Billionaire Michael Bloomberg, a special envoy on climate change for the United Nations and the former mayor of New York City, came to Minneapolis with an announcement last fall. With Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter on each side, he announced that Minneapolis and St. Paul had joined a climate initiative, American Cities Climate Challenge, of Bloomberg’s philanthropic foundation, according to MPR reporting.
The two cities would join 18 others in tackling climate change through carbon reduction. Each city would receive $2.5 million from Bloomberg’s foundation over two years to develop a strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The goal is to reduce them by at least 80 percent by 2050. It’s an ambitious goal, which I’m quite proud that the Twin Cities undertook and that Bloomberg funded.
Minneapolis’ participation in the challenge is a wonderful thing, but 2050 is a long time away. As everyone on the University of Minnesota campus knows, that means one thing: procrastination. The year 2050 is so far away that it looks like we’re putting off meeting our carbon reduction goal. The trouble is that climate change is a serious issue and we can’t put off our part in solving it.
It appears that procrastination has already begun downtown.
Right now, the Minneapolis branch of the Federal Reserve Bank sits in the North Loop of Downtown, right at the base of the Hennepin Avenue Bridge. It’s a pleasant looking building that feels like a gateway to the Mississippi River — an improvement from its neighbor across Hennepin Avenue, the U.S. Postal Service building, which cuts off the view of the river from downtown like a brick wall.
The Federal Reserve wants to add a wall of its own: a 800-stall, above-ground parking garage where its surface parking lot currently sits. It wants more parking, enough for other visitors to use.
This is where the procrastination comes in.
In the city’s most recent report on emissions, 26 percent of Minneapolis’ emissions came from road transportation, the city’s third highest source of emissions. This was behind electricity and natural gas consumption, which create 36 percent and 35 percent of greenhouse gases in Minneapolis, respectively. Zipping around town in a car creates a surprising amount of greenhouse gas.
This project actually has some steam. Earlier this week, the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission went against the city planning staff recommendation and approved the project, which still needs to go through the City Planning Commission.
Bloomberg, in his announcement with Fray and Carter, said that reduced emissions will increase resident quality of life by reducing traffic congestion and adding biking and walking opportunities.
To reduce emissions and traffic congestion and bring increased quality of life, you have to reduce the amount of cars on the road. It’s as simple as that. Sure, that parking garage may be full of electric cars someday. But today, we have to fight climate change and reduce our emissions.
Building a parking garage for 800 cars in a bustling neighborhood next to the riverfront doesn’t get us there. It confirms that we aren’t serious about confronting climate change. We say one thing then do another. With climate change, we can’t do that. The reduction of emissions isn’t a homework assignment we can do the night before.
Things feel different now in Minneapolis. There’s an exciting buzz in the air. We have momentum and support in City Hall and our communities to address issues like climate change and affordable housing. Will we use Bloomberg’s money to actually do anything or will we just twiddle our thumbs? So far, the parking garage isn’t a good sign.