Reduced Oil Supply Could Favor Downtown Northfield

In today’s Strib (7/6), a column by H. J. Cummins, “Drying up oil could mean sticky problems”, looks at economic development once we pass the point of “peak oil”. No one can predict when this event will occur, however, everyone agrees that life will be different as our supply of oil steadily declines.

It is likely that there will be some disruptions, at least at first. Getting to work will be more expensive, as will long-distance vacations, and the price of a tomato in Minnesota during the month of February will probably be considerable. But there may be some long-term changes that, at least in my mind, won’t be all bad.

Cummins suggests that employers may get more politically active in land use, public transportation, and local energy production. With St. Olaf adding a windmill to Carleton’s existing one, Northfield may be a leader in this area. Telecommuting and teleconferencing will increase. If the community can get leverage from the colleges’ dark fiber, and the City can finally make an investment in wi-fi for downtown, Northfield would be competitive with any town in Minnesota, or on Earth. Our leaders are expected to promote denser development, mixed-use development and public transit systems. Downtown Northfield has been a model of the first two since 1855 and, pound for pound, our public transit system compares favorably with any. Now if we could just push the bicycle transportation system to the next level, we’d really be a step, or a pump, ahead.

Finally, there is a discussion of “relocalization”. Starting with “the 3,000-mile salad”, shipping lettuce from California to Toronto, the concept moves to having a dressmaker in your neighborhood instead of a dress manufacturer in Asia. With Northfield’s long-time commitment to be a stand-alone economy (or “more than just a bedroom community”) with a mixed portfolio of investment in residential, commercial and retail (and not forgetting the 150 plus years of an agricultural tradition), the community is well positioned to take advantage of a trend toward relocalization. When coupled with Northfield’s equally long tradition of arts, culture and design (remember Anne North moving the piano across the frozen river) and the significant potential for future economic development coming from this sector, Northfield could be poised for years of strong, steady economic growth.