BRAINERD — They’re looking for champions in the five counties around Brainerd. Twenty two of them, to be precise.
For a year and a half now, here at Ground Level we’ve been tracking the progress of something called the Resilient Region project, a federally funded effort to get hundreds of residents in Crow Wing, Todd, Morrison, Cass and Wadena counties to think about what they want the area to be like in 20 years.
With guidance from the Region 5 Development Commission, the University of Minnesota, the Initiative Foundation and others, they’re getting there. So naturally, when about 70 participants gathered again at The Lodge hotel here on Tuesday, there was a 39-page draft document with scores and scores of recommendations, action steps and goals. They ranged from reducing housing blight to improving lake water quality.
You can see the dust motes descending quietly on it some day on a shelf in some planner’s office.
Enter the champions.
The exercise on Tuesday was to look for residents of the area who will take it upon themselves to monitor, push and cajole local governments, businesses and others to do things large and small to, little by little, make the vision more concrete.
Organizers have broken the enterprise into 11 subjects — affordable housing, housing generally, aging and diversifying populations, broadband, education and workforce, energy, health care, natural resources and development, tighter resources, transportation and economic development. There are goals and desired actions for each.
Starting in September, organizers want two central Minnesotans to take on the role of “champion” for each topic. A year later, new champions would be selected to replace them for another year and so on. These people would meet regularly to trade information, see how things are going and look for opportunities.
After an hour and a half of small-group conversations Tuesday afternoon, there were nearly three dozen names written on various flip charts, potential champions. Organizers will sift through them to look for geographic and other kinds of balance and name them in August.
The Initiative Foundation’s Dan Frank said he hadn’t seen this process tried on this large a scale before, but he said the organizers thought it was important not to try to create a new top-down layer of structure handing out lists of recommendations to county commissioners, city council members and the like.
This feels more organic, and feels like it has the potential for real people to express real conviction to help get some things done. It would be a long-term process, but Frank said he hopes people will see results in three to five years.
When the federal government agreed to pay $800,000 to launch this project (one of about 46 such pilots around the country) there was the thought that more money might follow the planning process to help local governments implement changes.
That’s no longer very likely, given the mood change regarding federal spending, Frank said. At the same time, he said the people pushing this project have realized that a lot of the change they envision can be accomplished without a lot more money.
Like I said, enter the champions.