Greening Our Cities

 Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel, MD (Image from  Image from Flickr Commons

Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel, MD (Image from Image from Flickr Commons

There were numerous ways to learn about how planners can have a positive effect on water at NPC18. One session in particular highlighted how Prince George County used a public private partnership to retrofit their community with green infrastructure. Presenters covered the history of the program from inception through completion of Phase I and adjustments made prior to launching Phase II.

Back in 2010, the federal government passed new standards under the Clean Water Act that were intended to  identify and reduce pollution from stormwater runoff associated with rooftops, sidewalks, driveways, roadways, and parking lots. As a response, House Bill 987 was passed requiring nine Maryland counties and the City of Baltimore to collect fees to implement a stormwater pollution clean-up program.

In 2013, Prince George County’s council passed two pieces of legislation to comply with the federal regulation. The first bill established the Clean Water Program and the Local Watershed Protection and Restoration Fund. The second established the fee structure for the program.

After passage of this legislation, Prince George County was faced with the arduous task of meeting the Clean Water Program requirements on a tight schedule. They took what seemed to be a difficult task and quickly turned it into a placemaking and neighborhood identity program. They showed that communities can not only reduce pollution, but also create welcoming and inclusive spaces at the same time. Additionally, the program focused on small local businesses and depressed areas creating positive economic impacts. Each project was designed to achieve multiple benefits.

The program included tangible development and economic incentives. On top of physical installations, the County created a rain check program for private property owners. Each owner that installed a best management practice (BMP) on their property received a rebate. The County realized the high number of non-private properties and found they could create a large impact by partnering with churches, schools, and nonprofits to retrofit many sites and educate the organization members on ways they could contribute to pollution control.

With the volume of infrastructure projects needed to meet the goals of the Clean Water Act, the County knew they would need a long term maintenance plan and outside assistance. They partnered with Corvais to design and build 4,000 acres of the total 15,000 acres required by the regulations. The benefit of contracting with an outside company was they could complete the projects must faster and at a reduced cost than the public agency which would have been bogged down by government regulations for each individual project. Additionally, the County built in a 30 year financing plan into each project. The structure of the partnership included incentives for Corvais to create local jobs and complete projects on time. Corvais in turn created a mentor-protégé program to train small, local contractors to work on the projects.

In the end, Prince George County proved that mandates for clean water programs can be more than a burden for a community and instead create the opportunity to educate and grow the local job market. The County spent $1 million on 94 projects from 2015 to 2018 and an additional $1.1 million is proposed on 250 more projects between 2018 and 2021.

100 Years of History

100 Years of History

I have always wanted to live in a house that was over 100 years old. In many cities, that’s hard to come by because they have either demolished all the old homes, lost them to natural disasters, or the cities themselves are just not that old. When I bought my first home it was a bungalow built in 1930, but now, about 10 years later, there are a plethora of homes over 100 years old available. All the bungalows that were built during the 1920's and 1930's are now coming of age and about to celebrate their 100th birthday.

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300 Years of NOLA

300 Years of NOLA

I do not travel nearly as much as I would like, so when the opportunity arose to visit New Orleans for the National Planning Conference I jumped on it. I was only in the city for about four days, but I covered quite a bit of ground, while still attending sessions during the day. The two things that helped me accomplish both was waking up at 6 am every day and running through the neighborhoods.

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The Bars of Northeast Minneapolis

The Bars of Northeast Minneapolis

I'm fascinated by the way cities used to look, with the corner grocery store, hardware store, restaurant, and of course bar, tucked into neighborhoods, spaced  about a mile apart. The resident of the 1920's city could walk to get everything they needed or take a trolley if they needed something just a little bit further. Peppered throughout my neighborhood in Northeast, Minneapolis are dozens of small two story buildings, but most have been converted into apartments. There are several though that have maintained their original use, the buildings with first floor bars.

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The Experimental City

The Experimental City

A few weeks ago I took advantage of living in a city that has a population to support the routine showing of documentary films. I went to see The Experimental City presented by the Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul that featured a Q&A with director Chad Freidrichs and Todd Lefko, member of the Minnesota Experimental City Authority afterwards. The documentary revived the story of the Minnesota Experimental City project from the 1970's, a project intended to solve issues of population growth with futuristic ideas.

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Maribou Water Gardens

Maribou Water Gardens

Over 10 years later, New Orleans is still recovering from Hurricane Katrina and the devastating effects of the Levee failures. That disaster proved to the world that building walls and pumping out water is not a long term or permanent solution. Water must be managed on site, with features such as permeable pavement, rain gardens, cisterns, and underground storage tanks. It takes projects installed throughout the city to protect it when a large storm hits. One of the projects New Orleans is working on to help low lying neighborhoods is the Maribou Water Garden.

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Saint Paul Winter Carnival: Another Distraction to the Fact that its Winter

Saint Paul Winter Carnival: Another Distraction to the Fact that its Winter

As I have mentioned in past posts, Minnesota is a state that does not let winter affect their ability to have fun outside. A recent example of this is the Saint Paul Winter Festival, which wrapped up its 132nd season yesterday. I attended my first (and only) Winter Carnival two years ago, right after moving to the Twin Cities. I tried to attend twice this year, but the traffic jams created by the Dave Matthews Band Concert and a Wild Hockey game deterred me (next year I will map out a better transit route to avoid the parking situation altogether).

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Life in the Super Bowl 52 City

Life in the Super Bowl 52 City

Hearing about Super Bowl 52 began months ago for me because I both live and work in the host city. As a city planner the phrase, "it has to be done by the Super Bowl" was heard more times that anyone could count. I luckily had less to do with the planning than some of my colleagues that deal with permits and licensing, but it was easy to see the city gearing up faster and faster as the event neared.

