Warren, Minnesota, hosts state pilot program to design sustainable future

Since 2020, the town of 1,600 people has been participating in a Minnesota Design Center pilot project called Design for Community Regeneration, or D4CR, to imagine a future that addresses food, water and energy security, economic opportunities and social cohesion.

Shannon Mortenson, Warren city administrator, explains what a regenerative future could look like for the city's downtown Centennial Park.
Ingrid Harbo / Grand Forks Herald
We are part of The Trust Project.

WARREN, Minn. – Tucked among food trucks, carnival rides and 4-H competitions at the Marshall County Fair this year will be the ideas created through a community project to design a sustainable and clean future for Warren, Minnesota.

Since 2020, the town of 1,600 people has been participating in a Minnesota Design Center pilot project called Design for Community Regeneration, or D4CR, to imagine a future that addresses food, water and energy security, economic opportunities and social cohesion.

D4CR builds on what Warren already has to offer, says Shannon Mortenson, city administrator, and is the community’s latest project to make life better for residents in Warren.

“I think that’s why projects are successful here,” she said. “Because you have to remember you’re here for the residents.”

Warren is the first of three cities chosen for the D4CR pilot project, it is funded by a grant from Northwest Regional Sustainable Development Partnership. The other cities involved are Hallock and Crookston.


The D4CR project is split into four parts: discover, dream, decide and do.

The project started in Warren in October 2020 with meetings in the community consisting of residents, businesses, new people to the community, government officials and investors. These groups talked about what assets Warren already has and what a regenerative future could look like in Warren.

“Regenerative” in D4CR projects refers to resource efficiency, explained Tim Griffin, a co-lead of D4CR and senior research fellow at the Minnesota Design Center. The ideas produced in D4CR reimagine how resources like land and energy are used in Warren.

“From the energy side, create more energy than is used,” said Griffin.

The ambitious $10.4 billion plan was approved by the regional transmission organization that serves Minnesota and much of North Dakota, but will require regulatory approval.

The community groups created possible projects that could help Warren reach goals of a regenerative future, and narrowed down a list of projects that are practical for the town.

“That was quite a process since it was a pilot project and they hadn’t done that before, so it did take a long time to get to the dream and the design, but they were able to narrow it down now in the last couple of months to the four sectors that we’re working on now,” said Mortenson.

Now on the last part, “do,” the project has resulted in four “prototypes” that are being presented to the public for feedback. The prototypes focus on energy independence, use of public lands, a pedestrian trail and making the town more welcoming to visitors and potential residents.

The prototypes propose a series of projects for Warren. In the past, Warren had its own power plant, so the energy independence prototype proposes putting solar panels in different spots in town to bring energy production back to Warren. To make public lands more regenerative, trees, sidewalks and community gathering spaces could be added to town. One prototype proposes putting a recreational trail on the community’s existing flood diversion dike that wraps around the city. Another proposes an interactive online map that would demonstrate what Warren has to offer.


At the county fair on July 20-24, posters explaining the four prototypes will be available for fair-goers to look at and provide feedback for the ideas.

Construction on a news bike path through Warren began earlier this week, and Mortenson suspects the excitement about that project will make the recreational trail prototype a popular option among community members. The path would stretch for miles out of Warren, around fields and the city’s wastewater treatment lagoons, which are a popular spot for bird watching.

“It does take you pretty far out of town, but that’s visioning,” she said, “You just never know. Maybe your community grows so it doesn’t seem like it’s so far out of town.”

Mortenson says Warren was chosen for its history with environmental sustainability projects. In 2016, Warren was part of the Climate Smart Municipalities program, which paired it with a city in Germany for an international exchange of sustainable energy ideas.

“Pretty much the reason Warren was chosen was that we have a pretty progressive thought process,” said Mortenson.

The D4CR program will leave Warren with ideas and community feedback, but to set any plans in motion after the design process, the community will have to find funding. Projects like this, says Mortenson, often set communities like Warren up for success when applying for grants because the research is already complete.

In the past, Warren was part of a Minnesota Department of Health walkability workshop, and with feedback from that workshop, the city received a $5,000 grant to pay for signage and benches along designated walking paths in town.

“So we do know that it works when you do these little pilot projects,” she said.

Ingrid Harbo joined the Grand Forks Herald in September 2021.

Harbo covers Grand Forks region news, and also writes about business in Grand Forks and the surrounding area.

Readers can reach Harbo at 701-780-1124 or Follow her on Twitter @ingridaharbo.
What to read next
John Reitmeier, one of the owners of Canna Corners, opened the store in downtown Crookston on Tuesday, Aug. 2.
The company started the Product Distribution Center expansion, a $400 million project, with a groundbreaking in fall 2017.
In its 2021 uniform crime report released Friday, Aug. 12, the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension reported 201 murders, an 8.5% annual increase, and a 21.6% increase in violent crime. The previous murder record was set in 2020, when Minnesota had 185 murders — a 58% increase from the 117 reported in 2019.
Severe cold weather across the southern U.S. in February 2021 sent energy prices soaring across the U.S. due to gas supply disruptions and a spike in demand. While the weather had a particularly severe effect on Texas’ power grid, customers in Minnesota ended up seeing significant increases in prices. Customers of the state's gas utilities ended up getting charged around $660 million more than they normally would in February.