Nov. 3—We welcome the strategic planning effort the city of Mankato has embarked on again this year looking forward five years on how to improve the quality of life in Mankato and sustain it far into the future as vibrant place to live and work.
The City Council and staff recently had a day-long strategic planning meeting to talk about not only goals for the future, but what could be done better now. At the top of the list were things like more affordable housing, more day care slots, strategies to keep young people in town, helping people feel safe and growing community pride.
All are worthy goals, and there will be a significant public outreach to get community input on priorities. The long-term strategic planning efforts have served the city well. They gave birth to things like the CityArt Sculpture Walk, a redesigned urban area on Front Street to make it more community friendly instead of alcohol friendly, and Riverfront Park, among other amenities.
Affordable housing should be an emphasis. While Mankato has boosted affordable housing with several hundred units opening up in the past few years, studies show the city still remains about 100 units a year short on meeting the need. The city has made significant efforts to work with developers, provide subsidies where needed, and landed some significant federal tax credits to help build these units.
The city's goal to have higher wages and lower housing costs will be a little more difficult to achieve. The city has little control of what employers pay, but they can, as they have in the past, require a certain wage for jobs provided by businesses that get city subsidies.
The emphasis on trying to keep Mankato's young people in the community should be a high priority. Blue Earth County has the highest percentage of 18- to 34-year-olds in the state. Some 30% of the population is in that age group, according to a 2015 study by the Minnesota Demographic Center.
The five universities in the area draw many of those students, but there is a need to connect those students to the idea of permanency once they have experienced four years of what the community has to offer.
It's a prime opportunity and an asset we must build upon.
Even city councilors noted it's a difficult task, with some lamenting their children's desire to move to the Twin Cities area where "there's more to do." And that is always the challenge. And sometimes we need to wait for them to experience the "more to do," including more crime, when they want to come back home and raise a family. We have local examples of that.
That fits with another city goal to make people feel safe in the community. Many have noticed the rise in more high profile crime and deleterious effects. The increase in fentanyl overdoses is a community crisis. Gun violence is not as uncommon as it used to be, as we see from a recent bold shooting fatality on a Mankato street just after midnight.
There's plenty of work to do. And the city must lead. But the community must also engage and follow. If we don't have a plan for meeting the challenges of the age, they will consume us.