How Does Northfield Measure Up in Terms of “Liveability”?

Northfield skylineKiplinger personal finance magazine recently came out with an article on “The Best Cities for Every Stage of Your Life”.

These stages were defined as Singles (25-29); Mid-Professionals (married, no kids, or single, 30-44); Families (married, with kids, through 64); Empty-Nesters (married, no kids or single, 45-64); and Retirees (65 and above). Cost-of-living factors were weighted differently for different groups, e.g. health care costs were more significant a factor than home ownership affordability for Retirees.

Since the winning cities ranged in population from roughly 300,000 to 4 million, it might be a stretch to consider how Northfield might stack up if measured in a similar fashion. However, the lifestyle factors that were evaluated are just as relevant here, and can indicate our strengths and weaknesses as a community. It also may help us make choices going forward, depending upon what type of vision and values we, as citizens, hold.

The lifestyle factors are:

  • For singles: The “bohemian index” and food/drink establishments per capita. The Bohemian indicator shows the concentration of writers, designers, musicians, actors and other arts-related workers, and is a measure of on area’s diversity and cultural amenities.
  • For mid professionals: average commute time and creative class wage growth
  • For families: crime rate and student/teacher ratio
  • For empty nesters: performing arts employees per capita and golf courses/marinas per capita
  • For retirees: crime rate and physicians per capita

It would be interesting to use similar criteria for measuring Northfield. Anecdotal evidence would suggest that we’re strong for families and retirees. We might even be okay on the “bohemian index”, except that the whole town seems to go to bed by 9 p.m. (Ross and I have each said, in different ways, that one of the best things we could do for economic development in Northfield is to have a decent nightclub in town. Unfortunately, we probably don’t have the population base to support one. )

Read the whole story here.


  1. Alex Beeby said:

    Sorry, but I wonder if we really would do o.k. on the “bohemian index.” While there may be things for the 40+ crowd to do (no offence), there is little for the 22 to 40 crowd except drink or go to the cities. As Griff says, we don’t even have a nightclub. It is a reason many site for moving to the cities or elsewhere.

    I hear similar things from the youth. Unless the Key has something going, there is little outside of school to do (certainly not supposed to go skateboarding ;)). This really stuck me when I was at a youth event talking to someone about what they liked about Northfield, and they said they were excited we were finally getting a multi-plex theater.

    This may all be perception, but it seems pretty widely held. So if it is just perception, we need to do some awareness shifting.

    As for a nightclub, I wonder if someone who could raise enough capital couldn’t make one work. I certainly have a vision for one (pretty detailed actually) that I think could work.

    June 12, 2007
  2. Dean Kjerland said:

    Take a walk on the wild-west side of downtown with me late evenings and I will show you many examples of what I have come to think of as an anti-livability environment downtown – public urination (and other body fluids), freshly emptied cans, bottles and glasses (and even an occassional beer pitcher (obviously not brought from home), un-inhibited ya-hooing, tire-squeeling, horn honking, stumbling- falling-down intoxication (not a crime), stealing of private property, trespass, littering of pizza boxes and fast-food waste, pick-up sports (boarding, soccer, football, kick-the-can) and other fun things.

    When I made my economic development commitment to downtown (and I’m sticking to it!, so far), there was not the present wee hours closing hour for drinking establishments, westside food venues weren’t open ’til after the bars closed and the street (and footbridge/riverwalk) lights were kept working (and I slept normal hours)…

    Incidentally, hats off to the Police Chief and the patrols for their ever present ‘black and whites’ and professional response (which they monitor or when called-in by neighbors) – just can’t help thinking how we might assign the cost of such needed babysitting of our late night revellers? Its not people like Ross or Griff or Alex, nor the young people I know or see regularly around town, being anti-social. Just a small few who seem to be taking advantage of a loose environment at the expense of the larger community – you want more of this? Dean Kjerland

    June 12, 2007
  3. Ross Currier said:


    I think Grezzo Gallery has done much for the 22 to 40 age group. I hope that they will continue to thrive and that the scene will grow. I notice that their events often also attract people in their teens and people in their sixties too. Maybe it’s your perception that needs shifting. There was a group from Winona that operates a nightclub in that community looking at a few sites in Northfield but they got some negative feedback on parking concerns and headed back south.


