Destination of the Week: Minneapolis
The City of Lakes is making a smaller splash with its sustainability and conservation efforts.
Fri, Feb 27, 2009 at 11:18 AM
Minneapolis is one of those midsized American cities you don't often hear about. Travelers who want to experience all things urban usually head to the coasts, or to Chicago or someplace where "warm" is an appropriate description year-round. Sure, stop off in Minneapolis and you might bump into a tourist or three in the cavernous Mall of America, but it seems that for most travelers, family or business are the main motives for a trip to the Twin Cities (St. Paul being the smaller twin).
Minneapolis is a green city with a progressive mindset, and is often recognized for its high quality of life. As a national leader in air quality and sustainability initiatives, it has an ever-expanding list of plans to green what's already an environmentally friendly place.
Yes, the rumors are true: Winter is cold. How cold? That depends on your reference point. From mid-December to mid-February, temps probably won't even flirt with 32 degrees. But June, July and August are balmy, and the rest of the time, things fall into the "pleasant" range.
Weather aside, the theater, music and eating scenes are among the surprises that Minneapolis has to offer visitors. It's a plus for green-minded travelers that the city is as kind to the environment as any in the Midwest.
For the time being, the Twin Cities rely heavily on buses for their public transportation. A single light rail line connects the airport and Mall of America with downtown Minneapolis, and another line is in the works.
Bicycling is popular (during the warmer months for many people, and even in winter for some die-hards). In fact, Minneapolis is second only to Portland, Ore., in number of bicycle commuters. An extensive network of trails and bike paths — as well as the permission of bikes on public transit at no additional charge — have seduced people into pedaling around the city.
A recent decision by the city of Minneapolis means any new government structures will be independently audited to ensure the highest standards of energy efficiency. But one publicly funded construction already stands out as an almost perfect example of urban eco-friendly design.
The new Central Public Library in downtown Minneapolis is green from the bottom to the top. In fact, the top is the greenest part. The five-story, ultra-energy-efficient building features a green roof — both in hue and in eco-friendliness. The rooftop garden isn't on top of the structure; it's part of the structure. A state-of-the-art water-retention system catches rainwater and uses it to water the grass and plants. This self-sufficient garden requires little maintenance and provides an oasis of green in the otherwise concrete-colored downtown.
A city of urban green
The natural areas in the city and suburbs are among the most attractive aspects of Minneapolis. Pike Island is a state park not 10 minutes from most places in the city (20 minutes from downtown by light rail). This isn't your typically dodgy city park complete with dangerous section and trash heaps. Deer and beaver call the island (which sits between the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers) home. The trail system is extremely well-maintained. Aside from the occasional whoosh of a plane from the nearby airport, there's little to suggest you're in the midst of an urban area.
Even within the city limits, green spaces prevail. Lake Harriet, Lake Calhoun and Lake Nokomis are three urban bodies of water on the south side of Minneapolis that offer opportunities for strolling, biking, jogging and boating.
Yes, the big-box stores and chains are a force in Minneapolis. But there are grassroots efforts by various neighborhoods and also by the city itself to promote locally owned businesses.
In addition to its business sector, the city's locally grown scene is thriving, too. There are two farmers markets near downtown, open from April through November and featuring locally grown produce, much of it organic.
The greenness also carries over into the restaurant scene. On one end of the spectrum is Ecopolitan, a raw-foods vegan restaurant that uses nothing but organic ingredients (it also sells nontoxic household goods). There are many mainstream eateries in town that put a premium on fresh, organic, locally grown ingredients.
Finally, there's Galactic Pizza, a one-of-a-kind pizzeria. If you don't mind your delivery person showing up in a superhero costume (no joke), the organic ingredients and electric delivery cars keep this business's impact on the environment to a minimum.
Minneapolis — it's cold at times, warm at others, but always green. This city is vastly underrated and is one of the Midwest's best examples of how urban areas and the natural world can co-exist.