Greening Minnesota ~ May / June 2011

May and June are great for undertaking activities in the green movement. Read on to find out about how Minnesota communities are working towards creating a more environmentally-friendly world.

First of all, businesses along University Avenue could use your patronage. Construction on the light-rail track installation for the Central Corridor is taking its toll on businesses left struggling. In some cases, revenues have decreased by half as customers forgo trying to get to their favorite places due to the mess. The construction zone stretches from Emerald Avenue on the Minneapolis border to Syndicate Street N. Go have a bite to eat, have some coffee or shop at local businesses as our Twin Cities try to make more public transportation options available to residents.

Melissa Rappaport Schifman and her husband, Jim Schifman, bought a 1950s rambler on a corner lot across from Cedar Lake in Minneapolis with plans to remodel it using green methods and materials. When they discovered what it would cost to solve moisture issues in the basement, they scrapped the idea (and the house) to start from scratch. Ultimately, they built a sustainable, energy-efficient, healthy home with lower their energy consumption (and costs) and great views of the lake.

The long-awaited 4.3-mile Cedar Lake Regional Trail connecting St. Louis Park to the Mississippi River is finally complete. The last mile, through downtown, was ready May 23. The 20-year effort, spearheaded by the Cedar Lake Park Association (CLPA), produced what planners said was the nation's first federally funded bicycle "freeway." Its design, with two one-way bike lanes and a third pedestrian lane, has been reproduced for trails nationwide.

Anoka County also recently celebrated the opening of a 5-mile segment of Rice Creek North Regional Trail. The new trail segment connects the Lino Lakes Town Center with Baldwin Lake Park, through Rice Creek Chain of Lakes Park Reserve. It also connects Rice Lake Elementary to the Rice Creek North Regional Trail in Ramsey County.

More and more metro area cities are taking a broader, greener view of street repairs. Instead of just rebuilding worn roads, cities like Bloomington, Richfield and St. Paul are narrowing streets to allow bike lanes and sidewalks, with the added benefits of encouraging more walking and biking while slowing down traffic. St. Anthony has added rain basins and retention ditches to filter and re-use runoff for irrigation.

Volunteers recently pitched in for the DNR's annual Adopt-a-River Program. Each year, the DNR asks volunteers to clean up the river. The garbage comes from storm sewers, and washed-in debris from miles upstream. In years past, volunteers have picked up two tons of garbage, but the DNR says there was more trash this year, because of the last three months of high water.

Recently, a study was completed that used high-resolution satellite technology to more accurately determine the tree canopy of the Twin Cities. They study estimated Minneapolis' overall tree coverage to be 31.5%, higher than previous estimates using less precise methods. In St. Paul, the canopy cover rate was 32.5%. Minneapolis' estimated 979,000 trees offer benefits to include cleaner air, less storm water and increased shade, not to mention driving up property values.

The number of Twin Cities-area residents getting their food through community-supported agriculture (CSA) has nearly tripled to more than 11,000 people. Twenty years ago, there were two CSA farms. This year there are 81, according to the Land Stewardship Project, which publishes a directory. To join a CSA, a consumer pays a farmer for a weekly share of the crops, usually $300 to $600 per growing season. The food is fresh, varied, relatively inexpensive, and has contributed to healthier eating habits in Minnesota.

The urban gardening movement has grown rapidly in recent years, spreading to schools, churches, and private businesses. The Twin Cities metro area is home to 270 community gardens, according to a 2010 survey by Gardening Matters. A similar survey in 2005 found 219 gardens. Unfortunately, just 7 of Minneapolis' 15 lots were rented this year. Last year, just 4 were rented. The program works well for some larger neighborhood associations, but could be difficult for smaller groups with fewer resources.

The St. Paul Planning Commission gave a business owner the go-ahead to install four compact vertical-axis wind turbines on his property on North Dale St. The turbines will be erected on the roof and in the parking lot of the Capitol Lien and Title business on a two-year test basis while the city prepares new zoning rules regarding wind power. The city's existing zoning code is silent on wind energy. Permission came with eight conditions, including that bird casualties are monitored, a noise study is conducted and the three rooftop turbines are kept 15 feet from the edge of the roof.

Eagan's new safety center features the first green fire station in the nation. The $8 million facility opened earlier this month. The safety center has dozens of geothermal wells for heating and cooling, LED and natural lighting throughout, even recycled ash trees and recycled building materials. Additionally, the closing and relocation of two fire stations from outlying areas to near the heart of city's centers should help reduce response times for fire calls, possibly by as much as half in some cases.

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!  

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