    Did you talk to the people from Winona? Maybe it was public bodily fluids and not club parking issues that scared them away. You have such a talent for graphic language, perhaps you could write material for the CVB.


    Thanks for the post. That list of lifestyle factors could be a useful tool. Maybe we could get the EDA to work on a marina.

    See you downtown, well before midnight,


    June 13, 2007
  4. Alex Beeby said:


    What did you mean by my perception needs shifting? My perception that people in those age groups see a lack of things to do? Perhaps I am imagining those conversations (sorry for the sarcasm), but I am pretty sure they happened.

    Or did you mean that there are plenty of things to do, and by “your perception” you meant the perception of those who think there is little to do. If so, what are these things? What interest groups do they fit?

    If you were assuming these views were those I held personally, I didn’t make myself clear. I, personally, have the feeling that there are things for people with certain interests to do, though I think one has to look for them to find them. I also think more could be offered, and while Grezzo is great, they can’t carry the whole load with one to two events per month.

    June 13, 2007
  5. Ross Currier said:


    I was suggesting that all Bohemians do not fit into the 22 to 40 age group and that events that appeal to Bohemians or others in that age category might appeal to people in other age groups and that activities that you might think primarily (perhaps correctly) appeal to families or seniors, for instance the community band concerts in Bridge Square (starting tonight), might actually appeal to one or two (or even more) real Bohemians in between the ages of 22 and 40.

    Frankly, I really appreciated Tracy’s post, found it potentially helpful in considering possible actions toward an economically vital future and was disheartened by the first two comments on it.

    Perhaps I’m reading too much into your comment, but to me it said “Northfield is fooling itself if it thinks it can ever be hip”; your opening sentence was “Sorry, but I wonder if we really would do o.k. on the “bohemian index.””. I’m glad that the folks at Grezzo Gallery, ArtOrg, and the Northfield Arts Guild, as well as Blue Monday, Swag and Just Food, among many others, believe that we are already hip, are always getting hipper, and soon Minnesota and the world will realize “What is Hip”.

    And then there’s Dean’s comment. Wow, what would some Bohemian member of the Creative Class, researching the Northfield websites for a possible location for his or her firm of Creative Professionals, generously employing 12 workers, looking to quickly expand to 18, think about locating in a down where we piss on the streets…

    …and ourselves, again and again.


    June 14, 2007
  6. Alex Beeby said:


    It really doesn’t sound to me like you understood the the intent of my post. It is, quite frankly, frustrating.

    I do think there are many great things about Northfield and agree that many of these things span demographics. I also appreciated Tracy’s post, or I wouldn’t have responded to it. I also never said that all Bohemians fit into the 22 to 40 category; and indeed, am not even referring to a strict Wikipedia definition of Bohemian.

    I do think the perceptions of a key demographic (actually two full stages, according to Kiplinger) are important — regardless of how accurate you may think they are. I am disappointed that a planning commission member doesn’t seem to share this opinion — especially as a member of this group. Though, again, I am not the only one.

    “Hippness” has everything to do with perception. Just because we may have what it takes, doesn’t make us “hip.” BTW, using the word hip kind of exemplifies the context; we may be hip to people who actually use the word hip. In this town, I think we, too often, presume to know what others think. Again, I am basing my comments on what I, as someone in the 22-40 group, see and what I hear others in this group say.

    To clarify, I was talking more about how we would currently rate, not how we could rate. I think we have room for improvement when it comes to cultural amenities. We do not have: dinner theaters, dancing, night clubs with known performers, indie films, chic evening restaurants with nice desserts, a variety of mid-upper level restaurants, etc. These are things that many people look for when they want to go out for an evening.

    And enough with the pissing in the streets; I don’t think anyone sees that as a good thing. That really is not what I’m talking about.

