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Presenting City Climate Corner: Hopkins Urban Heat Island

Though Hopkins is one of the smaller Minneapolis suburbs, it packs a big punch on climate action. We dig into two really innovative programs they’re doing on reducing the urban heat island effect and speeding deployment of clean energy and energy efficiency solutions with a cost share program. We speak with Hopkins Mayor Patrick Hanlon and Special Projects and Initiatives Manager, PeggySue Imihy Bean, to understand how this small community is taking on big challenges.

Resources

Show Contributors

  • Patrick Hanlon
  • PeggySue Imihy Bean
  • Abby Finis
  • Larry Kraft

Connect with us

Attributions

  • This episode comes to us courtesy of City Climate Corner.
  • Our theme song is Tanz den Dobberstein, used by permission of its creator, Erik Brandt. Find out more about his band The Urban Hillbilly Quartet on their website.
  • This episode was transcribed by Ian R Buck.

Transcript

Ian: [00:00:02] Welcome to the Streets.mn Podcast, the show where we highlight how transportation and land use can make our communities better places. Coming to you from beautiful Seward, Minneapolis, Minnesota. I’m your host, Ian R Buck. Earlier this year, I met Larry Kraft, state House representative from Saint Louis Park. He’s been doing a lot of climate related work at the Capitol, but I was particularly excited to learn that he co-hosts a podcast. It’s called City Climate Corner, and it focuses on the role that small to mid sized cities have in climate action. They cover cities across the globe, but recently have done a few episodes on Minnesota communities. Here we present an episode about the City of Hopkins empowering its residents to combat the urban heat island effect. And with that, I hand you off to City Climate Corner.

Abby: [00:00:57] Cities produced more than 60% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Big cities get a lot of attention, but most household emissions in the US actually come from communities outside urban cores, making them critical players in climate mitigation and climate justice. City Climate Corner explores how these small and mid-sized cities are tackling climate change and moving toward an equitable and sustainable future. I’m Abby Finis.

Larry: [00:01:18] And I’m Larry Kraft. We’re co host for City Climate Corner.

Larry: [00:01:27] Hey, Abby.

Abby: [00:01:28] Hey, Larry.

Larry: [00:01:29] So another week, another bad air quality days.

Abby: [00:01:34] Yeah, I think we chalked up 24 so far this summer, which normally it’s like 1 or 2.

Larry: [00:01:41] Yeah. And just personally, my kid’s baseball game was canceled a couple of days ago, and that’s the second or third time this summer. Yeah. These are 15, 16, 17 year olds.

Abby: [00:01:54] Yeah. I’ve seen reports of kind of inconsistencies around camps and when they get canceled or sporting events or different things for kids. And, you know, I think it’s hard because you want the safety of the kids. You don’t want them outdoors breathing bad air. But at the same time, you know, parents are like, well, we planned for this and we need our kids to go somewhere. And so additional struggles there.

Larry: [00:02:17] Right? It’s the simultaneous benefits of getting kids outside, right? That’s and doing stuff in nature.

Abby: [00:02:24] Even adults outside. I went for a run this morning. It was great. And yesterday the air quality index dropped below 100. So that was nice to get outside and go for a longer walk with Parker. And it just gets me thinking, you know, like I was feeling cooped up in the same way I feel cooped up in the winter by Wednesday this week, and I don’t want to be an indoor person. And between heat and smoke, it’s going to be driving us indoors more.

Larry: [00:02:49] Yeah, it just sucks.

Abby: [00:02:53] It does. But I think it’s a reminder of why we’re doing this. And we know that there’s going to be challenges ahead and we know that we’re going to have to take measures to adapt and we’re going to have to do that for generations. But it makes it all the more urgent to try to slow this down and get to a point where future generations can enjoy clean air and can enjoy tolerable temperatures.

Larry: [00:03:16] I agree. That’s why we’re doing this.

Abby: [00:03:17] Right, Exactly. And today we’re keeping it local. We’re not going terribly far. Keep our emissions down all the way to Hopkins, Minnesota.

Larry: [00:03:27] Ah, yes. The neighbor of Saint Louis Park.

Abby: [00:03:30] Exactly. And we do realize we’ve been a little bit Minnesota heavy, but there’s a lot of good stuff going on here. And we don’t often brag, but Larry and I do. So we’re going to keep bragging about it.

Larry: [00:03:42] That’s right. I love Hopkins because there’s also a little bit of a maybe not a little bit a little bit of a inter-city rivalry here. Yeah.

Abby: [00:03:50] So I do love the the West metro rivalry is really starting to heat up. So we’re going to talk to the mayor of Hopkins, Patrick Hanlon and PeggySue Imihy Bean, and we’re going to hear about the cost share program and their urban heat island vulnerability assessment.

Larry: [00:04:07] Yeah, this is great stuff. And what I would say to Mayor Hanlon is bring it.

Abby: [00:04:12] Let’s do it.

Larry: [00:04:13] Let’s do it.

Abby: [00:04:20] Today we are speaking with Patrick Hanlon, who is the mayor of Hopkins, Minnesota. And PeggySue Imihy Bean, the special projects and initiatives manager. Why don’t we have each of you introduce yourselves? Let’s start with Patrick.

Patrick: [00:04:32] My name is Patrick Hanlon. I’m the mayor of Hopkins, Minnesota. We’re a town that’s about ten miles west of Minneapolis. It’s my part time job. My full time job is the deputy commissioner of sustainability, Healthy Homes and Environment at the city of Minneapolis. So have a little bit of background in climate change work and sustainability work. In my full time job.

PeggySue: [00:04:51] I’m Peggy Sue Imihy Bean and my extra long title is meant to encompass a lot of things, including sustainability, which I lead with some other staff here in the city of Hopkins.

