BY MARIA WARDOKU
On a crisp fall Friday last week, staff and elected officials from Carver County and other partner agencies gathered with students, faculty, and RCP staff at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chanhassen to celebrate the official launch of the Resilient Communities Project–Carver County partnership. The collaboration will provide hands-on learning opportunities for hundreds of undergraduate, graduate, and professional students who will work on more than 30 sustainability-related projects identified by Carver County and its partners.
Carver County staff, RCP staff, and U of MN faculty have been hard at work since March—when the partnership was announced—linking the county’s needs with dozens of courses that will be taught this coming academic year. Now that fall semester is finally underway at the U of MN, the partnership is celebrating its official launch as students begin work on their projects. In the weeks to come, staff from Carver County will be visiting their partner classes and hosting student field trips to locations throughout the west-metro community.
Guests at Friday’s event were welcomed by Ed Schneider, director of the Landscape Arboretum. Schneider highlighted several new initiatives at the Arboretum, including a planned bee and pollinator discovery center, a Chinese garden that is currently under construction, and renovation of the Arboretum’s iconic Red Barn.
Randy Maluchnik, chair of the Carver County Board of Commissioners, spoke next, highlighting the value of the partnership with the University of Minnesota through RCP. Maluchnik noted that the County’s projects largely stem from goals and objectives outlined in the organization’s recently adopted strategic plan, and remarked that the energy, imagination, and hard work of students could help to propel these efforts forward.
Guests also heard from two project leads from the Carver County partnership about the stories behind their projects.
Shane Fineran, city administrator for the City of Watertown, highlighted a residential marketing campaign project that will help the city differentiate itself and promote the schools, businesses, and natural resources that make it a special place to live. Students will investigate how first- and second-time homebuyers make purchasing decisions and suggest marketing tactics that the City can use to attract homebuyers. Fineran noted that none of Watertown’s three RCP projects would have been feasible for the city’s small staff to undertake on their own, and that all of the projects have the potential to cost-effectively enhance the Watertown community.
Wendy Petersen-Biorn, executive director of the Carver County Historical Society, told the fascinating story of the Andrew Peterson Farmstead, an important site for Minnesota’s Swedish heritage. Peterson was a Swedish immigrant to Minnesota in the mid-1800s whose diary became the basis for several historical novels, a movie, and even a Swedish musical, and the site is a popular tourist attraction for visitors from Scandinavian countries. Because of the RCP partnership, the Historical Society stands to gain information about historic restoration, farmland preservation, and tourism marketing from students studying architecture, anthropology, strategic communication, and yes, Swedish. This kind of work, all of which will enhance the quality of the site, would have taken years for the Historical Society to accomplish alone, at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars, Peterson-Biorn said.
RCP Director Mike Greco ‘s remarks focused on the broader RCP–Carver County partnership, including the key factors that lead to Carver County’s selection as this year’s RCP partner: the great diversity of projects, the range of community partners engaged, and the clear commitment to community sustainability. Greco highlighted the more than one dozen projects that will be matched this fall semester with 19 courses across 11 departments at the U of MN, as well as additional projects that will be the focus of student work in spring 2016.
We are looking forward to an exciting, challenging year working on an array of projects that will help to achieve some of Carver County’s strategic goals and help make the county a more livable, sustainable, and resilient community..
Maria Wardoku is a Master of Urban and Regional Planning student at the University of Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs.