St. Paul incentivizes involvement

Award winners were given a grant to continue creative projects.

The Humphrey Schools ninth annual Local Government Innovation Awards recognize the inventive minds in local governments and the innovative projects they carry out to serve their communities.

Alex Tuthill-Preus

The Humphrey School’s ninth annual Local Government Innovation Awards recognize the inventive minds in local governments and the innovative projects they carry out to serve their communities.

by Melissa Steinken

St. Paul is using popsicles to encourage its residents to voice their opinions on community issues. 
In order to increase participation in local government issues, Amanda Lovelee, a Public Art Saint Paul city artist, created the Pop Up Meeting, a vehicle that drives to different locations throughout city. If participants complete a survey or provide feedback on city issues, they receive a popsicle, she said.
“I think we’re changing St. Paul, one popsicle at a time,” Lovelee said. “So many of my friends can complain about the city but will be the last ones there to participate.”
Jay Kiedrowski, senior fellow in Humphrey’s Public and Nonprofit Leadership Center, said innovation at the local level can only occur when elected officials support new,
experimental solutions to issues.
“Government today is viewed as a negative by many citizens,” he said. “And yet we know that local government, day in and day out, is doing very positive things for people, from teaching our students to cleaning our water.”
Lovelee’s creation was one of 20 projects recognized last week by the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs and other sponsors for making local governments more accessible and responsive.
The school is in its ninth year of hosting the Local Government Innovation Awards, where local governments are recognized for innovative approaches to problems faced by municipalities, like government transparency, teaching outdoor skills and broadening education opportunities.
Minnesota cities, counties, schools and towns were awarded for creative projects that improved community services.  
Winners in four categories — cities, counties, schools and towns — won $5,000 grants from the Bush Foundation to continue the project, said Julie Ring, executive director of the Association of Minnesota Counties.
Rochester Public Library’s  BookBike won the city category with its mobile library and promotion of bicycling in the city. 
The BookBike, a cart pulled or pushed year-round by library staff on bicycles, visited 113 locations over the course of a year to encourage reading and bicycling in the city, said Heather Acerro, head of youth services at Rochester Public Library.
Other projects recognized included a plan to increase paramedic response time, geothermal heating of ice rinks, reading incentives and an environmental cost sharing program.
Heidi Sedlacek, City of New Brighton Parks and Recreation Department Recreation Supervisor, said the city’s Read to Play project relied on community partnership to reward elementary school students with certificates for an indoor playground if they meet readings goals.
To be recognized, Kiedrowski said winners had to show how the project positively impacted the community.
“It’s not sufficient to have a good idea,” he said.  
In St. Paul, the Pop Up meetings have broadened public participation in city issues and given a voice to the public, Lovelee said.
“We said, ‘You want this popsicle?’ Then you’re going to have to work for it,” she said.
Before the initiative, about 70 percent of 1,500 St. Paul residents who participated never attended community meetings, Lovelee said. 
Along with more participation, Kristin Guild, deputy director of Saint Paul’s Department of Planning and Economic Development, said the diversity of residents who contribute to community improvements increased. 
Diversity was also increased when Pop Up meetings were brought to festivals, community events and neighborhood nights-out, she said.
“We’re saying your voice is heard, we’re listening to you, we think you have something important to say,” Lovelee said.