St. Louis River Alliance

Report date
December 2016

What has been most instrumental to your progress?

Grant partners, community stakeholders and UMN students are working on the last of three collaborative graduate design studios (University of Minnesota Twin Cities students in Architecture and Landscape Architecture) taught during the duration of the grant period. This course has resulted in 10 speculative design projects (themed around ideas of community and urban resiliency) and are concentrated in communities along the St. Louis River Corridor. These projects engage with local surrogate clients and has included several visits to Duluth (one in September 2016 and another in October 2016, and an upcoming December 2016 visit). These visits have included public presentations, listening sessions with local experts, community members, and additional collaborative partners. These have been essential in helping students understand the context of the community we are partnering with and in continuing to build long-term capacity and investment in community-university partnerships in the future.
Duluth LISC continued to collaborate with the SLRA and U of MN Design Duluth team to stimulate fresh design and revitalization ideas into our efforts to stimulate healthy, sustainable development in the St. Louis River Corridor neighborhoods. Despite receipt of disappointing news in early 2016 that the $72 million request from MN DEED for HUD NDRC funds for areas impacted by the 2012 flood was not funded, progress continues. Key examples of progress are: stimulating new energy, inclusion and development in the Lincoln Park Craft Business District, added citizen involvement in the SLRC parks, trails and small area plans and coordination with the SLR Advisory Group on their plans. Student concepts generated by this grant are now being used in a development plan for the Irving & Fairmont neighborhoods of West Duluth. And the SLRC Technical Advisory Committee is also accessing DD concepts as part of their work. We partnered on a Fall Open House in Lincoln Park and are working to invest Bush seed/predevelopment funds in DD inspired projects.
SLRA participated in orientation with students, held formal presentations to help students understand the dynamics of the community and potential projects. SLRA used networking capacity to publicize and influence public participation in feedback sessions. This helped shape student's perspectives on what actually be plausible projects in Duluth.

Key lessons learned

It is key to keep re-visiting grant objectives and goals based on changing circumstances in the community. A new mayoral administration is prioritizing a more bottom-up approach to community development. Having an adaptive and flexible structure to the work we are doing and being able to include recent, new, and revised priorities regarding civic projects and work in how we work collaboratively has been very important. This includes — with regard to the nature of his particular collaborative — being able to balance the particular (and sometimes competing) requirements of community partners as well as the professional education requirements of students — while remaining focused on the primary objective of community building.
For Duluth LISC we have learned to broadly share concepts and DD events with all interested partners as a way to engage the community, open up dialogue, and test new ideas. Another key is to view these concepts holistically as ones that can be adapted to other locations, neighborhoods and uses. And to keep looking back as progress is made such as use of the graphics about the Craft Business District from Year 1- being highlighted in this year’s open house and recognized as part of today’s vision and future. As the City, LISC, SLRA, developers, and resident’s complete plans and support investment in the SLRC neighborhoods, it is clear that concepts generated by the DD students, working in partnership with all of these partners will have lasting positive impact.

Reflections on inclusive, collaborative or resourceful problem-solving

We think that the most useful element of the community innovation process that has been most helpful is the “collaborative” component. Establishing working relationships in our collaborative has enabled us to develop more rigorous and engaged work, and importantly, a much more varied set of outcomes than initially anticipated. Students who have benefitted from the Grant have been able to connect academic work to community needs through participatory practices, enriching their schooling with the very real and tangible concerns of local communities. Local communities in Duluth have seen consistent participation from our Collaborative in the St. Louis River Corridor communities including assisting with community events (such as local neighborhood pop-up markets, information sessions, history walks, etc.).

Other key elements of Community Innovation

Interest and cooperation from the greater community in Duluth has been a primary reason for our progress and sustaining interest in this project. Residents, businesses, and the city government have been supportive, cooperative, and actively rooting for the success of the project. Additionally, the integration of ongoing events and initiatives into our engagement strategy has allowed for a synergy of effort toward innovation that has resulted in partnerships in the community that were unforeseen during early planning efforts.

Understanding the problem

Among the most important things that we’ve learned over the grant period is that there are a number of already existing and established initiatives that are directed at similar purposes (looking at the future community success of the St. Louis River Corridor), that we have discovered over the past two years. These initiatives are often unique and well established. To that end, we are attempting to include — in the final deliverables for our grant — a set of community network guides and maps that can link these groups to each other and to future grant and funding opportunities.

If you could do it all over again...

Collaborative work is profoundly rewarding but also challenging. Among the most important things in any collaborative effort is to establish clear understandings of what each partner’s roles, responsibilities and capacities are. Knowing not only who our partners are and what they work on, but HOW they work and approach questions, issues, challenges, is critical. Developing and nurturing strong and consistent communication protocols is part of this process (regular-check ins, updates etc). All partners in our collaborative have busy and complex (and sometimes competing!) schedules; carving out space and time for regular connections — at the outset — is essential.