As someone who is only temporarily middle-aged, I’m hoping to live in a place where being old is not made more difficult by my built environment. Northfield might be that place by the time I get old. The Northfield City Council just heard a presentation from a group working for an Age-Friendly Northfield using the AARP Age-Friendly Communities model which could help make our streets, neighborhoods, and human connections better for older people (and younger ones, too – think of the 8-80 idea).
The East Cannon River Trail is the only issue on the Northfield City Council’s special meeting agenda (although there are multiple actions to be taken) tomorrow, Tuesday, April 26 2016 (here’s the packet). While there are multiple pieces in the project puzzle, approving the trail should be easy – no-brainer easy – because building this trail segment is so richly supported by prior planning going back more than a decade. This piece of trail specifically or more general guidance for improving access to the Cannon River and increasing recreational opportunities along it is contained in all Northfield’s major planning documents. The Council can take a big step toward implementing the City’s policy vision by approving this trail.
The Trail Itself
Right now, there is a section of paved trail beginning at the Peggy Prowe Pedestrian Bridge extending south toward Dundas, but the trail stops behind the commercial development. There have been wetland issues (and the Army Corps of Engineers) to manage (and wetland credits are also on the agenda tomorrow) as well as inter-jurisdictional negotiation (Dundas, DNR). Now, however, the Northfield city staff have lined up all the ducks for the Council to approve, culminating in approving a resolution accepting bids and awarding the contract for the East Cannon River Trail Project.
This piece of trail is important for Northfield and Dundas because it helps achieve a long-term vision to capitalize on the Cannon River as a distinctive natural, economic and recreational resource, provides an off-road link (along the busy and otherwise difficult to walk or ride Highway 3) to a charter school, commercial areas, and three parks (including Sechler Park which is being developed by CROCT as an offroad bike facility), forms another link to the Mill Towns Trail under development, and can be another small part of making Northfield good to walk, great to retire, and highly livable. No wonder it is included in all these city plans:
Comprehensive Plan: The Comp Plan highlights the importance of the Cannon River and applauds efforts “to better integrate the river into the community; its scenic beauty and recreational possibilities afford the possibility for further integration of the river into the community. The Greater Northfield Area Greenway System Action Plan is an important resource in helping with this integration.” Land Use, Community Identify and Economic Develop objectives all identify the Cannon River as critical and expanding access to the river, linking to downtown, and connecting parks, places and people.
The Economic Development Plan makes activating and leveraging the Cannon River one of three key findings for economic success; Northfield’s rich sense of place is considered critical. And, the Transportation Plan contains objectives to trail connectivity between areas of the City including current bike and pedestrian route deficiencies (current as of 2008) such as the east side trail dead ending, lack of trail integration into overall design, and challenges linking downtown with the trail system.
East Cannon River Trail specifically
Greenway Corridor Plan: Generally, this plan recommended trails should be considered on both sides of the Cannon River as well as some creeks to link neighborhoods to the river. The East River Corridor (east side of the Cannon River from Highway #3 bridge south to Dundas) was identified as the first priority “because it forms the backbone of the system, due to the potential for development, and because creation of this link will help to create strong support for the system.”
Park, Open Space, and Trail System Plan: The plan identifies this trail connection as a Destination Trail (which neighborhood trails and linking trails connect to the rest of Northfield). Individual park plans for Babcock, Riverside Lions Park, and Compostella Park also note development of an east river trail should be integrated into master planning for these currently underutilized parks.
Gateway Corridor Improvement Plan: This plan to improve gateways into Northfield incorporated the Greenway Corridor and other plans to highlight trail connections and other green infrastructure.
Costs and benefits
Almost half of the approximately $1 million trail construction cost (with bids substantially less than engineering estimates) is from grants with the remainder coming from the general fund (about $200,000), TIF funding (about $175,000), and the City of Dundas (about $93,000). I’m not a big fan of grants, believing too often grants are sought to fund projects the City would not otherwise undertake. In this case, however, the plan to build the trail is well established and grant funding has been awarded to complete this well-documented, long-planned project. The City will need to build maintenance of the trail into the budget and CIP in coming years, but the costs relative to the wide benefits of this long-planned trail segment appear very reasonable.
