CITY BUZZ | Spring/Summer 2023

MSP LTER logo over Minneapolis skyline


City Buzz is the semi-annual newsletter of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan Area Urban Long-Term Ecological Research Program (MSP LTER), produced to inform interested partners and community members of our work. Sign up to receive the City Buzz newsletter here!

From the Director

Sarah Hobbie Headshot

Happy summer! I hope you are all coping with the heat and air quality issues. Many of the MSP researchers have settled into a rhythm of conducting summer field research—in parks, yards, lakes, and ponds—after an energizing Summer Symposium, held at the end of May at the University of Minnesota Saint Anthony Falls Laboratory. We were excited to share our activities and findings with over 80 community partners, MSP researchers, and educators at our Symposium this year. This gathering reminded me of how incredibly grateful I am for the support we receive from our partners, including exchanging ideas, accessing research sites, and sharing data. I encourage all our partners to continue to help us understand how we can best support your efforts and priorities.

One highlight of the Summer Symposium was that MSP personnel received a sneak-peak of the Bell Museum’s Solution Studio, a new summertime makerspace focused on creativity and problem-solving, and inspired by MSP research. The Solution Studio is now open to the public (details under “Featured Event”), so head on over to the Bell Museum and check it out!

Like our annual Symposium, this issue of City Buzz brings together our community partners and researchers to reflect on their work across the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area. Specifically, the authors reflect on the integration of science and art in urban ecology—and the way each provides an important lens through which to explore the meaning of place.

- Sarah Hobbie, Director and Lead Principal Investigator

Featured Event

Bell Museum’s Solution Studio | Running June 16 - September 10, 2023 | Open Tuesday - Sunday, 10am - 4pm

From the Bell Museum: The Solution Studio at the Bell Museum is an opportunity to let your creativity run wild as you work to solve challenges inspired by cutting-edge research. We provide the materials and tools, and you bring the big ideas and a willingness to explore, create, experiment, and share! This year, the Bell Museum is drawing inspiration from the work of researchers associated with the MSP LTER. Activities allow museum-goers to explore the ecological impacts of urban contaminants, functioning of urban watersheds, and advocacy in environmental policies and practice. Stop by, explore, and connect with us!

Featured Stories

Communicating Ecological Resilience Efforts Through Art & Science – At Crosby Farm Regional Park

Interviews with Leslie Brandt and Willard Malebear, Jr.

From the MSP LTER: Consistent with this issue’s theme of collaboration through synthesizing science and art, below are two interviews—one with Leslie Brandt, MSP LTER Researcher and Supervisory Climate Adaptation Specialist at the US Forest Service, and the other with Willard Malebear, Jr., a local Indigenous artist. Here, Leslie and Willard share their unique approaches to collaboration related to the Adaptation Silviculture for Climate Change (ASCC) study at Crosby Farm Regional Park (Crosby), where MSP LTER researchers and other scientists are addressing our project’s research question around urban forest resilience in the face of climate change and pests and pathogens. Through this collaboration, Willard created artwork for informational signs that depict the different silviculture treatments included in the ASCC experiment. Images of Willard’s artwork and more information about the study can be found here and in the article below. The signs are in place at the Crosby research site.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q & A with Leslie Brandt, MSP LTER Researcher and Supervisory Climate Adaptation Specialist at the US Forest Service

Can you describe the ASCC tree canopy research at Crosby?

Our project tests three alternative strategies to adapting forest management to climate change in an urban floodplain forest. This area lost substantial canopy due to emerald ash borer, and trees are not regenerating at the site. There are three treatments: resistance, resilience, and transition and a control. These are set up in six replicates, each 1/10th acre plots (24 plots total). The Resistance treatment is planted with a species composition similar to what had been there historically (minus the ash). The Resilience treatment adds more species from floodplains in Minnesota/northern Iowa. The Transition treatment is where we are planting flood-adapted trees from the southern Midwest that may be better adapted to future conditions.

What makes the Crosby site unique?

It is the first urban site in the ASCC Network. The park itself is unique as the largest natural park in St. Paul and is at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers. This area, Bdote, has special cultural significance to the Dakota people.

What does inclusive, community-engaged research mean to you? What role has it played in ASCC and the Crosby site?

This project was co-designed by researchers and managers from dozens of organizations. A core team from the University of Minnesota, Mississippi Park Connection (MPC), the Park Service, US Forest Service, and City of St. Paul work together to manage the site and collect data. We also engage the broader community as volunteer scientists and stewards of the project.

How did the project engage Willard Malebear, Jr. for the poster design and folks at Wakaŋ Tipi Awaŋyaŋkapi (formerly the Lower Phalen Creek Project) for the interpretative messages?

MPC has been collaborating with [Wakaŋ Tipi Awaŋyaŋkapi] on multiple projects of mutual interest. They collaboratively worked on the sign design for the project. They reached out to students at North Hennepin Community College who were in a graphic design course to see if anyone was interested in the project, and Willard happened to be a student there and expressed interest. It was an obvious fit.

