BAXTER — What do you want to invest in now to create the future you’d like to see?
On Thursday a group of about 175 people gathered at The Lodge at Brainerd Lakes in Baxter to imagine life in the lakes area by 2035.
Will there be public transit? How many more people will make their homes here? What will the economy look like? Work groups identified key listed issues such as affordable housing, employment, public transit, national and social environments, land use planning, technology, infrastructure, walking and biking. Then the University of Minnesota assisted in creating scenarios using real data from current trends and incorporating information gathered from group sessions.
Gathered in small groups Thursday, participants in the Region Five Development Commission’s regional plan on sustainable development were able to use key pad handheld devices to vote on what they would like to see in the future. Should money be spent on roads and rails? How important is affordable housing? If they could choose, what future would they want to see? Their tabulated results were then displayed within minutes on large screens.
Cheryal Lee Hills, Region Five executive director, said she hopes a collective vision is created that people can support.
“It’s about what are we doing today because we need to do more than plan,” Hills said.
Region Five was awarded an $825,050 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for a Sustainable Communities Regional Planning program with four main work areas — housing, transportation, land use and economic development.
Hills said she was encouraged by the diversity represented in the room with students and seniors along with a cross representation of regions and economic well-being.
The region currently has about 170,050 residents with a median household income of $41,092. The average household has 2.4 people. There are about 100,021 housing units in the region. More than half are owner occupied with a significant number vacant. In the region, 14.5 percent are living in poverty. The percentage of residents age 65 and older is expected to rise from 22 percent to 29 percent by 2035.
Jean Coleman, sustainability coordinator at the University of Minnesota, said four futures were created and Thursday’s effort was focused on pulling elements across that landscape to focus on one. Then, Coleman said, policy may be addressed in terms of where people want to invest to achieve the desired outcome.
The four futures in 2035 were called — abundance, bootstrap, current trends and doomsday. In the various scenarios the majority predominately favored bootstrap scenarios.
In the end, the majority of the group:
• Wanted to see a future with 33 percent of lower income households spending more than 30 percent of income on housing in 2035 in the affordable housing category with incomes increasing because of local jobs are offering better pay. In 2010, the presentation reported 45 percent were in that category.
• Voted for a bootstrap health care future with 1.8 primary care physicians and nurse practitioners per 1,000 people, slightly better than current trends because of investments in health care.
• Favored the bootstrap option for employment trends with government declining and other categories split between staying flat or growing. Growth areas included health care and restaurants and retail. Current trends show government and health care increasing and all others flat or declining.
• Were fairly split on water quality and lake clarity between the abundance and bootstrap choices with both favoring an investment in lakes and water quality.
• Voted for current trends for growth, which predicts 12,000 new homes and an 18 percent population increase by 2035 as people move here to retire and young people return. The abundance scenario predicted a 47 percent population increase while the doomsday scenario had 3,000 homes abandoned and a population decrease of 6 percent.
• Favored a transportation plan with an emphasis on moving products to markets with railroad and main road and public transit improvements while some local roads were not maintained.
The data gained Thursday will be compiled and related policy items worked on for the next session, which is May 8. A final wrap-up meeting is planned Aug. 14.
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5852.