Greening Minnesota ~ July 2011
It's summer in Minnesota! The sun is shining, the rivers are flowing and the winds of sustainable change are blowing throughout Minnesota. Read about how local communities are working towards creating a more environmentally-friendly world.
Edina's new public works building, which formally opened this spring, was built with sustainability in mind. It has geothermal heating and cooling and used recycled materials and its landscape was designed to minimize the development's impact on the environment. A rain garden holds and infiltrates water from sloping parking lots. Native grasses and plants are growing in "no-mow" areas between the sidewalk and the parking lot. Once they're mature, those native plantings should need little care. Unfortunately, not everyone knows how these native areas work or how much money they can save when it comes to caring for public lands and some people are complaining about their appearance as they become established.
Minneapolis is ahead of the pack in at least one way compared to the rest of the country and other bike friendly cities like Portland. Here, depending on the data, between 31 and 45 percent of bicyclists are women, compared to a national average of 26.4 percent. The only thing the biking pundits find more puzzling is that people here also bike in the winter.
Minneapolis became the 10th city to sign on to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's urban bird treaty, which brings with it a $70,000 grant to restore avian habitat. Mayor R.T. Rybak's office and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board raised an additional $98,019 by teaming with the city of St. Paul and Audubon Minnesota. The money will be used to enhance the bird habitat along North Mississippi Regional Park and B.F. Nelson Park near Nicollet Island and to create a birding trail in the Lilydale Regional Park along the Mississippi River. The Twin Cities supports more than 300 species of birds. Birds face a number of hazards in cities, including invasive plants that damage their habitat, and constant predation from roaming cats.
Trees in Minnesota have taken a beating this year and some foresters think more of the same lies ahead. Road salt, straight-line winds and tornadoes have felled an estimated 5,000 trees in Minneapolis this spring and summer. Hundreds more were toppled in Sauk Centre. In Belview, 70% of the small city's trees were destroyed July 1 by a low-level tornado that took out hundreds more across Redwood and Renville counties. Another 1,000 went down near Cambridge during storms that same night. But as communities clean up the mess and confront the shocking and long-term loss of summer shade, their trees remain vulnerable to many more threats than just wind. Soil still saturated by snowmelt and heavy rains, too much road salt last winter, rising water tables in some areas, a late-starting and possibly short growing season, and cool, wet conditions favorable for fungi have added to the challenge faced by the state's urban forest.
A warning on a related note: Imprelis, a new, supposedly environmentally friendly herbicide from Dupont that showed effectiveness against weeds such as creeping charlie, has been wrecking havoc on Twin Cities trees. Evergreens throughout the area are now showing twisting and distorted branches, needle browning and drooping that may be linked to the weedkiller. Imprelis was not available to homeowners through garden stores, but was used by lawn-care companies that heard Dupont's pitch that the herbicide was effective on tough weeds but "easy on the environment."
Some Maplewood residents have been raising chickens in their back yards for years, but starting in August they can do it without breaking the law. The City Council passed an ordinance that legalizes the practice. The east metro suburb is another added to the growing list of Twin Cities communities that allow urban agriculture. The ordinance will require anybody raising chickens to pay $75 to the city for a license and $50 to renew each year. Residents will be able to have as many as 10 hens - but no roosters - in a back- or side-yard coop that is at least 5 feet from any property line. Chickens must wear a leg band with the owner's name and phone number. Residents must get unanimous approval from owners of adjacent properties, among other restrictions.
A student group at Macalester College won permission to put a coop on the St. Paul campus. The coop has educational benefits, in addition to having a message about urban sustainability. It was built by an Amish carpenter with reused barn wood. It sits between the eco-house and the athletic fields. Students sign up for shifts on the chicken care schedule. They're free to take the eggs, some blue and some brown, depending on the breed. The Macalester students do plan to partner with K-12 and college classes so young people can learn about the chickens.
It's not quite Greening Minnesota, but it has an effect on the eastern border of the state. A new group in western Wisconsin wants to start seeing more rain gardens. The gardens have been slow to catch on in St. Croix County even though they're common across the St. Croix River in Washington County. In Stillwater, for example, there are about 40 rain gardens on city rights-of-way and 10 more may be planted this summer. In Hudson, just one sits on city property, installed this month by volunteers. Some artists, gardeners, nonprofits, businesses and members of local government hope to change that through the Artful Rain Garden Project, an effort to educate St. Croix County residents about the benefits and beauty of rain gardens - depressions typically filled with native plants and intended to clean and reduce water runoff.
Finally, Mary Spear is in love with her new house. The 2,400-square-foot house she shares with her husband and son in St. Peter was designed by Minneapolis architect Sarah Nettleton as a "lantern on the prairie," the house has a curved, reclaimed-fir ceiling that sits low, but is lighted by more than a dozen small sconces. At night, the house lights up like a beacon on its bluff-top perch overlooking the Minnesota River. The house is essentially one oversized room. The shape was inspired in part by Jack Spear's upbringing in rural Vermont, where his family hand-shanked their own log cabin. The house also has whole-house in-floor radiant heating and solar-thermal heating. What the house doesn't have is air conditioning, saving them money on venthilation installation and energy usage. The Spear's rely on a system of "natural ventilation," where all they have to do is simply close or open windows and doors in tune with the sun and breezes.
If you know about green initiatives and other environmentally-conscious programs and events occurring in the Twin Cities or Minnesota, please leave a comment and let us know for July's Greening Minnesota issue!