Spaces to Places

Transforming Public Spaces into Vibrant Places for the Community.

Connecting a Community with Walkability

Written by Marissa Skuza, Government Affairs Coordinator, Greater Lakes Association of REALTORS®

Crosslake, Minnesota is located in north central Minnesota and is the only city located on the Whitefish Chain, the ninth largest body of water in the stat. The city’s off-tourist season population of just over 2,000 swells to 15,000 in the summer months.  Other visitors make a daytrip and utilize local resorts, campgrounds, hotels, and other accommodations.


Since early 2016, Crosslake residents have been meeting to identify ideas to improve the city.  A group called the Crosslakers was formed to head up this effort.  Early priorities identified included enhancing the existing network of trails and making it easier for citizens and visitors to navigate all parts of the town by foot.  Later in 2016 the Minnesota Design Team (MDT), a group of volunteer architects, landscape architects, urban planners, tourism advisors, and other community experts, visited Crosslake.  They suggested that the city look for ways to increase connectivity within all parts of the city.

Mike O’Connell, one of our REALTOR® members, was very involved in the MDT visit and approached the Greater Lakes Association of REALTORS® (GLAR) to see if there were any statistical resources that could be used for a presentation and noted the project’s goals.  Marissa Skuza, Government Affairs Coordinator for GLAR, became interested in the project and jumped on board to help out.  In January of 2017, Marissa applied for an NAR grant for a Walkable Communities WalkShop to be held in June and conducted by Blue Zones.

Samantha Thomas of Blue Zones, who was later quoted the Northland Press, a local newspaper, said “The purpose of the WalkShop is to help empower and inspire local residents to design new ways to enhance the ability of people to walk or bike throughout the town.  It also provides a social engagement where local citizens and community leaders are brought together to discuss the future of their community.”

Samantha, who was joined by Dan Burden, arrived the day before the WalkShop and met with a small group of elected officials, staff, and business leaders for a lunch meeting and bus tour of the city. The group took a look at the existing trail and road system as well as the potential future park and trail sites.  They also looked at the main roadway through the city, known by residents as Route 66, and discussed potential safety concerns for walkers and bicyclists, especially in the busy tourist season.


On the day of the WalkShop, held at Crosslake Lutheran Church, over 30 people attended including local REALTORS®, Crosslakers, elected officials, city staff, local business owners, members of the local media, and community members. The morning began with a presentation by Dan Burden on walkability and highlighted some of the walkability solutions other cities like Crosslake have implemented.


Attendees then broke into four groups and sat down with maps of the city to brainstorm what walkability concepts they would like to see applied in Crosslake.


In the afternoon, the groups presented their final map concepts to the full group.  Then the whole group headed outside for a short walk along County Road 66.  During the walk, Dan pointed out some things that the town may want to consider to increase walkability.  As one example, he suggested a roundabout at one of the entrances to the town square, which is also the site of the new school set to break ground this year, to control traffic speeds and make it easier for pedestrians to cross from the lake and campground to local businesses.  He also suggested to slow the speeds on Country Road 66 in the downtown area to 20 miles per hour as well as to add crosswalks and bike lanes.


After the walking tour, everyone re-grouped to review their goals going forward and what they would like to see as an outcome from the WalkShop.  It was fantastic to hear the optimism and excitement in the room.

The Crosslakers, city staff and elected officials are eager to implement some of the suggestions from the group brainstorming activities. The city is already working on extending trails to South Bay Park and on drafting a new comprehensive plan.  Blue Zones will follow up with a report including a set of recommendations and the city is looking forward to adding concepts from the report into their planning.

And, not only was interest generated in looking at making the city more walkable, but also at looking at other forms of public transportation such as a water taxi and trolley system.

Crosslake is now looking forward to becoming more walkable and more connected.

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Community Outreach Programs

Housing Opportunity Grant
Housing Opportunity Grants support state and local REALTOR® Associations’ affordable housing activities. The goal of the program is to position REALTORS® as leaders in improving their communities by creating affordable housing

Smart Growth Grant
Smart growth is an approach to development that encourages a mix of building types and uses, diverse housing and transportation options, development within existing neighborhoods, and community engagement. The Smart Growth Program offers state and local REALTOR® Associations to way to engage with government officials, community partners and the general public in planning and designing community’s future.

Planned diversity initiatives makes good business sense. REALTOR® Associations with well-planned diversity programs create a stronger sense of community, particularly in neighborhoods with high concentrations of foreign-born and minority residents who are moving up the socioeconomic ladder and are buying homes.

NAR Placemaking Resources

Placemaking Guide: A Guide to Transform a Public Space into a Community Place
REALTORS® and state and local association staff can learn the details of Placemaking, the kinds of projects placemaking entails, how to organize them, and where to go for assistance and resources.

Placemaking Webinar Series
Our Placemaking Webinar Series will provide more in depth information on the various types of Placemaking and how REALTORS® were involved in Placemaking activities in their communities.

Placemaking Grant
The Placemaking Grant funds the creation of new public spaces, like pocket parks, trails & gardens, in a community. The grant focuses on “lighter, cheaper, quicker” placemaking projects, which can be built under a year and cost less  than $200,000.

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Smart Growth

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