Monday, May 19, 2008

Ah, to build, to build!

"Ah, to build, to build!
That is the noblest art of all the arts."

- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Wilder Research recently moved to the new Wilder Center, along with many others from the Wilder Foundation. If you have not had the opportunity to visit us, I hope you can make it to our Open House on May 28. Our founders, the Wilder Family, wanted us to exist “in perpetuity”; one of the Foundation’s mottos is “Here for good”. In that spirit, our new building is intended to last for the rest of this century, and it incorporates many features of sustainable design (in fact, enough for us to earn a Gold LEED – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – rating for meeting the highest measures for space, maximization of light, efficiency of heat, conservation of water, and building features).

"We shape our buildings: thereafter they shape us."
- Winston Churchill

Embracing the best environmental practices reflects our desire to embrace best practices in our programming and research, and our new facility provides new opportunities to do so. For me, our large new convening space is one of the most exciting. It allows us to bring people together to share and learn about the best ways we can make a difference in our communities and improve the lives of everyone, especially vulnerable populations. Having sound knowledge and understanding, through research, enables everyone to recognize significant social and economic trends, understand what programs and policies best realize our vision for a region with a high quality of life, and take steps to make this region even better.

Since moving in, Wilder Research has already held a conference on early childhood; and a region-wide seminar on disparities and their implications. In July, we have a cutting-edge seminar on the return on investment of human services. In addition, our new space has been used for large community functions including our Community Open House, a Governor’s forum and the St. Paul Mayor’s State of the City address. I spent many hours chairing a committee of Wilder staff who planned our conference and meeting space. It was more than just the planning of construction. It was architectural design in the best sense – careful consideration of how space, walls, technology, with flexible configurations, can facilitate social interaction and creativity. It’s very gratifying to see the dreams of this committee already beginning to become reality.

We can't know all the future holds. The World Wide Web is, of course, a powerful force. I am amazed at what it has afforded us – our ability to post our findings for anyone from around the world to quickly download; the ability to provide data in a format that allows viewers to easily slice and dice it in a variety of ways as we have on Twin Cities Compass project (; and even the ability for you to comment on this column. Nonetheless, face-to-face interaction has a special importance, which our building can foster. In the seminars I mentioned above, I’ve already begun to dig more deeply into issues with colleagues from throughout the region who are concerned about education, early childhood, health, and our economy.

"When one has finished building one's house, one suddenly realizes that in the process one has learned something that one really needed to know in the worst way - before one began.”
- Friedrich Nietzsche

Yes. It's a learning experience. But all that we do in life is part of the search for doing things better. That's the value of the sound practical research we do at Wilder Research, intended to improve the lives of individuals, families, and communities. I hope you join us, at Wilder Center, and elsewhere, in our quest for better understanding and a better life for all.

And, I look forward to seeing you at our open house.