Northfield, MN was recently named as one of the Top Ten Small Towns in the country by Livability, placing second on the list. But what earned Northfield this high ranking? Let’s look at the assets and amenities cited in the piece.
In the order mentioned, they are Charming, Quirky, DJJD, Noontime Organ Recitals, Winter Walk, Higher Income Growth, Proximity to Medical Care, Great Schools, Abundance of Parks, Farmers Market, High Community Involvement, Excellent Quality of Life, Natural Beauty, Cannon River, Historic Downtown, Historical Architecture, Baked Goods, Vegetables, Artwork and Crafts (at the Riverwalk Market Fair), Anglers Kayaking, Canoeing, and Fishing (Bluegill, Walleye, and Northern Pike), Farms, Apple Orchards, Small Lakes, St. Olaf and Carleton Colleges (and their Christmas Festivals, Lectures, Theaters, Art Galleries, Continuing Education), Cowling Arboretum (Excellent Place to Hike, Run, Ski, and Fish) and a 15-Mile Trail System Ranked One of the Best Places in the Country to Run, Mill Towns Trail through Downtown and Sechler Park, and Cross Country Ski[ing] on Trails at Carleton College.
It’s a long list. So what does it mean?
“Charming” has often been mentioned in the comments about the award. Perhaps “Quirky” is more important. It certainly is more differentiating within the market.
The list mentions a lot of events: historic, artistic, cultural, and business. Are we talking about “Quality of Life”? It mentions higher incomes, quality medical care, great schools, abundance of parks, and farmers markets…perhaps a bit quirky with artwork and crafts. Yeah, we’re talking about “Quality of Life”…Northfield-style. Then there’s that high community involvement, so maybe our unique quality of life is a bit quirky.
Many of the events cited in the piece take place in downtown Northfield, MN. The Cannon River runs through it and historic architecture adorns it. At the Mayor’s Summit on Economic Development a year or so ago, one of the independent economic development professionals on the panel said that Northfield’s greatest asset was its quality of life. He also noted that downtown was a big part of that quality.
In fact, the list repeatedly references assets such as natural beauty, the Cannon River, the historic downtown, and historical architecture. Is this the natural and built environment of a quality life? Arts and crafts and artisan foods, kayaking, canoeing, and fishing…these are some of the things and some of the activities that we place within that environment. Downtown is a key piece of that environment, where the natural elements and the built elements come together.
The Four Foresighted Founding Fathers of the NDDC, Bardwell Smith, Brett Reese, Jim Braucher, and Keith Covey based the organization on on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Street Program. This comprehensive approach has led to a wide variety of collaborations and partnerships over the years, with a variety of stakeholders, including residential and commercial, artistic and economic, and historic and environmental interests.
For almost 15 years, the NDDC has been working to generate additional incremental investment, both private and public, in our most effective amenities and most powerful assets, the same amenities and assets that earned Northfield the silver medal among the nation’s small towns. The unifying place, the center of our networks, the heart of the community is our historic, scenic, artistic, active, and authentic downtown.
Let’s remember the assets and amenities that earned the silver medal. Let’s continue to advocate for incremental additional investment in these assets.
…and maybe we should print up some bumper stickers that say “Keep Northfield Quirky”.