    I don’t want to be stubborn, but I really don’t see that my point was understood. Does anyone get this, or am I completely off base here?

    June 14, 2007
  7. Ross Currier said:


    I think it can be very useful to try to categorize desired amenities by age groups according to Kiplinger (or Beeby, or Currier, or Davis…if someone has an alternative proposal for categories). I think that the categories can help to organize opportunities through an imposed structure. However, I would be disappointed if the imposition of a structure might lead someone to think that people in the over 40 age group might not enjoy going to a night club. Personally, I wish the Fine Line would relocate to Northfield.

    As for the “dinner theaters, dancing, night clubs with known performers, indie films, chic evening restaurants with nice desserts, and a variety of mid-upper level restaurants”, please bring them on. I can’t guarantee a vote at the Planning Commission but my sense of the group is that they would very supportive of such things.

    I bet if you looked at Northfield’s history, it’s probably been the City Council that has voted against dancing.



    P. S. I guess when someone says “Bohemians”, I think of the Summas and the DeMalignons…but maybe I’m SO Paris between the Wars.

    June 14, 2007
  8. Alex Beeby said:

    Thanks for the response Ross. I agree with pretty much everything you said there. So, to get to my rating:

    Category Definition:
    Bohemian from Wikipedia: “In modern usage, the term “bohemian” can describe any person who lives an unconventional artistic life, where self-expression is the highest value — that art (acting, poetry, writing, singing, dancing, painting etc) is a serious and main focus of his or her life.”

    I asked people here at work, and they cited people more like Max (who used to work here), Amy Merrit, Ani, Meredith, Nick, Steve, Ben (the piercing guy), etc. It just so happens that these are the types of people that I was talking about and to.

    The people at work said the DeMalignons (friends of one of the people I asked) may have come through that stage but were more “practical” now. And while I love Victor and Kiffie and what they bring to our community, I would not classify them as Bohemian. I’ve never seen their artistic expression — though I don’t go to Karoke at Froggy’s, and maybe they do. 🙂

    Note that on the citation Tracy provided, the Bohemian index is under the Singles (ages 25-29) category, though I expand even this.

    How do we rate base on above?
    My coworkers said we don’t have much support for this lifestyle here. While they also pointed to the things I mentioned in prior posts, they also pointed to transportation and affordable housing as limitations. They said the people who they know who fit this lifestyle often move to uptown or other places in Minneapolis (the same places they go when they want to go out).

    What can we do?
    On a practical level, I think lowering the property tax burden on the downtown area would help considerably. So would better walk/bikeability and keeping our major offerings downtown and accessible. So would convincing the Grand or NAG (or the Cow or Reub) to have wine and movie nights with cult-classics or indie films. So would supporting ArtOrg, The Key, Grezzo, etc. So would supporting the addition of chic eating establishments. So would supporting the Co-op (there are many reasons why this one fits). So would emphasising our commitment to the future (green comunity, etc.). So would supporting a skate park. So would encouraging artisticly supportive jobs. And so on, and so forth.

    Final Assessment on our Bohemian Index?
    We aren’t there, but are making headway. And there’s even more we can do. For a city our size, we’re probably doin’ pretty well.

    June 14, 2007
  9. Ross Currier said:


    Kiffi is a painter, Victor makes films. Their lifestyle is considered by many to be unconventional.

    Artists, or Bohemians, are everywhere, broaden your perspective and you will begin to see them. Narrowing the range for Bohemians or Artists to those between 22 and 40 may be romantic, like my studies of Paris between the Wars, but could limit our attractiveness to and the contributions of many people.

    As for the DeMalignons becoming too “practical” to be Bohemians, I think this perpetuates the myth that someone needs to be “starving” to be an artist. The NDDC’s Executive Committee had lunch with the President of ArtSpace today and he said about 90% of the artists in their buildings do something like wash dishes or file invoices to pay the bills so that they can have heat and electricity while they create. Yeah, being “practical” can be a pain in the creativity sometimes.

