Map of the Day: Duluth’s Canal Parking

Canal Park Map

After a ridiculously warm weekend, it seems like spring has arrived early. Before you know it, thousands of Minneapolis-types like myself will be driving up Interstate 35 to the cool shores of Gitche Gumee.

Since its post-industrial low point a few decades ago, Duluth has built Canal Park into one of the top-drawing tourist spots in the state. It’s definitely a great place, but I continue to be amazed by how much prime Canal Park real estate is occupied by pavement for storing cars. After a visit last fall, I made this map and found there are 21 acres of surface parking in Canal Park.

The blue boundary is the core 67.8-acre area I studied, bound by the big lake, the ship canal, Minnesota Slip, and the Interstate 35/railroad corridor. The black boxes are structures of any kind, and the red boxes are surface parking lots.

Structures occupy 19.12 percent of Canal Park’s land area. Surface parking occupies 31.05 percent.

It would be extremely difficult to apportion the remaining half of Canal Park that’s not structure or surface parking, but I’d approximate that the balance of the land is split roughly into thirds: One third public streets and roads, one third public parks (including the Lakewalk and the actual Canal Park), and the final third as Non-Place Greenspace.

Originally posted at with CC by-nc-nd.



about 6 years ago

Over recent years I've written some opinion pieces for the DNT regarding Canal Park and decried the surfeit of surface parking lots. I conservatively pegged it at >50% but your map (thank you!) shows that it clearly exceeds that.  

Briefly, I think the warehouse motif of the district has been marred by pseudo-North Shore lodges (what are they doing in a post-industrial area?) that are themselves mostly cheaply constructed edifices with kitsch attributes tacked onto them. Further they form a "curtain" across the lakefront and their capacious parking lots set them back from the street inhibiting pedestrian activity in a place that should be all about walking 365/yr in all weather. 

Had it been redeveloped with high-density developments, Canal Park could have evolved with sheltered courtyards, alleys, etc. to encourage walking and then land could have been reserved along the lakeshore for open vistas. Canal Park Brewing did a marvelous job -- concrete form, brick, etc., but sprawling Hampton Inns, etc. should've been consigned to Proctor or Miller Hill.


about 6 years ago

Ahhh, those were the good old days! Gotta love that "warehouse motif."


about 6 years ago

Canal Park Brewing is the ugliest building out there.  It looks like a giant shipping container.


about 6 years ago

Though I have never had any real difficulty in finding a parking space in the Canal area, I hear a lot of complaints that there aren't enough spaces. Little old church ladies would go to live gay sex shows if they advertised "Plenty of Free Parking Right in Front!"

Special K

about 6 years ago

The problem here is that a large portion of the parking denoted on that map is private parking reserved for the assorted hotels.  And when you have "thousands of Minneapolis-types driving up Interstate 35" you need a place to put the thousands of Minneapolis-type cars that hauled them up here to spend sweet Minneapolis-type money.

 Annoying as it may be to have the waterfront lined with hotels, they are often at capacity all summer, and part of the tourism draw is allowing people to stay right in Canal Park all weekend.  Believe it or not, people want convenience and ease.  Local hipsters slogging miles on their fat bikes or enduring the agonizing indignity of parking downtown and walking may not like it, but it's the truth.

Matt Steele

about 6 years ago

I'd be curious to know what zoning requirements led to those awful suburban chain style hotels right on the waterfront, with their oppressive parking lots along the interior of the point. My guess is they faced significant minimum parking requirements from the city. They should never have been built in their current form.

I'm also not a "local hipster," I'm from Minneapolis and visited Duluth -- by car -- with my wife and son. And we would much rather have more things to do and more places to be on Canal Park than have parking lots to walk past. The status quo fails everyone.


about 6 years ago

I remember in the 1980s when the area was transitioning from industrial to tourism/recreation. It was for quite a while a hodgepodge of both. At the time, whenever an industrial use was bought out to claim another piece of the pie for tourism, it was regarded as a big "win." 

I don't think there was much thought given to good urbanism because people were not as in tune with it in those times. But I also think that the desire was so strong to elbow all industry out of there for a complete tourism district that they were approving anything if it meant moving the dial away from industry and toward tourism.  