The question of trail surface material must also be answered. In this area prone to flooding, the choice of a paved rather than crushed rock surface would provide a high-quality surface for more users with better durability. The plans for this trail emphasize its importance for access and connectivity; building for residents with limited mobility, children, skateboards, walkers, runners, and people on bikes; choosing the bituminous option provides bigger benefits to more people. I hope the Council will take action to carry out so many of Northfield’s plans by approving this trail project.
The Strong Towns blog is one of my favorites because of its big picture/local scale approach backed up by real data. Here’s today’s blog post Starter Strategies for a Strong Town. I’d love to see Northfield go through these “ten things all local governments should be doing right now to start the transition into a new economic reality”
1. 5 year budget: Interim City Administrator Tim Madigan has proposed and the Council agreed to a two year budget cycle, so we’re moving in the right direction.
2. Base Line Workload Analysis – Essentially, cities need to analyze staffing and workload needs to allocate resources to the most productive way to deliver services. The ST folks suggest:
Each task that the city and its staff perform should be listed and put into at least three different categories:
Those things that are mandated by the State and Federal Gov’t
Those things that are required by the Council or another public body
Those things that are done exclusively for the staff
Once this task list is assembled, there can be a productive discussion about what tasks should continue, which can be cut, which can be reworked and then how the workload should be distributed. Only then can an informed decision on the needed level of staffing be made.
3. Real Capital Improvements Plan – I agree with the ST people that “maintenance of infrastructure is the elephant in the room that cities simply can’t ignore any longer.” They recommend:
A complete inventory of all of the infrastructure currently maintained, its condition, an estimate of its remaining life and an approximate cost for its replacement/maintenance is the first step. With modern GIS and database systems and a cadre of trained volunteers, most of this information is reasonably obtainable.
And I’d add that we should have a complete inventory of all our facilities and capital equipment, too, with the same sort of information. Indeed, we should have had this information before we ever began our Safety Center discussions.
4. Form-based code throughout historic neighborhoods. Sigh. Back when the Comp Plan was being drafted (2006 and 2007), the consultants promised a “form-based code” to go with the plan (the city even sent the city planner off to learn about form-based codes at your expense), but when the draft arrived (from the same consultants, sort of), the result was not form-based, but regulations trying to micro-manage uses. The Planning Commission has made great progress, but more could certainly be done.
5. New Road and street standards: another cost and value of infrastructure point. Also supported by the GreenStep cities program in which we are participating.
6. Coordination of park investments with economic development: A point certain to tick off the 1st and 2nd wavers in our economic development circles.
7. Walkability Study
8. Implement an Import Replacement economic development strategy: Another point guaranteed to bother the smokestack chasers.
9. Small business subsidy plan: Or, incentivizing the businesses we are likely to attract as well as help our existing businesses grow.
10. Gov. 2.0 Public engagement platform: this one will thrill Griff Wigley over at Locally Grown who has been hocking me (for years now) about engaging citizens where they are (that is, on-line). The Council has touched on using social media and upgrading the web-site and the IT plan we are going to discuss tomorrow (it’s in the packet for the worksession) is another nudge in this direction.
No rehash of Council discussion here (Read and listen to the coverage of the Council discussion over on Locally Grown here and here); instead I’ve tried to gather facts and questions about skateboards, skateparks and skaters to help those of us on the Council who aren’t skaters (that would be all of us) consider the issue thoroughly and thoughtfully.
Skateboard industry statistics: So, how many skaters are there and what other quantitative information is there about skaters, skateparks and skateboards?
