Minneapolis Green Zones Workgroup Final Report

Executive Summary

On April 28, 2017, the Minneapolis City Council unanimously approved a resolution designating two Green Zones in the City of Minneapolis: a Northern Green Zone and a Southside Green Zone. The Minneapolis Green Zones Initiative is a place-based policy initiative to promote health and economic well-being in communities that are overburdened by environmental pollution and face greater social, economic and political vulnerability. By designating communities as Green Zones, designing strategies in partnership with community residents and targeting resources in a comprehensive way, the initiative hopes to support transformative, lasting change for two of Minneapolis’ most disenfranchised communities.

From April 2016 through March 2017 a Workgroup of community stakeholders, City staff and agency partners met monthly to come up with designation criteria, goals and strategies. A series of focus groups in key communities were held to validate and improve upon the Workgroup’s recommendations. The key priority issues that the Workgroup identified to create economic development using environmentally conscious efforts include:

The final, but most significant, of the recommendations is to develop strategies and activities that advance racial equity and prevent displacement and gentrification.

This report summarizes the work completed by the Green Zones Workgroup, as well as the efforts of many community leaders, environmental advocates and City staff that led to the passage of this resolution.

I. Background

A Green Zone, as defined in the Minneapolis Climate Action Plan, 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. The concept was introduced into the Climate Action Plan by a group of environmental justice advocates who formed the Environmental Justice Working Group of the Climate Action Plan. Green Zones are an opportunity to address the historic environmental injustices perpetrated on communities of color, indigenous peoples and low-income communities in Minneapolis. The objective of the Green Zone is to work with community to identify actions and target solutions in a comprehensive manner to improve environmental, health and economic conditions without displacing existing residents.

In June 2013 the Minneapolis City Council adopted the Minneapolis Climate Action Plan, establishing goals to reach citywide greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets of 15 percent by 2015, 30 percent by 2025, and 80 percent by 2050.  As a result of the Environmental Justice Working Group’s efforts, the plan’s Energy & Buildings section recommends developing a Green Zones initiative in Minneapolis, through which designated Green Zones neighborhoods would benefit from targeted energy efficiency retrofit campaigns or renewable energy installations. Developing a Green Zones initiative was also part of the Minneapolis Climate Action Plan Two-year (2014-2015) Priorities.

The City of Minneapolis Energy Pathways Study coincided with the 2014 expiration of utility franchise agreements with both Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy.  The Energy Pathways report addresses concerns from policymakers, advocates, businesses and residents related to environmental impacts of our energy system, reliability of service, local economic impacts and the equity of energy services.  A Green Zones initiative is introduced in the report as a promising strategy to transition underserved and environmentally impaired parts of a city into healthier, safer, and more economically viable places to live and work.  The study included a recommendation to implement a Green Zones pilot project in the next 6-18 months in Minneapolis, as part of efforts related to a city-utility partnership.

In November 2015, the City Council Health Environment and Community Engagement committee passed a resolution to establish a Green Zones Workgroup, which was approved by the full City Council on February 12, 2016. The Resolution directed Sustainability staff to establish a Green Zones Workgroup tasked with analyzing data and developing data-driven recommendations including:

  1. Criteria and eligibility requirements of Green Zone designation
  2. Goals, expectations and metrics aimed at tracking progress within each designated Green Zone
  3. Strategies 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.
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II. Research: Green Zones Models and Gentrification Mitigation


In 2014, Minneapolis conducted background research on other cities’ Green Zone concepts. In general, there was a focus on community-driven and community-owned solutions that improved environmental conditions in overburdened communities, but that’s where the similarities stopped. Examples ranged from Clean Up Green Up LA, which had a core focus on air quality in communities adjacent to major industrial areas, ports and interstates, to the Kansas City, MO Green Impact Zone which was a government-initiated designation to engage community and concentrate resources in a large previously under-invested area, to PUSH Buffalo’s Green Development Zone in Buffalo, NY that utilized a community-land trust model to provide healthy, efficient housing as well as job training and employment in green infrastructure construction and maintenance.

