City identifies issues, assets

Public perception can be everything and Superior has issues: Blight, bad roads, poor public transportation, a lack of living wage jobs and affordable housing, and city entrances that lack appeal.

Community Assessment
Area residents listen to Jo Ferguson, standing, talks about what volunteers discovered about from Superior after interviewing 340 residents during a community assessment last week. (Fred Nelson/For the Superior Telegram)

Public perception can be everything and Superior has issues: Blight, bad roads, poor public transportation, a lack of living wage jobs and affordable housing, and city entrances that lack appeal.

Despite years of trying to change its image, the city is still seen as a "bar town" according to youth at the high school and university, said Jo Ferguson, a volunteer with the Community Assessment Program.

It's a community that has a self-image issues that suggest "we don't deserve good things," or "Superior is not superior," Ferguson said.

Those were just some of the findings of a group of volunteers surveying about 340 city residents ranging from kids to seniors over three days last week.

But make no mistake, Ferguson said, Superior has its strengths too: Its people, hometown friendliness, strong work ethic, its natural environment -- Lake Superior and dark skies -- historic buildings, ports, rail and trucking that make it a transportation hub, all of which contribute to a great quality of life.


Some distinctive themes moved to the forefront as residents talked to a variety of volunteer planners about issues and opportunities facing the city.

During the final session, volunteer planners from Wyoming and local volunteers shared their preliminary findings last week.

In Superior and Lake Nebagamon, volunteers gathered "pages and pages" of notes, which will be compiled into a final report that will be made publically available, said Mary Randolph of the Wyoming Rural Development Council, founder of the program. Since its inception in 2000, the program has helped numerous communities in Wyoming -- and the United States -- identify challenges and opportunities, and develop plans for the future.

Participants of the survey process will be notified when the report's available.

The program got its start in Wyoming where small towns face economic challenges to plan for their futures -- consultant costs could be as much as $100,000 to make such plans and resources simply aren't available, Randolph said.

Among the problems heard repeatedly in Superior, were poor road conditions and maintenance, Ferguson said.

She said they also learned there is a lack of living wage jobs and Superior is not an attractive city. Rural transportation was another issue people identified as being lacking, but even in the city, it was identified as issue that needs addressing, she said.

Ferguson said housing was another big issue addressed by participants, issues ranging from blight to a lack of affordable housing and a lack of available housing in desirable neighborhoods or availability to accommodate anticipated growth.


But the city doesn't merely have weaknesses that need to be addressed.

When it comes to the city's strengths, Ferguson said interviewers heard repeatedly about Lake Superior, nature, outdoor activities, four seasons and the good quality of life the environment provides residents.

"You're people here know the good quality of life," Ferguson said.

She said people also recognized the efforts of city and county leadership, which includes the Superior Business Improvement District, the Chamber and Development Association.

Still, living wage employment, downtown revitalization and self-promotion are essential to the city's future according to planning participants, Ferguson said.

"You can do anything you've got the passion and drive to do," Randolph said.

Unlike a lot of planning reports, when the Community Assessment Program will be made available to give people the opportunity to review it.

Two to three months after the report comes back, volunteers with the program will come back to help the community set priorities to accomplish its goals, Randolph said.


"We want to help you get down to two or three top things to start working on to really help set the direction for Superior-Douglas County," Randolph said.

Michelle Hostetler, director of the Development Association, said she was glad to see that 340 people cared enough about the community to come out and identify the issues and opportunities. Formerly a volunteer with the program, she said she believes in the process to move the community ahead.

"In Wyoming, there's been a lot of things we've been able to do," Randolph said. "We've seen convention centers and community centers built after these assessments. We've seen communications change. We're starting to work more collaboratively. We've gotten the Main Street Program in our state as a result of it. So many were looking at downtown beautification so the legislature said 'we need to have a Main Street Program in our state.' We've seen a lot policy changes, even within our government, as a result of these assessments."

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