Welcoming Community in White Bear Lake

Arriving at Ramsey County Library-White Bear Lake there were already a few people sitting in chairs chatting and looking over Blueprint Springboards they had printed out before the meeting. I took a seat at the check-in table and greeted others as they walked in, providing them with meeting materials and answering any questions they might have beforehand. After participants were settled in their seats, the meeting began with a quick video explaining the Thriving by Design process and purpose.

About 15 individuals including service coordinators, political candidates, disability rights activists, teachers, and retired activists shared their name, where they’re from, and why they decided to join the community conversation. Narratives such as “It is important for me to have a voice” or “we’ve got to get active and represent the people” or “we need to peel policies back and ask how does it work and who controls it” were expressed.

Introductions transitioned into a discussion about White Bear Lake and the surrounding area. The conversation was framed in three parts: What are strengths in the White Bear community? What are the opportunities for growth?  What are possible solutions or expansions of already existing ideas?

Strengths were focused on a aspects related to the community and culture, such as strong community pride and the number of “white bears” in the area (read more about the history/symbolism of White Bear), the downtown walkability and businesses, education, and the number of parks, green space, and of course, the lake.

While there was a positive perspective of community culture, moving into opportunities for growth, it was mentioned that a strong identity can also limit the community due to perceptions of wealth and unwillingness towards change.  Community members have expressed resistance to building more affordable housing for low-income people, which is desperately needed. In addition, housing for seniors and those with disabilities is critical. Push back against public transportation is a theme within the community, which would open up accessibility for those who don’t have cars and need to get to the city.  Participants shared the need to create a more welcoming community for immigrants and people of color, exemplifying “when we say go bears, we mean ALL bears.”

The conversation then pivoted to a discussion around bringing more voices to the table for future conversations, asking the question of “who isn’t here and what might be some of the barriers that kept them from joining?” Transitioning into solutions and expansion of ideas, members described assets such as community foundations, art centers, free food markets, space partnerships, and looked to models such as the revitalization of downtown White Bear as a successful project. Ending the meeting, everyone was curious and engaged in continuing to organize with others around issues discussed and building a more welcoming and accessible White Bear Lake for “ALL bears.”

STRENGTHS

Community & Culture

“We love living here”

  • Sense of community: we help people when they need it
  • How many “white bears” exist in our area- speaks to the sense of pride
  • Community involvement  and an active community
  • “We love living here”
  • Sense of civic pride and uniqueness of the city and area
  • Intergenerational community
  • Culturally- specifically the arts and small business owners
  • A lot of retired people- large volunteer base in senior citizen community and very active

Education

  • Awesome schools
  • Strong preschool program and inclusion of kids with disabilities

Economic Development

  • Thriving small business community
  • Walkability of downtown (promotes community) – but lack of sidewalks anywhere else

Environment

  • Park- green spaces-lakes

OPPORTUNITIES FOR GROWTH

Community & Culture

“There’s a perception that you have to have a chunk of money to live here.”

  • Sense of identity- a view of White Bear Lake that it’s not dynamic. It’s one way and it should stay that way- leads to fear of change and active opposition of change
  • Change is “glacial” and doesn’t happen overnight, but the memory of what it used to be is very different from how it is now

Housing

“Most people moving into my townhome association are from White Bear Lake, they’re staying here instead of snow birding.”

  • Need more affordable housing for low-income people (people are resistant)
  • More diversity in housing
  • Pricing new homeowners out of the area
  • Affordability of housing for seniors extremely important as well – have to have workers to fill positions
  • Affordable housing for people with disabilities

Transportation

  • Public transportation- way to get to the city but still live in WBL (being fought hard)

Democracy & Civic Engagement

“If people don’t feel like their voice is being heard, they aren’t going to show up.”

  • Civic Engagement- how to expand concept of what TBD is trying to promote. Active groups but need more that are dedicated to democracy. We need to fill a room for these types of discussions.
  • How do we get more people in the room and reflect the community more? Engage people who have barriers to showing up to a meeting like this.
  • 80/20 rule- how to change that narrative (20% of people doing 80% of the work)
    • We should find the 80% here
    • Citizens town hall to hear and talk about how we think government should be run- getting momentum there- advertise with other groups
    • Need to have a voice and say in the process- larger piece of the puzzle- a lot of people feel they have never been listened to
  • Substance underneath the bluster of politics
  • How can we get people with disabilities involved?
    • Connect with representatives, have voices heard, connect with legislators
    • There’s not a lot of time to go to things like this (referencing Thriving by Design)
  • When are other times to connect with other families who are really strapped for time
    • Idea crowdsourcing digitally
    • The Big Sleuth a way for people to submit ideas about things we should be doing in the community/school district
    • Mueller Mortuary and wall where people share what they want to do before they die
    • Different options and different ways to engage (toddler YouTube channel)

IDEA: Use already created community programs to engage others in democratic/community organizing

Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion

“When we say go bears, we mean all bears.”

  • Make community more welcoming to people of color (come up in conversation that people of color do not feel safe in the community) – school community is much more diverse than what we see
  • Need a diverse community in all ways
  • Deep roots (strength and opportunity)

Employment/Jobs

  • Development of workforce (caregiving workforce, healthcare, and education) – jobs are changing
  • Supports of immigration policies to fill workforce- specifically healthcare- farmers experience it too.

Environment

IDEA: Cooperative environmental measures- coop solar paneling to address climate change locally

Healthcare

“Low unemployment rates means it is hard to find healthcare support staff”

  • Need more support staff- Medicare doesn’t provide 24 hours of care – people with disabilities may move into subsidized housing that is wheelchair accessible and need additional care.
  • Healthcare staff are not paid enough and these jobs are important

SOLUTIONS AND EXPANDING UPON IDEAS

Community & Culture

  • White Bear Lake Community Foundation
  • Utilize Art Center
  • Talking to our neighbors- talk to people about what they are experiencing- engage in conversations with those impacted
  • Thriving partnerships when it comes to community resources and spaces
    • School, Y, Tamarack, etc.
  • Farmer’s market and free food markets are a strength of our community

IDEA: Take a free space at markets and use it to promote a specific opportunity/issue/initiative

  • The free food market is a great place to talk to those who aren’t always able to join due to various barriers
  • Look to example of the revitalization of downtown White Bear

Democracy & Civic Engagement

“Not only be reactionary to things you don’t like but support with your voice when you actually like something.”

IDEA: Civic Engagement Education – use community education to run a course on what the community is interested in

  • Leverage with those in positions of power (school board, city council, etc.). Might be waiting for support behind an idea to get traction.
    • Willing to take a look at these issues if we bring them forward
    • Ask to be an agenda item at meetings to share and ask what people would like to have included in the Blueprint
    • Being a resource for elected representatives to leverage change – different when you hear it from a city council member and 50 comm. Members versus just city council rep.

Education

  • Tamarack and courses and preschool is an incredible resource

EXPANDING IDEA: Access to Associates Degree- make sure to include those who may take longer than two years to graduate (due to work, class load, life, or other barriers)

Employment/Jobs

“Who has a high stake but not a high influence in results?”

  • Small business and rotary- partners to continue conversations
  • Thriving small business and support of arts community
    • What is making it work and who has a high stake but not a high influence in results- who is that group here?

Environment

  • Hugo- storm water re-use could be an option for the White Bear Lake community
    • People there want to see the community around here thrive

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