High Winds Fund marks 50 years

By Anna Waugh

Macalester’s High Winds Fund celebrated its 50th anniversary Monday night in the chapel with a presentation by Anthony Flint, a public affairs manager at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, a think-tank based in Cambridge, Mass.

The Environmental Studies and Geography departments co-sponsored the presentation.

Flint, author of This Land: Development in America attended Middlebury College, the University of St. Andrews and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. He was a reporter for twenty years at The Boston Globe.

The presentation began with introductions by, among others, President Brian Rosenberg and Professor David Lanegran, chair of the Geography Department. Lanegran called the High Winds Fund an “extraordinary aspect of the college.” He said that the fund invested in the city when “it was generally thought to be a bad idea.”

DeWitt Wallace, the Macalester benefactor of Reader’s Digest fame, created the High Winds Fund in 1956 with an initial gift of $300,000. The fund’s endowment has grown to about $13 million, and has an annual budget of $560,000.

“Although we are marking 50 years of progress, we did not want to focus on the past,” said High Winds Fund Director Tom Welna ’86, explaining why the Fund chose Flint as a speaker. “Mr. Flint is one of a mere handful of thinkers who are thinking about the future of our urban environments holistically and realistically.”

Flint said that urban planning in the United States is inefficient and too dispersed.

“We have spread ourselves thinly over the landscape,” Flint said.

He said that people have moved beyond the suburbs and into exurban areas, beyond the suburban periphery, for two reasons. The first is the quest for wide-open spaces, elbow room, and for the “safety and security of our own backyard.” Second, suburban areas have typically been affordable because energy has been cheap.

“There’s a paradigm shift underway,” Flint said. “We realize that the era of cheap energy is in the past.”

He said he sees opportunities for new urbanism and smart growth, saying that sprawl is breaking the bank in the United States. Cities must pay to bring water and school buses to homes that are farther away. He said that we must also address sprawl in order to address global warming.

Flint said that revitalization of cities across the country has already begun. In Denver, voters approved a $4 billion light rail system, and 40 states across the nation have invested in “smart growth.”

He posed several challenges to smart growth, including zoning and affordability.

“Most zoning in the country today favors one thing, and that’s sprawl,” he said.

New zoning can encourage urban revitalization. However, it must be considered carefully because, “you don’t want to push the middle class out of the suburbs and have the urban neighborhoods unaffordable,” Flint said.

He offered solutions for encouraging people to return to cities, including revitalizing downtown areas, investing in better mass transit, better inner city schools, and denser urban development.

According to Flint, colleges and universities can have a great impact in these changes.

“Colleges and universities increasingly see themselves joined at the hip with their cities and towns. If the town succeeds, they succeed,” Flint said.

The High Winds Fund’s mission is to “maintain and improve the beauty, serenity and security of the area surrounding the campus of Macalester College,” according to its web site.

It is a restricted fund and “is isolated from the other assets of the college. [It] survives and prospers on its own,” Welna said.

The High Winds Fund acts as a landlord to stores that surround Macalester, like Breadsmith and Patagonia. It was responsible for securing the median on Grand Avenue, and assists in finding nearby residences for incoming faculty and staff.

The fund also has partnerships with local non-profit organizations, like the Family Tree Clinic and the Neighborhood Energy Connection. Through its relationship with the Neighborhood Energy Connection, the High Winds Fund was involved in bringing a Toyota Pruis to the neighborhood as part of the HOURCAR car share program.