Abby: [00:05:02] Awesome. Patrick, can you tell us a little bit about the city of Hopkins?

Patrick: [00:05:06] The city of Hopkins is a small town where about 19,000 people. We refer to ourselves as a small town amidst our neighbors. We are amongst some of the more affluent cities in the state of Minnesota. Our demographics are quite different than our neighbors. We are a city that’s 40% nonwhite. We are inverse of a lot of our neighbors where we have a lot less home ownership. And so most of our population is in rental. Think it’s about a 65/35 split. PeggySue can correct me on some of those numbers, but we’re mostly a rental community. We’re a very diverse community and we’re a historic community. We grew up at the same time that the city of Minneapolis did as a suburb. At the time, we were one of the most when we started. We’re one of the most populated market centers in the West Metro. And so it’s really interesting that the town is actually named after Harley Hopkins, which was a train stop. And so we grew up before the cities were built around automobiles. So we have if you look at the structure of our city and the bones of our city, we’re built around transit and around walkability because that’s how towns grew up during that time. And so we have a lot of the bones and structure to be a leading green city. If we build around those with our walkability, our transit orientation. In fact, the light rail transit is coming back to Hopkins. We’re going to have three light rail stops. And we’re a small city. We’re only four square miles. And so we have a lot of density in our city and we just have a great structure to be a green city.

Larry: [00:06:32] Very important question. What city is directly to the east of you?

Patrick: [00:06:37] Well, so to us, all of the cities around us, we refer to as Greater Hopkins. [laughter] So we have we have you know, Minneapolis is one of our largest suburbs. But to the city I think you’re referring to. To the east of you is Saint Louis Park, where we had a great climate champion named Larry Kraft, who was a council member there and has gone on to be a great state advocate and a representative for an unprecedented climate work that happened this last year and was a leading champion in a lot of that work. So thank you for your work, if that’s what you were alluding to, if that’s what you’re going for. But no, thank you.

Larry: [00:07:11] I hear you. I hear you. Co-hosts of Mean podcast, too.

Patrick: [00:07:14] Yeah, he does. Yes. Heard that, too.

Larry: [00:07:16] Rumors are. Well, look, the city of Hopkins is one of a handful of cities that has a cost share program. Patrick, I understand you might be the one that championed this concept in your role with the city of Minneapolis, but can you give us some background on the origin of the cost share program? I think it’s pretty interesting.

Patrick: [00:07:33] The cost share program in Minneapolis and won’t go too much into Minneapolis, because I know the the focus of this podcast is really on smaller cities and what we can do. But in Minneapolis, it started out as a program working with dry cleaners actually to help them overcome the barriers to switching, to move away from Perc, which is a hazardous cancer causing material. There was a lot of cities that had tried regulatory approaches and failed, and so we came forward with an incentive approach and became the first city in the country to remove Perc in the dry cleaning process in all of our dry cleaners. And we did it with a voluntary approach by working with business owners and helping them overcome their own financial challenges to the problem. And so we’ve taken that. We took that approach and we have expanded it out into energy efficiency and solar and renewable energy in Minneapolis. And I hesitate in saying that the city of Hopkins is using that exact model. Think PeggySue has come up with some really innovative approaches of her own, and I think it’s a model that makes sense. And I think a lot of cities are looking at that type of incentive approach where we work with people to overcome the challenges, the real challenges and barriers that they have, especially in a regulated monopoly that we live in, is to be able to have incentives of our own, where we can drive change in our own communities in ways that people in the community can save money. I know Saint Louis Park created a similar program and the city of Eagan recently passed some climate solution funding or or green cost share type approaches as well. So I think it’s an approach that just makes sense and we’re building off of that incentive based approach at a city level where we can utilize state and federal incentives as well and really stack some financing for people so that it makes this whole thing easy for people to make changes.

Larry: [00:09:17] Well, let’s dig into more of that with you, PeggySue, on some of the specifics. And maybe let’s start with and Patrick mentioned that there’s a few cities in the suburbs that including Saint Louis Park, that have some of these programs. How did the other programs kind of influence what you’ve done and how to how you’ve implemented your own?

PeggySue: [00:09:35] Great question, Larry. And I will say this early on is I make the joke fairly frequently that Emily Ziring in Saint Louis Park is the sustainability manager for both communities. I call her all the time and I’m like, Hey, question for you, because she’s super knowledgeable in Saint Louis Park, has been working on this work for a really long time. So we’re really grateful to have amazing examples in Saint Louis Park and Edina and other communities adjacent to us who are doing this work. And we’ll say right away, Abby was our consultant on the project. She did a lot of work on looking at what other communities were doing and how we might be able to replicate that, but also make it unique to our community. Hopkins is really different, right? Sometimes people ask like, What do you benchmark Hopkins against? And it’s like, No. One, there’s nothing to benchmark it against because no one has what we have, right? No one is as small as we are, as dense as we are has such a high proportion of renters as we do. And it makes us really unique place to do any kind of program, but specifically something that is largely really infrastructure based.

PeggySue: [00:10:34] So for communities that are 90% single family households, it’s a really different program to be running than a community that’s 65% rental. And those renters live in multifamily buildings. They live in duplexes, they live in single family homes. They’re across our community and in many different ways. But a program that we ran just really had to be different so that those residents could take advantage of it. So whether that’s actual individual and we’ll talk about this, I think in a minute what some of the mechanisms of the program are. But whether that’s a renter who lives in a multifamily unit, who’s taking advantage of funding for an electric bicycle versus the owner of one of those properties, really going through their whole building and thinking about what things they want to add, whether that’s solar or other mechanisms of the program. We wanted it to be able that everyone in this community could get something from it, and that meant taking a bit of a different approach.

