Community

Michelle Moriarity

An innovative plan charted by University researchers might result in more livable communities statewide within the next several years.
Members of the Humphrey Institute’s State and Local Policy Program teamed up with the Metropolitan Council and the Minnesota Department of Transportation in a forum Wednesday to debate the merits of implementing advanced computer networks in local redevelopment areas.
“What we’re suggesting here is that you can and should include information technology and telecommunications with the planning for a community,” said Lee Munnich, director of the State and Local Policy Program.
Forum director Milda Hedblom said officials’ objective is to provide network services at a more advanced level ever offered.
“The idea is that (services) would be more affordable,” Hedblom said. “They should have better service, more services and higher speed.”
Public officials and private developers agreed that by networking businesses, homes and other computer server locations, they can help improve a community’s quality of life.
Ed Cohoon, chief financial officer of MnDOT, said networking and telecommunications services can help alleviate road congestion — through telecommuting.
“We see a huge problem out there that we are unable to solve,” Cohoon said. “We need to be very creative in finding solutions.”
Networking will permit more and more individuals to work out of their homes, Cohoon said, thereby reducing highway congestion and increasing job productivity.
But these are not the only benefits officials foresee.
“If we can electronically enhance an area … and make it attractive to businesses, we can combat sprawl,” said Darryl Anderson, telework coordinator for MnDOT.
Officials agreed that by combining resources, they can create a model that can be used by cities statewide.
Two cities have stepped forward to act as project models. Construction will start within the next year on a 20-acre parcel in Richfield, which calls for a senior citizen complex, townhomes, a hotel and two restaurants — complete with networking capabilities.
“There’s going to be some extra cost, no matter how you look at it,” said Murray Kornberg, a panelist representing CSM Corporation, the developer contracted for the Richfield project.
In spite of the drawback, Kornberg said, the technology will make the property a more competitive market contender.
Residents of lowertown St. Paul, on the other hand, have expressed an interest in revitalizing existing structures with the telecommunications system.
“It really is just awaiting some innovation and bold developers to just come in,” said Allen Lovejoy, principal planner for St. Paul’s Department of Planning and Economic Development.
Though these two communities readily await the innovation, details surrounding the plan are unclear. Officials expressed concern toward the developer’s ability to find a capable network service provider.
Metropolitan Council Chairman Curtis Johnson said that plans that officials usually doubt in their preliminary stages celebrate strong success with the public.
When Minnesota begins to implement advanced networking in its cities, it will set a precedent nationwide. Hedblom said although some cities nationwide have experimented with local networks and e-mail servers, Minnesota is the first to initiate an advanced networking collaboration between the public and private sectors.
And she has no doubts as to the project’s imminent success.
“If it can happen in one community, it can happen in any number of communities,” Hedblom said.