How can the public get involved?

You can learn about available opportunities on our volunteer page or email Emma at [email protected] for more information.



resilience-bur oak
Transition-red maple
From the ASCC and MPC “Signs at Crosby”: In 2022, we installed signs to share the project with visitors at Crosby. The signs represent the three treatments that are being tested in the experiment: resistance, resilience, and transition (there is also a control group). The three types of plots not only contain different tree species, but also different approaches to managing forest structure. The number of large trees, for example, influences the amount of sunlight available to seedlings and understory plants. Willard Malebear, Jr., a local Indigenous artist, created the artwork. His work illustrates Dakota florals and three of the 14 tree species that are growing in the research plots that are significant in Dakota and Ojibwe cultures. The interpretive messages were developed in partnership with [Wakaŋ Tipi Awaŋyaŋkapi (formerly the Lower Phalen Creek Project)], a Dakota-led organization based on the east side of St. Paul.
Q & A with Willard Malebear, Jr., Local Indigenous Artist
How did you become involved in the project?
I became involved with Mississippi Park Connection (MPC) and the Lower Phalen Creek Project (LPCP) [now Wakaŋ Tipi Awaŋyaŋkapi] as an intern through North Hennepin Community College as a graphic design student.
Can you discuss your approach to the artwork, and its meaning to you?
I felt a strong connection to this project [on] many deep levels. I was 10 months out [of] prison and was still on house arrest, and this was my first contracted creative job in nearly seven years and was in fact my first paid graphic design gig. This project helped me build confidence in myself as a designer and a person in long-term recovery from substance abuse and criminal activity. I felt a deep cultural connection to the indigenous aspect of this project. I am Lakota Sioux, and I was eager to share my creativity with the Native American community. I absolutely loved collaborating with the teams at MPC and LPCP [Wakaŋ Tipi Awaŋyaŋkapi] to find a balance between culture, science, and information.
What role do you see art playing in honoring the history and meaning of place and land like that at Crosby?
Art and design connect the reader to the ancestral roots of this project and shows the commitment to honoring the cultural land recognition by MPC and LPCP [Wakaŋ Tipi Awaŋyaŋkapi].
What role do you see art playing in science communications?
I believe art is a critical aspect in any communication between scientific establishments and the community. Art helps the reader not only find interest in the information but can be the attractant needed to draw in the observer. This project is a perfect example of how art can give a reader the cultural context of the information presented.
What would you like the public to take away from this signage and their time at Crosby?
I am hopeful that the people who view these signs can understand the connection between land stewardship, cultural appreciation, and scientific research. I think that these signs will enhance the experience at Crosby and create a deeper connection between the community and the park.
Can you discuss some of the other projects you have completed or are currently involved with?
I am currently in the process of opening a community art center that enables free community access to art materials and creative space called Unified Theory Collective. I believe everyone should be able to access art supplies and creative space for free as a source of wellness to combat social crisis. In this space we will also offer creative and cultural programming/classes.
I am also opening an indigenous themed tattoo shop called Iktomi Tattoo. Iktomi is a trickster spirit in Lakota stories and is represented as a spider but can take the form of a man. Iktomi stories are usually educational and often funny. Both businesses share the same building and are located at 1415 W 35th St. in south Minneapolis. I am also working with Wakaŋ Tipi Awaŋyaŋkapi on some cool projects so keep your eyes out for future projects to be announced as they are doing some amazing things for our community.
I just want to give a special thanks to everyone involved with the Crosby tree project for the trust and support.

