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Study: Two Harbors 'knows its challenges'

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What do the people of Two Harbors think of their city? That was one question a sociological qualitative research study of Two Harbors sought to answer this spring.

At the Two Harbors City Council meeting Monday, Aug. 27, Diane L. Pike, a professor of sociology at Augsburg University, presented the findings of a research study conducted by four undergraduate students in April.

The students conducted 25 face-to-face, 30- to 40-minute interviews with a wide sample of residents, along with 25 shorter field interviews with random residents. The goal of the project was to complement the many quantitative research studies completed on Two Harbors over the past decade.

"We've seen a lot of numerical studies done, which provide an economic profile of the city," Pike said. "However, none of those reports provide a place for the direct voices of the citizens. So we wanted to fill the gap by exploring the perceptions and opinions community members have about the city's challenges."

The study did not uncover any "hidden problems," Pike said, nor was it expected to.

"Two Harbors appears to know its challenges and needs very well," Pike said.

The study focused on "quality of place" rather than "quality of life." Researchers sought to focus on place issues such as structural amenities, natural amenities and stress reducers.

Four themes emerged from the study:

'Highway 61 vs. Seventh Avenue'

Two Harbors residents view Minnesota Highway 61 as Seventh Avenue, whereas tourists view it as Minnesota Highway 61 — a place to live versus a place to pass through.

"Two Harbors has a challenge of meeting needs for both residents and visitors and that comes head to head sometimes," Pike said. "For example, one participant said: 'The roads here are like a third-world country ...' Yet, there's a lot of anxiety about paying for improvements and who should pay for them."

'Events, not buildings'

The study found that most participants value events and activities over specific buildings for socialization. One of the graduate students who worked on the study, Jordan Marth, encouraged the city to continue to support the existing community festivals and look for more types of activities that can bring the community together.

'Friendly, not welcoming'

Pike stated the study showed that while Two Harbors residents appear friendly, it can be difficult for newcomers to feel welcome and become integrated in the community.

"This isn't a unique struggle; it's something a lot of small towns deal with," Pike said. "One participant said: 'If you are born here, you are part of a collective with a secret password.' But others said: 'If you go out and participate, you can find yourself part of a close knit community.'"

'Learning to be a city'

This last section of themes found by the study found that residents are open to and want changes in the city, but are hesitant to accept changes and doubtful of lasting change.

"The biggest takeaway is that citizens want more communication from the city on the issues that are important to them," Pike said.

Pike said the hope for this study is that it would be "helpful with future planning," and that it reaffirms many of the council's own perceptions.

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle. 

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