By Katie Davidson
In St. Anthony Village, residents may only see the “small window view” of sustainability projects the city is doing without realizing the overall impact of the initiatives.
But, according to City Manager Mark Casey, “Each project in itself has merit and moves the needle. When you put them all together, it’s transformational for the city and region.”
With the city’s 19-part sustainability project, “Sustainability Through Collaboration: Creating the Picture One Piece at a Time,” St. Anthony Village leaders are showing their constituents that they care about putting the puzzle pieces together to create a “sustainable, safe, and secure” community. The project received the 2016 Sustainable City Award from the League of Minnesota Cities and the GreenStep Cities program.
“You kind of see life through various filters,” says Todd Hubmer, the city engineer. “When we added sustainability to the mission statement, what it really did is it added another level of perspective when you’re looking at projects for the city. You look at the way you’re doing business and the way that you change your viewpoint and ask, ‘OK, does this fit the sustainability model?’”
Taking on a project this large may seem exhaustive to some, but St. Anthony Village leaders knew what had to be done for their city. Some changes had to be made to make sustainability a priority, but the city had been carrying out some eco-friendly initiatives since 2008. So, adjusting to a new point of view wasn’t a huge issue.
“It wasn’t hard to embrace it, we just didn’t know how to label it,” Mayor Jerry Faust says. Over time, though, they figured out the labeling part, too, and added “sustainable” to the city’s mission statement in 2011.
Working with others
Along with sustainability, the city also had some prior experience with collaboration. The “Sustainability Through Collaboration” project was assembled with the help of multiple groups, including students from both the University of Minnesota and Hamline University.
“We needed the best and the brightest young minds out there that are a little bit more of the dreamers,” Casey says. “Sometimes it’s easy for government to say, ‘Well, we’ve been there done that.’ It’s nice to get some people involved who have fewer barriers.”
City leaders also involved residents in the development and implementation of their plans. The city not only held sustainability fairs that educated the public on their initiatives, they also partnered with Citizens for Sustainability (CFS), a group made up of residents who want to help advance the city’s sustainability goals.
“The nice thing about working with CFS was that it wasn’t a top down thing,” Casey says. “If it’s too top down and too prescribed, the sustainability itself doesn’t keep its momentum.”
Another way of keeping the project’s momentum going involved finding ways to measure their progress. “It’s nice to do all of these sustainability initiatives,” Casey says. “But if you can’t measure your progress, it’s not really moving the needle. It’s hard to know what you want to do until you start measuring and quantifying your goal.”
One of the measurements St. Anthony Village uses to track how close they are to accomplishing their goals is the Regional Indicators Initiative (RII), a data set developed by LHB Inc. and Orange Environmental Consulting. By committing to RII, the city continually collects citywide data on energy, water, travel, waste, and greenhouse gas emissions. By measuring these sustainability factors, the city moved up from Step 3 to 4 in the GreenStep Cities program.
St. Anthony Village also measures sustainability using its “Three E” system: environment, economic, and equity. “To measure our environmental sustainability, we’ve put infrastructure into the ground. For our economic measurement, we are trying to get ourselves structurally balanced,” Casey says. “The equity facet is a little bit harder to measure, but it’s equally important.”
To measure their sustainability through an equity lens, which Faust says can be “more fluid and not as easy to wrap your arms around,” the city turned to the public to make sure their plan was staying on the right track in the community’s eyes.
Garnering community support
“As long as we’ve been doing these projects, we have had the support of the community,” says Public Works Director Jay Hartman. “We don’t get a lot of backlash.”
The limited backlash the city has faced is largely because they’ve made a point of being very transparent with the public. “St. Anthony is a community that really engages their public on a variety of fronts,”
Hubmer says. “Without the support of the public, a lot of these things wouldn’t move forward.” Hubmer reflected on the community’s initial questioning of the organized collection initiative. At first, the community was unable to come to a decision on whether to go forward with the plan that would reduce the number of garbage trucks that went out in the city. But after some changes in legislation and the passing of time, residents got on board with the plan, which was cheaper for the public, reduced the number of disturbances in their neighborhood and the amount of traffic on the roads, and didn’t harm the market share.
“It’s not necessarily that they need to have their way when the project is done,” Hubmer says. “But they need to understand the decision-making process and need to be educated on why each decision is made.”
Making a case for LED crossings
St. Anthony Village leaders also faced some reluctance to change when they brought forth their in-pavement LED crossings idea. Snowplow operators believed their machinery would just rip up the new safety installations.
“Because it was different, it had some hurdles to overcome that this group was eventually able to get past,” Faust says. University of Minnesota students were able to show the benefits of this installation by doing a pre- and post-analysis of the crossing that included writing a paper and giving a presentation to the City Council. “The universities are the incubators of innovative thought,” Faust says. “We need to be challenged by unfettered minds.”
With help from student research, the city installed the fairly new application in 2012 on Silver Lake Road, and a second LED crossing was created in 2015. At both locations, pedestrians activate the flashing lights in the road and on the pedestrian signs. The crossings improve pedestrian safety and continue to make St. Anthony Village a more “walkable village,” one of the goals included in the city’s mission statement.
Taking quick action
“We pride ourselves on being nimble,” Casey says. “We are a small city and our nimbleness allows us to quickly react to the needs of residents versus getting stuck in layers and layers of bureaucracy.”
When tests from the Minnesota Department of Health came back showing that the city had a new pollutant in its aquifers— 1,4-dioxane that came from the Twin Cities Army Ammunition plant—they quickly responded with the Advanced Oxidation Process (AOP). Because of the city’s nimbleness, in less than two years, Casey, Hartman, Hubmer, and others were able to sit down with the U.S. Army and push their initiative through.
“To move from discovering a new pollutant, to coming up with a design, negotiating with a federal entity, and receiving a check within 18 months of discovery, that’s got to be a new record,” Hubmer says. “Something was accomplished there that just doesn’t happen with the federal government.”
Despite how quickly the city was able to solve its pollutant problem, few would say that the city took the easy way out in coming up with a solution. The city had the option to connect to another water source, which may have been the most time-saving solution, but it would have put a greater financial expense on the city and would have brought on more unknown concerns for the future. Instead, the city decided to get rid of the problem rather than pushing it off for later generations to deal with.
Looking toward the future
“This is a community that does look at the future,” Faust says. “We’re always looking at what’s best for the next generation.”
When asked if they had an estimated date for the conclusion of their project, Faust answered, “Never.” There’s no end game to St. Anthony Village’s plans to make their city a more sustainable, safer, more secure community. Faust calls that “progress.”
“Sustainability isn’t just about thinking about today,” Hubmer says. “It’s about thinking about what could happen tomorrow.”
Katie Davidson is a communications intern with the League of Minnesota Cities. She graduated from Augsburg College on April 29, 2017, with a bachelor’s degree in communication studies.
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