Case Study: Community Engagement in Austin, Minnesota
In the summer of 2016, the City of Austin, MN surveyed minority, immigrant and refugee people to determine their knowledge of climate change and how it impacted them personally. Surveys were completed over a two-week period at a local non-profit called the Welcome Center, which helps new residents and immigrants transition into the city, find economic opportunities, and become part of Austin's multicultural community. Following the survey, the City compiled the results and convened a focus group with Karen women, primarily from southern and southeastern Myanmar. This focus group discussed climate issues, language barriers, and the experiences they faced living in Austin. Along with the survey data, this research was compiled and incorporated into the Austin's Comprehensive Land Use Plan.
Over the last 25 years, Austin has seen significant demographic change, transforming from a mostly white community in the early 1990s to a multicultural city today. As of 2016, there were 46 different languages spoken by students at Austin Public Schools. The city recognized that these demographic shifts were not being reflected in government participation and planning. Therefore, they decided to actively seek participation of non-English speaking people. The Welcome Center offered the opportunity to collect feedback from residents in what is perceived by Austin's immigrant and refugee populations as a safe space. The surveys were completed as people came in for assistance with other matters, and to the degree possible were completed in the respondents native language.
From the survey and the focus group, the city learned that these residents were primarily concerned with issues related to housing and actual weather compared to climate change. Nonetheless, the engagement provided an opportunity to build dialogue with non-English speakers and learn what kinds of information would be most useful to these communities. The City learned that residents struggled with understanding Austin's transit system since handouts were only available in English. Additionally, residents worried about energy affordability over the summer and were not able to take full advantage of rebate programs the city offered since information was only available in English. While learning how the city could improve services, the city used the opportunity to educate residents on what to do during an extreme weather event.
This community engagement initiative was a cooperative effort between the City of Austin, Great Plains Institute, and the Welcome Center of Austin. It was supported by a grant from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) - Green Step Cities Program.
Publication Date: 2016
- City of Austin, Minnesota
- Great Plains Institute
- The Welcome Center
- Case study