Larry: [00:11:22] Let’s dig into that a little bit. I find it really interesting, the makeup of Hopkins. And how it would flow into a program like this, a cost share program. Can you tell us more about how the program will work, who’s eligible, what kind of technologies are included? And I would really like to also focus on the rental aspect of this because it’s it’s easier to understand how a cost share works, I think, with someone that owns their place. But I’m really interested to how you’ve worked through this for the rental side.

PeggySue: [00:11:48] Absolutely. I think that as we continue to do this, we will see ways that we’re going to fix this and change this to make it more accessible and better. But we try to think about that in the front end of this because we know the vast majority of our residents are not necessarily a single family home owner who might be looking to do an induction stove or rooftop solar. But some of those basic really core components are the foundation for this program. So in this first year, we’re starting with $150,000 plans to kind of grow that over the next couple of years. But in that first 150, we chunked it up into commercial income, qualified residential and residential. So there’s not a rental category. But because renters could be in either category, right. We recognize that not all renters are low income residents. And so we’ve just broken it up into those three categories. So kind of 70,000 for businesses, 30,000 for residents, and then 50,000 for income qualified residential. And then within that are some of the things you would traditionally find in a program like this. So funding for rooftop solar or battery storage, induction oven, we really try to align it really well with the IRA. And so things that the federal government is giving money out for, we really want to match it and make it easier for folks to capitalize on the dollars coming from the Biden administration. But then we also really wanted to add in some unique things. We have electric car charging infrastructure can be added in there, an electric bicycle credit.

PeggySue: [00:13:08] And so any of those things, even like, again, like an induction stove or an electric dryer, even as a renter who’s living in a duplex or a single family home might be able to approach their landlord and say, Hey, the city has this program, it’s really exciting. Would you support an application for this? Would we be able to switch out the dryer in our unit or would we be able to switch out some sort of minor, smaller appliance? That’s been the approach. It’s always hard that the challenge with renters not necessarily owning their property always complicates it, right, Because we need landlord permission and that rebate is ultimately going to go back to the landlord. So we have to trust that renters and property owners will work out what that’s going to look like. But we also hope it motivates renters who are really interested in climate to be calling their property owner companies and saying like, Hey, the city has this program. Like, please participate, please make infrastructure changes to our building. And then on the flip side, working with property owners, we have a lot of really great relationships through our police department and community development with some of these property owners or buildings that are going in, right. New construction properties saying, Hey, we have some money for you. You know, we have some buildings already under construction right now who are already emailing me saying like, hey, we think we want to add solar.

PeggySue: [00:14:14] And we heard the mayor talking about this Climate Solutions fund. Can we get in on that while we’re still under construction of our property right now for a rental property? So there are some things that it will be a little bit harder for renters to take advantage of. We recognize that it requires them working with their property owner if they want some of those big physical things like a dryer or if they want solar or they want to have those conversations. But we hope that on the flip side, we can really impact renters by having a lot of money available for multifamily property owners. And at the end of the day, anyone can get an electric bicycle. If you’re not an advocate for trying to get your property owner company to put rooftop solar on, but you just want to reduce your trips, you know, this is a small community. You can bike anywhere, but if actually biking feels really intimidating to you and an e-bike helps reduce that barrier and reduce car trips for us, I think that’s a really big win. And we talk about this program a lot in energy use, like decreasing natural gas and things like that, but this impacts air quality. When you get to that point, it improves people’s health and health outcomes. So I think that it will be really fun in a couple of years to see what the downstream impacts of a lot of that is beyond just reduction of natural gas.

Larry: [00:15:19] Yeah. And how have you all thought about addressing the equity components of this and making sure that a good portion of it flows to folks that are maybe have caused the problem the least but are feeling the most impacts from climate change.

PeggySue: [00:15:31] The biggest proportion of our residential money is for income qualified residential. And so we’ve really dedicated a big portion of the funding that way. But then on top of that, the program has what we consider a green infrastructure bonus zone. So we’ve done a lot of research and trying to understand like where are the where are the majority of our residents who rent living. Right? And we know that 65% of Hopkins lives in rental housing, but 90% of our residents of color who are the most likely to be affected by environmental justice injustice, live in rental housing. A lot of that housing exists in sort of concentrated areas just due to development patterns. And so in the Blake Road corridor, especially along Excelsior Boulevard, where we have a lot of industry, we’ve sort of added those as areas where where folks can get more money on top of what we’re already giving out if they’re willing to do things that we know will improve health outcomes because these kind of areas that have a really high amount of heat, they’re very impervious. And so if they’re willing to do minor modifications, whether that’s painting their rooftop or planting some trees, removing some impervious surface, we’ll give them more money on top of that. And we know that that is in those areas going to directly impact our residents of color who are living in rental housing, decreasing how hot it is, and really improving air quality and other things for those residents. And so a huge proportion of the money is really already set aside for income qualified residential, which will largely be folks living in rental housing, but then also trying to really incentivize property owners like we’ll give you more money, like we will keep giving you money if you can keep doing some things that are outside of this program, but impacting environmental health.

Patrick: [00:17:06] One thing I was going to add to that is I think, you know, with our experience and programs that have run previously is that the incentives, the focus that Peggy Sue is talking about on those rental properties and having specific incentives is so important because the barrier or the point at which people change their behavior is much higher. You need those additional incentives focused on those properties because the owners don’t have the incentive of the cost savings and a lot of cases to invest. And so you’ve got to have additional incentives. I’m sure you talk about it a lot on this podcast of that split incentive where the owners don’t have the incentive of savings that they get. And so to have those additional incentives that really drive the projects forward is crucial to get people to move forward with energy projects.

