Natural playgrounds. Better communication. Cultural integration.

Those are among the ideas pouring into the city of Rosemount from University of Minnesota students who recently completed a study of 29 issues facing the southern suburb.

The research effort involving more than 400 students and staff on the U’s Twin Cities and Duluth campuses took place during the 2014-15 academic year as part of the Resilient Communities Project. The project website explains that it aims to “address pressing local issues in ways that advance sustainability and resilience.”

“It’s a great program because it allows the city to expand the resources we have available,” said Kim Lindquist, Rosemount’s community development director. “The [City] Council was very pleased with the outcome and the staff who work on it was similarly pleased. We’re certainly intending to use that [research] and have that as a driver for the future.”

The students examined a variety of issues, including communication with residents, urban agriculture, alternative energy sources for municipal buildings, stormwater management and opportunities for an “eco-green” business park. Council Members and city staff will review the students’ work and consider future action on their recommendations.

Rosemount police appreciated the students’ feedback on how the department can work with schools to promote safety, Lindquist said. The ideas included alternatives to the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program, which Lindquist said many schools have cut, and suggestions for talking to young drivers dangerous behavior while driving.

“They were really excited about some of the ideas because here you’ve got [university students] who are just a few years removed from high school telling them what kids in high school will relate to,” Lindquist said.

The city’s parks and recreation department is also likely to incorporate some of the students’ ideas, Lindquist said.

A student group researching nature-based play produced a 10-minute video on the concept, which encourages children to play in outdoor spaces made of natural materials such as logs, water and sand, said Mike Greco, program manager for the Resilient Communities Project at the U’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs.

“Rosemount is an agricultural community and most of the park space used to be fields, so it’s flat and treeless,” Greco said. “The city was really interested in trying to find ways to reintroduce natural features that kids can use to play on and to learn about nature. The video quickly got buy-in from the council and the parks commission to pursue these kinds of strategies as they develop new parks in the city.”

Real-world experience

A major benefit for students taking part in Resilient Communities Project research is real-world experience in the discipline they’re studying, Greco said. About 70 percent of students say it’s the first time they’ve worked with a client or partner.

“It’s a tremendous experience for them to actually practice in a setting where there are political issues and monetary constraints involved,” Greco said.

In return, Rosemount and other cities that participate in the project have access to students and faculty with a wide variety of expertise, from architecture, planning and engineering to business, environmental sciences and the humanities.

“This breadth of disciplines enables us to address all aspects of sustainability,” Greco said.

Rosemount is the third city to take part in the program, following Minnetonka and North St. Paul. Greco said the next Resilient Community Project partner will be Carver County.

That effort will include the Carver County Community Development Agency, SouthWest Transit, School District 112 and the cities of Victoria, Chaska and Watertown.

 

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail is todd_nelson@mac.com.