It’s hard not to get enthused about Blue Earth while listening to Dan Burden.
This guy has traveled to 2,700 communities in the past 30 years preaching his ideas of designing cities for people and not for cars.
However, he has hardly ever been in Minnesota during those travels.
On Tuesday, that all changed. Burden was in Blue Earth as part of the kick-off of the healthy living program funded by the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP).
While his primary purpose was to promote a healthy lifestyle that incorporates walking and biking, the City of Blue Earth received a bonus because of his visit.
Burden studied the schools to see how many students walk or bike each day. He also studied how safely the kids are dropped off by parents who drive them.
He says BEA gets a passing grade. There were a lot of kids who biked to the elementary and middle school. And parents did an adequate job of dropping off their young people, although he noticed a few who dropped the kid off in the middle of the street.
Burden figures those folks were late for work.
The one failing mark was lack of clearly marked and defined crosswalks. He says he could not find a decent crosswalk in the entire city of Blue Earth.
He expressed shock at that situation.
Later, during his presentation at the school Tuesday night, Burden showed a series of photographs of before and after scenes of downtowns that have been remodeled.
He pointed out what crosswalks looked like, since people in Blue Earth don’t have any, and so don’t know what they look like.
The bonus the city received from Burden was a vision of what the city could – and in his opinion should – look like.
His before and after pictures of other downtowns was, to say the least, shocking.
Some were very similar to Blue Earth. Older buildings, cracked sidewalks, plain streets.
The after photos showed streets with different colored pavement denoting car lanes, bicycle lanes; sidewalks with paver blocks and bump out curbs at the corners.
Plus, there are trees, bushes and flowers everywhere in Burden’s plans.
Burden's vision for downtown Blue Earth was no less astounding.
Besides the bump out curbs at the intersections, colored bicycle lanes, recessed parking and foliage, he had another idea.
Miniature roundabouts at four downtown intersections, complete with plantings. One of the rounds would be complete with a miniature version of the Green Giant. Folks, he says, would definitely know they were in downtown Blue Earth and no where else. They would travel a good distance, just to come and see it, and shop here.
If it could be done, he said on his walk around the town, Blue Earth could become the ‘Jewel of Southern Minnesota.’
The city already has the proper layout, he pointed out. It just has an old and worn out look to it.
It needs a facelift.
Since two blocks of the downtown area are scheduled for reconstruction in a couple of years, it would be the perfect time to implement some of Burden's ideas. Why not do an extreme makeover of the downtown?
There will be those who will offer all the reasons not to do it. The cost. The problem of snow removal around the funny curbs. The cost. Trees drop leaves in the fall, and birds sit in the trees and do other kinds of droppings. Then, there is the cost.
Find the money, Burden said. It will be worth every penny. Other towns which have done the extreme makeovers have filled their buildings with businesses, and the current businesses have seen as much as a 70 percent increase in customers.
It was interesting to listen to his lecture, both as we walked around the town, and at the official presentation later that evening.
True, his first focus was on making the city ‘people-friendly.’ His idea is to make a city a place to bike and walk.
But, a side benefit is that the city becomes a ‘place’ where people want to be.
To live, work and play.