I recently learned that Minneapolis has two “Green Zones.” As I learn about these areas of our city I wonder how I, as a resident outside of a Green Zone, can advocate for those who live in these areas of our city impacted by historic environmental racism?
Thank you for asking this important question. Indeed, many Minneapolitans are becoming increasingly aware of the historic racism embedded in our city planning, and how it has affected access to environmental resources such as clean air, clean water, and green space. We are learning how discriminatory housing and lending practices have created areas of our city that are disproportionately impacted by pollution due to industrial zoning, the lack of environmentally high-quality housing that is affordable, the heat island and flooding effects of having more concrete and asphalt than tree canopy and green space, and other environmental injustices.
“Low-income communities, Indigenous communities and communities of color in Minneapolis experience unequal health, wealth, employment, and education outcomes, and also are overburdened by environmental conditions such as traffic and stationary pollution sources, brownfield sites, blight and substandard housing.
The idea for developing a Minneapolis Green Zones initiative came from the Minneapolis Climate Action Plan Environmental Justice Working Group. A Green Zone is a place-based policy initiative aimed at improving health and supporting economic development using environmentally conscious efforts in communities that face the cumulative effects of environmental pollution, as well as social, political and economic vulnerability.”
Minneapolis has a designated Southside Green Zone, which includes the greater Phillips community and Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, and a Northside Green Zone, which includes the neighborhoods of Hawthorne, McKinley, and Near North, and portions of Bottineau, Sheridan, St. Anthony West, and Marshall Terrace closest to the Mississippi River. You can view a map outlining each area here. Each has a task force which includes community member voices. Each has developed a multiyear work plan to begin addressing environmental racism in the Green Zones.
Below are examples of initiatives developed to address some of the objectives of the Green Zone work plans and led by people living and working in these frontline communities:
The Southside Green Zone and Northside Green Zone work plans highlight the health impact of environmental trauma on their communities. This includes the negative health effects of exposure to pollution from industry and traffic, environmentally unsafe housing, and limited access to fresh, healthy food. The East Phillips Neighborhood Institute (EPNI) developed a plan for an Indoor Urban Farm Project as a community-focused way to address these impacts to the Southside Green Zone. The project would include an indoor urban farm, affordable housing, space for local small businesses, the creation of green jobs, and more. In fact, the Southside Green Zone council passed a resolution on 2/18/2020 that included a statement of support for the East Phillips Indoor Urban Farm project and stated that it met all of the goals of the Southside Green Zone.
EPNI had raised money to buy the former Roof Depot site which includes a large commercial building that would be used for the project. However, the city stepped in to purchase the site to consolidate Public Works Water Distribution Maintenance and Meter Shop operations. It is a complicated history that has resulted in a lawsuit by the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute against the city due to environmental concerns about the city’s plan to expand its industrial footprint in the Southside Green Zone.
The Tangletown Neighborhood Association has voted to take a position of support for the East Phillips Indoor Urban Farm Project after the project was presented by the Tangletown Equity Task Force. The Equity Task Force has also advocated in support of the project to Council Member Schroeder. Our hope is to raise awareness of the project and encourage Tangletown residents to learn more and think critically about what the community-focused Indoor Urban Farm Project has to offer the Southside Green Zone vs. the city’s maintenance facility plan in terms of equity, sustainability, and environmental justice. You can learn more about the project and find ways to help advocate for environmental justice for the East Phillips community at eastphillipsneighborhoodinstitute.org.
The Northside Green Zone and Southside Green Zone work plans highlight increasing access to green jobs and advancing environmental awareness. MN Renewable Now is a North Minneapolis organization dedicated to bringing renewable energy access and education to its neighbors on the northside.
MN Renewable Now’s Power North Project works to “empower Northern Green Zone residents and businesses to choose clean electricity and reduce energy consumption” while their Solstar project is actively building equity through rooftop solar projects in the 55411 zip code. Not only will the Solstar project employ North Minneapolis residents as Project Manager, Engineer, Solar Assessor, Residential Contractor, and solar installers, but it will also provide an opportunity for solar installation and OSHA training in North Minneapolis to those interested in choosing solar as a career path. To advocate for this work, you can donate to the Solstar project here, amplify their work through social media, or if you know someone who lives in the 55411 zip code, encourage them to contact MN Renewable Now for an application.
I encourage you to take a look at the Southside Green Zone work plan and the Northside Green Zone work plan. Find actions that resonate with you–maybe it’s creating access to affordable healthy food, green jobs development, or reducing polluting industry in these marginalized communities–then do a local internet search for organizations working on these issues. Reach out directly or check social media to see what issues these organizations are actively working on and to make sure the work is informed by those most impacted. Then, find out how to support their work. There are many organizations advocating for environmental justice in Minneapolis through direct action and policy change and they need our time, voices, and talents to support their work. Good luck!