The NSGA [National Sporting Goods Association] 2007 Sports & Fitness Participation Report shows skateboarding participation increased by 5.2% from 2005-2006. In 2006 there were 11.1 Million Total Skateboarders compared to 10.5 Million in 2005.
Skateboarding has 11.08 million participants and is a $4.8 billion market. The size of market has declined 2 percent since 2007. The market is aging, with fewer skateboarders saying they skate everyday. In 2008, 71 percent of participants were 12 to 17 years old. In 2006, 45 percent fit that age range…The current decrease in key 10 to 14 year old demographic is impacting the primary skateboard audience…The growth in the 5-to-9 year old age segment since 2002 may cause another surge in board sports participation by 2010.
Assuming the Skater Census [from 2007] is reliable, 4.6% of 20,000 people would be 920 skaters; 4.6% of 15,000 would be 690 skaters. Compare: the Northfield Soccer Association has between 600 and 700 players (from age 4 through 17) registered in its programs in 2009 (down by about 100 players from 2008) and has an arrangement with the City for scheduling and maintaining the soccer fields on City owned land at Spring Creek Soccer Complex. With the decline noted above, would numbers in this range be sufficient to consider moving ahead with a skatepark?
Are we asking the right questions? So far, we’ve heard about perceived problems with skater behavior, questions about noise, speculation about safety, and statements about why one park or another is the wrong place, but I’m just not convinced we’ve asked some of the relevant questions and even though it’s pretty late in the game to be asking them now, here are some questions and some possible considerations pro and con but not necessarily coming out with a recommendation at the end.
1. Should Northfield support development of a skatepark at this time and why? A pretty basic question and we’ve been presuming the answer is yes, but the “why” part has been a bit elusive.
Skaters would like a place to skate which is fun (and legal) and/or we’d like to get skaters off the street
Skating is big business; there are economic development possibilities for a skatepark
There has been a slight drop off in skateboard numbers; is this cause for concern about the longevity of the sport?
A skateplaza, by providing a good place to skate, could be a community builder for the youth who skate there
Would a skateplaza solve the problem or perceived problem of youth, skateboards and poor behavior? Would skaters use it?
Northfield provides support for facilities for “organized” sports of hockey, soccer, baseball.
Skating, viewed as a sport, should receive equitable treatment.
Skating is different from other youth sports in that it does not have an official season, a managing organization which collects fees, oversees operations, etc.
Northfield should support its youth
Northfield city government is not the entity centrally responsible for youth sports/recreation programs in the city; private groups (sports associations,YMCA) and school district/community education missions are more narrowly targeted for these facilities and services.
For those sports and other activities which the city does support in its parks and facilities, there are also agreements with private entities for maintenance and upkeep
Supporting youth may mean offering technical assistance, leading collaborative efforts, and other actions which do not entail dedicating public land or ongoing financial support to a skateplaza
Supporting youth may also mean thinking more broadly about youth in Northfield rather than expending many resources for one group
Are we moving ahead with the skateplaza because we didn’t know how to say “no” to youth earlier in the process.
Northfield city government must make wise financial decisions for the short and long term
What resources (land, staff resources, and dollars) should city government responsibility allocate for this activity?
What’s the best projection of costs for development and maintenance?
Are there examples of other skateparks which could guide our cost/benefit planning?
2. Is a single location skateplaza the best way to provide space to skate?
Concentration of benefits? A skatepark provides one place for skaters to meet, skate together and socialize. As a single facility, it could be a destination for skaters in the region as well as the city. The skatepark would have symbolic value showing support for youth, non-traditional sports, and an achievement by the Skateboard Coalition in advocating for, developing and helping fund the facility.
Concentration of problems? One location also forces issues of safety for many skaters, parking, restrooms, trash, maintenance, concerns about noise, trash, behavior (real or perceived) etc. connected with a facility.
