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ENEWS: Rural Addiction, Indigenous Food, and Density Upsides

Date Published: 08/16/2018

Author: Dane Smith

A Rural Addiction Crisis And Violent Crime

A basic premise behind our thematic emphasis on "One Minnesota" is that rural and metro Minnesotans are more alike than they are different.  We maintain that both will be well-served by  practical and progressive policies and public investment that addresses disparities and inequality and that invest in human potential.    More evidence supporting this premise surfaced this summer in two high-profile reports, one on addiction and another on crime.   Further refuting the myth that drug abuse is primarily an urban problem, a report by the Center for Rural Policy and Development shows with county maps and abundant evidence that rates of admission for treatment of chemical dependency  in Greater Minnesota have surged past metro Minnesota over the last decade,  and that methamphetamines  in particular have made a lethal comeback after bottoming out a few years ago.   The report offers suggestions for policies to counter the crisis, including more investment in treatment and addressing the underlying causes of addiction, as well as examples of exemplary local efforts to stem the epidemic.   Meanwhile, Governing magazine reported in July that the violent crime rate in rural areas has climbed above the national average for the first time in 10 years.    From the article:  "The explanations for this change are familiar ones. Not all rural areas are poor, but many have lost jobs as factories have closed and farming has become increasingly consolidated. Lack of employment has naturally led to increases in poverty, which is closely associated with crime. The opioid epidemic has hit rural America particularly hard, and methamphetamine remains a major problem in many small towns."

The Indigenous Food Movement

From cooking classes to new gardens and orchards, American Indian communities are growing new healthy food initiatives across Minnesota, the Star Tribune reported in an encouraging overview of rural and urban initiatives.   The author notes that for Minnesota's nearly 60,000 American Indians, the healthy food push stems from an urgent health crisis with high diabetes and obesity rates.   The 11 tribes in the state aren't just increasing healthy living initiatives but are specifically promoting healthy indigenous foods and food sovereignty -- part of wider efforts to revive Indian traditions and culture, from traditional tobacco and old-style lacrosse (the "Creator's game") to wild rice fields and the Dakota and Ojibwe language.   Public policies that nourish our Native American communities and all our communities of color were front-and-center during our Thriving by Design: Rural and Urban Together convening, held earlier this summer at the Upper Sioux Community's convention center near Granite Falls.

The Upsides to Increasing Density and Diversity

Backlash to increasing diversity and increasing housing density in our metropolitan area provoked a compelling commentary recently by Steve Berg on the cover of the Star Tribune's Opinion Exchange section.   In the op-ed, headlined "Density is Destiny," Berg argues that increasing density in urban development is a healthy national trend in the most dynamic  metro areas, and that city planners are responding to market demand, demographic changes, and climate action imperatives.   Berg, a Minneapolis writer and urban design consultant, argues that "cities would be foolish not to anticipate and accommodate a future that lies so clearly before them'' and he ticks off factors that necessitate denser development.  Namely:  An aging population with more than double the share of singles and empty-nesters by 2040; smaller households due largely to aging and to falling birthrates among whites; a growing population of color with comparatively less inherited capital for home buying (our nonwhite metro population percentage will grow from 24 to 39 percent by 2040); persistent income inequality and job insecurity due mainly to automation; an increasing need and preference for housing affordability, walkability and proximity to jobs, shopping and transit; a desire by governments to use land and infrastructure more efficiently while maximizing tax base, as well as a desire by some residents for healthier lifestyles on smaller ecological footprints.


"The trouble with city planning is that it's about the future, while any city's crankiest constituents prefer the present or, in some cases, the past.''--Steve Berg, Minneapolis journalist and urban design consultant, from article above.

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