Federal grant helps Central Minnesota pursue economic and environmental vitality
Over the next two years, five counties in central Minnesota will be working together to create a regional sustainability plan. Why? Because the region doesn’t have a regional housing plan, a regional land-use plan, or a comprehensive regional transportation plan. On top of that, the region’s current Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy is not recognized by anyone outside the region.
Funding to support this effort was made possible through a grant of $825,050 that was jointly awarded by three federal agencies: Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Department of Transportation. The grant will help create a community-driven, university-assisted partnership that promotes sustainability by integrating the disciplines of housing, transportation, economic development and land use.
The Region Five Development Commission is coordinating this effort in the five counties of Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, Todd and Wadena. Over 200 individuals, who represent the demographic make-up of the 5-county region, are participating. Because of our expertise, Envision Minnesota was named as the contractor to facilitate discussions on sustainable land use.
In the first months, no punches were thrown and the land-use group already winnowed down the extensive list of key issues to just six. They are:
1) We need land-use plans that are based on a balance of environmental and economic health and stability in the long term;
2) We need an effective land-use decision process that works better than the current broken system;
3) We need to scale up good practices that are already working elsewhere;
4) We need land-use policies that create affordable, intergenerational, active living housing opportunities;
5) We need to protect our water and provide better public beach access on public waters; and
6) We need to protect our region’s agricultural heritage and support smaller-scale efforts like Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs).
The next step will be to create recommendations to achieve sustainability for each of the six key issues. The University of Minnesota is using their technology and expertise to help participants create possible future scenarios that visually describe what the region might look like if the recommendations are implemented.
With the housing crisis, accompanying stagnant growth, rising fuel prices, and the overall economic downturn, just about every community across the state is trying to figure out how to not only survive this period of anxiety, but to come out the other end more resilient. When this plan is completed in December 2012, it should be a road map to help communities get where they want to be, and to do it by pursuing a balance of economic and environmental vitality. At the very least, the five counties of central Minnesota are now having important conversations that every community should have.