National Geographic recently came out with its America’s “greenest” cities list; St. Paul ranked near the top at #4. Before capital city residents pat ourselves on the back, we should analyze St. Paul’s unique factors that helped us make the list.
The magazine issued a survey to cities with populations over 100,000 and combined those results with government data to comprise its list. Undoubtedly, a multitude of factors determined the most eco-friendly American cities, including overall green space, complete streets, energy use and direct policy initiatives written with sustainability in mind.
However, it is essential to note St. Paul’s layout places it at an advantage over other cities, and that this model for development may not be universal. The state capital can be called a “city of neighborhoods” because it has more residential and commercial space than it has manufacturing or other “dirty” sectors. St. Paul is unusual in that it can rely on Minneapolis to bear a good chunk of carbon emissions and heavy industry, and has thus far had an easier time to develop as a clean, green city than comparable municipalities.
Policy measures have certainly pushed St. Paul’s “greening.” Some of those measures extend to and from Minneapolis as well. The Twin Cities are highly “bikeable,” with Minneapolis being named the best bike city in America.
St. Paul has a remarkable advantage over its neighbor to the west because of its lower population. That would suggest it emits less carbon than Minneapolis because there are fewer people to own cars or leave on lights and televisions. As such, future economic development is grounded in incremental gains by greening residential spaces rather than accomplishing such daunting tasks as greening industry or encouraging large populations to use more mass transit.
Minnesota has a right to brag about our capital’s high ranking on National Geographic’s recent survey, yet we ought to keep in mind that part of the reason why St. Paul tops the list is because its layout equips it to avoid the more carbon-heavy aspects of city and community development. Cities looking to become greener ought to push for innovation in areas like industrial development and mass transit. St. Paul is somewhat at an unfair advantage over other cities, and although it exemplifies green development, one should keep in mind that this model is far from universally applicable.