If you've got a strong need for neatness and order and want to ruin your day, just go to Google Maps and type in Crystal, Minnesota.
Look at that western border. Check out that weird, toothbrush-shaped outcropping in the northwest corner, where the city butts up against New Hope. Look at that little island sitting off by itself, like a lesser moon orbiting the city proper.
If a camel is proverbially “a horse designed by a committee,” the place where Crystal meets New Hope could be called a border designed by a committee that speaks different languages and prefers to draw with their eyes closed.
Twin Cities Twitter is… perplexed.
The Crystal - New Hope border is just upsetting. pic.twitter.com/ASYSrn6e9S— Sean Hayford Oleary (@sdho) July 16, 2020
The apparent reason for this mapping madness stretches out over more than 100 years of bureaucratic history and neighborly disputes.
For the sake of brevity, let’s start in 1911, the year Crystal organized itself into the Village of Crystal… mostly to keep itself from being annexed into Minneapolis, which at that time was quickly expanding its housing developments westward.
In 1936, Crystal took the next step and become a city. That meant setting up modern city services like streetlights and a sanitary sewer system – huge innovations for a largely rural farming community.
But living in a city with those newfangled conveniences also meant paying for them, which meant getting taxed. Not everybody in the village was onboard.
“The more rural residents broke away from the City of Crystal,” New Hope Spokesperson Beth Kramer says. They decided to form their own little farming community, and the name they selected, according to New Hope’s website, was “a reflection of the time.”
“Like it was Shangri-La or something,” Crystal spokesperson Michael Peterson says. Or, at least, a haven from footing the bill for Crystal's sewer system.
As it happened, the farmers of New Hope and the aspiring city dwellers of Crystal did not live in a straight line across from one another. Some residents on both sides opted to defect and request their property be included on one side or the other of the border. It’s the reason why you’ve got that toothbrush-looking corner, where you can walk down Bass Lake Road and hop borders as many as seven times, and why there are lonesome pockets of one city landlocked by the other.
As it turns out, New Hope was just putting off the inevitable. Crystal was annexing more and more of its land. By the early '50s, according to the city’s website, New Hope “chose the fate it had eluded just over 15 years earlier" and incorporated as a city.
Plenty of New Hope farmers still opposed the decision, but by that point they were outnumbered by the swelling number of housing developments creeping into the area.
Today, Crystal's estimated population stands at 22,899, while New Hope's is 20,907. The neighbors share a close relationship, with police, fire, and city services reportedly finding their way around just fine without getting in one another’s way. It gets a little confusing, Peterson says, when one city wants to take on a little road construction only to find one side of the block is in Crystal and the other is in New Hope. But they make it work.
“I don’t think a lot of people take a step back and look at what the borders of the city are,” Kramer says.
That’s the funny thing about the way cities grow. Some of the things that mattered to us 15 years ago aren’t the same things that matter to us now, which may not matter in another 15 years. Choose whichever civic hill you want to die on, but be prepared to someday explain why it makes the map look so weird.