Return of the Buffalo?

As is the theme with anything related to reading or writing lately, I’m a little behind on my Planning Magazine subscriptions. Its the beginning of December and I’m just getting to the heart of the October issue. Nonetheless, when I came to the article titled “After the Dust Settles: Revisiting the Buffalo Commons 30 Year Later” it brought back memories of practice exams to prepare me for the AICP exam. I recalled reading a question asking what the Buffalo Commons was with a multiple choice response. With hundreds of other facts and theories to learn, I quickly moved on to memorizing the next statistic.

But now with years between me and the exam and time to delve into interesting topics I was happy to read on, hearing from the authors of the article which was originally published in Planning Magazine in 1987. While interesting, the article didn’t give much background on the actual article written 30 years ago so I clicked the link to read the “story that started it all.” As a girl that grew up of on the eastern edge of the Great Plains (Nebraska to be specific), I thought it would be an interesting read. I made it about four paragraphs in before I was already questioning the changing circumstances from 30 years ago to today.

Great Plains Map (unl.edu).gif

The article points out that the Great Plains have the “hottest summers and coldest winters, greatest temperature swings, worst hail and locus and range fires, fiercest droughts and blizzards.” I’m not so sure that is the case anymore. Check the news any day of the week and your likely to read or hear about the latest fire destroying entire communities in California or another catastrophic hurricane making landfall. They continue to say that this region is becoming “almost totally depopulated” and suggest we return the region to its “pre-white state” with just the prairie and buffalo.

I would argue that while that may have been true 30 years ago, our communities here in the Great Plains are seeing a revival. Residents are returning to the towns they grew up in and repopulating the Great Plains. Sure there are small towns peppered throughout that will probably never recover from the downfall of trains, but that doesn’t mean we are returning to the desolate prairie that once dotted the horizon.

The authors suggest two options for how to handle a potential depopulation of the Plains. One is for the federal government to pay farmers the same rate they would get planting crops, but instead they would plant native grasses. The end goal would be for the government to buy the land from the farmers, leaving them with a small homestead. The whole in this idea is what the farmer does after he no longer has fields to work. Without a town to buy goods from or a job to purchase the goods, he may as well leave. The authors note that a 1930’s era program of job assistance and retraining may be necessary.

As a preservationist I think giving up on all these small towns is a bad decision. So much infrastructure is in place, with decades of history imbued within their buildings. Small towns are bringing in new businesses, like Friend, Nebraska where the old opera house is being renovated, for a local winery, shops, and potentially housing. There are ways to keep these towns alive that do not depend on agriculture. New industries and technology make it easier to do business in almost any community.

 Warren Opera House in Friend, Nebraska. A small farming community that is working to revive their city through projects like the opera house restoration.

Warren Opera House in Friend, Nebraska. A small farming community that is working to revive their city through projects like the opera house restoration.

So instead of returning the Plains to their pre-white condition, I think we should reinvest in the Plains communities to bring people back, a phenomenon that is already occurring. Small towns offer affordable housing options, connections to family and support networks, and the ability to be part of a community. We as planners need to help these cities plan for their future and grow in a sustainable way.

Rocky Mountain Adventure

Rocky Mountain Adventure

Its been almost three months since I camped in Rocky Mountain National Park, but I’m finally getting around to writing about the trip. I’ve been camping before, but never in a national forest like Rocky Mountain. It was amazing to see a moose, elk, deer, and other animals going about their business unaffected set against a backdrop of massive mountains and dense forest. I was really glad not to have come across any bears, given our tent situation, but that didn’t stop me from being nervous the entire time hiking.

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What I Learned From Minneapolis

What I Learned From Minneapolis

I have lived in several cities in the past five years including Lubbock, Texas, Rochester and Columbia Heights, Minnesota, and most recently Minneapolis. Each city has imparted some lasting impressions and I taught me invaluable lessons about how cities function. But of all the cities, Minneapolis has taught me the most. Before I moved to the Twin Cities metro, I had never taken public transit as a commuter, biked to work regardless of the weather, composted, or installed a rain barrel.

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Greening Our Cities

Greening Our Cities

There were numerous ways to learn about how planners can have a positive effect on water at NPC18. One session in particular highlighted how Prince George County used a public private partnership to retrofit their community with green infrastructure. Presenters covered the history of the program from inception through completion of Phase I and adjustments made prior to launching Phase II.

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300 Years of NOLA

300 Years of NOLA

I do not travel nearly as much as I would like, so when the opportunity arose to visit New Orleans for the National Planning Conference I jumped on it. I was only in the city for about four days, but I covered quite a bit of ground, while still attending sessions during the day. The two things that helped me accomplish both was waking up at 6 am every day and running through the neighborhoods.

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Maribou Water Gardens

Maribou Water Gardens

Over 10 years later, New Orleans is still recovering from Hurricane Katrina and the devastating effects of the Levee failures. That disaster proved to the world that building walls and pumping out water is not a long term or permanent solution. Water must be managed on site, with features such as permeable pavement, rain gardens, cisterns, and underground storage tanks. It takes projects installed throughout the city to protect it when a large storm hits. One of the projects New Orleans is working on to help low lying neighborhoods is the Maribou Water Garden.

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What is a Well Building?

What is a Well Building?

Most people have worked in an office with poorly regulated temperature, where it seems that whatever the weather is outside, its the same inside. The office also probably had terrible fluorescent lighting, a severe lack of windows, and the ability to waft the terrible smelling tuna someone brought as their lunch throughout the building. These buildings were all designed to cram as many people into a building as possible without regard for how the office environment would turn out. For some design professionals, this does not make sense which is why they are turning towards WELL Building certification.

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Bird Art for my Yard

Bird Art for my Yard

A few months back I was in the Commons (a new downtown Minneapolis park) having coffee with some friends when I noticed an interesting sculpture. I glanced at it briefly, long enough to find it unique, but then we continued walking. It wasn't until this weekend that I finally realized what that sculpture was and its intended message. Those same friends told me about an event at the University of Minnesota campus where they were giving out pieces of a dismantled sculpture. After stopping by and grabbing two (a bird house and feeder) it finally dawned on me that the pieces they were giving away were part of that sculpture I had seen in the Commons.

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Three Eagles and Twenty Three Loons

Three Eagles and Twenty Three Loons

I am fortunate enough to have grown up going to a family cabin on a lake in Minnesota. At an early age I fell in love with the state bird, the loon. I remember purchasing my first loon call in hopes of luring them close for a good photograph. It took much effort and determination in order to get a good shot, but eventually I did. This past weekend, on the same lake where a loon was a rare sight, I saw twenty-three loons, three eagles, a number of sparrows and seagulls, and another unique bird. Clearly nature has made a come back on this lake, as it has on numerous throughout the United States.

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