My wife is considering a move to Minnesota to be closer to her family. Hailing from the sunny confines of Southern California, it’s difficult for her to sell me on the idea. However, the land of 10,000 lakes has a lot going for it when it comes to urban planning, green building, and small scale sustainable agriculture.
Last summer I wrote about a documentary that featured farms across the state. These agricultural innovators were reducing their pesticide usage and working with small communities to grow organic, sustainable, and locally produced foods.
The twin cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul) were featured in Travel and Leisure’s top ten bike friendly cities in the world. The city’s website claims that “Minneapolis has been ranked as the best biking city in the country by Bicycling Magazine, as well as the #2 bicycling city in the nation by the US Census Bureau. Minneapolis has 46 miles of streets with dedicated bicycle lanes and 84 miles of off-street bicycle paths.” Much like other cities, Minneapolis has instituted a bike sharing program. In addition, a recent NPR article cited the metropolitan area for the biking culture. According to the story, cycling has “at least tripled” over the past two decades in Minneapolis.
Stop for a moment to think about this: one of the coldest (if not the coldest) major cities in the United States had received recognition as one of the top bicycle friendly cities in the world. Some of the bike paths that are independent of the roads – like the RiverLake Greenway Bicycle Project, which come in handy during those famous Minnesota snow storms (like the one that caused the Metrodome’s roof to collapse). Part of the bike friendly designation may stem from the extensive green belt, which includes bike and pedestrian paths linking various neighborhoods in the Twin Cities.
What to do though when snows pile up? The city’s website contains hints for winter biking. “In Minneapolis, many bicyclists embrace the winter months by continuing to ride. If you are already biking, or considering winter biking, here are some tips for dealing with the snow, cold temperatures, and motorists:
- Travel slowly when snow and ice are present.
- Ride defensively around motorists.
- Take the off-street trails.
- Stay visible.
- Use an old bike in good working condition.
- Dress in layers.
- Cover your extremities.
- Use 311.
- Use transit.
- Look for more information.
- Embrace winter.
Beyond the biking culture, mass transportation and green building have helped the Twin Cities become more environmentally responsible. Public transit, including the “12-mile Hiawatha line, linking downtown Minneapolis, the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport and the Mall of America, provided 10 million rides in 2008, an average of 30,500 per weekday. Ridership on the line already has exceeded the pre-construction estimate for the year 2020.” The Minneapolis/Saint Paul area has two new downtown sports arenas that are LEED certified. Target Field – home to baseball’s Twins – and the University of Minnesota’s TCF Stadium, home to the Gophers football team, both earned silver certification. According to Hunt Electric, the Minneapolis Convention Center is home to the Upper Midwest’s largest photovoltaic array with more than 3000 panels with a capacity of 600 kilowatts.
Even with its cold, gray winters, Minnesota has moved in the direction of sustainable development. It’s time for all states to follow suit.