Abby: [00:17:51] So the funding is I think you mentioned it was around 150,000, and that is from American Rescue Plan dollars. I know that you have your sights set on increasing that pot and making it more sustainable. What are some of the the mechanisms that you’re looking at, Patrick?

Patrick: [00:18:06] Yeah, so funny. You mentioned that it was just in the Star Tribune today. The conversations that we’re having around using our franchise fee, which were actually due to increase our franchise fee, we are probably not as going to be as high as some of our neighbors, but we are using the additional increases. This is the first time, I think, in five years that we’ve had increases to the franchise fee. So we’re just trying to update those fees, but we’re going to use those additional charges to put into a Climate solutions fund so that we have ongoing sustainable funding to do this kind of work. And what we’re proposing right now think it’s an important thing on this podcast for cities to think of themselves in scale, because sometimes you talk about the Denver’s of the world or the Portland’s or New York or Boston or Chicago, and think it’s the point of your podcast is to focus on what smaller cities can do, but really to view yourself in terms of scale. So the investments that we’re looking at making are among the top, if not the top in the state in terms of if you look at in scale. And that’s important not only in terms of the investment, but with the state programs and federal programs that are coming out in the millions and billions of dollars that are going into local governments, that we can use this money to leverage a lot more money. And with the projects that PeggySue is talking about to get energy efficiency projects moving forward, solar projects moving forward from previous investments that these kinds of local investments, you leverage savings 13 to 1, you know, and so you’re leveraging millions of more dollars in savings into your community.

Patrick: [00:19:33] You’re making your community more resilient economically, more resilient over time. Even if you think the earth is flat and climate change isn’t real, that you are investing economically, it’s an economic development tool in your community to be able to save money. So we’re looking at having a long term sustainable fund that we can do this work. And it’s really interesting because we have different perspectives on our council, some folks that are really interested in the environmental aspects. Councilmember Beck and I are sometimes different sides of issues, but if you look at that Star Tribune article today, we’re both talking about how we need to address the regressive nature of some of the fees that we’re charging. So we’re looking at doing it in a way where it’s based on usage. So those folks that are in apartment buildings, they’re not paying as much as, you know, someone who might be using more electricity. And that’s just fair. And so, you know, we had  5-0 vote saying, 5-0 agreement saying on our council with people from different political perspectives, saying that we want to look at this. We think this is a valuable tool going forward. So that’s where we’re at right now is city staff are going to come back to us with the funding mechanisms because there is a as PeggySue talks about having incentives where you address equity, you address people who are in low income situations on the front end and then making sure your fees that you’re charging are fair. So those are the two kind of conversations that we’re having right now.

Abby: [00:20:49] Yeah, I think that’s a really important point. And oftentimes it’s a barrier with those franchise fees. If it’s set up as something that’s a flat fee versus something that’s volumetric and it just varies city to city. And so I think that that’s really important for you all to look at. What do you see as the federal rebate programs are going to start rolling out probably later in the fall toward the winter? How do you see this program pairing with those and pushing those dollars even further?

Patrick: [00:21:14] The federal tax credits in solar and air source heat pumps and improvements in energy efficiency. Some of those programs aren’t fully laid out. You talked about Representative Kraft and all of the programs. That were pushed forward at the state level. It’s an incredible amount of programs, but they’re not fully fleshed out. And what those are all going to look like in terms of how they get rolled out into the community. So we’re really looking at this as we are using these funds to get ready. There are also federal dollars that are going to go directly into local investments. The energy efficiency community block grants is one that’s kind of first out of the gate, but there are programs that are coming after that. And those programs at a federal level, they’re going to be specifically in terms of first dollars that are coming out is cities that are ready to implement and think. Hopkins is showing that we’re ready to implement.

PeggySue: [00:22:02] Yeah. And I’ll just add on that. We’ve asked for some of that EECBG or energy efficiency community block grant dollars to help continue to support this work And being in the place that we’re in now, I think helps us be more competitive in that application. Fingers crossed. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. One of the pieces of this program, too, was was showing residents what other things are they going to be eligible for on top of the funding we’re giving them, even though it’s not out yet. Right. But showing them that comparison in the table when you’re going to be viewing the application and be thinking about what you might apply for, you’re going to be able to see where else you’re going to be able to get money. So where else you’re going to get rebates from Excel or CenterPoint, where you’re going to get tax credits or tax rebates, and then where we’re giving you money and showing that stacking, I think, is really important to show residents just how much everyone at the table is really trying to bring down the cost of things. Because if you combine our credit and the state dollars that just came out for e-bikes makes a e-bikes super, super affordable. I think there’s a lot of community education that’s going to come as the next phase of this to kind of walk folks through that. And then on top of this, this is something Saint Louis Parks program, for example, does so well, is showing people not just the rebate you’re going to get from the utility, the rebate you’re going to get from us. But then the lifetime cost savings of whatever you do, right, you make the Led switch, you’re also going to save money every single month. And so the ROI on that comes back really, really quick. And so demonstrating that to residents is going to be a really important part of this program in the next phase of what we move into. As residents are gearing up to apply.

Larry: [00:23:38] We’re taking a quick break to say, if you like what you’re hearing, please support us via a tax deductible contribution at the support us link on our web page [cityclimatecorner.com]. You can also become a monthly supporter and get a cool gift by going to the Patreon link, which is the P in the social media menu in the top right of that web page. Thanks.

Larry: [00:24:04] Mr. Mayor. How do you see this program setting Hopkins kind of apart from its peers?

