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Active Living: A creative approach to more active communities

Active Living: A creative approach to more active communities

Building healthier, livable, people-centered communities is a goal across Hennepin County, but it takes a creative approach. As cities keep up with day-to-day operations, it can be hard to develop the skillset and budget to explore projects that promote walking, biking, and community prosperity.

That’s why Hennepin County’s Active Living program offers funding of up to $15,000 and technical assistance to support city leaders that want to take on this kind of work.  

“We work to sow the ground to cultivate interest in these projects,” said Denise Engen, principal Active Living planner. “We grow partners' knowledge and capacity; we grow their enthusiasm to take on these projects.”

City leaders from Maple Grove and Brooklyn Center were awarded with recent Active Living grants to tackle two very different projects that built momentum for larger initiatives. 

Active Living projects from 2020 to 2023.

Connecting a corridor in Maple Grove

Peter Vickerman, the planning manager in Maple Grove, was already enthusiastic about potential projects along a busy bike corridor in the city. Top of mind for him is helping bikers find their way to Arbor Lakes, a hub of shopping, restaurants, and home for community events. He bikes the trails around town often and saw potential for some easier crossings, some wayfinding signs to help people navigate to the business district, but he wanted to bring options “out to the community.”

“That's really the big picture of planning that you need to work on so it’s not just one person’s perspective, but a broader perspective that can get the most buy in and get the most increase of use of that corridor that's already there,’” said Vickerman.

Vickerman and the Maple Grove planners tapped into an Active Living grant to help fund outreach and surveying efforts to get a good sense of how to best serve residents around Arbor Lakes. That effort will run through the summer when city residents are out on the trails, in the parks, and in the Arbor Lakes area. And he’s eager to bring community voices in and start exploring what he called a menu of improvements the city can work through over time.

“That's a really positive part of Active Living, it isn't just an end in and of itself, it's something that can set you up for other things in the future or other programs that might be a little more robust,” said Vickerman.

Traffic calming tools in Brooklyn Center

Kory Andersen Wagner, public works planner in Brooklyn Center, looked to Active Living to get equipment to take on new capabilities in the city. A key goal for him was acquiring equipment to support the citywide traffic calming policy that Wagner hopes will speed up the cycle of feedback, testing, and traffic calming projects for the city.

A goal in that policy is to promote more walking and biking. One aspect of that overall goal is addressing aggressive driving or calming corridors where people tend to drive fast. If traffic in those corridors slows down, residents will be more likely to walk and bike.

“Our physical environment's designed for cars, we need to start shifting that to create opportunities to get around,” said Andersen Wagner. “When there are more ways to get around, people tend to use them.”

Like Vickerman, Wagner said the trick was confirming efficiently and quickly that the projects are actually going to work before pouring concrete. Wagner used Active Living funds to acquire a modular, mobile speed table that the city places, monitors (including community surveying on the results), and moves to the next test area.

“If we can do one or two of these a year and keep the costs of the treatments pretty low, we can follow these pilots in one to two years and really show residents that their voices have been heard,” said Andersen Wagner. “And here is a physical remedy that we built.”

A creative approach to project workA map of Active Living projects across the county.

In each of these cities and cities across the county (as seen in the map to the right), Active Living projects served to bring a little momentum to broader city initiatives that align with the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership grants from the Minnesota Department of Health that funds this work. But within those guidelines, Engen said she and her team provides a collaborative approach to finding ways to meet city goals and push those broader goals further.

“We have set goals and requirements, but within that 'box,' there is a lot of freedom to develop creative solutions,” said Engen.

To learn more about Active Living and how to get funding for a project, visit the Active Living program page at