By Hannah Gary
As summer winds to an end, RCP is busy preparing for an exciting year with our 2016–2017 community partner, the City of Brooklyn Park!
Situated on the west bank of the Mississippi River in the northwest corner of Hennepin County, Brooklyn Park is the sixth-largest city in Minnesota and is one of the most diverse. More than half of the city’s residents identify as people of color, a significant increase from roughly 30 percent in 2000. This demographic shift reflects population trends predicted for the state as a whole by 2040, putting Brooklyn Park at the forefront of many planning and community development initiatives to ensure that local government serves the needs of a rapidly diversifying state.
Brooklyn Park, in partnership with local residents, has identified six priority areas as part of the city’s 2016–2017 strategic plan: financial stability, focused development and redevelopment, community image, adapting to changing demographics, public safety, and strong neighborhoods. All 25 projects chosen for this year’s RCP–Brooklyn Park partnership address one or more of these focus areas, and all of them ultimately seek to fulfill the City’s mission of being “a thriving community, inspiring pride, with opportunities to succeed for all.” Director of Community Development Kim Berggren, Project Facilitator Angelica Klebsch, and City Manager Jay Stroebel will coordinate the City’s partnership with RCP. In addition, each project will have a staff lead from the City of Brooklyn Park or partner organizations like the Brooklyn Bridge Alliance for Youth to work directly with students who are engaged through courses at the University of Minnesota.
To better adapt to changing demographics within the community and improve external perceptions of the city, Brooklyn Park has placed an emphasis on developing new and evaluating existing community engagement and branding strategies. One RCP project designed to assess the impact of the City’s 2010 Community Engagement Initiative and develop strategies for improved engagement will help Brooklyn Park broaden its outreach and engagement efforts, creating more inclusive processes that better represent the needs of residents. Brooklyn Park also seeks to foster a strong sense of community identity through projects focused on a new branding campaign and a public art plan for the City.
In addition to pursuing a public art policy, Brooklyn Park has identified several projects related to expanding access to the arts. In one project, U of MN students will conduct a needs assessment for and determine barriers to youth involvement in music and arts programming. In another project, community partner North Hennepin Community College (NHCC) is seeking student assistance identifying strategies for designing a Performing Arts Center that is financially and environmentally sustainable, as well as developing equitable arts programming that represents the cultural diversity of the community.
NHCC is also a partner on a project to assess student support services--such as employment services, childcare, or housing--that can be provided through a private development on campus. This project is one of several to focus on youth and senior services. Others include exploring needs and barriers around shared-use mobility strategies, such as bike-share or car-share programs, and encouraging more senior involvement in community organizations.
Neighborhood stability is a cornerstone of building resilient communities. In 2005, Brooklyn Park developed a Stable Neighborhood Action Plan (SNAP) to address the infrastructure and housing needs of residents. Through the RCP partnership, Brooklyn Park hopes to evaluate and update this plan to address the evolving needs of residents. City staff and U of MN students will also partner to evaluate the City's foreclosure recovery efforts, initiated after the foreclosure crisis that began in the late 2000s, and to develop methods to better engage renters in community decision making. Ensuring access to fresh foods for residents is another area where Brooklyn Park is looking to students for help strengthening neighborhood stability.
Several Brooklyn Park projects focus on public safety and workforce development. Public safety projects include identifying barriers to and strategies for developing a more diverse police force, as well as creating a safer pedestrian environment in the Village Creek neighborhood. To build a stronger workforce, Brooklyn Park is looking to U of MN students to provide recommendations for effective workforce development strategies targeted at areas of high unemployment, as well as document the extent of youth unemployment and underemployment in Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center.
Recognizing that parks and natural areas are important to livability and quality of life for residents, Brooklyn Park has identified eight projects that focus on either environmental stewardship or parks and recreation. To best preserve and maintain these resources, the City hopes to develop a Natural Resources Management Plan and best practices around natural resource management. Additional stewardship projects will examine opportunities to reduce residential storm sewers, determine current water use patterns and conservation approaches, and evaluate food-waste reduction strategies for restaurants. Brooklyn Park is home to 2,000 acres of parkland, 60 parks, and 47 miles of trails. This extensive network will be the subject of projects focusing on nature-based recreation, a community kitchen project to provide a shared-use commercial kitchen space, planning for the Historic Eidem Farm, and a needs assessment aimed at making athletic fields more sustainable and accessible.
U of MN students and Brooklyn Park staff will be collaborating on many unique and innovative projects during the coming academic year--projects that will continue Brooklyn Park’s tradition of leadership in building strong, resilient Minnesota communities. Stay tuned for more!
Hannah Gary is a dual-degree graduate student in the University of Minnesota's Master of Urban and Regional Planning program at the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs and Master of Public Health program in the School of Public Health.