Patrick: [00:24:11] This is a space that it’s good to be competitive. We are not going to Hopkins obviously isn’t going to solve climate change on our own. No city is no state is. This is an area where it’s good to be competitive. And this is an area I think that we can show leadership. Hopkins is a small town. We are not a wealthy city, but when we take leadership positions, we have the ability to move quickly and the things that we do and to be agile. And so this is a space that we can lead in. I mentioned before, we are a very walkable city with our historic Main street, which was just designated as on the National Register of Historic Places in the United States. We have bus transit that has access to all of our cities. We have the three LRT stops, light rail transit stops that are coming here. We have five major bike trails that we are kind of a hub from here that goes out all across the region. If you were to build a green city, you would really look at Hopkins in terms of how we’re laid out, in terms of its walkability, its access to transit. So this is a space where I think we’re aligned as a council, and I really do want to recognize council Member Garrido, council member Hongqi, Council member, Beck and Council member Ballon think this is where we’re aligned. We come from different perspectives when we come to council, but this is a space that we are aligned as a council to really display leadership on a state level. And this is something we’re very proud of.

Larry: [00:25:28] Let’s say, boy, it sounds like a good time to be in. Hopkins.

Patrick: [00:25:30] It is. Yeah, it.

PeggySue: [00:25:31] Is. I’ll just echo the mayor’s comments that this pressure is so good. That article came out this morning and I already had a community email me being like, How many staff are working on this? Who’s doing this? And I think that it was an email forwarded to their council, right, of someone being like, We want this right? And I think that that pressure is so good and important to do this work because I don’t think Mayor Hanlon is the only competitive person out there or the only person who cares about sustainability to the degree that he does. I think there are lots of councils who don’t quite know how to do this. They see the smoke in the air this week and think like, what the heck do we do? And so for us to get this coverage in the Strib and say like, Hey, here’s a unique way of funding and what we fund is going to help people immediately, directly impact their electricity and energy use is massive. And so I hope many communities email and ask, Can we have a copy of your program? Can we do this? How do we do what Hopkins is doing and setting that bar really high but accessible for folks.

Abby: [00:26:30] Maybe that’s how you fund the program. You sell the copy.

Larry: [00:26:35] Say for the non Minnesotans listening. There was an article that came out as we’re recording this today in the Strib, which is The Star Tribune. And we’ll we’ll provide a link to it in the notes, but about some of the great stuff going on in Hopkins.

Abby: [00:26:48] I do want to move to another program that the city has been working on and we’ve talked a bit about electrification reducing energy use, but we also, as you mentioned, there’s smoke in the air. There are things that we need to do now to adapt and build resilience in our communities. And so the city has been working on this heat vulnerability assessment for the past year. And PeggySue, you’ve really been leading the charge on that effort. Can you tell us the concept behind that program?

PeggySue: [00:27:15] Absolutely. Really a fun project. I really recommend if you’re listening to this podcast, if there’s a link somewhere to click to this to run through the Storymap on this project. But about a year and a half ago, the MPCA, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency came out with some funding for the widest array of things like you could get money to build literal water towers and you could also get money to plan for climate action. And we looked at that grant and I was like, I think I can get some of this money. At that point, I was still pretty new to this role. I hadn’t quite figured out what we do and how much of this we could do all at one time. And so I’d had some conversations and I think one of them with Abby about how much should we be doing what is effective. And lots of communities have climate action plans and I think they’re really great. They’re especially great in communities that have a big amount of staff to be working on this and funds. We were not at that point. Right. I think we’re getting closer and closer to having like a great climate action plan probably in the next year or two. But at this point, what’s something we can do that would be actionable after the fact and give us like a starting spot? There’s so much that could be done. We could be thinking municipal buildings. We could be thinking about the built environment. We could be thinking about things like the Climate Solutions Fund. The MPCA has some of this money.

PeggySue: [00:28:26] What could we use It for? And I had been recently very fraught by this map. I had seen from the Metropolitan Council around Heat island effect and how hot it was in Hopkins, especially compared to the rest of our broader community. And as the mayor said, we have a really unique footprint that is very urban, it’s very dense, has lots of pervious surface, and I couldn’t stop thinking about this map and being like, What do we do? How do we take it from this being very clearly a concern? And we know that when residents experience high amounts of heat, children learn less well, people who have asthma or other health conditions are impacted, air quality declines. And so as I couldn’t stop thinking about this map, I was like, what if we do a project where we really figure out like parcel by parcel, what’s wrong with this area? So I approached Abby and LHB. So we worked with Lydia Major and her team shout out to Jess Vetrano, who, if you look at this map, it’s the most beautiful thing she’s ever made. And I said, What if we just look really small scope and just look parcel by parcel? What’s wrong with this corridor and how could we fix it? And how could we work with property owners and residents to come up with solutions to fix it? Because every parcel is a little different. Some parcels already have a white roof so that as a solution might not be as great of a solution as removing some paving and planting trees.

PeggySue: [00:29:44] Right. Or some of these parcels. There’s nothing that really from an infrastructure perspective, might be able to be done. So what does the community need to be supported when they’re experiencing really extreme heat days? And we started doing this project and did engagement during some of the hottest days of the year. Truly awful, awful heat. And it’s such an amazing project. And now when you look at the final product, really it has all these beautiful maps that really show both the vulnerable populations that live in these areas compared to how hot these areas are getting and are paired with a really wide variety of recommendations from across the country and across the world of how communities are working with residents and government organizations to impact how hot cities are getting so that they can be more resilient. Because we’re not going to get cooler. We’re going to just get hotter. So these areas that are already experiencing 102 degree land surface temperatures, we have to act and figure out exactly how we start to combat that because people’s health matters, vulnerable people in our populations, in our communities really matter. And so the project is, I think, pretty spectacular. It’s a really cool thing to work through and look at, and it impacted immediately our Climate Solutions Fund. That is directly where we got that green infrastructure bonus zone is saying, All right, now we know some of the things that could really be improved in this corridor and will incentivize you to help us fix it.

