The City of North Mankato has taken the first few steps in developing a comprehensive plan for its future. While it could be nothing more than a technical framework on zoning ordinances and mapping, it also can help the residents and city officials map out its “point of differentiation” from Mankato which some feel, as Library Director Lucy Lowrey said, “the elephant in the room.”
Kelsey Johnson, representing WSB & Associates hired to help with the plan, put it succinctly. The plan is “the legacy of the city.”
Surveys are already under way and city staff and councilors were given that same opportunity for comment at a recent meeting. There the quality of life was rated mostly excellent but a general sense of community was rated mostly good.
The consultants shared a little of what they have learned saying it would appear North Mankatoans like the idea of craft stores and a bakery in their downtown feeling residents want to “keep it quaint.”
It was mentioned that athletic events were becoming the city’s niche, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into better amenities for the residents themselves and may have resulted less from strategic planning and more from opportunities presented.
We feel it is important for the city to distinguish itself from that “elephant.” An example of such success is Naperville, Illinois situated in the shadow of Chicago. It has won numerous awards including one of the cities of the future, best places to live and boasts a high quality of life. It marked out its image not in competition with or complement of Chicago but to be its own city.
Closer to home St. Paul is distinctly different from Minneapolis and both have their own civic pride.
At the city staff meeting, the consultants asked attendees to summarize in one word how to describe North Mankato. The list included “safe, home, great, welcoming, beautiful river town, livable, comfortable, improving and a hometown.” Marketers are quick to point out you cannot create a brand; consumers create your brand for you. In this case, how the city wants to be seen – reflecting on the previous list – its future decisions should be made using the prism of its brand.
A well-crafted comprehensive plan can articulate the city’s vision for the future and help it make decisions such as investments and development. The most important element of any strategy is not outlining all it can do but staying laser focused and purposeful to its singular aims.
But it also must reflect the city’s culture and that means its residents must be involved from the beginning. Its culture will influence not only the design but the implementation going forward. It can affect the success or failure of a community even to the point of how it feels about itself.
City Administrator John Harrenstein rightly pointed out the city could do a better job of engaging with residents. But residents also should not be passive. Residents should get involved often throughout the process to ensure the most complete outcome is achieved.
The city has the opportunity to distinguish itself from other cities and grow in that distinction. Whether it wants to be a quaint hometown, a thriving urban center, an industrial center of commerce will depend on its first steps in mapping out its future.