Park Board considers role as a green-efforts leader

Minneapolis is well-publicized as one of the most green cities in the country, repeatedly ranking at or near the top in national surveys for its urban parks system. So why not take it a few steps further and consider the entire thing a park?

Some on the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board clearly like the idea, one of a slew of suggestions commissioners recently received in a report from a sustainability consulting firm.

The Park Board has made sustainability a primary goal for itself since the approval of its Comprehensive Plan in 2007, defining it as ensuring environmental and economic stability, as well as providing citizens the opportunity to improve their quality of life. But the system has been admittedly slow in laying out a game plan for increasing sustainability.

Citywide planner Jennifer Ringold said the value is present in almost all of the park system’s work. After all, the Park Board’s job essentially is to be a green steward. But it was for that same reason that it was hard to step away and create its own focused game plan for reaching the next level.

That’s why it commissioned the seven-month study by GreenMark, a firm created and run by Mark Andrew, the former Hennepin County commissioner, that specializes in creating and marketing green elements in the sports world. They came back with a 30-page document outlining such ideas as that the Park Board specifically seek public-private partnerships with green-focused organizations, that it create a zero-waste policy for all events in the parks and that it set itself up as Minneapolis’ central hub for environmental efforts.

“Sustainability really cuts
to the core of [the Park Board’s] mission,” Andrew
said, more so than any other governmental body.

Ringold said the Park Board already is taking some of GreenMark’s advice. One of the first on its to-do list is setting a protocol on what it means to have a “green” event in the parks, whether it’s using some recyclable materials or going the entirely zero-waste route. Ringold said the Park Board also is busy looking at new waste management strategies, possibly adding more recycling bins around the parks and putting up signs to teach people what waste should go where.

Ringold said the board also was interested in finding out what GreenMark thought of creating a sustainability coordinator position, something the city of Minneapolis already has.

GreenMark concluded that it’s not necessary. The Park Board already has sustainability efforts spread throughout the system, Andrew said, so it would be better off saving money by not hiring another person to coordinate familiar efforts. A better use of resources would be letting citizens know the parks’ sustainability efforts.

“Doing something is important,” Andrew said. “Doing something without communicating is a failed opportunity.”

As for dubbing the entire city a park — that’s probably not happening any time soon. Ringold said it was probably more a mind-set suggestion than a push for policy. Not that that dampened commissioners’ response. Vice President Mary Merrill Anderson applauded the suggestion.

“Is this exciting or what?” she said at a May 20 committee meeting.

Another popular suggestion: getting the Park Board entirely off the grid, or eliminating its reliance on fossil fuels. Andrew said that could be done by making all buildings in the system more energy efficient — a report on that subject is expected on June 17 from another consulting firm — or by producing power in the parks. Maybe, he said, a giant solar array could be built in a park.

“It would be a humongous statement,” Andrew said.

Commissioner Annie Young, a Green Party member who has long backed moving the Park Board in more energy efficient directions, said the board should take getting off the grid as a serious suggestion.

“By 2020, I think we should, if nothing else, have the steps in place,” Young said.

Merrill Anderson took it a step further.

“I say, off the grid in three [years],” she said.