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CRP seeks to resolve Duluth's community disputes

No matter how much Minnesota Nice is pumped into the atmosphere, sometimes community disputes in the Northland just don't play out civilly -- the debates over the school district's Red Plan and the Beacon Point condominiums on Lake Superior being...

No matter how much Minnesota Nice is pumped into the atmosphere, sometimes community disputes in the Northland just don't play out civilly -- the debates over the school district's Red Plan and the Beacon Point condominiums on Lake Superior being just two recent examples.

But have no fear. There is a group out there that recognizes the necessity of keeping the masses calm, cool and collected: the Center for Rural Planning.

"Almost all of the current political races see one or all of the candidates talking about the need to bring people together," said Sue Lawson, the Duluth Township organization's rural planning director. "This call for bringing people together is consistent amongst leaders locally, regionally and nationally. If this is to happen, we all need to think about different, alternative ways of engaging ourselves, our leaders and our communities."

Thus the creation of the center's Community Alternative Dispute Resolution program, which serves most of the North Shore communities. It provides, Lawson explained, communities and organizations alternative processes to conduct dialogues on divisive issues, to conduct decision-making and policy-consensus processes and to provide workshops that train facilitative leaders to lead communities and organizations through these processes.

"... In the end," she added, "the CADR program contributes to peacemaking one citizen, one organization and one community at a time."

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One of the ways Center for Rural Planning's new program meets those goals is by providing alternative ways of engaging citizens, leaders and communities. Lawson said this is reflected in the process used to address important issues of public and community life by connecting leaders and citizens through community conversations (dialogues) and decision-making processes.

"The alternative part also refers to a 'neutral' third party that helps participants work though the process," she continued. "In the CADR program, this 'neutral' is called a facilitative leader."

In addition to the divisive issues mentioned earlier, Lawson said the Duluth area has a number of front-page-news items that could be remedied by a few CADR sessions: the location of an assisted-living complex near Lester Park, issues of sexual harassment and racism and development issues along the North Shore.

"I don't have the data to say that it's worse than it's ever been in America, and I don't quite know of what value there would be in determining if it's the worst," she said when questioned about how divided she thought the nation as a whole is. "However, I believe that there are some things that are significant regarding polarization and conflict today."

Still, Lawson said the bulk of her organization's experience with disputes and conflicts has been focused on land-use issues. (In fact, she said the Center for Rural Planning was formed in response to the growing pressures on small, rural communities to address change and to plan for vibrant, sustainable communities.)

To help familiarize the community with its processes, CADR sessions are being offered free of charge through the end of May, thanks to funding from both the Lloyd K. Johnson Foundation and the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation.

"The center is seeking to partner with other organizations and funders to fully establish the CADR program and offer training workshops and the facilitation of CADR processes," Lawson said. "As this proceeds, the costs associated with these activities will be determined."

So far, Lawson said, the Center for Rural Planning has been able to offer its CADR program onsite to those who need it.

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"We will come to you," she added.

NEWS TO USE
For more information on Community Alternative Dispute Resolution (or any other Center for Rural Planning programs), call 590-3519 or visit www.centerforruralplanning.org .

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