Golden Valley, Minnesota, is a first-tier suburb of the Twin Cities metro area. It lies on the western border of Minneapolis in Hennepin County. The city population is 20,845 (2013) and is made up of an older mix of residents (median age is 54) and the majority own their home (82 percent). The city is bordered on all sides by neighboring cities and many services blend over borders — such as school districts, libraries, and metro transit.
To understand the culture and leadership of Golden Valley, it is important to understand how nearby cities and businesses influence municipal dialogue and initiatives. Minneapolis, Golden Valley’s most populous neighbor, has been a major change leader in sustainability efforts. In 1989, Minneapolis was among the first cities in the world to develop comprehensive plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In 2013, the city adopted a climate action plan to reduce overall emissions through three key areas: buildings and energy, transportation and land use, and waste and recycling. In 2015, the mayor completed the commitment stage to join the Compact of Mayors, an international group of city officials committed to greenhouse gas emissions and progress tracking. It also joined the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance, a group of cities committed to reducing emission pollution by 80 percent by 2050.
Having this kind of neighbor has provided opportunities for collaboration and access to expertise and innovation. The following are other ways Golden Valley has participated in developing sustainable opportunities for its residents or through proximity has enjoyed the benefits of nearby sustainable amenities.
The Market in the Valley is an example of a local Golden Valley farmer's market for residents during the summer months. Nearby vendors of fresh produce and other goods come to sell and enjoy a community engagement weekly during the warmer months. Residents also have access to nearby Minneapolis Farmer's Market, which has been open in its main location since 1937. There also are some amazing organic food options in Minneapolis, which residents have access to -- they include Birchwood Cafe, French Meadow, Restaurant Alma, and Ecopolitan.
Golden Valley is the corporate headquarters of General Mills and largest employer in the city. They have prioritized sustainability and corporate responsibility through much of their organization. They have industry-leading commitments to sustainable sourcing of raw materials (palm oil and fiber packaging) and hunger issues. General Mills has also provided 57 acres of land on its property for city use as a nature area. There are walking paths and habitat area for birds and many other species. Other major corporations that call Golden Valley home include, Allianz Insurance, Tennant Company, and Honeywell.
Local waste management (recycling/composting)
Golden Valley requires residents to contract directly with a licensed residential garbage hauler. Each varies in how they handle and dispose of trash. They range from incineration to a traditional landfill.
Recycling is accomplished through a single-sort system provided by Republic Services. They can accommodate plastic recycling #1 through #7 as well as traditional glass, paper, and metal. Hazardous waste disposal is addressed through the county service centers.
Advanced building codes (LEED certification, local codes)
Golden Valley just joined the Minnesota GreenStep Program, which provides voluntary challenges and assistance to help cities achieve their sustainability and quality-of-life goals. The 29 best practice ares include several that effect building management. They include:
1. Efficient Existing Public Buildings:Benchmark energy usage, identify savings opportunities in consultation with state programs, utilities and others to implement cost-effective energy and sustainability improvements.
2. Efficient Existing Private Buildings: Provide incentives for energy, water and sustainability improvements in existing buildings/building sites.
3. New Green Buildings: Construct new buildings to meet or qualify under a green building framework.
4. Efficient Outdoor Lighting and Signals: Improve the efficiency and quality of street lighting, traffic signals and outdoor public lighting.
5. Building Redevelopment: Create economic and regulatory incentives for redeveloping and repurposing existing buildings before building new.
Education, advocacy and networking efforts
The city of Golden Valley does not have a robust education and advocacy program. However, there are many organizations and programs in the Metro that promote civic engagement and understanding of sustainable principles. Golden Valley is also working on a new 2040 strategic plan that should include more robust planning around eduction and networking.
Alternative transportation (bike, car, rail)
As part of the Metro Transit network, residents have access to a robust network of bike trails, bus routes, and soon-to-be light rail options. There are also nonprofit organizations, such as Nice Ride Minnesota, that provide transmaterialized options for transportation and ride sharing.
As stated earlier, Golden Valley isn't a leader in pushing sustainability practices. However, because of its proximity to Minneapolis and other municipalities, best practices become considered and adopted. Some examples of these are: adding bike lanes to reconstruction road projects and revitalizing waterways (Bassett Creek).
Citizens also are mobilized to act in the city and larger metro community. They connect in organizations such as the ALLIANCE FOR SUSTAINABILITY -- which includes 19 communities in Hennepin County. They work on sustainability issues and move forward on developing policies and advocacy.
While I think that Golden Valley has a long way to go, it has a strong network of government, citizens and businesses advocating for smart and progressive policy to ensure a healthy and sustainable future. This successful mix was discussed by Michigan State University human ecologist Tom Dietz when he described what he saw as a successful environmental governing structure. He said it, “involves some degree of incentives, regulation, and community involvement. The exact mix varies with ecological circumstances, history, and how well the people involved trust each other.”
I think the communities of the west metro are working toward this mix and will be successful as it continues to evolve.