Potluck Blog


Little Free Libraries: Promoting Literacy, Community, and Placemaking

How did a little idea grow so big so fast?

Join Envision Minnesota on Wed., Feb. 13 from 6-8 p.m. at Macalester College for our next Creative Placemaking event featuring the biggest little movement to pop up on streets across Minnesota communities and around the world.

See a short film about the growth of the Little Free Library movement, hear from founder Todd Bol about how it got started, and participate in World Cafe discussions about the ways Little Free Libraries can add life to the street, bring neighbors together, foster literacy, and more!

Todd Bol will give out free copies of books to participants from Coffee House Press including Minnesota State Fair: An Illustrated History and Working Words to add to your library collection and share with your neighbors.

Join us for a fun discussion of the power of the Little Free Library. Those who have installed their own libraries in their yards or in front of their business or school are encouraged to attend and share what they've learned along the way.

Little Free Libraries and Placemaking Event Details:

Date: Wed., Feb. 13, 2013
Time: 6:00-8:00 p.m.
Location: Weyerhaeuser Hall - Board Room, Macalester College, 62 Macalester Street, St. Paul
Co-sponsors: Institute for Global Citizenship at Macalester College and InCommons
Food: Light refreshments will be served.
: Please register to let us know you're coming
Cost: There is no charge, but we ask that you consider making a donation of $15 to Envision Minnesota to offset costs for the event.




Envision Minnesota relocates to The Greenway

The Greenway Building in Minneapolis, where Envision Minnesota is moving on January 11, 2013. Photo credit: Peace CoffeeTo start the New Year right, Envision Minnesota is purging files, packing our belongings, and moving to a fabulous Energy Star building that beckons from Minneapolis!

We’re sad to leave St. Paul, but being a statewide organization, we set our sights on finding the best fit for our office needs, wherever that might take us. Our divining rod led us across the river to The Greenway Building, an award-winning building that is green by design and location.

Built in 1999 by the Green Institute, the Greenway (formerly known as the Phillips Eco-Enterprise Center) has 200 solar panels on its roof to reduce electrical consumption, a geothermal heating/cooling system to reduce energy consumption, a green roof/rooftop garden and native prairie grass lawn to enhance rain water retention and eliminate the need for lawn irrigation. The Greenway lies just a block away from the Lake Street light rail station on the Hiawatha line, is accessible by bus routes along Lake Street and is adjacent to the Midtown Greenway bike path.

Additionally, we have a host of new neighbors with missions complementary to our own, including the Will Steger Foundation, Great Plains Institute, Peace Coffee Roastery, Nonprofit Assistance Fund, Native Americans in Philanthropy, Headwaters Foundation for Justice, Fox Consulting, and many more! We look forward to connecting with them over Peace Coffee and on the green roof.

We invite you to drop in and visit us in our new location when you’re in the area.

Our new address and phone number:

Envision Minnesota
2801 21st Avenue South, Suite 100
Minneapolis, MN 55407
(612) 767-0500

Our online contact information remains the same:


We encourage you to connect with us online:

Facebook: @Envision Minnesota
Twitter: @EnvisionMN


How Ordinary Folks can do extraordinary things for their communities

Click on the image to download the Citizen's Guide.Helping communities grow without wrecking the place is one of Envision Minnesota's mantras. A key part of helping communities help themselves is educating local residents about how they can effectively participate in local land-use decisions.

Quick: What is the most IMPORTANT word in the paragraph above?

Answer: Effectively participate. Because there are plenty of ways to be ineffective. But we don't recommend them.

Envision Minnesota's Phil Hunsicker (shown in the video above) co-authored "A Citizen's Guide to Influencing Local Land-Use Decisions" with Paula West at Minnesota Waters. This guidebook has been circulating for a few years, but its message is still as valid today as it was when it was first released.

Phil's lighthearted approach to land-use development and how to take part in it is summed up beautifully in the short, engaging essays that fill the guidebook, as well as in the video above.

Development is inevitable.

But responsible development is not inevitable. Perhaps you've learned that the hard way.

Look around your community. Do you like what you see? Do you love where you live? Do you have ideas about how your local streets could flow better, be more inviting, easier to navigate, more welcoming, fun to visit, attractive to new businesses?

Yes, you do. Because you live there. That makes you qualified to speak up. To add your voice. To shape the future of your community. We are all just ordinary folks, and we can all do extraordinary things.

Hear it from the source.

Phil Hunsicker often makes presentations to Minnesota communities about how people can get involved in creating a long-term vision for their community -- effectively. Contact us for more information about how to bring him to your town.

