Saturday, March 15, 2008

Neighborhood Sustainability Conference 1

A recent Saturday brought 450 area residents together to create plans for community projects during the Neighborhood Sustainability Conference at Augsburg College. The March 8th event connected volunteers with elected officials and program experts committed to creating sustainable communities. By the end of the day small teams from block clubs, schools, congregations, and business associations had generated over 60 plans to help reduce global warming. Planned projects range from community gardens to pond restoration, composting, and programs that promote walking, biking, and transit use. The Alliance for Sustainability ( coordinated the public conference, partnering with numerous ecologically-minded sponsors and exhibitors.

The day began with mayors of both cities challenging attendees to take leadership and push government to do better when it comes to reducing greenhouse gases. St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman evoked Dorothy's red shoes from the Wizard of Oz as a reminder that power comes from within to make change. Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak reminded all of citizen action to reduce airport noise, and also announced that Minneapolis will install artist-designed public drinking fountains in the coming year. Not all effort is easy according to Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin who said the effort to get federal funding for the Central Corridor transit system was like crawling over ground glass.

Keynote speaker Jay WallJasper, author of The Great Neighborhood Book: A Do-It Yourself Guide to Placemaking, described projects that begin when people have a natural place to hang out and discover common concerns. The concept of traffic calming for example started years ago in Delft, The Netherlands when neighbors realized a common objection to cars speeding through their streets. They simply put their sofas in the streets to slow the traffic. According to WallJasper, neighborhoods are an overlooked resource in creating change.

Attendees then chose from thirteen morning workshops for details about projects to consider such as renewable energy, transit-oriented development, green businesses, and zero waste. Afternoon project planning sessions allowed participants to meet by geographic area, determine common interests and action to take, including outreach and recruiting volunteers. With guidance from conference partners, each small group wrote a Project Planning Worksheet with the project idea, team member names, steps to take, and resources needed to carry out the proposed project.

Projects will begin taking shape this Spring and Summer as participants go back to their communities to involve others and implement projects. Each attendee received a comprehensive booklet listing further resources and grant opportunities for projects, plus information on staying in touch with other teams via website.

In April, a workshop for local government staff and elected officials will examine ways to implement city sustainability goals using model sustainability ordinances.

1 comment:

Paul Bauer said...

A good story and important. I Suggest leading with a specific community project the exemplifies the purpose and importance of the conference; Eg, "what changed in America when the people of Delft,Netherlands placed their sofas in the streets?'
I think this story would be better if you told it from the point of view of your own experience, and the benefits for you and your own neighborhood. PB