Back to the Jan-Feb 2019 issue

Bits & Briefs

A Test Kitchen for Pothole Patch

A better cold mix for pothole and street repair is a recipe every city street department wants to get their hands on–and it could be on the way. The City of Duluth is partnering with the Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI) at the University of Minnesota Duluth to test a new material that uses waste taconite rock and other mineral materials from the region. The goal is to create a patch that sets fast and has added durability, according to Larry Zanko, senior research program manager for NRRI. Duluth public works staff got trained in on use of the new material in September and performed several repairs–which will be studied over the winter and brutal spring freeze-thaw cycle (because some forms of punishment just can’t be replicated in a lab). Learn more about the test at

2018 Local Government Innovation Award Winners

Twelve cities in Ramsey County have joined forces in a joint powers agreement to dispatch the closest agency for responding to emergency calls. The partnership won the top spot in the 2018 Local Government Innovation Awards–City Category. The Ramsey County Fire Chiefs Association Closest Unit Dispatching agreement, signed in 2016, has improved response times, which means more chances to minimize harm to life and property.

Additional city award winners:

  • The City of Big Lake was recognized for its collaboration and support of Big Lake High School’s work-based learning program.
  • The City of Minneapolis was recognized for the Farmers Markets of Minneapolis Collaborative.
  • The City of Richfield was recognized for its Strengthening Richfield Apartment Communities initiative.
  • The Rochester Public Library was recognized for its Rochester Reading Champions program.

The awards program, sponsored by the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs in partnership with the Bush Foundation, accepts entries in different local government categories: cities, counties, schools, townships, and native nations. To see all categories and winners, visit

More Colorful Neighborhood Communications

The Summit-University Planning Council in St. Paul recently held a fundraiser to produce a neighborhood coloring book. This district council, a nonprofit organization, set out to highlight unique features of the area that kids (and adults!) would be able to recognize and then scribble into oblivion if they so choose.

The book was illustrated by Planning Council Executive Director Jens Werner (a trained artist) in her free time and features food from popular restaurants, parks, and local leaders. Production of the book on paper that can stand up to the creative process places printing costs at about $3–$5 a book. The goal, Werner says, is to build community pride, invite residents to connect with the council, and spark new conversations. The project is part of a communications initiative that includes developing a newsletter and business directory, and establishing a network of information kiosks for residents to use.

Using Art to Revitalize Main Street

The cities of Northfield, Olivia, Willmar, and Wabasha will be joining the Artists on Main Street Program in 2019 to develop artist-led solutions to downtown revitalization. The program was launched last year by the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota, in partnership with Springboard for the Arts and with support from the Bush Foundation. The three cities included in the pilot year were Faribault, Mankato, and Winona, where projects included the Faribault Virtues Trail, placemaking projects in the alleyways in Old Town Mankato, and the Shut Down Third Street Arts and Culture Block Party in Winona.

Elected Officials: Here’s Your Primer on GreenStep Cities

The GreenStep Cities program is ringing in the new year with 125 participating cities and tribal governments! For newly elected officials and appointed commission members in one of these cities, now’s the time to learn about the program–what it means, how it works, and why your city is participating. Leadership and support from elected officials is key to program success and unlocking the rewards of sustainable action at the city level. The newly updated GreenStep Cities Public Officials Guide can show these fresh faces the ropes and help answer any questions.

Squad Car Storytime

Your police department and library may be an unlikely duo, but they could also be a smart collaboration. That’s what the Coon Rapids Police Department found when it partnered with the Anoka County Library system for “Squad Car Storytime.” At the first storytime event last summer, nearly 150 kids showed up to hear Capt. Jon Urquhart read two police-themed books, sing songs, learn about 911, and of course, check out the squad car, according to CTN-Coon Rapids Community Television Network. In addition to supporting literacy and building community trust, these events also give kids a chance to ask (sometimes adorable) questions like, “Do you know Spider-Man?”