What’s the best analogy? Is a skateplaza more like the pool or ice arena (limited access, supervised, possible to impose membership requirements and fees, etc.), soccer or baseball fields (scheduled and maintained by an association, but still available for pick up games and informal play when not in use by the official group), or a playground (has equipment for play whenever someone wants to play, supervision, if provided, is by parents, friends, neighbors or passersby). Is skating a sport which needs a single facility?
What would happen if Northfield became a more skateable city, rather than building a single skateplaza? What would happen if we had skateable “equipment” in multiple parks and along trails? What if skateable elements were a part of park development more generally in the same way we consider playground equipment and benches? This model would make skateboard facilities expandable and would make smaller incremental investment possible. There’s the danger that after the first investment, no more would be made.
Did you want a conclusion down here at the bottom? Still thinking about both outcome and strategy, time and money.
On the consent agenda: a motion to approve phasing of the Transit Hub project. The good part about this prroject is that it is being built with 80% federal funding and a 20% city contribution – more bang for the municipal buck, so to speak. There are 2 troubling bits, though. First is the location behind Walgreen’s which is invisible and questionably accessible to large buses. Second is timing – Northfield has a grass roots transit group which has been researching and discussing transit options in Northfield over the past few months. It seems unfortunate that we are building an invisible transit hub in advance of some useful data. I have not decided whether to fight this battle yet.
Finalize Council direction on draft Land Development Code. This item is about the process to be followed to review and edit the draft regulations prior to Council adoption later this year. I have nothing much to say about the process – selected boards and commissions will review the draft in addition to the Planning Commission which is the commission in charge of the process. I have ongoing concerns about keeping this process open, transparent and accountable, but I know these concerns are shared by the Planning Commission and, I think, the Council, so we’ll keep working on this as we move forward. Stay tuned for more about the content of the draft regulations, but until I get around to writing more you can go to the NDDC forum on Tuesday, June 2 and hear Alice Thomas of the Planning Commission speak about the draft and have a chance to ask questions and make comments there.
Update on the budget outlook: The outlook is mostly grim, but there will be much more on this subject in the next few weeks and months.
Additional consideration/discussion of administrative citations: we discussed this at a worksession recently andthe Northfield News put it on the front page on Saturday.
I argued for the Council voting on the Park and Recreation Advisory Board recommendation (the second one) to locate the skatepark in Ames Park at our June 1 meeting. I see the Council’s action – whatever it is – as the beginning, not the end of the road.
Yes, I’ll be supporting Ames Park as the location for the development of the skatepark. Here’s why:
DOWNTOWN: The Comprehensive Plan is clear that downtown is the center of Northfield and we need to ensure that it remains vital and busy. I interpret this broadly to mean that we need to intensify land use downtown both on Division Street and in the downtown parks. Skateboards, festivals, concerts, art shows, shoppers, library patrons – I want them all downtown to meet, play and spend money.
SKATING IS URBAN: Skateboards do not function well on grass, they require pavement. Locating an essentially urban sport in our most urbanized area makes sense.
SKATEPARK EXPERTS say successful skateparks have access, visibility, comfort and diversity. A central location like Ames Park combined with good pedestrian planning, links to the “bike” (but really multi-purpose) trail, improved transit, and in downtown has great access. Ames Park has the best visibility of any park in Northfield. Comfort – like places to rest, water fountains and restrooms – would have to be part of the design, though the proximity to downtown means there are many places to go to buy refreshments (spending money in downtown), The Key, and more. Diversity means there’s other stuff to do besides skating. Improving Ames Park would provide more reason for other people to visit the park. Cyclists, skaters and walkers can come and go via the trail system. Adults dropping off skaters could visit downtown businesses, the library, and more.
SUPERVISION: Ames Park’s highly visible location ensures informal supervision for the skatepark from the many eyes of casual observers to local business owners to deliberate spectators.
HIGH EXPECTATIONS: So far, I’ve only heard about the low expectations for safety and skaters. We expect safety to be a problem rather than how Ames Park, as an intensely used park, can help Northfield bridge the Highway 3 canyon and improve pedestrian safety in and through downtown. We expect skaters to be inconsiderate thugs-in-training rather than young people who deserve our support and our mentoring who could rise to meet our expectations. Why would any kid, with or without a skateboard, want to be a good citizen when it’s so clear that public opinion considers them a bad influence?
