, FL, or OH” 

Jonathan, MN

The community of Jonathan, MN was a planned community in Chaska spearheaded by Minnesota State Senator Henry McKnight. The community was intended to be a "new town," an entirely planned urban town, meant to help combat issues such as urban sprawl and pollution. The town was named after early Carver County explorer, Jonathan Carver.  The Jonathan New Town Project created the Jonathan Development Corporation in 1965, and the organization hoped to create a community of 50,000 on 8,000 acres that would allow for its members to have access to employment, housing and services all within Jonathan, as well as ample amounts of green space for parks and trails.  By 1968, the corporation had started building and people were moving there, eager to live in the new community. The U.S. government was also becoming increasingly interested in "new towns" and the New Communities Act in 1968, where the government would provide money for new towns' construction and infrastructure.  A predecessor of the Minnesota Experimental City, the MXC movement applied for a grant to study Jonathan in 1969-1970, and the town gained increased coverage nationwide in publications such as Newsweek and the Washington Post. Jonathan was also one of the first new towns to receive a loan guarantee from the government under President Nixon when it received $21 million under the New Town Act in 1970.  However, in 1972 Senator McKnight died at age 59, and facing a recession and bad housing market, the development of Jonathan stalled and was foreclosed on by 1976.  Today Jonathan exists as a homeowners' association of about 8,000 in Chaska.

Related Records:

Jonathan: Planned City of Tomorrow, by Thomas Saylor, 1958
In Minnesota History, vol. 63, no. 7 (2013), pages 294-304.
MNHS call number: Available Online

Pamphlets Related to Carver County, MN, 1935-
MNHS call number: F612.C2

Jon Shafer Papers, 1968-1990
Correspondence, memoranda, minutes, conference papers, monographs, theses, newspaper clippings, and printed materials documenting a telecommunications expert's work with many governmental and private organizations in developing cable television service and other telecommunications programs.  The collection contains correspondence, memoranda, minutes, conference papers, monographs, theses, newspaper clippings, and printed materials documenting Shafer's consultation with several clients including Jonathan, MN.
MNHS Call Number: Digital Finding Aid

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