    Let’s take your source, Wikipedia, to be the final word in defining a Bohemian. Indeed, it’s too bad that in our country you’ve got to work 40 hours a week to support the 10 or so hours that you can create. Does that make your self-expression less valued or less of a focus of your existence?

    I think it’s just the often unromantic reality of trying to make it as an artist in America.


    P. S. My apologies to the Summas and the DeMalignons for dragging them into the great Bohemian debate. Perhaps I should have dragged Jill Enestvedt and Liz Carpentier or Ally Beyer and Meredith Fierke instead…but they would have fit more easily into your, or Kiplinger’s, categories, and that wouldn’t have been as much fun.

    June 14, 2007
  10. Alex Beeby said:

    I didn’t realize Kiffi painted; learn something new every day. Does Victor still make films? I thought he didn’t do that anymore.

    I guess I saw the definition as not applying to all artists, but rather those whose “main focus” was art, their “highest-value.”

    “Narrowing the range for Bohemians” only “limit(s)our attractiveness to and the contributions of many people” if we only consider Bohemians the only important factor. Kiplinger, according to Tracy’s post, includes five stages with several factors each, of which the Bohemian index is only one, and I think he misses several important other factors.

    Indeed, romanticism, itself, is over-rated; it can lead to some pretty sappy movies.

    June 14, 2007
  11. victor summa said:

    bin so busy readin da ComPlan stuff I failed to checkmy space here in de other thred. I daught Bohemians was doz guys out by veseli.

    we’ll i tell ya I was a actor – also improvisation performer w/Compass Players pre Second City days and made film and TV for 38 years, including hosting two different series… one featuring me in a daily children program as Pook the Elf… produced it wrote it and was Pook. but I’m italian!

    As to other sources of income – as a younger male I could dig a real good ditch. An, dats an art too!


    June 14, 2007
  12. kiffi summa said:

    First of all, I “love ” you too, Alex; But if you have to look to Wikipedia to understand what a “Bohemian” lifestyle is… well then, you just don’t have a clue! Not meant to be rude; just out of your framework, or lifestyle, or time.

    I frankly think there a lot of Bohemians” in NF. Think of how many people make choices based on artistic values, core principles of enduring culture, and not first their economic futures. Would we have offered a year’s free rent to a prospective tenant if we were thinking of OUR economic future?

    And, if you have embraced that lifestyle choice your whole life, IT DOESN”T JUST TURN OFF AT SOME AGE.

    I am frankly shocked at someone with your level of thoughtfulness making that remark; believe me there are no “empty vessels” here. How come our society “gets” sexist, but has no grip on “ageist”? (How in the ho-tel do you spell that?)

    People who live in small towns, including me, make too many assumptions about other peoples lives.

    June 15, 2007
  13. kiffi summa said:

    OOps! That was Kiffi; not Victor….. comes of having not considered ones econ-future enough to have two computers, instead of one……..

    June 15, 2007
  14. Alex Beeby said:

    Read my comments a little more thoroughly please. Now I feel like I have to defend myself again; talk about discouraging!

    If people are discussing something that relies on a term and it becomes apparent they might not be using the same definition, I think it’s helpful to use an outside “common” definition to reorient the conversation. This isn’t “not having a clue,” but common sense — or so I thought.

    Notice that the moving beyond Bohemian comment was one I was passing on from a discussion with other people using the aforementioned “clueless” definition. Geese! Fine, EVERYBODY is a Bohemian! Except me, I don’t wan’t to be one — especially not now.

    Victor and Kiffi, since you were cited as example “Bohemians,” I said that I didn’t think you were, because I didn’t think you didn’t fit that common definition. Yes, I was making an assumption, sorry. Just so you know, my assumption was that y’all held the vallue of community higher than art. Quite frankly, I think that is a crucial element for Northfield.

    And sorry, I think there is vallue to looking at demographics. And, again, I think it is unfortunate if, in an attempt to be P.C., we unwittingly neglect one, especially a rather large one. Kiffi, you are on the adult board of the NUY, I thought you would get that.

