Rx for LF

DSC00705My intent for Ask Little Falls was to write one blog post per week for a year. I’m slightly ahead of schedule in terms of time, but this post is #52 out of 52. That means within the next couple of posts I’ll be wrapping up the blog.

I’ve been keeping a notebook of post ideas for Ask Little Falls. Back in May, I jotted down a list of actions for the city to strive toward in making Little Falls, MN, a progressive place to live. While progressiveness is often assumed to be political, this isn’t necessarily what I’m referring to. Instead I’m thinking of a broader definition of progressiveness: “favoring or advocating progress, change, improvement, or reform, as opposed to wishing to maintain things as they are.”

This entire blog has been an effort to examine why it seems so difficult move the city forward, to implement change that improves lives for the city’s residents. The biggest issue seems to be the economy … providing a variety of living wage jobs locally for residents so they can live and work here without having to commute, giving them more time to contribute in other ways to the community.

Without further ado, here is my prescription for Little Falls:

  1. Cultivate a culture in which all skills and talents are seen as valuable, no matter what job sector they fall into, whether agriculture, manufacturing, technology, knowledge work, or service.
  2. Create natural gathering places for people in the city, places they are drawn to often so we can get people connecting with each other randomly to trade ideas.
  3. Look at tweaking existing zoning laws in the city in order to allow for mixed use that brings more people together. For example, the old neighborhood groceries stories allowed people to get to know each other while also contributing to the economy. Are zoning laws in Little Falls currently set up to allow stores in residential neighborhoods? Do zoning laws allow for internet-based businesses run from homes? How about for contractors that work from home?
  4. Encourage  and support local entrepreneurs and small businesses (fewer than 20 employees). Little Falls, like most cities, seems to be casting about looking for a major employer from outside to come in and save the city. Large businesses are attracted to vibrant communities that prove they have the talent and economy to support their concerns. If Little Falls can’t attract businesses from the outside, we’ve got to work on building up the entrepreneurial talent that’s already here, even if those businesses employ only a couple of people.
  5. Work on providing some sort of post-secondary educational opportunities. Post-secondary schools, whether colleges or technical schools, draw young people to communities and contribute to a city’s economy. With today’s students facing too much student loan debt, the rising costs of college, and the changes in education society is seeing due to the internet, this post-secondary option need not be a traditional school. Perhaps LF could invent some other post-secondary opportunities for students of all ages. (Atomic Learning could serve as inspiration.)
  6. Teach citizens how to analyze data and put it to good use in improving the community. (Larger cities host hack-a-thons to take advantage of open data. Little Falls has a great example of students learning to analyze data in the form of the Econ Challenge that high school students have won numerous times at the national level.)
  7. Learn to go around institutions that aren’t working. There is no rule that says we have to wait for existing organizations or governmental units to solve our problems, even if it’s in an organization’s mission to tackle a particular problem. Little Falls residents can band together and work on an issue without the assistance of an existing organization.
  8. During community planning meetings, once goals are agreed upon, we must break them into action steps in order to effectively achieve them. No more plans gathering dust on shelves, please.
  9. The City of Little Falls needs to update its website regularly and make it more active. It also needs to make video of its meetings available online, not just on the local cable access channel. There are a lot of people who don’t have cable, preferring internet-based television. The City needs to follow trends like these in order to help residents stay informed.

What might you add to this prescription for Little Falls?

More Analysis Needed in LF

DSC00640I found another bad news listicle this week, this one from RoadSnacks ranking the 10 worst places to live in Minnesota. While Little Falls did not make the top 10, it was listed at 15.

Bob Collins from Minnesota Public Radio’s NewsCut blog replied to this bad news list writing, “Data don’t lie, but the choice of what data to include and exclude lies all the time.” He points to a response about the RoadSnacks article by Aaron Brown of the Minnesota Brown blog, which says that “What RoadSnacks.net did was look for the lowest population densities, highest unemployment rates, lowest median incomes, highest housing vacancies, lowest expenditures per student and highest student teacher ratios, coupled with highest crime rates per capita.” In its rush to look for the worst about Minnesota’s cities, RoadSnacks did not off-set these statistical measures by any of the positive measures.

When we examine Little Falls in order to improve the community (and, as we can see from the RoadSnacks list, it appears that every community could use some improvement), we have to make sure we analyze the negative, the positive, and the neutral.

While the RoadSnacks article indicates that someone somewhere is doing some kind of analysis of Little Falls, even if it’s just for the purposes of link-bait, how much of that in-depth analysis is actually done by those of us in the city for the city? If we don’t measure what is going on, how do we know when we’ve affected change? Or whether the actions we take are having a positive effect on Little Falls?

There are a number of trustworthy sources for data on the community, including the U.S. Census, the Economic CensusMinnesota State Demographic Center, Minnesota Department of Revenue, and Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. Here’s a 2013 study on County Health Rankings for Minnesota from the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. The DNR even keeps data on tornadoes and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency tracks recycling in the state.

The point is, there is data out there and available for use in analyzing Little Falls. Rather than saying, “That’s interesting,” and going back to our hectic lives, why not figure out how to make that data work for us?

Intuition can tell us a lot about a community, but without digging into the numbers, we can happily delude ourselves into thinking things are changing … or NOT changing … and not know for sure.

What is your favorite source for data about Little Falls, Morrison County, and the State of Minnesota? Please share in the comments.