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Breweries Are Taking Over

Breweries Are Taking Over

Whenever the topic of breweries is brought up, I always hear "when are we going to finally over saturate the market with breweries?" While it may seem like there are a lot, the market share of local craft beer sold pales in comparison to national conglomerates. Only 12 percent of the market is craft beer with two companies holding 50% of the total beer market. There are two factors that have spurred the rise in local breweries over the last decade though: consumer taste and government regulation.

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Festivals on Lake Harriet

Festivals on Lake Harriet

During the winter, we get an extra 1,439 acres of land in Minneapolis that is less accessible in the summer months. When our 13 lakes freeze they can be used as extra space to walk your dogs, cross country ski, and fly a kite. The last activity probably seems a little odd, but the Minneapolis Park Board has been sponsoring the Kite Festival on Lake Harriet for the past 17 years. 

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Gruen's Grand Plan

Gruen's Grand Plan

A recent newspaper article about the ABC parking ramps in downtown Minneapolis made reference to the Gruen Plan in Fort Worth, Texas. The brief description outlined Gruen's proposed ban on all cars from downtown Fort Worth to provide a better pedestrian experience and revitalize the area. Having lived in Texas for a few years, I found this a radical idea for the city, especially because it was a plan derived in 1959, a time when the car was king. Intrigued by this reference, I decided to delve deeper.

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Building Nordeast

Building Nordeast

The area of Northeast Minneapolis, commonly referred to as Nordeast, comprises 4,564 acres and 12,197 buildings. It has been surveyed a number of times by the City of Minneapolis, the first of which was back in 1981. Within this area, 204 properties are considered to have potential as a local historic landmark. Despite the number of eligible properties, this area of the city has the fewest designated properties. What we do have up here is a lot of buildings significant for their religious and social organization as well as the famous Grain Belt Brewery (originally Minneapolis Brewing Company). This area is also host to a number of residential developments from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

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Victorian Christmas at the Ramsey House

Victorian Christmas at the Ramsey House

The best time to go on a historic house tour is around the holidays because they are filled with elegant decorations common among the time period the house was first occupied. Not having had the chance to visit the Alexander Ramsey House in Saint Paul yet, I decided to book a Victorian Christmas tour of the house. 

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Hollidazzle and the Winter Open Streets

Hollidazzle and the Winter Open Streets

I attended Holidazzle for the first time last winter, but missed the excitement and activity because it was early on a Saturday afternoon. This year I went on the Saturday that coincided with the first Winter Open Streets event, drawing quite a large crowd and making the event more active. It was fun walking around Loring Park, where Holidazzle has been held for the past several years during construction on Nicollet Mall, to experience all the sites, sounds, and smells. 

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The Holiday Train

The Holiday Train

One of the benefits of living in a Midwest city that still operates a thriving rail system is the Holiday Train. While not quite the Polar Express, the Holiday Train still draws a large crowd at each stop it makes as it travels across North America. Despite the freezing cold temperatures last year, I was able to attend the event as the train rolled through Minneapolis. The stop is located in Lions Park, dividing the cities of Minneapolis and Columbia Heights. I had no idea that it was an actual park until this event. It is more a leftover patch of grass in-between the street and railroad tracks.

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What is a Well Building?

What is a Well Building?

Most people have worked in an office with poorly regulated temperature, where it seems that whatever the weather is outside, its the same inside. The office also probably had terrible fluorescent lighting, a severe lack of windows, and the ability to waft the terrible smelling tuna someone brought as their lunch throughout the building. These buildings were all designed to cram as many people into a building as possible without regard for how the office environment would turn out. For some design professionals, this does not make sense which is why they are turning towards WELL Building certification.

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Bird Art for my Yard

Bird Art for my Yard

A few months back I was in the Commons (a new downtown Minneapolis park) having coffee with some friends when I noticed an interesting sculpture. I glanced at it briefly, long enough to find it unique, but then we continued walking. It wasn't until this weekend that I finally realized what that sculpture was and its intended message. Those same friends told me about an event at the University of Minnesota campus where they were giving out pieces of a dismantled sculpture. After stopping by and grabbing two (a bird house and feeder) it finally dawned on me that the pieces they were giving away were part of that sculpture I had seen in the Commons.

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Passive House: an economic and environmental solution to building

Passive House: an economic and environmental solution to building

Anyone that owns an old house knows that while they are charming and full of character, they are notoriously inefficient. I love my old bungalow, but it is nearly impossible to keep at a consistent temperature or save on energy costs. Despite being a solid structure that has lasted 100 years without major failures, there was no need to keep it sealed for efficiency. All summer long the windows would have been open because air conditioning was not available. 

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The World of Clocks

The World of Clocks

Growing up, we had a grandfather clock that sat in our dining room. I was so fascinated with it, making up stories in my head that it was a magical portal to another world. I would make sure to keep it wound up to chime on time. My best friend and I even kept our super secret friendship pact hidden at the base of it. We thought it would be safe, hidden where no one would look for it. 

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The Mysteries Behind Daylight Saving Time

The Mysteries Behind Daylight Saving Time

As tomorrow approaches, we anticipate the end to daylight saving time (yes that is correct, it is not savings) where we gain an extra hour of sleep and can stop going to work every morning in the dark. While I love one extra hour given each fall, I would gladly give it up to stay on daylight saving time year round to have an extra hour of light each evening in the winter. Living in a cold climate filled with snow, it would help the winter blues to have a little extra sun after work. Despite participating in DST for the past almost 3 decades of my life, I never knew much about the history and it turns out, what I did know was all based on misconceptions.

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