Duluth, Minnesota—Advisory Services Panel
October 14, 2015
Date: September 13th-18th
Location: Duluth, Minnesota
Sponsor: City of Duluth, Ecolibrium3, LISC
Subject Area: Resilience in the Lincoln Park neighborhood and Miller Creek Watershed
Panel Chair: Rick Dischnica, The Dischnica Company, LLC, Point Richmond, CA
Download Full Report
Background and Panel Assignment
With a population of 86,238 (2014 Census), Duluth is the third largest city in Minnesota, located across from Superior, Wisconsin. It is 26 miles long extending along the shores of Lake Superior and the St. Louis River and is 5 miles long at its widest (averages 2.5 miles wide). A cross section would show an “above the bluff” area that drops 680 feet over 1 mile to the river/lake level. The City has over 40 creeks (26 named trout creeks) that cut into the Duluth gabbro that makes up the hillside and empties into the St. Louis River or directly to Lake Superior. Duluth is the second largest city on the lake and is home to the largest port on the Great Lakes system.
Duluth was impacted by an extreme rain event on June 19 & 20, 2012, resulting in severe riverine and flash flooding. Except for far western neighborhoods along the St. Louis River, most of the damage in Duluth was due to the hillside creeks. The study area is the Miller Creek watershed which encompasses both the regional Miller Hill retail center at its headwaters and the Lincoln Park neighborhood. A historically lowest income neighborhood, Lincoln Park has the potential to incorporate a crafts and large scale opportunities district to increase economic development in the area.
The panel was asked to develop strategies in the area to determine recommendations for disaster and community resilience. Questions addressing not only environmental impacts, but also housing, economy, energy, and health were also addressed by the panel. The panel was also asked to examine potential improvement projects that can be incorporated into the State of Minnesota’s application to the National Disaster Resilience Competition.
Summary of Recommendations
After conducting 91 interviews with stakeholders, touring the study area, and reviewing the briefing materials, the panel made the following recommendations for physical changes:
- Enhance and reforest the headwaters east of the airport. The land parcel to the east of the airport runway is not only owned and maintained by the airport, but it is also the headwaters of Miller Creek. The headwaters of streams are the most fragile portions of the entire stream system. Protecting the headwaters should be a priority and should be done by planting additional trees to protect the stream, to provide cover for the stream from solar exposure, and to provide for quantity and quality control of the water.
- Improve the affected stream valley. Relocated and channeled stream segments and denuded stream banks along with eroded side slopes are just some of the results occurring in the affected stream valley. Variable stream valley buffers should be applied to all portions of the creek that have not yet been developed.
- Rechannel the streams. Streams that have been channeled have diminished natural capacity to store and infiltrate water, to absorb storm flows, and to provide habitat for wildlife. Such a restoration will return the natural sinuosity of the creek and will improve the creek’s ability to absorb and detain storm flows.
- Reduce the effect of large impervious areas on roofs and parking lots. The panel recommends against overbuilding parking lots and roadways, and calls for constructing multistory buildings on reduced footprints instead of large single-story buildings. Bioswales, enhanced tree grates, and subsurface water storage should also be added wherever possible to infiltrate water to improve its quality and quantity.
- Improve stormwater management control of quantity and quality. As many existing facilities as possible should be retrofitted to meet the new stormwater management (SWM) regulations and to augment the area with new facilities such as subsurface storage in existing parking lots. Further improvements to control stormwater in the watershed can be made by transforming unimproved low-lying areas into additional SWM facilities.
- Remove built choke points. Multiple choke points in the form of culverts restrict the flow of stormwater during large rainstorms. These culverts should be replaced with either a larger culvert or, preferably, a bridge that would reduce or eliminate the constriction and allow fish to move unimpeded through streams.
- Reduce thermal loading. Miller Creek, a natural trout breeding stream, is suffering from excessive thermal loading, which is affecting both the trout and the macroinvertebrates they feed on, which are very sensitive to temperature. The panel suggests that eliminating existing areas of standing water exposed to the sun can also have a significant effect on reducing thermal loading.
- Incorporate complete reconstruction of Miller Creek from Second Street to beyond Michigan Street. The panel suggests Miller Creek be daylighted down to the lake to provide a water amenity throughout the Lincoln Park neighborhood, to increase property value, and to provide another avenue for piping out stormwater.
In addition to the physical improvements in the upper watershed, the panel suggests focusing economic development in the Lincoln Park neighborhood and lower watershed area:
- Establish the Lincoln Park Craft District. The panel recommends dedicating two blocks on either side of Superior Street to mixed-use planning. The area will become a neighborhood town center that offers food and services and locally made goods to area residents, employees, and visitors.
- Establish the large-scale opportunity district. The panel suggests that the area from Michigan Street to the river be dedicated to such a district. The large spaces and warehouses found in this area have the market potential for serving port-related businesses and a nascent craft cluster.
- Institute a storefront center. A vacant neighborhood storefront could house a modest nonprofit organization or foundation that promotes Lincoln Park. Ideally, the center would feature data, inventories, maps, and plans avail – able for review by current and future property owners, tenants, and residents.
The panel’s recommendations for social changes and programming are as follows:
- Incorporate the three principles of resilience. Resilience involves three interrelated and inextricably linked aspects—economic, environmental, and social. With resources scarce and needs high, interventions must advance resilience on several fronts simultaneously.
- Understand and continue to monitor the land economics that affect the study area. As demographics and job opportunities change, the city should continue to evaluate the present and the projected needs in housing, work space, and amenities.
- Convene senior city and public authority staff members to manage the project. The mayor or a designee should oversee the area’s development by establishing the following: goals, objectives, budget, capital sources, and deadlines. In addition, the project manager should monitor progress, make course corrections, cajole partners, and act as a cheerleader and champion for the undertaking. By following in the footsteps of pioneers, developers and property owners will present the city with new concepts in housing, living and working space, and mixed-use development.
- Improve data, communications, public relations, and branding. Ensure that the city’s various departments clearly communicate with each other to improve coordinated efforts to improve the study area.
- Improve transportation connections between Lincoln Park and the rest of the city. Different modes of transportation such as driving, biking, or riding the bus need to be improved between the neighborhoods and the universities in the area and made as pleasant as possible for the rider or driver.
- Ensure an effective Lincoln Park business group. One effective Lincoln Park business group is needed. Such a group could be patterned after the Main Street America program that was originated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. That program emphasizes the Four Point Approach of design, organization, promotion, and economic vitality.
- Coordinate and amplify initiatives on health, energy, food, and home improvements. Two large medical centers, the University of Minnesota Duluth, and the utility companies are in the area to sponsor such initiatives. As such, the neighborhood’s financial institutions and foundations need to be fully present and marshal their considerable resources to help coordinate these programs to fruition.
- Match job training with employment needs. Technical training is needed to provide a qualified employment pool for existing and new businesses in the city as well as in this neighborhood. The university and other local education institutions should engage with employers to design appropriate programs.
- Incorporate inclusionary community-based decision making. Duluth needs to emphasize hearing the voices of generation X and millennials as well as the voices of African Americans and Native Americans. If these groups do not organize—or if decision makers do not embrace them—such job training and social support initiatives won’t succeed or won’t matter.