Overall, the lessons learned from looking at these and other examples demonstrated that there were a few core pieces to the varying Green Zone models:

  1. Community-driven solutions
  2. Focusing resources in underinvested communities, lower-income, communities of color
  3. Multipronged solutions: reducing environmental burden while promoting housing stability and wealth-building


A core concern of community members and elected officials was that improvements in community conditions would lead to increased interest from outside residents and investors, leading to increases in rents, sale prices and commercial leases, and ultimately displacing the community for which the improvements were intended to less desirable areas. This concept of public investment leading to private investment and displacement of lower-income residents for higher-income residents can be thought of as gentrification-induced displacement. Promoting equity and preventing displacement are core goals of the Minneapolis Green Zone initiative, therefore these concerns had to be addressed.

In November 2016, City Council issued a staff direction to include best practices on making Green Zone improvements without gentrification and the displacement of low income people, communities of color, and Indigenous people in the Green Zone final recommendations. From the sources reviewed, preservation and provision of affordable housing was always listed as the most important, effective strategy to combat displacement. There are many ways the City can be active in this, such as inclusionary zoning, permitting smaller lot or unit sizes, and supporting affordable developments financially – many things the City already does or is exploring.

Another key point is recognizing how each choice made by government officials, business leaders, and developers to promote economic development - whether it is funding, permit approval, public investment, policy adoption, etc. - assigns value to and prioritizes one community or stakeholder group’s interest over another's. The choice of where and when to support private development and public investment may not be easy, but decision makers should acknowledge that choosing does have consequences.

The Minneapolis Green Zone focus is revitalization, which allows residents to stay in the neighborhood to enjoy the new amenities from investments made into the neighborhood.

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III. Green Zones Workgroup and Community Engagement


The Minneapolis Green Zones Workgroup, formed in April 2016 following the City Council adoption of Resolution 2016R-040, was made up of 19 members including ten community representatives and nine City and agency staff (Appendix A). The Workgroup members themselves were intentionally diverse – a cross-section of community stakeholders from different racial, cultural, socioeconomic and geographic communities, as well as agency staff. The Workgroup met monthly from April 2016 through March 2017. Green Zones Priorities Graphic

The Workgroup was supported through a $10,000 Environmental Assistance grant from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Funding provided resources for Workgroup meetings, including meeting space costs, refreshments and stipends for community members, and for a series of focus groups in early 2017 to obtain feedback on initial Workgroup recommendations.

The Workgroup spent its first few months establishing a foundation, including development of group norms and ground rules and participating in training sessions, including an Unconscious Bias workshop and Environmental Justice training. In late summer 2016 the Workgroup established a set of priority issues to focus on: equity, gentrification and displacement, employment in the green economy, air quality, housing quality and affordability, soil and water contamination clean up and brownfield redevelopment, community greening (including vegetation and clean energy), and healthy food access. In this initiative the term equity included both racial and economic equity related to outcomes of health, wealth, engagement, power and access.


During the first couple meetings, the Green Zones Workgroup members identified the need for community engagement beyond those stakeholders participating on the Workgroup. A subcommittee was formed from the Workgroup members that were most interested in identifying strategies for engagement.

With limited resources from the MPCA, the subcommittee decided that the most effective way to get substantive feedback from community was to present a representative sample of community members with draft Workgroup recommendations and refine the recommendations based on stakeholder input prior to presenting to City Council for approval. The Green Zones engagement subcommittee hosted a series of focus groups in February and March 2017. In the end they held a total of seven: two in Northeast Minneapolis, three in North Minneapolis and two in Phillips (one of which was hosted in Spanish). Approximately a dozen people attended each focus group. The MPCA grant resources enabled hosts to provided participant stipends, dinner, travel reimbursement and childcare.

The focus group participants were presented with the Workgroup’s recommendations for goals, strategies and designation criteria. Overall, the focus group participants were supportive of the Workgroup’s recommendations, validated the work presented to them, and added more to the conversation.

Related to air, water and soil quality, there was a strong desire to have data and evidence about contamination levels, monitor air quality, prioritize clean-up of contamination, and work with community on any brownfield redevelopment.