-Jill Mazullo


Lessons learned through technical assistance

And a Few Favorite Cliches

By Vanessa Perry, Program Manager

Two participants in Blue Earth shared their drawing of how a downtown intersection could be more friendly to all users.I had intended to start this article with the quote “All government is local,” a phrase I have frequently heard at various planning and government-related functions. I wanted to credit it to its source, which I couldn’t recall. Upon the briefest Internet search, I discovered that the phrase is actually “All politics is local,” an aphorism attributed to Tip O’Neil.


What is it about the phrase “all government is local” that, although a misquote, clearly speaks to me and many others? For me, it is the belief that at its core, the decisions that affect our communities are made closest to home.

Certainly national and state policies are important – critically so – but in many cases they are implemented by local government. Where the “rubber meets the road,” or so they say.

This is why local technical assistance from Envision Minnesota is so vital. Paid for by the EPA Office of Sustainable Communities through a grant to Forterra, Envision Minnesota is one of four organizations providing regional technical assistance through this program.

We are working this year in six communities throughout the State of Minnesota on a variety of sustainable land-use issues. We are helping local citizens set goals and identify steps to move forward on issues that are important locally and will affect the quality of life in their community.

We are hosting conversations with community members to help identify and implement strategies to make it safer for kids to walk to and from school, to help bring life to their aging downtowns, to help protect the natural resources that make their communities special, and to help residents connect and work through challenges as neighbors.

I have been asked how this technical assistance, just six small projects throughout the state – a handful of events, some education, a few local conversations – could make a difference.

My answer: You have to start somewhere. Every effort has a beginning, and we are helping to set a solid foundation for that beginning.

These communities, through this technical assistance program, are practicing a model for making change that is respectful of citizen input, incorporates best available information, and leads to more sustainable outcomes.

They will carry this model forward in other projects, they will experience success, the quality of life for their citizens will improve, and their neighboring communities will notice. Momentum builds. Positive change begets positive change.

Another favorite saying, “think globally, act locally,” and after all, all politics government is local. 

Check our website for updates at www.envisionmn.org in early 2013 if your community is interested in being considered for the next round of technical assistance. We look forward to hearing how we can work with you.


Central MN pursues sustainability through plan

Resilient Region Plan Now Available

By Phil Hunsicker, Lakes Region director

Cheryal Lee Hills, director of the Region 5 Development Commission, led the Resilient Region process.After almost two years of hard work, Central Minnesota now has a sustainability plan that promotes both economic and environmental vitality. The plan is organized around eleven themes that include affordable housing, changing populations, education and workforce development, energy, transportation, natural resources and development patterns, and economic engines. 

Envision Minnesota was one of the core partners in this initiative and we helped facilitate civil discussions on land use and natural resources protection.  The full plan can be viewed at www.resilientregion.org.

Each theme includes key issues, recommendations, action steps, and measurable indicators of success to help the five counties of Crow Wing, Cass, Todd, Wadena and Morrison become more resilient as we speed headlong into an uncertain future.  That said, there are some things we know without even having to look into our crystal ball:

  1. Dwindling budgets are forcing local governments to do more with less;
  2. Energy costs and health care costs will continue to rise;
  3. Many of our outstate communities will become more culturally diverse and will have more people 65+ years than ever before; and
  4. We will always need a well-educated, trained work force.  

These “givens” were incorporated into the plan along with a chosen future for the year 2035, which reflects the values and aspirations of the region.

Sen. Al Franken spoke at the Resilient Region presentation in August 2012.The plan promotes things like conservation design, Complete Streets, updated shoreland rules, the expansion of broadband throughout the region, increasing local foods distribution, energy conservation, green technology incorporated into affordable housing options, and identifying economic engines that will provide not only jobs, but livable wages. 

To keep the plan from collecting dust on a shelf, “Champions” have been identified. Champions are local leaders who have knowledge of their theme area, have a history of getting things done, have good connections and communications with others in the region, and believe in a team approach to solving our sustainability problems. Much of their work will be to coordinate, communicate and connect to help move theme recommendations forward.   

The plan is a good one, but not everyone in the region is on board with sustainability. Some are still married to this misguided notion that a healthy environment and a healthy economy are mutually exclusive. Or that our economy is so bad these days that jobs and only jobs should be our focus. In a region where the local economy is so closely tied to a healthy environment, the connections should be obvious. Finding and strengthening those connections are the first steps for any community interested in becoming more resilient.