BIG IDEAS FOR THE FUTURE: If we develop a skatepark in Ames Park, there are really cool ways it could be enhanced and expanded in a linear fashion through our downtown chain of parks. How about Skateable Art (think about this in conjunction with the multiuse trail)?
ANTICIPATING A FEW OBJECTIONS:
BEHAVIOR: It should be obvious that young people are YOUNG and less experienced. I remember being young. In addition to being less creaky in the joints, I remember (1) desperately wanting adult approval AND (2) craving peer acceptance AND (3) wanting to test things out for myself to see where the limits were (and sometimes I wanted all these things at once). I don’t think that good behavior by young people will come from law enforcement or government, but by all adults who interact with young people acting as good role models, talking to young people seriously and respectfully, and setting and enforcing reasonable limits. I want to see skaters having fun downtown and I believe they can LEARN to act appropriately if we teach them.
SAFETY: I believe this is a red herring. Streets, cars, skateboards, bicycles and living itself all come with risks. The safety issues can be addressed through a combination of improving pedestrian access to the park from downtown and across Highway 3 and by teaching our children about safety (continually).
AESTHETICS: A skatepark just won’t look right in Ames Park which provides the lovely frame for downtown as one drives in from Highway 19. OK, I’ll concede that the park will look different and would not the same sort of vista. However, the Northfield skyline with the Central Block, Ames Mill, UCC Church will all still dominate. The view FROM downtown will be much enhanced with a skatepark, I think. I want to see the space used and used heavily by more than Canada geese and the DJJD carnival.
See if you can follow the skateboard issue around town: Park Board recommends Ames Park, Council asks for consideration of safety issues, Council gets update on safety and sends issue back to Park Board, Park Board holds meeting but no decision reached, Park Board will hold special meeting Tuesday, 4/21, Village on the Cannon will hold another meeting about skateboards and Riverside Park on Wednesday, 4/22…
I’m really bothered by the process. I am confused about what is and what is not on the agenda and, if we attempt to act somewhere between starting the whole process over and accepting the Ames Park location, I do not know how we justify our starting place in a principled way.
I went and looked at the 2008 Parks, Open Space, and Trails System Plan adopted just last year which has been cited little if at all.
Section 3 Select Special-Use Facilities and Amenities begins with the Skateboard park and a comparison of the site opportunities/Benefits and Constraints/Limitations of Memorial Park (the overwhelming preference of the Skateboard Coalition – see Appendix B), Ames Park and Babcock Park – the 3 parks considered by the Park Board before recommending Ames. Appendix A has a park by park summary of each park, its current amenities and future plans and the skateboard park is mentioned for Memorial Park and Ames Park.
The latest development is that the Park Board unanimously recommended Ames Park at their special meeting 4/21 (I couldn’t attend, but I understand it was a long one) and the issue (and the Park Board) will be back to the Council on Monday.
I did attend (along with Mayor Mary Rossing and Councilwoman Rhonda Pownell) a meeting held by and at the Village on the Cannon last night to hear residents’ concerns about putting the skate park in Riverside Park. Village on the Cannon is an over-55 condominium development (only Phase I has been completed, so it could be about 2/3 larger at full build-out) and its neighbor is the Millstream Commons assisted living facility. Residents spoke about being a vulnerable community and about small-scale terrorism by skateboarders on and around the Village on the Cannon property. Although I had other reasons I thought Riverside Park wasn’t the best location, I hadn’t thought hard about the older and more vulnerable character of the neighborhood. Certainly this is another factor we should be considering when planning place-appropriate parks, but it makes the planning process more difficult when the park in question –Riverside Park– is a community park (larger, more widely used) and not a neighborhood park.
