Brainerd residents are tackling housing, neighborhoods under pressure

Thousands of Minnesotans over the years have told their friends and neighbors they were heading to Brainerd for a long weekend or a summer vacation.

Really they weren’t.

They were heading for a few days off in the Brainerd lakes area; Brainerd itself typically gets passed by.

While the lakes area boomed and tourism prospered, the city of close to 14,000 residents suffered many of the problems of other core cities around the nation. Housing deteriorated, the percentage of homes that were rentals rose, income dropped relative to the rest of the area and the state.

Can residents do anything about it, maybe improve an aging infrastructure, take advantage of the Mississippi River flowing through town, create vitality in the business district and the community as a whole?

Some are trying. Last week, the Initiative Foundation held its “kickoff session” with a team of residents who in coming months and even years will try to come up with plan. The effort is part of the foundation’s Healthy Communities Partnership.

That’s the program this Minnesota Public Radio News project called Ground Level is working with in Baldwin Township and Todd County. While we’re focusing on those two places for now, community organizing work is going on elsewhere, with the help of the foundation and a myriad of other non-profit, educational and governmental organizations.

Ultimately, we’d like to take Ground Level to the point we can shine a light at efforts like these around the state.

That means we’re in the market to learn about people making organized efforts to make their communities better places to live. If you know about such an effort, let us know by commenting on this post or sending me an email.

If you want to see residents starting to engage in a conversation along these lines, check the comments on a post from last week about Todd County. There are some very articulate and thoughtful comments about coming to grips with what a community ought to be doing for itself.

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