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Duluthians Value Open Space

March 5, 2002

The City of Duluth, MN, has a relatively large amount of open space compared to many other cities. Roughly 10,000 acres or a quarter of its area is publicly-owned, undeveloped land. A recent survey conducted by the University of Minnesota Sea Grant Program for the City of Duluth, shows that residents want to keep it that way.

“I thought more people might say, ‘We need additional development,’ but we found very few responses supporting building,” said Glenn Kreag, Minnesota Sea Grant tourism and recreation extension educator. “In fact, residents thought recreational areas and the preservation of natural open spaces were more important government functions than economic development. A majority were even willing to consider financing the protection of open space through bonding.”

Kreag directed the scientifically-rigorous project to find out how Duluthians perceive open space. The 8-page, 20-question mail survey was conducted by the Minnesota Center for Survey Research at the University of Minnesota.

The survey was requested by the Natural Resources Inventory Committee, a subcommittee of Duluth’s Environmental Advisory Council (EAC) to help with efforts to develop a comprehensive plan for the City. The return of 399 completed surveys generated a 42% response rate. Results have a possible margin of error of +5%.

Open space was broken into two categories in the survey: natural and developed. Natural open space included places where native vegetation grows without significant alteration; developed open space included places where the land or vegetation is controlled. With almost unilateral and unanimous support, residents from across Duluth indicated that they value and want to preserve both types of open space.

“The results of this survey give direction to the kind of open space that is important here,” said Kreag. “It’s not just ball-parks and tot-lots. It’s also woods and creeks and the natural spaces that people identify with.”

Selected results:

  • 96% of survey respondents agreed that views overlooking Lake Superior and the St. Louis River are important parts of the character of Duluth and must be protected and managed;
  • 85% of respondents favored an open space system linked with wildlife corridors and paths;
  • 61% felt that Duluth has a reasonable amount of natural open space but
  • 32% thought it needs more; and
  • 84% felt that converting some natural open space to developed land would damage the City’s image, character, and appeal.

Echoing the sentiments of many other respondents, one resident succinctly wrote, “Cities with more concrete than chlorophyll bother me.”

“Our immediate challenge is to interpret the information that’s been generated,” said Kyle Deming of the City’s Department of Planning and Development and an ex-officio member of the EAC. “We have the survey, which indicates the community’s impressions about Duluth’s open space, and geographic information systems maps of different types of open space. Now we need to tie it all together. Duluth residents clearly indicated that they believe open space is important, even ranking it more highly with respect to government funding than social services and transit.

The survey results will be an important tool in our comprehensive planning efforts.” The survey was funded by a grant from the Northeast Minnesota Sustainable Development Partnership. To order a free copy of the results, “Duluth Values Open Space,” contact Minnesota Sea Grant at (218) 726-6191, or by e-mail at seagr@d.umn.edu. This publication may also be ordered online at Sea Grant's online store.

Minnesota Sea Grant is part of a university-based network of 30 Sea Grant College Programs spanning coastal states throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. Its research and education projects help maintain and enhance the environment and economies along Lake Superior and Minnesota’s inland waters.

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