Assessing How We Are Addressing A Changing World

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By Reed Anfinson
Swift County Monitor-News

Technology is changing the way Americans live, work, play and receive health care. And, it appears, the rate of change will only accelerate as almost magical innovations pile one on top of another. They will continue to shape, and reshape, every facet of our lives in ways hard to imagine.

Thrown into this cauldron of technological change is the vast uncertainty of how a warming climate will disrupt our communities, agriculture, and industry.

Through its American Roundtable project, the Architectural League of New York seeks to look at how communities are doing today and preparing for tomorrow. To gather information, it is asking for 10 proposals from editorial teams in small to medium size cities. With the help of a $10,000 grant, the teams are to produce reports over the coming months that address the challenges we face.

“The evolving American economy is significantly changing the landscapes we live in, creating ever harsher extremes, from ascendant places prospering in the information and services era, to declining cities and towns …,” the Architectural League says.

It hopes these teams will provide insights into what is working in small and medium size communities, and rural areas, and what isn’t. It wants to know how the changing environment is affecting communities and what they are doing to plan for the future.

The teams working on the reports are to be made up of a diverse group including “policymakers, residents, design professionals, historians, artists, planners, community activists, and businesspeople.

The Architectural League’s project is centered on five topics, with each built around spaces, buildings, and infrastructure.

Public Spaces
How is your community creating, or not creating, public space? What are the challenges in creating public spaces? Are there any recent examples of public space needs being met?

A sense of belonging is a need we all have, something we all seek but is too often missing in our fast-paced, highly mobile, and internet-connected world. “Our fundamental desire, as human beings, is to be close to others, and our society does not allow for that,” anthropologist Sharon Abramowitz writes. While that might be quite true in large cities, we believe small town, rural Minnesota has much more to offer.

How we capitalize on our small-town spirit is essential to keeping the young people we have in our communities, and to attracting new people to live and work here.

What are the health needs of your community and how is the physical environment contributing to or detracting from its well-being?

In our small towns we are fortunate to have medical clinics, hospitals, and senior housing close by. However, rural hospitals and clinics are facing difficult financial times due to their high Medicare populations. Medicare patients make up more than 65 to 75 percent of the patient load, but the government pays health care providers less than what it costs them to provide care.

There are also significant disruptions coming in the way medical care will be delivered as more and more procedures are done as outpatient services. Bricks and mortar will still be needed, but what are we doing to plan for the changes ahead?

Identify the most pressing physical infrastructural needs of your community and provide an example of a project that has or could spatially transform your community?

Our local governments provide the basics any community finds essential to its operation – good roads, water and wastewater services, and law enforcement protection. But do we also include public spaces that bring people together for recreation and social gathering as an essential infrastructure need?

The basics are required but more is needed if we are to thrive as a community through providing the amenities that set one community apart from others when a person is considering where to take a job and live.

Work and economy
How has our evolving economy, the types of activity and jobs available, remade the physical environment of your locale? How are changes in the retail environment and the delivery of goods affecting understandings of community?

We have heard for a long time now that fiber optic internet service to rural communities will allow us to compete with the larger cities for businesses and the jobs they bring. While fiber is necessary to maintain what we have, it will have to be coupled with workforce housing, day care, competitive educational offerings in our schools, quality health care, economic development assistance, and support for senior services to help us grow.

Amazon is replacing big box stores as a significant drain in main street.

What are the greatest challenges facing your community related to environmental health, sustainability, and climate change? How do attitudes and tensions about the use of natural resources affect your community?

Groundwater supply is an economic, social, recreational and agricultural issue, DNR Region 4 Groundwater Planner Tim Gieseke says. Our rural aquifers are not an unlimited resource. They are now being drawn down by residential, business and farm use. But as our climate warms, more ag land irrigation systems will be installed, deepening the strain on water reserves.

Nitrates in our drinking water are also a growing concern for rural communities throughout the country. Cities are now looking for authority to ban pesticides that harm pollinators.

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