Abby: [00:31:07] So, Patrick, from the elected official side, why is it important to address heat and especially in the context that you’ve given us around the built environment that exists in Hopkins?

Patrick: [00:31:20] One of the main areas that I ran on was to ensure that I mentioned that we have three light rail. Transit stops coming to Hopkins. That is driving a lot of development in our community and for us to have plans in place so that when people develop in our community, that we have standards set in terms of what’s coming in. So we just recently passed an inclusive mixed income housing policy, making sure that we have integration in our building. In terms of people in low income, one of the next pieces that we’re looking for and that we’ve asked staff to come back with is a sustainable building policy. PeggySue and others are working on that and coming back. So as we’re developing this, what PeggySue is talking about with this Heat island tool is it gives us information as people are developing in our community, what kinds of standards can we set, what kinds of issues do we need to be paying attention to to ensure that as people develop and it really is an opportunity. PeggySue talks about some of those areas that have high heat, the heat islands, and those are areas that are ripe for redevelopment. And so we are looking at those areas as they’re coming forward. And it’s a helpful tool as a decision maker, as a policy maker, to look at what sorts of policies can be implemented in our zoning code, in specific sustainable building policies when they come forward. It helps us make decisions, make better decisions as a community.

PeggySue: [00:32:42] And I think the baseline really matters, and that’s what helps Mayor Hanlon and our council members make decisions is is having that baseline really is important and knowing at a glance what needs to be improved and how they can start to work towards making decisions that improve that. And that’s a piece that I think is lost at times is people really want to go straight to action, right? It is, again, hard to look at the smoke in the air this week and not think what can we do, but also knowing how did we get here and what decisions played a part in getting us to this space so we can make different ones is really, really important.

Abby: [00:33:18] You mentioned the community engagement aspect, and that input really informed a lot of the recommendations that are in the plan. What stood out to you in talking to the residents and what you heard from them is kind of surprising or what really drove some of those recommendations?

PeggySue: [00:33:35] It was really fascinating. Every demographic of people that we talked to had something a little bit different and surprising that they said to me. I was shocked when working with our youth advisory board. How many of them had said they had heard their parents talking about utility costs or had overheard them kind of arguing about how frequently they were going to run the air conditioner or how much it cost to provide some of those things. We had a great focus group with some folks who live in income qualified housing who said, I don’t care what it takes, I will run the AC, I am not going to be hot. And whether that’s for health reasons or for comfort, they were willing to give up other expenditures to be able to stay cool as we have super hot days in April, what used to be 3 or 4 days of summer where you’d be like, Oh my gosh, AC has to be on full blast is full months, the season’s getting longer. And so for residents to continue to make that choice is even more financially burdensome. And so that really struck me, having some of those conversations. There’s only so much that residents can give up that can only go for so far. And so how do we help them through that?

Patrick: [00:34:37] I would just say the areas that you’re talking about, those are the hottest areas of our city. And this is probably true, I would guess this is true of most cities is the areas where it’s the hottest are also areas where you have a lot of people in low income situations. And it’s true of our city, those tend to align where you don’t have as much green space, you don’t have as large a canopy, trees, all of those things. And so, yeah, I mean, we were at community meetings and interestingly enough, we were out open in the heat on pavement on a couple of them in parking lots. So yeah, that’s what I would say is stuck with me is that those areas of high heat island are people in low income situations and also high diversity. The anecdote of being in the community meetings aligns with the data that we’re seeing as well. And so yeah, they’re just areas we need to act.

Larry: [00:35:22] I see the same thing in Saint Louis Park of those areas of the community where there’s less canopy. How important is regional collaboration on these issues, on urban heat island or even things like stormwater management as climate kind of disrupts past assumptions?

Patrick: [00:35:41] Yeah, no, I think extremely important. I think when you’re talking about, you know, the energy space, PeggySue was talking about stacking financing. I think that’s true of a lot of issues and this is one of those we talk about the Metropolitan Council and we have light rail transit is coming through. What types of things can they be doing, What kinds of money can they be putting into projects where we’re really looking at the heat island as they run through these like previously industrial railroad corridors? What can they do to increase tree canopy? Working with our parks, working with other cities, state, federal, to be able to work in partnership on these issues, I think is incredibly important.

PeggySue: [00:36:17] And I’ll echo that my comments earlier of that this pushes other communities. That was a big part of why we picked this project is because. It was replicable. And we knew that a lot of communities, whether that’s here in Minnesota or across the country, are experiencing a really similar development pattern that has the same climate effects. And as Mayor Hanlon said, the overlap between who lives in areas that look like this are built like this and our most vulnerable populations and our bipoc populations is not a Hopkins only problem. It is across the metro and across the country where residents of color live in rental housing and rental housing is often a big, thick concrete building with concrete parking and and maybe not a ton of green space. And so we knew that people would see this project and it would resonate with them, either a specific place in their community or maybe their entire community. And we want them to do this project. We wanted people to literally steal this and do it all over again. So once again, maybe I just need to start monetizing all our projects and we’ll be able to pay for anything sustainability wise. I want to start licensing it, but we wanted to push other communities to say, this is happening somewhere in your community and you should know this information and here is how you do it.

PeggySue: [00:37:28] And I think that that is the piece where we did have conversations with government agencies to show them this tool and sort of talk through what this looks like, including Saint Louis Park, to try to say like, hey, see what we’re doing. This is a pretty freaking cool project, but it’s also not unique in the way that many things about Hopkins are unique. This is maybe not one of them where, like, you will have this same problem somewhere if you look hard enough and do the same thing because it took a lot of work to build it and to really think about how we might layer these things and what recommendations. But now Hopkins has done the work for everyone else. Like, you can steal all of our recommendations. You need to figure out and engage your community what their solutions are. But a lot of the government led recommendations, like we did the hard part for you now just do the mapping. And so we just want to push other people to say, look at what Hopkins is doing and how do we do that too?

