“Building Inclusive and Sustainable Relationships with the Mississippi River”
A persistent challenge to our River Life program have been the questions: what exactly do you folks DO? What questions do you ask? What impact do you have?
To some extent, the persistence of these questions is a good thing. At universities, we get to explore complex matters, and go where the shifts in conversations take us. By contrast, our partners off campus are limited by their organization’s mission, or by funding, or by expectations of the public. They can move around a little bit, but the Minnesota Historical Society ought to keep dealing with Minnesota’s past, and the National Park Service really needs to be focused on qualities that make this stretch of the river unique, and bringing those qualities to the public nationally as well as here at home.
Our job, on the other hand, is to think differently than our partners. Not having responsibility for public programs, or for stewardship of public lands, we can tend to our main businesses, which are educating the public, particularly young people, and developing new knowledge. In both of these areas–education and research–River Life takes very seriously our charge to conduct our work in collaboration with partners from off campus, as well as forging interdisciplinary relationships on campus.
So what is our area of study? We look at how we–the university, our partners, our communities–can build more inclusive and sustainable relationships with the Mississippi River. Our focus is necessarily somewhat parochial; our partners, after all, are responsible for lands and waters here, in the Twin Cities metro area. Furthermore, the Twin Cities region is a great “laboratory” to understand the development and function of complex urban water systems.
But our focus necessarily has to widen out to include the watershed of our “home river,” and a consideration of the river and its communities as they live downstream, absorbing what we have done to the river here. Moreover, we learn a lot about conditions and circumstances and possibilities here by understanding conditions, circumstances, and possibilities elsewhere, across the country and around the world.
Sounds simple: building sustainable and inclusive relationships with the Mississippi River. But I have a feeling this work will keep us busy for a while.