A Year in America

Coming Full Circle

April 28th, 2014

So often planners are stuck in the day-to-day dealings of working in the public sphere. I would call any planner a liar if they told me that they love their job every single day and that they feel so appreciated for the work they do.

The reality is that every day in the life of a city planner brings a new set of challenges and triumphs. With that comes a mix of emotions that can often cause a lack of sleep at night.

Not often seeking recognition or praise (that is best left for the elected officials); we planners become the worker bees of a growing beehive. The “behind the scenes” person making sure that homes are built with the appropriate setbacks; that there is a balance in open space and development; and so on.

I am blessed to have shared some of those challenges with you over the past months: the sadness associated with the demolition of a community icon (paper mill), the sarcasm shared when requesting brutal honesty from our officials, and the ongoing short and long range planning efforts.

The issues that I started to share have -- not surprisingly -- grown, expanded, and created a completely new host of issues and celebrations worthy of articles of their own. However, I would at least like to share an update on the mill and provide some concluding thoughts in the life of being a planner.

Old Blue is Nearly Gone

Sartell paper mill being demolished.The Sartell Paper Mill continues to be under massive demolition. With the incredibly harsh Minnesota winter (64 days of below zero temperatures), the schedule for completion has been extended into early 2015. I had the opportunity to drive through the site recently. The amount of scrap metal and crumbled brick and concrete that used to be home to the hummer of paper machines and hundreds of workers, just lay on the ground waiting to be whisked off to their eventual new scrap home located in Chicago.

The City of Sartell is part of the redevelopment and repurposing study focusing on the 60 acres along the Mississippi River. A week does not go by where I do not get a new idea from residents of what that property could be used for. The City commissioned a market study analysis of uses, which could render the highest and most practical reuse of the property. It was a way to maintain some objectivity of what are realistic uses for the site. Waiting for environmental work plans and more exploratory environmental review will also be very important in knowing what that site will look like in the future.

We Shall Plan On

... the ideas of what would make a wonderful community started to flow.

I recently visited some elementary students -- fourth graders -- in an effort to discuss city planning, what they like about Sartell, and what they wish was different. Most importantly, I asked them to pretend they are planners and try to think 20 years out and tell me what would they want Sartell to feel like and what it should look like.

One of Sartell's bike paths.
One of Sartell's bike paths.

After the gasps of fear thinking about being SO OLD, the ideas of what would make a wonderful community started to flow. More trails, less fast-food restaurants, more soccer fields, and more stores were mentioned. I also heard about the need to feel safe, and have opportunities to volunteer. One student suggested we have more community parties! Interestingly, not a single student mentioned the mill and what would go there. These kids barely remember the mill open and running, and the reuse of it was not a thought in their mind.

So that is how all of this comes full circle. Like many things that grow, communities are constantly evolving, changing, and becoming new and different.

As planners, we get to be part of that activity and action. We do not seek the limelight; we seek harmony. The challenges we often face on a day-to-day basis, are usually redeemed when we see kids riding their bikes on the trails, or when people discuss the fact that they love their community.

Sartell's community band.
The Sartell Area Community Band.

Is there no greater compliment or acknowledgement that you are doing something for your community than an elementary student wanting to emulate the work you do when he grows up?

Nevertheless, I have to admit that it was cool when one of the fourth graders told me that he wants to be “me” when he grows up. He would like to be the architect of a community.

Is there no greater compliment or acknowledgement that you are doing something for your community than an elementary student wanting to emulate the work you do when he grows up? I do not think so. That compliment gives me the desire to -- plan on!

Anita RasmussenSartell, Minnesota, City Planner Anita Rasmussen has been a city planner for three different communities and worked within the private sector as a consulting planner for nearly 16 years.
She holds a master’s degree in Urban Planning, and is also starting her third year of study for a doctoral degree in Public Administration.