    I can’t believe that I try to make an intelligent comment on an interesting post, using the parameters of that same post, and end up having to defend myself from being clueless, needing to change my perception, being sexist, being ageist. No wonder people avoid these things. Forget the inteligent conversations, lets get bogged down in symantics and accusations? Sorry, not for me.

    June 15, 2007
  15. Ross Currier said:

    Gee whiz, can’t we get back to discussing 17th century British economists?

    Actually Alex, we all owe you a big “thank-you” for taking Tracy’s thought-provoking but cursory post to the next level with our actual consideration of its significance for Northfield.

    My point, poorly expressed, was that although not all age groups are exactly alike in their preference for amenities, there is much that is shared between groups…which is good news for Northfield.

    Singles appear to be the Creative Class and/or Bohemians, at least according to Kiplinger, and they are drawn to Cultural Amenities. But then Mid-Professionals like to see Creative Class Wage Growth and, unless they’re totally altruistically motivated toward the Singles, they must be the Creative Class too and perhaps hold on to some of their Bohemian characteristics.

    And who doesn’t like to see Wage Growth? Even if you are a Single living on Daddy’s Trust Fund or a Retiree living on an Investment Portfolio, you’d like to see the Growth in that Income Stream.

    Now Families like a Low Crime Rate. But then so do Retirees. And Singles and Mid-Professionals don’t like a Low Crime Rate? Families also like a High Performing Arts per Capita but then that would also support the Cultural Amenities that the Singles crave. The Retirees look for many Physicians per Capita and doctors have long been generous patrons of the Arts, so perhaps their health plans are subsidizing the Singles’ fun.

    So, if we have Cultural Amenities, Wage Growth, a Low Crime Rate, a Low Student/Teacher Ratio, Performing Arts and Lots of Doctors, everybody will love Northfield.

    I think that the shared preferences between age groups is a good thing in regard to your mention of Uptown. Yeah, Downtown ain’t Uptown. But Northfield ain’t Minneapolis either. Last time I checked, the Big City had a population of 380,000, or something like that, and Northfield has something like 19,000. So they’ve got 20 times the number of people – it’s a good thing that most of these amenities appeal to pretty much everybody, because we’ve got a smaller local market to support them and by dividing up the population into smaller niches, it gets to be an even bigger challenge.

    In my count, there were 14 places in Northfield that participated in the last Art Crawl. Are there 280 galleries in Minneapolis? Pound for pound, Northfield is pretty darn Bohemian.

    June 15, 2007
  16. Alex Beeby said:

    Well put Ross, thank you.

    Even though I’ve had quite a few conversations, over the past couple of days, with people I hang out with — many who happen to be about my age — who voice similar concerns to what I brought up, I’m going to try to avoid continuing that thread, because it doesn’t seem to go anywhere. If anyone is interested, however, I would be more than happy to talk f2f.

    ‘Course I find most people are willing to give their opinion if asked. So if anyone is interested in how Northfield fits the needs of a certain population, they could also just try asking them.

    June 15, 2007
  17. Tracy Davis said:

    This site’s heard WAY too much from me already this week, but I wanted to chime in, since I’ve been following the discussion (sorry about your frustrations, Alex!).

    Anecdotal evidence suggests that Northfield is not terribly appealing to the post-college but pre-child workforce. I had several discussions with people at GearWorks about their difficulty in hiring employees in that demographic; many didn’t want to live in Northfield because there was “nothing to do” (e.g., nightlife or 24-hour anything). This was pre-dot-com-bubble-burst, so I don’t know if that sentiment would still be a factor for employers in the tech sector. However, it is a consideration in the bigger picture: narrowing down the types of businesses or industry sectors that would make the best targets for growing in or recruiting to Northfield.

    June 15, 2007
  18. Griff Wigley said:

    I’ve just now caught up on this interesting thread. I’m appreciative, esp of you, Alex, for hanging in there thru the ‘misunderstood’ phase.

    And if ID Insight expands like we hope, and if Monster Games continues to do well, we just might have to put more time, energy and money into the town’s bohemian index.

    June 20, 2007