Patrick: [00:38:15] Yeah, I do want to clarify that we are not monetizing our programs in Hopkins. That’s not happening. No, that is one of the wonderful things about government, is that you can copy and paste or you can copy and make tweaks and to build something that is right for your city and is appropriate for your city. So yeah, this is one of those tools and there’s a lot of other tools and things that other cities are doing that we look at on a regular basis and make tweaks and bring forward here. So yeah, it’s one of the wonderful things about doing public work like this.

Abby: [00:38:45] And PeggySue, you already mentioned this a bit, but now that we have the context of the story map, it’s immediately being used in the Cost-share program. Can you describe how it fits into that?

PeggySue: [00:38:54] Yeah, absolutely. So this area, we literally took it, duplicated it on a different map, and that’s the map we use for that infrastructure bonus zone. So if you own a property or you live in this area, you are eligible for that bonus. But it does require that you make an additional effort, right? So we’ll give you more money, but you got to help us combat how hot your parcel is. We’re seeing, especially for businesses, right, where maybe 50%, 60, 70, maybe 100% of your workforce is working remotely and you have an enormous parking lot. You might not need that anymore. So what does that look like long term? Can you remove some of that and plant trees? Can you modify your parking? Maybe you think you’re going to need that parking again someday, but can you add some islands and add some tree cover? Can you do something? You know, again, more simple where you’re painting your roof white and reflecting some of that heat. So there’s a handful of things that we’re, I don’t think terribly high bar things, but high impact things. Abby, you mentioned this at a council meeting. Like what’s the cheapest, best way to reduce heat island trees? They take care and love and, and you have to make them get from, you know, a tiny two inch caliper trees to big trees, but they have a huge impact. And so I don’t think we’re asking this like massive request of folks, but we’re incentivizing it big. That small thing can add up to a lot of money for folks who might be doing a solar project or some other Climate Solutions Fund project and being able to really maximize their dollars.

Patrick: [00:40:17] One thing was going to add about the having green infrastructure and a lot of the areas where you have high density, you have a lot of people in low income situations is you have a struggle with parking. I mean, the reason that you’re in, there’s a lot of parking services, a lot of hot areas because you got to have enough parking for the people that are in the density of buildings that are in those areas. That’s a balance that you’ve got to lay out. And in Minneapolis, the Twin Cities, we are building out light rail transit lines. It’s a hub and spoke. So it’s easy to get from Hopkins to Minneapolis. It’s not easy to get from Hopkins to New Hope, which is one of our other suburbs just north of here. And so the use and the need for cars is real. And so that’s something, as you know, as council, as we’re laying out policy to ensure that people have enough parking. And PeggySue mentioned some of the electric bike incentives like to have those other modes of transportation that people can get around on to alleviate some of that pressure. You know, that’s a struggle that we have, is removing all the parking in our some of our residential spaces is just not a reality. And so having some of these sorts of approaches, especially as you’re building new residential, how do you build in some of those design elements where it still allows for people to have use of their vehicles?

Abby: [00:41:28] All right. Patrick, what do you see for Hopkins in the climate space going forward?

Patrick: [00:41:33] Gretchen Musicant my previous the commissioner of health that I worked under had a great term that I always keep in mind is relentless incrementalism. We laid out a Climate Solutions fund and PeggySue put together an amazing program we’re looking forward to the next year is to build a continuous fund with our council members here and staff here as a team, get the demand and get projects and get programs and show success. And then you go from there and what is the next step and how do you move forward in a way that practically provides service to people in the community that benefits them? That’s what we’re all here for, is public service. So it would be looking at what the results are of the program and then how do we take the next step moving forward in a way that benefits.

Larry: [00:42:16] All right. And then finally, Patrick, what advice do you have for cities that maybe think they’re too small to have an impact?

Patrick: [00:42:25] Think in scale and to think in those terms of, you know, like that these programs are a matter of scale and putting whatever investments that they can put in and, you know, whatever size city they are and that there are tools like a franchise fee. And that’s a common tool that we have here in Minnesota. That’s a very useful tool that you can take some of these fees and put it back into these solutions where it’s one of the hesitate in saying this, but it’s almost magical. It’s one of those fees where you can actually put money into programs and people in your community end up saving more money than you charge people over time because of the efficiencies that are gained or the solar production that is gained. There are tools like that, I would imagine, in governments all over, in local governments, all over the United States that can be used to put in small funding, to leverage bigger fish, to pull in bigger investments into their community and for everyone to be saving more money in. Like PeggySue talked about, you end up getting cleaner air. People are healthier, they live in cooler environments. And so there’s just so many wins that are involved with this work. It’s amazing. And I think there are small steps that cities at any size can take to move this work forward and benefit their residents.

Larry: [00:43:39] Awesome. Well, thank you both so much. This was fantastic.

PeggySue: [00:43:43] Thank you.

Patrick: [00:43:44] Thank you. Thank you for doing this podcast and thank you for the work that you all do.

Abby: [00:43:54] Okay, Larry, what do you think?

Larry: [00:43:56] Oh, I thought it was great. And I so much of here in there I love first thing I’ll point out is that urban heat island map and storyboard is fantastic. I just had a great time scrolling through it and clicking a bunch of stuff. I think it’s a just a phenomenal visual way of seeing the impact of the urban heat island, years of discrimination of housing approach and just wrapped all into one. And it also helps to really focus where you need to do some of these solutions. So I thought that was great.