Green jobs, and jobs, generally, were one of the two highest priorities across all focus groups. Great emphasis was placed on the need for training and apprenticeships for employment in the Green Zone, as well as addressing barriers to jobs and training, such as criminal record, education, experience, etc. Participants said, “If you have a good paying job a lot of other issues fall in line: affordability of housing is less of an issue, crime lowers, gentrification doesn’t cause displacement, etc.”

Around greening and food access, focus group participants discussed access to parks and opportunities to garden, especially for renters. Additionally there was a desire for loosening restrictions on gardening and selling food products in community.

Housing was the other highest priority across all focus groups. Participants were eager to talk about lead testing awareness and improving energy efficiency, but made it clear that renters with evictions, unlawful detainers (UDs), income less than three-times greater than rent or poor credit cannot access healthy, safe, efficient housing, let alone programs to improve their housing, or access homeownership. Participants said, “Affordable housing is a priority – unaffordable housing creates evictions and UDs.”

This focus group feedback reiterated the complexity of the barriers that must be addressed to achieve the healthy, environmentally-focused work in a Green Zone. The work is done in context, not in a vacuum. Focus group participants stated over and over again the importance of “community” in this work. For example, the need to create a culture of connected people while doing the environmental improvements, and increasing community awareness so that community can make an impact.

Related to the designation criteria, participants liked the data-driven approach and the focus on most vulnerable populations. Questions arose related to how future areas would be selected or expanded. And concern was raised about not letting other areas of the city become less green if all attention is focused on just one or two priority areas. Complete notes of focus group feedback are available please email [email protected].

In addition to the focus groups, staff developed a survey tool and attended events such as the West Broadway Farmers’ Market in summer 2016. In fall and winter, staff presented at standing City Commissions, including the disability and senior advisory committees, as well as engaging with businesses by meeting with a few of the industrial companies involved in the MPCA Minneapolis Urban Air Quality Project.

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IV. Selection Criteria and Policy Recommendations


In addition to providing recommendations for goals and strategies, the Workgroup was charged with developing designation criteria – how the boundaries of the Green Zones would be decided. The Workgroup developed a set of baseline data to measure existing conditions based on the goal areas and priority issues. To support the Green Zones Workgroup's data-driven decision making, a Minneapolis Population Characteristics and Environmental Indicators Map was created. The tool shows data by Census Tract for each of the priority issues selected by the Green Zones Workgroup: 1) equity, 2) displacement, 3) air quality, 4) brownfields and soil contamination, 5) housing, 6) green jobs, 7) food access and 8) greening. Multiple data sets may be turned on at once to show cumulative burden.

The data were used to identify communities that faced cumulative impacts of higher levels of environmental contamination exposure and higher rates of poor socioeconomic and health outcomes. Different combinations of data resulted in slightly different areas of the City having the greatest impact. A few options were analyzed, including weighting all the factors equally, weighting each category of factors equally (categories defined by goal areas), or weighting equity factors equally with the combination of all environmental factors. Ultimately, the equally combined equity and environmental data became the recommendations for Green Zone designation criteria, and the highest-impact communities became the first two designated Green Zones. The scenarios explored are presented in the Green Zones Initiative Presentation of Recommendations.


The Workgroup developed recommendations for strategies related to each of the goal areas based on their individual expertise as well as a review of existing place-based initiatives and programs. Several place-based programs already exist in Minneapolis that aim to transition underserved and environmentally impaired parts of the city into healthier, safer, and more economically viable places to live and work. These include the Promise Zone, Green Homes North initiative, the Midtown Sustainability Initiative, Hawthorne Eco Village, the Allina Backyard Initiative and the Northside Achievement Zone. See a map and list of the intersecting initiatives.

The following table includes the recommended strategies, broken out by “core components” and “critical considerations”. The core components are the strategies that are traditionally thought of as under the purview of environmental or sustainability activities. The critical considerations are the elements that ensure equity is incorporated and gentrification addressed.

GZ goal-consider chart

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V. Outcome and Next Steps

On April 17, 2017, the City Council's Health, Environment and Community Engagement Committee received the Green Zones Workgroup's recommendations (PDF) and unanimously passed a Resolution Establishing Green Zones in the City of Minneapolis (PDF). The resolution establishes a Northern and a Southside Green Zone (see the Green Zones map).

