Sustainable Minneapolis in Stockholm

As we grow Minneapolis, we’re growing it sustainably — because in this century, that’s the only way to do it. That’s why I’m very excited to be in Stockholm today to represent Minneapolis at the first-ever European Green Capital conference. I’m part of a National League of Cities delegation with officials of 10 other U.S. cities, and we’re here to learn how European cities are meeting the challenges of growth, sustainable economic development and enhancing the environment — and to share examples of how our cities are getting results in meeting the same challenges.

The European Union has officially designated Stockholm as the first European Green Capital, and part of that honor, Stockholm is holding this inaugural conference on urban sustainability. The National League of Cities, which is fully funding my travel and conference-related expenses, received a grant from the U.S. State Department to send our delegation to the conference. (You can follow the conference on Twitter at #EGCConference, and follow me at @MayorRTRybak — I’ll be tweeting it.)

On Thursday, I’ll speak on a panel entitled “Green Success Stories: American Best Practices,” and Minneapolis’ success stories will give me a lot to talk about. From building capacity for jobs and businesses in the clean-energy economy and launching the country’s largest bike-share system, to connecting residents to healthy, locally-grown, sustainable food and helping them save money and energy in their homes, we are building sustainability into everything we do. Sustainability is a key component of the City of Minneapolis’ five-year goals, and we are getting results.

After all, it’s not accident that earlier this year, an independent survey ranked Minneapolis the sixth-best eco city in the world. I’m proud of that ranking, but I’m much more proud of the planning and hard work that has led up to it. To get great results, you need a great plan, and we have that: The Minneapolis Plan for Sustainable Growth sets the framework for our efforts and guides all our decisions around planning, investment and regulation. I encourage you to take a look. And the Minneapolis Sustainability Initiative sets out 25 specific sustainability indicators — from increasing use of renewable energy and building bike capacity, to planting more trees and improving access to healthy, sustainably-produced, locally-grown food — that help us benchmark our progress. 

Recent results include:

  • Being rated the #1 bicycling city in the U.S. by Bicycling Magazine.
  • Opening the largest bike-share program in the country in partnership with Nice Ride Minnesota, and nearly doubling the miles of on-street bike lanes.
  • Launching ThincGreenMSP, a partnership with Saint Paul to grow green jobs and green-business capacity, including by implementing an aggressive green-procurement policy.
  • Through the Homegrown Minneapolis initiative, opening up city-owned land to more community gardens, connecting emerging local food entrepreneurs to business financing and markets, and closing food deserts by establishing more mini-farmers markets.
  • Establishing “Energy Savings Made Easy” to provide financing tools for energy-efficiency upgrades, with the goal of making 50% of buildings in the region energy-efficient in the next 10 years.
  • Planting over 5,000 trees since 2006 through the City Trees program, whereby the City provides trees at a discount for residents to plant at their homes.
  • Implementing Access Minneapolis, a comprehensive transportation plan that puts pedestrians, bikes and transit on equal footing with automobiles.
  • Installing 600KW of solar power on the Minneapolis Convention Center, making it the largest solar array in the Upper Midwest.
  • Being ranked 10th for clean drinking water among U.S. cities with populations of 250,000 or more, according to the Environmental Working Group.
  • Implementing aggressive storm- and surface-water management programs that help protect the quality of our lakes and the Mississippi River, including by installing green roofs on major public buildings that help capture millions of gallons of storm water each year — and winning the “Innovation in Government Watershed Heroes Award” because of this work.

We’ve accomplished a lot in the last several years, but we’re not resting on our laurels: we’re folding sustainability into everything we do in order to make Minneapolis the most sustainable city anywhere. And that takes all of us doing our part, large and small, every single day.

Check back over the next few days for more updates from Stockholm.

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Innovative connections

I went to two events in Minneapolis today that highlight the innovative ways that we’re making progress in two areas that I care deeply about: connecting our residents to the clean-energy economy and connecting our youth to trusted adults.

First thing this morning, at the home of Mike and Breanne Rothstein in the Windom neighborhood, I got to participate in the 2,000th home energy audit of the Community Energy Services program. Community Energy Services is full-service, one-stop shop that connects Minneapolis residents to easy ways to save money, reduce energy waste and improve our environment. It has three easy steps: first, you attend a workshop on energy savings sponsored by your neighborhood organization; then, you get a home energy audit conducted by trained workers from the Center for Energy and the Environment, who look for easy ways that you can save money and energy at the same time; and finally, workers install for you a variety of energy-saving equipment and materials — worth up to $400.

That’s a great deal for a small initial fee that averages around $30 per household. Even better, once the process is over and your materials are installed, you start saving money on your utility bills: anywhere from $125 to $300 a year, depending on the extent of the fixes.

As great as it was to participate in the 2,000th home energy audit since the program began last year in 28 pilot neighborhoods, we also announced today that the program will be soon available citywide and will serve 4,000 more households. So if you’ve taken advantage of Community Energy Services already, congratulations; if you’re in a neighborhood that’s currently eligible, don’t wait any longer; and if you live in another neighborhood, contact your neighborhood organization today and encourage them to sign up for Community Energy Services today so that you can start taking advantage of it.

As we congratulate the homeowners who have already participated and encourage those who haven’t yet to get started, we also have to extend thanks — in this case, to President Obama and the members of Congress who supported the Recovery Act for the funding that allows Minneapolis residents to benefit from these home energy audits. (The $700,000 from the Recovery Act that has allowed us to connect Minneapolis households to this innovative program — and has also connected workers to 34 new jobs in the clean-energy economy — is just a small part of the $64 million that Minneapolis has been awarded from the Recovery Act. Those funds will be benefitting our city for many years to come.)

Right after that, I headed up to Northeast to meet with the team of Minneapolis police officers, called school resource officers, who are working directly with our children in Minneapolis public schools. We first partnered with the public schools to put officers into school buildings several years ago, at the height of the spike in youth violence. The idea was that the officers would connect and build relationships of trust with youth before they started to move in harmful directions and help guide them back onto a safe, healthy and productive path. (Connecting youth with a trusted adult and intervening at the first sign that a child is at risk for violence are the first two principles of our comprehensive youth violence prevention efforts.)

Well, it’s working, and these officers have been a quiet but effective part of our success in reversing youth violence. One by one, every day, these officers are connecting with our kids in real, honest ways and are building bridges to them that last beyond the school day and the school year. And the numbers back it up: since we started our youth violence prevention work several years ago, of which our school resource officers are an important if largely unsung piece, we have seen double-digit declines every year, including another 18% drop so far this year over last year.

The stories that the officers told me today about the connections they have built with our kids really touched my heart and filled me with hope and admiration. This hard but rewarding day-to-day work, which takes place behind the scenes and with no media fanfare, is getting youth and police officers on the same team to build a safe city. And that’s how we make sure that Minneapolis is a safe place to call home well into the future.