Minnesota GreenStep Cities: A Sustainability Agenda for You and Our Communities

Philipp Muessig
MN Pollution Control Agency (MCPA)

Driving across Minnesota, you have no doubt entered towns that announce on a road sign that they are a “Minnesota Star City.” And you probably wondered, What are these cities? What did they do to merit a sign? During renewable energy discussions around the state during 2007, others also wondered about those Star City signs. It turns out a Star City had taken steps to improve their economic development capacity, and the state had recognized them up through the mid-1990s, when the program ended. So why not, people mused, create a green star city program that helps cities take more sustainable actions and recognizes those accomplishments?

The green star idea grew, beginning with regional Clean Energy Resource Teams and expanding to include the League of Minnesota Cities, the Minnesota Office of Energy Security, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and others. A report was written for the 2009 Minnesota Legislature, and an assistance and recognition program was born. This program is now called the Minnesota GreenStep Cities program and will be formally launched in 2010. It is based on three dozen best practices; actions proven to result in multiple environmental, economic and social benefits for Minnesota cities.

Best Practices

Confronted with urgent environmental challenges including climate change and degraded water bodies, cities in Minnesota– and concerned community members—needed a clear pathway to defining a GreenStep city. The program organizes the cities’ best practices into five categories:

  1. Buildings;
  2. Land Use;
  3. Transportation;
  4. Water & Materials;
  5. Economic & Community Development.

Under each category the best practices include :

  • Construct new city/city-financed buildings to meet a green building standard.
  • Mix land uses, strengthen active living, and plan for transit-oriented development.
  • Improve the efficiency of at least 1/3 of city street lighting and/or signals.
  • Increase city tree and plant cover.
  • Strengthen local food production and access.

Each best practice has several specific action options. For example, to increase city tree cover, a city could: (a) qualify through the Tree City USA program, or (b) score at least 20 points on MN Tree Trust’s Sustainability Guidelines & Best Practices, or (c) take one of three other action options listed.

GreenStep Cities

Nearly 40 people gathered on March 9, 2009 in the small city of Pine River north of Brainerd to hear about GreenStep Cities and the central Minnesota Initiative Foundation’s Healthy Communities Partnership Program. Community members there are uniquely melding the two programs to become a Healthy Green Community in Pine River, Minnesota.

In addition, five cities including Bloomington, Edina, Falcon Heights, St. Louis Park and Victoria are helping refine these determined best practices during 2010. They will pick and implement a number of the best practices to lead our state’s new program.

If you are working on sustainability issues with and in your community, consider implementing the Minnesota GreenStep best practices guidelines! Contact Philipp Muessig, MPCA, philipp.muessig@state.mn.us or 651-757-2594.

Read Up

Sustainable Urbanism: Urban Design with Nature, by Douglas Farr, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2008.

How Green Is Your City? The SustainLane US City Rankings, by Warren Karlenzig et. al, New Society Publishers, 2007.

Act Locally

St. Paul, MN

St. Paul, MN

Minnesota GreenStep Cities

Our Sponsors