Empty storefronts. Nowhere to buy socks. Not much middle-class housing. Manufacturing jobs lost. Tourists who find their way have no place to stay and move on down the road instead.
Crosby, Minnesota, sounds like a lot of places. Next month, residents hope to start changing that by spending three days with the Minnesota Design Team, a group of architects and architecture students who volunteer to help communities like Crosby identify their strengths, set priorities and get organized.
Residents and the architecture volunteers have a date April 22-24 to come up with some ideas, focus them and create a list of specific projects people can act on. But the Design Team has already altered the landscape by urging Crosby to expand its thinking and bring in its neighbors.
So it won’t be just Crosby at the table, but the towns of Ironton, Cuyuna and Deerwood as well.
That’s a big first before they even meet, says Crosby Mayor Dale Sova. “We were all pulling in six directions before. We’ve come together.”
All people in Crosby thought they wanted was to fix up Main Street, says architect Melissa Ekman, a historic preservation specialist with Miller Dunwiddie Architecture in Minneapolis and one of the leaders helping the communities address their situation. Like lots of towns, she says, they wanted to be the next Lanesboro.
But the Design Team has encouraged them to think in terms of a wider community — which will take the team itself into new territory — and to take advantage of the recreation available and the palpable sense of iron mining history in and near the towns. Ekman was impressed, for example, with a row of single-room houses built for miners that could be turned into resort housing for bikers.
So at the April get-together, residents will be encouraged to think in terms of regional branding, to take advantage of recreational opportunities like mountain biking and iron-ore-pit scuba diving, to protect historic buildings, to think about more affordable housing near the first-class hospital and to prepare for the day the median age will be higher than it is today.
The team will leave residents with a list of projects they can work on if they choose and then will check back in a year to see what’s happened.
It’s a case of a little information helping residents take action.