By Gretta Stark on Apr 13, 2017 at 8:39 a.m.
Around 135 people gathered at St. Bridget Catholic Church Thursday, April 6 to listen to former Duluth Mayor Don Ness speak about economic and neighborhood development. This was the third of six "Tech Talks" planned by the Kinni Corridor Committee. Each talk relates to an aspect of River Corridor planning.
Ness congratulated River Falls for the "thoughtful process" the city employees, representatives, and residents are engaging in to address the issue of the Kinnickinnic River.
"It's a very good foundation," Ness said, "to have people in leadership positions that really care."
Ness talked about telling the city's narrative: The stories people tell about a city.
"It is the story that encompasses all of our experiences," Ness said.
Part of planning and working for economic and neighborhood development is figuring out what a city's narrative is, and working with that.
Ness related some of his experiences as mayor of Duluth, and some history of issues Duluth has dealt with, as its economic and neighborhood development has grown over the years.
Now, Duluth is a tourist destination, and people come from all over to enjoy Lake Superior, Ness said. But in the past the city had many issues.
One of those Ness Duluth has faced is sanitary sewer overflows.
Fixing the city's infrastructure was necessary to stop the overflows, but also expensive. Ness said he took a step back and looked at the big picture, and what issues Duluthians cared about. That, he said, was the natural resource of Lake Superior.
When he focused on the idea of protecting the lake, people were more willing to take ownership of the problem, and were willing to take on a utility charge in order to pay for improvements that would keep sewer water from the lake.
In addition to sewage problems, Ness said, Duluth has dealt with pollution and economic hard times.
Ness said River Falls is well set up for its corridor planning process, especially with the Kinni Corridor Project having been set up to take a long, deliberate look at the corridor planning process.
"River Falls really is special," Ness said.
In addition to the river, Ness praised the city's historic downtown, entrepreneurism, smaller and other businesses, and community engagement.
After speaking, Ness took a few questions. While answering, Ness cautioned attendees to keep dialogue open-minded, and not to start arguments or disagreements.
One resident asked Ness how to sell "biological assets" such as the river to a community.
Ness said it's important to figure out what makes a community special, and how that fits with the values of the community.
Another resident asked if anyone could tell him why they were in favor of removing "George Lake," which he considered an asset to the community.
Michael Page, spokesperson for the Friends of the Kinni group, said he was encouraged by the open dialogue, and said he'd be open to answering any questions on the merits of removing Lake George.
The full Tech Talk will be available soon online at kinnicorridor.org.