Rybak travels to Sweden for ‘green’ conference

Mayor R.T. Rybak showcased Minneapolis’ environmental efforts.

by Andre Eggert

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak was among 10 delegates of the National League of Cities to attend the first-ever European Green Capital Conference last week.

The conference, which took place in Stockholm, Sweden, showcased how Europe is tackling environmental issues and green development in urban settings.

Rybak, who was unavailable for an interview, said on his blog he was excited to be in Stockholm to represent Minneapolis and show how the city handles environmental issues.

“As we grow Minneapolis, weâÄôre growing it sustainably âÄî because in this century, thatâÄôs the only way to do it,” he wrote on his blog.

Rybak spoke at a Thursday conference panel on “Green Success Stories: American Best Practices” and promoted clean-energy business, the Nice Ride bike program and local-food initiatives. Minneapolis implemented a city-wide tree-planting program in 2006 and is installing the largest solar array in the Upper Midwest. It was named the worldâÄôs sixth best “eco-city” this year.

Meanwhile, Stockholm was named the European Green Capital for 2010 by the European Commission. The award is given to a different city every year to “present good examples and [share] experiences,” according to the city of StockholmâÄôs website on the conference.

“More than half of the worldâÄôs population live[s] in cities, and in Europe the figure is no less than 80 percent,” Stockholm Mayor Sten Nordin said on the site. “Cities therefore play an important role in improving the living environment for citizens.”

Gayle Prest, Minneapolis director of sustainability, said she admired the low carbon footprint and local eco-initiatives in Sweden and Europe.

Minneapolis is also undertaking an enormous amount of environmental projects, she said, including a Thinc.Green partnership between Minneapolis and St. Paul and the Homegrown Minneapolis program, which increases access to local food.

The city has a comprehensive system to determine how sustainable and healthy the city is. The system uses 26 sustainability indicators that are presented to the city council and mayor.

“ItâÄôs not just [anecdotal],” Prest said. “We believe in the power of numbers to show our story.”

Minneapolis should promote funding for green jobs training, Prest said, because they are part of the “new economy.”

The funding is not as visible to the public as other initiatives. “ItâÄôs a little more hidden, rather than touch and see compared to things like green roofs,” Prest said. “But itâÄôs âĦ important work.”

The city is still looking for more ways to become sustainable in the future, said Karin Berkholtz, community planning manager for the city.

“The next time we update our comprehensive plan,” Berkholtz said, “we want to be much more explicit how the city plans for climate change.”

Minneapolis should be focusing on sustainability, she said, because it promotes “resiliency for the future” in our infrastructure, community health and other sectors.

We need to “make sure we live within our means,” Berkholtz said.