On April 28, 2017, the resolution was unanimously approved by the full City Council, with an amendment by Council Member Reich. The amendment adds environmental education as a goal for the Green Zone implementation and includes coordination with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board on the RiverFirst initiative in the Northside Green Zone. The final resolution and related documents are available on the Green Zones file webpage.

In May 2017, the City of Minneapolis received a grant from the Partners for Places Equity Pilot Initiative for a total of $150,000 to support one of the Green Zone pilots. City Council decided that those resources should go to the Southside Green Zone. Resources will be used to hire an equity consultant who can provide training and facilitation to staff and stakeholders involved in the next stage of this work. Work includes establishing a community-specific Task Force who will develop an implementation plan, including specific action steps, responsible actors and budget needs. In addition to the equity consultant, grant funds will support Task Force meetings (stipends, refreshments, translation and interpretation, etc.) and initial implementation of action steps. The Southside Green Zone Task Force will be recruited and established in summer 2017 and will have through May 2018 to develop the implementation plan and spend the grant resources. Sustaining ongoing support for the Southside Green Zone will also need to be addressed.

For the Northern Green Zone, City Council asked City staff from the Health Department, Neighborhood and Community Relations and the City Coordinator’s Office to convene and identify a path forward for supporting a Northern Green Zone advisory body. These staff are currently meeting to coordinate efforts and find resources to support a community-driven effort similar to that proposed for the Southside Green Zone.

Future progress on the Green Zones efforts will be posted on the City’s Green Zone webpage.

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VI. Evaluation


Creating an initiative that addresses the existing conditions of environmental injustice, as well as historic government and private practices that created the current inequities, is significant and challenging. The community members and staff on the Green Zone Workgroup courageously stepped up to the challenge and wrestled through some very difficult, emotional and raw conversations to create the recommendations presented in this report. Community members shared personal stories of trauma and injustice that they have or currently face and identified the solutions to overcome barriers. This was incredibly powerful for all in the room, but particularly for staff that do not often get the opportunity to see firsthand how the decisions they make impact individual people and communities.

The experience identified opportunities for growth and improvement in city processes. The following list includes many, but is not exhaustive:

  • Training for staff leading and participating in stakeholder bodies to acknowledge and appropriately handle the stress and trauma from community members. Racial bias and dismantling racism trainings for staff is a must.
  • Time and space for storytelling, healing, and trust-building early on in any process
  • Strong facilitator that can respectfully but firmly keep participants on track and outcome-driven
  • Capacity building for stakeholders to understand the delegation of regulatory authority and opportunities for influencing policy

There is a lot of history and trauma to unpack in any program or policy that hopes to address racial and environmental injustice and there are systemic challenges that this one initiative cannot solve. Substantial policy changes are needed, and this is one project among many that is required.


The Green Zones Workgroup participated in a midpoint and final evaluation to reflect on the Workgroup process. The midpoint evaluation was helpful for addressing issues that could be corrected early.

The midpoint evaluation included the following questions:

  1. I have gotten to know other Workgroup members.
  2. I have gained trust in other Workgroup members.
  3. I believe the time to build Workgroup norms and working process was valuable.
  4. I believe the Workgroup can work collectively and effectively to develop recommendations for the Minneapolis Green Zones pilot.

    The final evaluation repeated the questions of the midpoint evaluation for a comparative analysis, in addition to the following questions:

  5. I am satisfied with how staff facilitated meetings and the overall process.
  6. I felt comfortable speaking up and feel that my input made a difference.
  7. I am satisfied with the final recommendations for the Minneapolis Green Zones.

Midpoint Evaluation Results

At the midpoint evaluation, workgroup members reported a strong sense that they had gotten to know other members, but expressed conflicting levels of trust in one another. Overall responses suggested a need for more time to build workgroup norms and a working process, and respondents reported uncertainty that the Workgroup could collectively and effectively work to develop recommendations for the Minneapolis Green Zones pilot.


  • "I think there needs to be more time invested in getting to know each other to build trust."
  • "We have to build trust and a sense of knowing one another to really have progress."

