Initiative aimed at creating a more resilient community kicks off in Brooklyn Park

BY RACHEL M. ANDERSON – CONTRIBUTING WRITER

The third time is the charm for the city of Brooklyn Park.

On Sept. 19, the city officially kicked off its partnership with the University of Minnesota’s Resilient Communities Project with an open house and party held in the city council chambers at City Hall.

The Resilient Communities Project, which is now in its 5th year, is a program cities must apply to in order to get help from the University exploring issues that affect the community, as well as planning solutions that will work well into the future. The city had applied to be part of the program twice before. This is the first year it has been selected to participate in the program.

“What is very exciting about the partnership is that it gives us the opportunity to use the resources the university has that we don’t. We’ll have access to world-class faculty and graduate and undergraduate students from throughout the university, which is great because our 25 projects cover several topics that are very different from each other,” said Angelica Klebsch, who works as a project facilitator in the city of Brooklyn Park’s community development department.

Members of the community who attended the Sept. 19 open house were among the first to get a look at the 25 projects city employees will team up with people from the university to complete. Each project had its own table. The city employee in charge of the project was available to answer questions.

The planned projects include developing a better engagement strategy for residents of rental communities; looking into the possibility of creating a community kitchen that will support immigrant and micro-businesses in the city; creating a program that will improve the recruitment and retention of police officers, particularly those of color; and developing a workforce program that will help bridge the gap between the unemployed and available jobs in the city.

There are also projects planned involving the future of the city’s water supply and three involving parks. One of the park-related projects involves examining how outdoor playing fields are currently being used and if they should be changed based on current demographics. Another involves the possibility of creating natural play opportunities for kids.

“There is a lot of research emerging that shows tremendous benefits gained from kids getting natural exposure. So, we will be evaluating how we can include nature-based play places in existing parks,” said Klebsch.

For each project, a Brooklyn Park city employee has been paired with faculty at the University of Minnesota to oversee the project. Community organizations and community partners are also involved.

As for the students who will be doing the actual work – research, interviews, developing policies and procedures, etc. – they are getting course credit. The Resilient Communities Project is a program of the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs at the University of Minnesota.

“Our partnerships offer tremendous benefit to students and faculty as well, by allowing them to apply what they are teaching and learning in the classroom to meaningful, high-priority projects. We hear from students and faculty year after year that no amount of classroom learning can compare to the real-world learning opportunities provided by RCP, and that no class grade can compare to knowing that their efforts are truly helping to improve people’s lives and strengthen local communities,” said Mike Greco, director of the Resilient Communities Project at the University of Minnesota.

“This partnership is going to be of tremendous benefit to us both in the data we are going to receive and in the suggestions and pilots from the students, as well as having ambassadors for the city in the students and faculty who are going to come out here to experience Brooklyn Park for themselves,” said Klebsch.

Members of the community who are interested in getting involved in the projects are also invited to participate.

“For most of the projects we are going to need focus groups, which is a great way for residents to pitch in without having to give too much of their time,” said Klebsch.

For more information about this year’s Resilient Communities Project, visit http://rcp.umn.edu/2016-2017-partner-brooklyn-park. Past participants in the project have included Minnetonka, North St. Paul, Rosemount and Carver County.

Rachel M. Anderson is a contributing writer for Sun Newspapers.