I don't know what the parking ordinances were, but given the era I am sure that played a role in it too. I remember in high school the thing to do was cruise around down there and then meet up with friends at the Burger King -- very "auto centric," but still good times. It will be interesting to see how many Twin Cities folk will come up via the NLX once it is in operation.


about 6 years ago

@Aldin - That's why TGI Fridays exist for people like you!  
@Special K - I know you have a trademark style to your posts but I find your choice of wording "thousands of Minneapolis types" indicative of the kind of shuttered mindset that pervaded Dlth when I lived there in the 80s and btw I've got no connection to Mpls.
@Matt Steele - You're speaking my language!  I sense an aesthetic vision in your post that resonates with the very things I highlighted in my published pieces in the Duluth News Tribune.


about 6 years ago

Taken from my PDD post "Shoddy Construction"
.... Duluth has every reason to demand legacy architecture and top-notch planning. It is not elitist to require something better than the cookie-cutter plastic house.

Look at Canal Park if you want to see a travesty of urban planning. So much public expenditure went into making a waterfront plan that ensured a uniquely Duluth district – not one that tried to emulate New England or whatever.

Today, 50 percent of Canal Park is devoted to surface parking. The lakeshore is blighted by sprawling, pseudo northwoods-inspired motels that are totally incompatible with the warehouse fabric of the district.

The DeWitt-Seitz Marketplace stands as a fine example of gentrification among others. But instead of pursuing high density development with strict controls over building materials and design criteria, the City of Duluth and DEDA supported the influx of suburban motels that are more suitable to an Interstate cloverleaf than a post-industrial warehouse district.

Myriad opportunities to enhance Canal Park with a distinctive identity were lost. Instead of getting brick and stone edifices, pedestrian thoroughfares, sheltered courtyards and a sweeping view of Lake Superior, Duluth traded café culture and al fresco summertime dining, boutique hotels, city apartments and lofts, concealed and protective parking, studio spaces and a 24-hour neighborhood for a day-tripper’s paradise of tourist tat, windswept parking lots and roadside motels for transient visitors.

Is it any wonder it goes into hibernation in winter?

I really think this is my very own Custer’s Last Stand because as things are shaping up, the Bayfront along Railroad Street is going to be another circus.

This is the tourist market that Duluth is aiming for so what more can I say except that perhaps it’s not really my battle?

Special K

about 6 years ago

On the contrary, I moved to Duluth 14 years ago and love this town to the point that I take offense at disparaging analyses of the “right” way to do things.  The place was *literally* a dump.  Even if there were buildings that could have been salvaged to fit a unified design aesthetic that didn’t/doesn’t (and I would argue, shouldn’t) exist, where were the brilliant post-modern visionary entrepreneurs lobbying to turn them into hotels that would appeal to savvy Twin Cities weekenders?

Urban Industrial renewal can be found all over the Cities, so people don’t need to come up here to get their fill.  Let them have hotels that aren’t too far outside their safe suburban norm so they can eat at Grandma’s and ooh & ahh at the big boats.  The more the merrier.  I’m not saying it can’t use improvements and maintenance or shouldn’t grow, but Canal Park is what it is, and we should not hope for it to change into something else any time soon as that will mean tourism has gone away and the businesses that are there are no longer a draw.

There are plenty of other places to allocate our money and attention: a downtown corridor in the midst of slow renewal (despite the rumblings against gentrification), a nascent plan to revitalize the neighborhoods and trails to the west (I love hipsters as much as I mock them), and infrastructure that was built when the Ottoman Empire was still a thing.


about 6 years ago

Special K, you nailed it!


about 6 years ago

I've been thinking about this post for two days -- ever since my last comment. And what I have thought about is considering the time period, Canal Park actually was the best created urbanism (meaning not an already existing area such as downtown) that I had seen until that point. There was adaptive reuse of buildings previously industrial for people oriented uses, there was public art, the creation of the Lake Walk for pedestrian and bike use, reconnecting the downtown with the Lakefront.  

Sure there are a lot of parking lots and the hotels are rather suburban design, but I think we are applying our now further advanced ideas about urbanism to judge a time where all of those things were not only just emerging, but really happening in Canal Park first (speaking from a "Northland" perspective -- I'm sure there were other things going on in "The Cities").   

I'm not saying that Canal Park can't improve. It will continue to improve and evolve as it should. But honestly, it isn't bad as it is and it really was pretty revolutionary when you consider its starting point and the time period in which it evolved.


about 5 years ago

Terrific map!

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