New Ulm, Minnesota, (map) in Brown County, is the local urbanist small town Utopia. New Ulm is definitely in good shape as small towns go. Having a college (Martin Luther) in town is good, but its location away from Main Street means it doesn’t interact as much as Carleton in Northfield. It parallels the Minnesota River, and aligns its grid with that mighty stream. The main part of town (Main Street here is called Broadway) is separated from the River by railroad tracks. Its most important feature is a giant statue of Hermann the German, commemorating Armenius’ victory over the Romans at Teutoburg Wald,
which helped liberate New Ulm, which reflects the strong German culture of the area, as illustrated by the local Schell Brewery.
Broadway is a county, but not state level road, so it doesn’t have the traffic issues facing St. Peter, where a heavily trafficked US highway comprises Main Street.
The buildings along Broadway are almost fully rented. Yet parking is available. The town itself has an interesting idealistic planning history. Wikipedia writes:
The city was founded in 1854 by the German Land Company of Chicago. The city was named after the city of Neu-Ulm in the state of Bavaria in southern Germany. Ulm and Neu-Ulm are sister cities, with Ulm being situated on the Baden-Württemberg side and Neu-Ulm on the Bavarian side of the Danube river. In part due to the city’s German heritage, it is a center for brewing in the Upper Midwest, home to the August Schell Brewing Company.
In 1856, the Settlement Association of the Socialist Turner Society (“Turners”) helped to secure the city’s future. The Turners originated in Germany in the first half of the nineteenth century, promoted with the slogan, “Sound Mind, Sound Body.” Their clubs combined gymnastics with lectures and debates about the issues of the day. Following the Revolutions of 1848, substantial numbers of Germans emigrated to the United States. In their new land, Turners formed associations (Vereins) throughout the eastern, midwestern, and western states, making it the largest secular German American organization in the country in the nineteenth century. Following a series of attacks by nativist mobs in major cities such as Chicago, Cincinnati, and Louisville, a national convention of Turners authorized the formation of a colony on the frontier. Intending to begin a community that expressed Turner ideals, the Settlement Association joined the Chicago Germans who had struggled here due to a lack of capital. The Turners supplied that, as well as hundreds of colonizers from the east who arrived in 1856.
As a representation of Turner ideals, the city plan reflected those values. The German Land Company hired Christian Prignitz to complete a new plan for New Ulm, filed in April 1858. This master plan for New Ulm expressed a grand vision of the city’s future. At the heart of the community stood blocks reserved for Turner Hall, the county courthouse, and a public school, representing the political, social, and educational center of the community. The westernmost avenues were named after American heroes George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine—the latter three noted for their freethinking philosophies. Members obtained the means to support themselves — in harmony with nature — through the distribution of four-acre garden lots located outside of the residential area. Historian Dennis Gimmestad wrote, “The founders’ goals created a community persona that sets New Ulm apart from the Minnesota towns founded by land speculators or railroad companies. . . . The New Ulm founders aspired to establish a town with a defined philosophical, economic, and social character.”
The socialism has faded, but the logic of the well thought out grid remain.