City officials release first sustainability report

With its first sustainability report on the table, Minneapolis now has a starting point for its goal of becoming one of the most sustainable cities in the nation.

The report provides a description of each of the 24 indicators the city will use to measure its sustainability - things such as air quality, the number of homeless individuals in the city and available alternative transportation - as well as current statistical snapshot of each and any visible trends. While the report doesn't include complete information on all of the sustainability indicators (data for some indicators, such as the number of workers earning a livable wage, hasn't been collected before or has been difficult to track down), it strives to provide baseline information that city officials can use to measure future progress.

&#8220A lot of cities do sustainability plans, but then they go on the shelf. We're going to talk about this with the policymakers on an annual basis, and we're going to measure ourselves,” said Gayle Prest, the city's environmental programs manager. &#8220There's going to be a lot more transparency.”

Sustainability is defined in the report as &#8220meeting current needs without sacrificing the ability of future generations to meet their own needs by balancing environmental, economic and social (equity) concerns.” Much of the focus of sustainability is on making the city &#8220greener” by implementing environmentally friendly initiatives, but it also focuses on improving the quality of life for city residents now and in the future - including measures like increasing affordable housing and improving the graduation rate from Minneapolis Public Schools.

Minneapolis is already ranked as one of the top 10 cities in the nation for sustainability, according to SustainLane, a Web resource that tracks the sustainability programs, policies and performance of U.S. cities. But Prest said there are still areas where the city needs to dramatically improve. For instance, she cited a part of the report that indicates that city residents used alternative modes of transportation more in 1958 than they do today.

&#8220There's some really good things, but there are some things that we really need to work on,” Prest said.

Examples of some of the baseline information on indicators in the report includes:

- Air quality in Minneapolis is among the best of major metropolitan areas in the country, but the number of &#8220unhealthy” days is increasing.

- The graduation rate at Minneapolis' seven largest public high schools increased slightly between 2004 and 2005, but the graduation rate for African American students decreased.

- Infection rates for AIDS and gonorrhea have declined over the past five years.

- Air traffic levels and overall noise are increasing significantly.

City officials will continue to gather stronger baseline data and this fall city departments will put in funding requests for their targeted goals. Prest said she's also currently meeting individually with 18 city departments to talk about how they can work out a five-year goal to meet some of these sustainability indicators.

The complete sustainability report can be found at http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/environment/Sustainability-Initiatives.asp.