Skateboarder behavior is another persistent problem, but I am not sure that city government is the right entity to address this (although clearly we have the public safety and law enforcement responsibility) at least not alone. Parents, community leaders, youth leaders, community service organizations – we need all of them to help teach our young people good public behavior (without taking all the fun out of it). I’d suggest that the Skateboard Coalition needs not only to raise money, but also to help do public relations and education about the sport and its participants because I fear that the perception that skateboards and their riders are just bad news – bad for business, bad for property values and bad for Northfield – is a drag on efforts to create a skate plaza.
A small comment about Money: No matter where it is located or what the design may be, funding the facility is a potential limiting factor. The City has a very tight budget and this affects all decisions about park development and all other expenses, capital and otherwise. Money can be used as an excuse to veto the skateboard park for other reasons, but even those of us who support the skateboard park know that money is an issue and affects how much we can do and how fast we can do it. The flip side is that we don’t know what the capital outlay will be until we make some other choices.
Ames Park and the skate plaza top Monday’s Council worksession agenda. Back at the February 23 worksession, the Council reviewed several concept plans for Ames Park which I discussed here. In February, the Council directed staff to review these concerns:
Access through Malt-O-Meal property: staff report says: M-O-M will work to prevent this by building a fence. Fair enough, they’ve got liability issues and apparently they are also concerned with food contamination.
Pick-up/Drop Off Lanes: staff says another request to MNDot on this issues was “not met favorably.”
Parking: Water Street parking improvements mean more parking is available.
5th Street Bridge Safety: Staff report indicates a 10′ wide sidewalk with a railing between the sidewalk and travel lane is possible – a big improvement.
Since I’m generally in favor of the skate plaza in this location, I keep trying to test my position by anticipating the unintended (bad) consequences of putting a skate plaza in Ames Park. Check out the revised plans for Ames Park and a rendering of a skate plaza design
Safety: I’m not an uncaring person who throws children under the wheels of cars, but I do think safety is, if you will, a 2 way street. We should make the facility as safe as possible and (especially) work to improve the pedestrian access in this area. Providing safe (and obvious) ways for walkers, skateboarders and cyclists cross Highway 3 should be a priority for not just for a skate plaza but for linking the west side to downtown – the skate plaza and improved park could be a great catalyst for doing this. However, skateboarders and others need to know how to cross streets and play as safely as possible under the circumstances and the city is not primarily responsible for teaching these skills.
Impact on local businesses: While campaigning, I talked to one downtown business person who was convinced Ames Park is a poor location for a skate plaza because kids would also just hang around downtown and cause problems for local businesses. I’m still thinking about this one. I can imagine problems with unsupervised kids (with or without skateboards), but would the skatepark in Ames Park make this worse? And, what is the city responsibility for teaching kids good behavior? What is the proper law enforcement/public safety role here?
Long term success of Ames Park: Ames Park has a central, but not particularly peaceful location in the center Northfield (Compare Central Park or Way Park and their surroundings). I really like the idea of a dynamic, well-designed skate plaza in Ames Park – fun to watch from the new Water Street promenade and easy to walk to once improvements have been made to the 5th Street bridge. I like the idea of providing places for kids downtown – a park, The Key, the library. I’m imagining Ames Park as a kind of crossroads linking the east and west sides of downtown and the city (I am looking ahead to that improved Highway 3 crossing in this dream). There are still questions: what about the site of the current Safety Center? How can Ames Park serve to guide people to the Mill Towns bike trail? Should skateboarding lose its appeal, how can this part of the park be redeveloped?
My bottom line: how can we make this work?
Beyond the work session
Fiber Optics: the fiber optic working group meets for the first time on Tuesday. I’m still reading the complete report from CCG and supporting materials. Stay tuned…
Council roles and responsibilities session 6:30 to 8:30 at City Hall: This is a chance to discuss the best way to perform our policy-making functions in relation to the staff responsibility to carry out our recommendations. More after the session.