Urban Eco-Narratives

By Nancy CookWriter, Teaching Artist, and Director of the Witness Project
From the MSP LTER: The MSP LTER is grounded in collaboration to deliver on its mission to “study how urban stressors affect the ecological structure and functioning of urban nature, including pollinators, urban forests, urban watersheds, and lakes and streams.” We are fortunate to partner with myriad researchers and community partners from across the MSP area—from colleges and universities to NGOs, governmental institutions to community organizations. In the piece below, Nancy Cook discusses one of the MSP LTER collaborative efforts around storytelling, community, and urban ecology.
The MSP LTER, YO MAMA!, and the Witness Project, are engaged in a collaborative effort to co-produce literary narratives focused on ecological/environmental issues within an urban context. The project is designed to make science more meaningful to the community, to make scientists more aware of community perspectives, and to inspire writers to use their skills in service to the community. It builds on a recognition that people develop different ways of seeing, listening, and interpreting in their work. Through sharing their unique “witnessing” and “researching” processes, scientists and artists are discovering how to incorporate these other ways of knowing into their respective practices for the benefit of all.
Literary artists are supporting the scientific community’s professional development by providing MSP LTER graduate students, postdocs, faculty, and other researchers in the sciences with insights on diverse “eco-narrative” techniques, including poetry and storytelling. In turn, MSP LTER scientists are educating the literary artists about ecological relationships between humans and nature in cities and how urban stressors—such as climate change, pollutants, invasive species, and habitat fragmentation—affect the ecological structure and functioning of urban nature.
Small teams of scientists and writers on an eco-narrative field trip
Small teams of scientists and writers on an eco-narrative field trip
Small teams of scientists and writers on an eco-narrative field trip, including: (left) MSP PhD student Audrey Robeson, and writer and community partner Debra Stone; and (right) writers and community partners Julie Landsman and Debra Stone, and MSP LTER researcher and Co-PI Mae Davenport. Participants attend the field trips to educate themselves about ecosystems, find inspiration for their writing, take the opportunity to exchange ideas and knowledge, and learn from each other.
Collaborative Process, Outcomes, and Impact
Participants in the new collaborative—nine scientists and nine writers—are working in teams loosely focused on themes that include tree canopy and preservation policies, native lands restoration, water and soil management, and urban development impact. Following an initial organizational meeting in the fall, all participants have gathered twice to explore storytelling, poetry, and eco-narrative techniques. Small groups have embarked on field trips to Bassett Creek, Wakaŋ Tipi/Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary, and Northside neighborhoods. Teams expect to do much more field research over the summer months. Meanwhile dozens of readings—poems, essays, articles, and other materials found to be motivating and relevant to the collaborative’s work together—have been exchanged. Participants are beginning to write their own poems and essays, as well.
A reading of works is scheduled for August 20 at Cedar Lake East Beach.
In the coming months, the collaborative will also deliver a “Collaborators Handbook.” The handbook will contain, among other things, strategies for scientists on how to approach material from a storytelling perspective, as well as incorporate emotional and other intangible facts and evidence into their work. For non-scientists, the handbook will contain strategies on how to perceive what is hidden in nature and incorporate other-than-human perspectives into their work. The handbook will also contain multiple prompts to inspire students of both the literary arts and the sciences to create accessible narratives on urban environmental justice. A wide range of poetry, essays, and stories composed by participants will serve as examples of such writing. In addition, the collaborative intends to develop a set of action priorities and concrete next steps that will ensure this network of scientists, literary artists, and community allies will have continuing life.
About the Partners in this Collaborative Effort
As partners in this initiative, the MSP LTER, YO MAMA!, and The Witness Project all share histories of community engagement in environmental concerns and an appreciation for the value of sharing experience through a literary lens:
  • Among other things, the MSP LTER studies how diverse residents interact with and experience the benefits and burdens of urban nature through diverse partnerships in the MSP area.
  • YO MAMA! is an art-based support group that works to bridge African/African American culture and historical contributions into transformative actions and socially equitable practices for healing and building sustainable families and communities. YO MAMA! has been involved in a number of ecological and environmental initiatives. The group has hosted climate change and emergency preparedness workshops; convened conversations with North Minneapolis women about the cultural, historical, and spiritual significance of water in their lives; and collaborated with Water Bar—an organization that uses its Northeast Minneapolis storefront, as well as pop-ups around the country, to support artists and conversations around water and community—on a public education presentation at the Twin Cities EcoDistricts Summit.
  • The Witness Project leads community-based writing initiatives and monthly writing workshops that create opportunities for traditionally silenced voices to be heard, thereby serving as a catalyst for cross-cultural understanding. As part of its community engagement efforts, The Witness Project recently compiled a “literary documentary” of several regional parks (see "Phase 1 Community Engagement" and "Work by Community Collaborators for Draft Initial Park Concepts - Phase 2"), interrogating the past, present, and future of the parks through a literary lens. The compilation of essays and poems was then presented to the Minneapolis Park & Rec Board as evidence of important perspectives on proposed changes to the parks in community voices.

About Us

MSP is an urban LTER program in the Twin Cities studying how urban stressors—such as climate change, pollutants, invasive species, habitat fragmentation—affect the ecological structure and functioning of urban nature, including pollinators, forests, watersheds, and lakes and streams. We also study how diverse residents interact with and experience the benefits and burdens of urban nature. Ultimately, we aim to better understand urban nature and related policies and practices, to improve environmental outcomes for all residents.

Who: 100+ researchers, educators, and community organizers from the University of Minnesota, University of St. Thomas, US Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, and Water Bar.

What: Long-term research on ecological relationships between humans and nature in cities.

How: A six-year, $7.1 million, renewable grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to establish a new site as part of the US LTER Network. The grant began in March 2021 and primarily supports postdocs, students, and staff in research, education, and engagement efforts.

Where: Seven-County Twin Cities Metropolitan Area in the State of Minnesota, or Mni Sota Makoce in Dakota. What we now call the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area are the traditional, historical, and contemporary lands of the Dakota People.

To learn more, visit our website at, or contact Sarah Hobbie (Director) at [email protected], or Meredith Keller (Program Manager) at [email protected].