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Changing rural narratives: A Ground Level conversation in Grand Rapids

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MPR News host Tom Weber facilitates a conversation about rural identity.
MPR News host Tom Weber facilitates a community conversation about rural identity and life at the Blandin Foundation in Grand Rapids on June 13, 2018.
John Connelly for MPR

While #mprraccoon was grabbing the attention of the world for scaling a building in an urban center, a conversation in Grand Rapids, Minn. last week focused on foxes playing in the yard, loons calling in the evening, and other interactions with nature. The great outdoors, as we heard at an event at the Blandin Foundation, is a key reason why people choose to live in Grand Rapids.

The event Wednesday evening was part of MPR's Ground Level series, which is a listening tour of issues around Minnesota. For this event, the conversation revolved around  why people choose Grand Rapids, what they worry about and celebrate in daily life, and what issues they believe leaders should focus on. 

Ben Winchester, rural sociologist and research fellow with the U Extension
Ben Winchester, a rural sociologist and research fellow with the University of Minnesota Extension, offered data-driven insights into the community at a conversation at the Blandin Foundation in Grand Rapids, Minn., on June 13, 2018.
John Connelly for MPR

A survey for Ground Level from the APM Research Lab had found that within Minnesota there are significant regional differences in the way people feel about the direction our state is heading. There are differences in how hopeful we feel, how much confidence we have in institutions and how confident we are about the future. 

While metro area Minnesotans might consider Grand Rapids a rural city, people in the city view it as a regional population center. There are nearly 11,000 people live within the borders of Grand Rapids, but as one guest pointed out, the surrounding areas and townships increase that number to about 20,000.

MPR news host Tom Weber moderated the event before about 50 people, along with Ben Winchester, a rural sociologist and research fellow with UMN Extensions, who offered context and data-driven insight to the conversation.