MPR launches Ground Level; join the conversation

Welcome to Ground Level, a new Minnesota Public Radio project examining people trying to make their communities better places to live. We aim to be on the ground with reporters, engaging residents and exploring ways people want to mold the future..

First off, this is a pilot project and we've just started. So this blog is your invitation to watch and, more important, help out. Talk to us; point us in new directions; tell us if we're going down a rathole. I'm leading the project but when you come back to visit, you'll often find the voices of the other journalists working on it.

Second, we are zeroing in on one particular place to start with: Baldwin Township in the northeast corner of Sherburne County, about an hour north of the Twin Cities. The formerly rural township of 6,600 residents grew rapidly in recent decades and now has more people than the neighboring town of Princeton. It is facing some of the transportation, housing, planning and lifestyle issues that growth can present.

MPR reporters have been talking to people and doing research in Baldwin Township since the beginning of January, hitting the K-Bob Café in Princeton, talking over dining room tables and joining the ice fishing on Little Elk Lake. In coming weeks, we'll start producing material in a number of formats - video, audio and text. Our reporting will be in the Princeton Union Eagle, and we're planning a public forum for township residents on March 4 at the Performing Arts Center at Princeton High School.

The other journalists you'll be seeing on this blog are Jennifer Vogel, a long-time Twin Cities writer and editor; Curtis Gilbert, who has been part of the team producing MPR's Morning Edition; Nikki Tundel, who has turned her considerable reporting skills to video; and Michael Caputo, who brings from MPR's Public Insight Network the talent for assembling and moderating discussions.

A little background about how we landed here: The Bush Foundation and MPR last year formed a partnership to test whether our journalism could enhance the level of civic engagement as a community tries to address things that concern its residents. A short time later, the Initiative Foundation, based in Little Falls, was added to the mix because for many years it has been helping central Minnesota residents do just that.

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What if, we all asked, Minnesota Public Radio took its ability to draw people out, to tell stories and to provide insight in a place that was working to explore ways to create a better place to live? You're looking at the beginning of the answer to that question. Can we provide insight that enables residents to take action if they want?

As we tell you what we're up to in Baldwin Township and eventually other communities, we want to hear from people. What makes your place tick? What would make it tick better? What don't you want to lose about living where you do?

Come spring, the Initiative Foundation will fully launch its process to help Baldwin residents start to address what they want. If we, with your help, succeed, then that conversation will be a better one for many months and years to come.

That's pretty much it, pure and simple. We're experimenting; we want to see what works and what doesn't; we want to discover what we couldn't think of ahead of time. Join us.

Dave Peters

Editorial Director, special projects

Minnesota Public Radio

P: 651-290-1387