MPR launches Ground Level; join the conversation

Welcome to Ground Level, a new Minnesota Public Radio project examining people trying to make their communities better places to live. We aim to be on the ground with reporters, engaging residents and exploring ways people want to mold the future..

First off, this is a pilot project and we’ve just started. So this blog is your invitation to watch and, more important, help out. Talk to us; point us in new directions; tell us if we’re going down a rathole. I’m leading the project but when you come back to visit, you’ll often find the voices of the other journalists working on it.

Second, we are zeroing in on one particular place to start with: Baldwin Township in the northeast corner of Sherburne County, about an hour north of the Twin Cities. The formerly rural township of 6,600 residents grew rapidly in recent decades and now has more people than the neighboring town of Princeton. It is facing some of the transportation, housing, planning and lifestyle issues that growth can present.

MPR reporters have been talking to people and doing research in Baldwin Township since the beginning of January, hitting the K-Bob Café in Princeton, talking over dining room tables and joining the ice fishing on Little Elk Lake. In coming weeks, we’ll start producing material in a number of formats – video, audio and text. Our reporting will be in the Princeton Union Eagle, and we’re planning a public forum for township residents on March 4 at the Performing Arts Center at Princeton High School.

The other journalists you’ll be seeing on this blog are Jennifer Vogel, a long-time Twin Cities writer and editor; Curtis Gilbert, who has been part of the team producing MPR’s Morning Edition; Nikki Tundel, who has turned her considerable reporting skills to video; and Michael Caputo, who brings from MPR’s Public Insight Network the talent for assembling and moderating discussions.

A little background about how we landed here: The Bush Foundation and MPR last year formed a partnership to test whether our journalism could enhance the level of civic engagement as a community tries to address things that concern its residents. A short time later, the Initiative Foundation, based in Little Falls, was added to the mix because for many years it has been helping central Minnesota residents do just that.

What if, we all asked, Minnesota Public Radio took its ability to draw people out, to tell stories and to provide insight in a place that was working to explore ways to create a better place to live? You’re looking at the beginning of the answer to that question. Can we provide insight that enables residents to take action if they want?

As we tell you what we’re up to in Baldwin Township and eventually other communities, we want to hear from people. What makes your place tick? What would make it tick better? What don’t you want to lose about living where you do?

Come spring, the Initiative Foundation will fully launch its process to help Baldwin residents start to address what they want. If we, with your help, succeed, then that conversation will be a better one for many months and years to come.

That’s pretty much it, pure and simple. We’re experimenting; we want to see what works and what doesn’t; we want to discover what we couldn’t think of ahead of time. Join us.

Dave Peters

Editorial Director, special projects

Minnesota Public Radio

P: 651-290-1387

  • Sue Hix
  • Neil Hase

    I moved to Baldwin township to be in the country life because thats what I grew up in. Why does the government and developers think that every square inch of land needs to be deveoped. Why can’t we use Baldwin township as an experment and leave it as a country comunity and not made a city just because goverment and others are greedy for more tax revenue. It feels like they want to make us another maple grove comunity.

  • Jim Oliver

    I am excited about the MPR effort to educate our citizens about Baldwin Township. We as a Board, even before we received this grant , wanted to reach out to the community for more involvement. Your partnership in this venture is greatly appreciated.

  • John Q. Public

    Rightly Neil, that was my hopes until you and others moved here. Sadly it does not work to impede your migration unless we use dissriminating tools like fiscal zoning (which are illegal). Unfortunately we can’t keep out folks like you who move into a town and want to strip others of their property rights there. These rights, along with capitalism develop every square inch of land. The highest and best use normally comes in with the winning bid. So if you want to preserve land, get your check book out.

    Also, take a look at your township portion of your property tax statement, your taxes have been going down. Local government is not greedy in Baldwin Township. The debate in this town is on how best to manage growth with fiscally conservative governance.

    A commercial setting like Arbor Lakes (Maple Grove) is designed to be sustaining. Good luck to seeing commercial growth like that anyways. So thank local leaders who have some foresight to create community plans that promote development that does not drain wallets in the future.

    Jobs Neil, jobs. People need jobs in Baldwin Township, or should we try to stay a bedroom community? According to your point of view, commercial development would ruin the “country life”. Maybe we can put a hold on the plans of building a waste transfer station next to your five acre ranch. Get real, the marketplace won’t be setting up a central business district in your backyard. The only thing that would be moving in your backyard is another house.

    [lightly edited for language -js]

  • Dave Peters

    Thanks for the comments, all. Clearly, people in Baldwin Township are focusing on the important things. Reminder: We want this to be a discussion of ideas, so try to keep comments focused there and not on personal criticism or attack.

    MPR News will not let the conversation go there.

  • I think this is a great project. I am one of the immigrants of Baldwin Township that has not been involved enough in the community. I should have some street credit though; for growing up on Green Lake and attending high school in neighboring Cambridge though. I then experienced some small town college life in cheese country, a few years in St. Paul, and am back in god’s country now.

    The main problem I see is that if you do not have previous experience with city council or small government, you do not even realize that you have a say in what happens in our ‘community’. I bought a foreclosure in April of 2008. I honestly did not realize that Baldwin Township was its’ own entity until I voted in November.

    I too desire the space and solitude here, but also desire some sense of community and feel it is important to be involved. I think if enough people are educated on what exactly Baldwin Township is, and what our options are, they may get inspired to take part in the future of our community. This message board looks like congress already with only 4 or 5 posts. I say we focus on things we all desire (i.e. country life). Then get more people involved and in turn educated on the dilemmas and opportunities facing us. We then can debate our views on commercial development, road maintenance, parks, etc.

    I run a painting business out of my home office and would love to see some commercial development in the area. The area near 169 and 9 could be a good fit. I just don’t think we need to rush into anything with the current state of our economy. I can vouch that some of the roads are pretty rough and do need some maintenance; but I moved to the ‘country’ expecting worse. Now is probably not the time to attack that if it involves raising taxes in a county with a high foreclosure rate like Sherburne. I am happy to say that taxes have been going down since I have moved to the area though. So I have to give my gratitude to the council, board, and/or everyone else responsible for that.

    I would like to learn more about the annexing issues. I am wondering what the pros and cons to becoming part of Princeton would be. I would imagine that would increase our taxes. Does anyone have any factual information on this? I would imagine long term the development of Baldwin (on its own) could involve some good opportunity for our people (both squatters and immigrants) – sorry had to poke a little fun in this rant.

  • Dave Peters

    Andy — I hope you had a chance to come to the forum at Princeton High School. There was some information about the annexation issue. If you missed it, you can listen to the discussion by going to our Baldwin page. Click on the Audio link on the right side of the top of the page.