ND Reaches New Heights in Community Livability Projects

Mike Moen
Prairie News Service
Those involved with AARP's Community Challenge grant program say smaller efforts, such as installing park benches in an undeserved area, can go a long way in helping to make a place livable for everyone. (Adobe Stock)

Towns and cities across America are rolling out recruiting efforts to keep their populations stable. A grant program for community-led projects puts the emphasis on making places livable for everyone, and the response is growing in North Dakota.

Since 2017, AARP has been awarding Community Challenge grants - which call for quick turnaround improvement projects carried out by civic leaders, nonprofits and residents.

At the state and national level this year, the program awarded its largest amount of grants so far.

Janelle Moos - advocacy director for AARP North Dakota - said as municipalities monitor population trends, putting a finer point on certain quality-of-life issues is important.

"Maybe it's making streets more walkable, making their downtown areas more friendly," said Moos. "How do they create community gardens?"

In North Dakota this year, four groups with ideas to improve their communities received grants totaling $52,000.

Among them is a plan for a public fishing spot in Devils Lake, as well as informational videos to promote the use of public transportation in the Bismarck, Mandan and Lincoln area.

Last year, Bismarck received funding to revitalize an underused park in a diverse area, with a new mural serving as a key component of the upgrades.

The city's Nutrition Services Program Coordinator Katie Johnke said she hopes it can spark conversations for similar efforts, while allowing area residents to come together on a range of issues.

"I think there's a lot of opportunity to use those spaces as a neutral environment for people to have those conversations," said Johnke.

The program is broadening its scope in considering projects, including those that address challenges such as affordable housing.

Moos said these collective efforts still center around the idea of making life better for everyone who either resides in or is looking to move to a specific community.

"We all want very similar things," said Moos. "So, these projects really look at what keeps people in communities but what attracts them and then how can we apply that funding to make sure that that is something that the community needs and wants."