RCP-Brooklyn Park Project Wins APA MN Outstanding Student Project Award

By Mike Greco

Andrew Degerstom, Joe Lampe and Kevin Priestly, students at the University of Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs, were honored by the American Planning Association’s Minnesota Chapter (APA MN) on September 28 with the organization’s Outstanding Student Project Award. The students’ projects were completed in conjunction with the Resilient Communities Project’s year-long partnership with Brooklyn Park during the 2016–2017 academic year.

The award recognizes the team’s collaboration with Brooklyn Park staff members Jason Newby and John Nerge to identify locations in the city where access to healthy food options is a challenge for residents, consider how a community kitchen or food hub might address these and other community needs, and research alternatives for disposing of food waste and grease from the city’s many restaurants. Their report, titled “Find It, Cook It, Save It: From Healthy Food Access to Food Hub Recycling in Brooklyn Park,” took the form of a series of 19 posters that visually guide the viewer through the issues, and their findings and recommendations. The project was completed for a semester-long assignment in Dr. Fernando Burga’s Introduction to Site Planning Class. Burga teaches students to use a variety of design software programs to communicate land-use and planning issues in a way that is visually engaging and ensures that the report will be used and referenced long after the project is over.

The report presents the team’s in-depth geospatial analysis of Brooklyn Park to identify areas of the city where residents without a vehicle have limited access to healthy food options, best practices from other cities to address food deserts, and personal interviews the group conducted with local families. The project is focused specifically on increasing access to quality foods in neighborhoods with low average household incomes.  Through the course of the report, the team builds a case for a food hub situated in the part of Brooklyn Park with the least access to quality foods. The proposed hub would include a commercial storefront, a community garden, and professional-grade kitchens that can be rented by Brooklyn Park residents.

Priestly, who worked on finding the ideal location for the food hub, ultimately hopes that the project is carried through and Brooklyn Park pursues a food hub. But whether or not it is built, he hopes the project helps facilitate conversation about how Brooklyn Park can adopt more equitable decision-making strategies. “[My] hope is that this project gives planning students, academics, professionals, municipal staff, and elected officials an example of how to navigate repressive structures of power—be they economic, political, or social—and in their place constructs an emancipatory, inclusive, and particularized form of power, grounded in diversity of race, creed, class, and origin,” stated Priestly, who now works for the Denver Council of Regional Governments.

For the student team, the collaboration with Brooklyn Park provided an opportunity to learn the skills required to navigate real-world planning issues and projects. “I gained a great deal from this work,” said Priestly, who noted the breadth of skills he learned through the project. “From how to work with clients and manage projects to technical skills such as creating bivariate maps and working with Adobe Creative Suite, all of which I’ve carried into new professional experiences.”

Find It, Cook It, Save It is the fourth RCP-sponsored student project to receive the APA Minnesota Chapter’s Outstanding Student Project Award since the RCP program started in 2012.

Mike Greco is director of the Resilient Communities Project.

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