Final Evaluation Results

Comparing the midpoint and final Green Zones Workgroup Process Evaluations, workgroup members reported slightly greater feelings of getting to know other workgroup members, substantially increased feelings of trust in other workgroup members, a significant increase in belief that time to build workgroup norms and processes were valuable, and moderately improved beliefs that the Workgroup worked collectively and effectively in developing the Minneapolis Green Zones recommendations. It is particularly reassuring that workgroup members reported increased trust among other members as well as increased beliefs that it was valuable to establish Workgroup norms and working process because those were two, strong concerns expressed in the midpoint evaluation. This suggests that the concerns were addressed by staff and incorporated into the facilitation process.

GZ Mid and Final Survey Results

The Workgroup’s satisfaction of how staff facilitated meetings was divided: 33% of respondents were somewhat dissatisfied while 55% were highly satisfied. Similarly, overall satisfaction over the final recommendations were divided, with 33% of respondent s feeling somewhat or strongly dissatisfied and 66% reported somewhat or strong satisfaction. However, the majority of Workgroup members reported feeling comfortable speaking up and felt that their input made a difference.

In response to the question “What worked well?,” most respondents expressed overall approval of staff facilitation, especially during difficult conversations, and were pleased with the data collected and presented by staff during the process.


  • "Staff facilitated some very challenging meetings with very stressed participants."
  • "Staff did an excellent job gathering data and collaborating with community and staff to get diverse perspectives and feedback."

In response to the question “What could have been done differently?,” respondents expressed feelings that the overall timeline of the Workgroup process was time consuming and that they wished for more community member engagement. Two respondents suggested contracting an external facilitator.


  • “Wish we could have included more community members in the workgroup in a targeted, focused manner.”
  • “Would have been nice to get into the heart of the real work earlier”

In response to the question “Any final thoughts that you would like to share?,” respondents stated that the process was difficult, with some sharing feelings of intense anger over the City Council resolution while others complimented the process and facilitation.


  • “New work always takes more time and more money. We are in a stressful time already. People dealing with generations of stress and trauma, and some issues raised may push their buttons.”
  • “One of the best City group processes I’ve participated in.”
  • “I think the next time the City does a similar workgroup that will need to discuss sensitive topics such as race, class and gender issues in the context of EJ or other, they should hire an outside trusted community member who is a person of color to facilitate the work group meetings.”

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VII. Acknowledgements

Note from the staff:

This year of facilitating the Green Zone Workgroup was an incredibly humbling experience that forced me to confront my white privilege on a daily basis. I want to profoundly thank the Workgroup members who came to the table and stuck with me over the past year, many of whom plan to continue working on next stages of this work.

I also want to recognize the many more staff, external partners and focus group participants in North, South and Northeast that provided invaluable input on the development of the recommendations.

Below is a list of people that were particularly influential in this project. Apologies if I have forgotten any names.

Green Zone Workgroup community members: (in alphabetical order) Amber Haukedahl, Gayle Bonneville, Guinevere Baptise-Johns, Kent Peterson, Louis Alemayehu, Michael Guest, Rosa Tock, Roxxanne O’Brien, Yolonda Adams-Lee, Shalini Gupta, Say Yang

Key City and agency staff: (in alphabetical order) Adam Arvidson, Brady Steigauf, Casey Dzieweczynski, Daniel Bonilla, Deb Bahr-Helgen, Ellen Kennedy, Emily Stern, Gayle Prest, James Terrell, Jennifer Swanson, Julianne Leerssen, Karen Moe, Lisa Smestad, Marie Larson, Max Holdhusen, Michelle Chavez, Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde, Patrick Hanlon, Siri Simons, Tamara Downs Schwei, Tracy Roloff

Additional stakeholders: Focus group participants in North, Northeast and Phillips, Danielle Mkali, Jim Dorsey, Koral Purdy, Laura Babcock, Nancy Pryzmus, business owners, business organizations (Lake Street Council, West Broadway Area Business Coalition, Latino Economic Development Center, Northside Economic Opportunity Network)

MPCA Environmental Assistance grant and staff (especially Karen Solas)

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Last updated Feb 6, 2020



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