Abby: [00:44:32] Yeah, that was a cool project. And PeggySue mentioned that I worked on that project. I cannot take any credit for any of the mapmaking or the drawings that happen. But yeah, I encourage folks to check it out. Scroll down to the bottom. Jess Vetrano did hand draw that the recommendations portion at the bottom of the story map and it’s just really well done. And as you say illustrates what things can look like and feel like when we have human health and climate considerations in our street design. So.

Larry: [00:45:01] Another thing I wrote down was the Climate Solutions Fund, which I love. And, you know, we started something similar in Saint Louis Park called the Climate Investment Fund. And I have to say that that was modeled for me after an idea I got from one of our first episodes from Albany, California. And I just love this idea of having specific money set aside to address these issues. And so I just salute what they’re doing there.

Abby: [00:45:29] Yeah. And I really appreciate Patrick’s point there at the end of thinking about this in terms of scale. You don’t have to put in huge sums of money if you don’t have huge sums of money, but put in something and put it in relative to the scale of your size community. And we’re all pitching in at some level that’s going to make the dent and that’s going to get us on our way.

Larry: [00:45:52] Yeah, and I want to echo that, the scale thing, because we did this program in Saint Louis Park a few years ago, Solar Sundown program, and it wound up we wound up spending about $110,000 of city money. And it was a program to say, look, we’re going to match some funding that the federal government has for solar installs. And it generated, I think it was $2.7 million of private investment in solar in Saint Louis Park. So these incentives are can be a small amount of money. And there’s a combination of, you know, maybe making it easier for people to do it, but there’s also a marketing aspect to it that it’s available and available for a certain period of time. So I think that point is just spot on.

Abby: [00:46:35] Yeah, I love that. And there’s so much out there to leverage right now. And for local governments, I imagine most of you are paying attention, but there’s the direct pay for renewable energy, for commercial clean vehicles. And it’s just a huge, huge, huge opportunity over the next ten years to take advantage of that federal funding and push projects both for your city operations and community wide and leverage some of those rebates and tax credits that are available to residents and businesses as well.

Larry: [00:47:04] Yeah, and doing a little program like they’re doing highlights it right. It’s a way of making those federal dollars more accessible, more easy to understand. I have a question for you. What did you think of what they’re doing with the franchise fees?

Abby: [00:47:18] Oh, I think absolutely it should be volumetric. I think that that’s a proven mechanism to allocate funding and sustain that going forward. And it’s a lot more fair and equitable when you’re doing it on a volumetric basis than a flat fee.

Larry: [00:47:34] Volumetric obviously being the more you use, the more you pay. Right.

Abby: [00:47:38] Right. So tied to your consumption rather than just everybody’s paying the same.

Larry: [00:47:42] So yeah. Interesting. And Saint Louis Park, we dedicate franchise fees to our roads and I’ve always questioned whether we need it for that. But if there’s some other ways of tying it to some of the things that Hopkins is thinking about.

Abby: [00:47:57] Yeah, a lot of cities do that. It tends to go toward public works if they even have the franchise fee. And so certainly something worth looking into for a lot of communities. I think the final point that I’ll make is on the relentless incrementalism.

Larry: [00:48:13] Mmm.

Abby: [00:48:14] And it’s terrible metaphor of eating an elephant one bite at a time, but like just imagine, like really going after it. So, yeah.

Larry: [00:48:25] Relentlessly eating an elephant.

Abby: [00:48:27] One bite at a time. Exactly. And that’s that’s what we have to do right now with this ten year window of opportunity of federal funding, state funding in some states, and just doing as much as you can with the capacity that you have and everything that you do leads to bigger opportunities and being able to do more.

Larry: [00:48:46] I think the other thing that ties into that for me is not worrying about being perfect. Just get started. If you’re not 100% sure it’s right, well get started and then you can increment and change it as you learn.

Abby: [00:48:59] Exactly. And you know, I think having staff who we have talked to, so many amazing staff people on on this podcast and PeggySue is one of those all stars who you’re just like, how many responsibilities do you have? How do you how do you keep doing this? And she’s just fantastic and really works hard to get things done.

Larry: [00:49:19] Relentlessly positive with their relentlessly incrementalism.

Abby: [00:49:23] Exactly. All the relentlessness. We hope you enjoyed this episode of City Climate Corner. If you like what you’re hearing, make sure to subscribe and give us a review. If you’re able, become a monthly supporter through Patreon. As always, you can find more information on this topic and resources from each episode’s guests on our web page [cityclimatecorner.com]. If you have an idea for the show, send us an email at [cityclimatecorner@gmail.com] or find us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Larry: [00:49:59] City Climate Corner is produced by Abby Finis and me, Larry Kraft, edited by our content Coordinator, Isaiah Eagles.

Abby: [00:50:08] Music by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.

Larry: [00:50:11] Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.

Ian: [00:50:28] Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Streets.mn Podcast! Don’t forget that we have a Streets.mn Picnic coming up on August 5 11am-2pm at Boom Island Park. Come hang out with cool people! This show is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NonDerivative license. So feel free to republish the episode as long as you are not altering it, and you are not profiting from it. The music you’re hearing right now is by Erik Brandt and the Urban Hillbilly Quartet. Streets.mn is audience supported. If you’d like to pitch in and help us continue doing awesome stuff, go to [streets.mn/donate] We’re always looking to feature new voices on the Streets.mn Podcast, so if you have ideas for future episodes, drop us a line at [podcast@streets.mn]. Find other listeners and discuss this episode on your favorite social media platform using #StreetsMNPodcast. Until next time, take care!

About Ian R Buck

Pronouns: he/him

Podcaster and teacher. Ian gets around via bike and public transportation. "You don't need a parachute to skydive; you just need a parachute to skydive twice!"

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