Ramsey County Review/Lillienews: North St. Paul Gets Help from U Grant

By JOHANNA HOLUB, originally published in the Ramsey County Review/Lillienews, March 27, 2013

$175K in services to boost city’s sustainability

North St. Paul and the University of Minnesota will be teaming up for the 2013-14 academic year, as the city was recently chosen to be the recipient of the university’s Resilient Communities Project grant.

Last year, the university’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs and the Institute on the Environment decided to form a group, called the Resilient Communities Project, which chooses a Twin Cities metro area community with which to partner. This partnership helps both the students, who receive a hands-on learning experience, and the community, which benefits the wealth of knowledge of the students and their professors.

Program manager Mike Greco explained that the RCP program focuses on sustainability issues facing local communities, and is modeled after a similar program, called the Sustainable Cities Year Program, at the University of Oregon.

“The Sustainability Faculty Network was the impetus for the project,” Greco explained. “They were looking for ways to more holistically include sustainability in the curriculum. They looked at other colleges with programs like this one, and modeled the Resilient Communities Project after that.”

Move to a competitive application process

Minnetonka was the inaugural city for RCP’s first8year in action last year.

“The (Resilient Communities Project) was started on pretty short notice last summer,” Greco said. “We were familiar with the city and staff at Minnetonka from previous projects. They were excited about the prospect.”

This year, the RCP decided to change its process for choosing a city. The RCP created a more competitive application process, since the Minnetonka partnership fared so well.

A total of seven cities, including Minneapolis, Rosemount, Brooklyn Park, Prior Lake, Arden Hills and Hopkins, applied for the 2013-14 partnership.

When North St. Paul turned in its application in February, the city identified 18 potential projects it hoped to complete through the partnership.

“They really deliver,” community development director Nate Ehalt said. “They come up with a lot of guiding plans and documents for projects that we wouldn’t necessarily have time to work on.”

“We heard only good things from Minnetonka,” North St. Paul mayor Mike Kuehn added.

The projects listed in North St. Paul’s application include live/work housing where residents could own a small business on the first floor and live above it in an apartment, furthering the city’s green energy initiatives, creating neighborhood identities, community branding and expanding the fiber optic cable network, among several others.

An exciting challenge

Greco said North St. Paul’s dedication and variety of potential projects ultimately led to its selection as this year’s community partner.

“We were looking for the complete package,” Greco said. “They felt to us like the best partner. We were impressed by the staff commitment they were able to demonstrate and the range of projects they came up with.”

“The projects weren’t just environmental and sustainability issues, but also economic projects.”

The RCP will match specific city projects with university graduate and upper-level undergraduate courses for fall 2013 and spring 2014. For example, this semester, students from Architecture 8567: Building and Site Integration in Sustainable Design will be helping Minnetonka come up with a stormwater management plan and illicit discharge regulations.

Greco said North St. Paul will be a challenge based on its small size and population, but RCP staff and faculty are looking forward to public involvement with projects.

“We’re excited by that challenge. There are a lot of opportunities to engage residents in these projects.”

‘A great deal of value’

The RCP will contribute an estimated $175,000 in services to the partnership to carry projects forward. North St. Paul will contribute $25,000 to the partnership. The city’s contribution will come from the Community Development budget and the city’s general fund, Economic Development Authority fund and electric utilities fund.

An additional $15,000 will come from partners the city hopes to collaborate with for several of the projects. These hopeful partnerships include the North St. Paul Business Association, Ramsey County, Minnesota Department of Transportation and city commissions, among many others.

Kuehn says he knows the partnership is about more than the numbers.

“All of us are very excited about being a recipient of the Resilient Communities grant,” Kuehn said. “It’ll provide a great deal of value and knowledge to the city.”

To learn more about the Resilient Communities Project, visit http://rcp.umn.edu/.

Johanna Holub can be reached at jholub@lilllienews.com or 651-748-7814.

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