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Sustainable Healthy Cities Network, ICLEI USA partner with Metropolitan Council to Develop Regional Climate Action Tool

June 09, 2020

The Sustainable Healthy Cities Network and the Metropolitan Council, the regional government agency for the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area, are partnering to develop a first-of-its-kind scenario planning tool to support regional climate action planning incorporating future technologies including autonomous vehicles, dynamic ride-sharing and low-carbon energy pathways.

Researchers will work with the Met Council on the project, which will provide baseline data on greenhouse gas emissions and scenario planning tools needed to track progress and inform decision-making by local governments at the regional scale, focusing largely on questions of land use and transportation planning. It represents part of the Council’s Metro Climate Stats initiative to formalize the collection, distribution, and use of greenhouse gas (GHG) data for comprehensive low-carbon planning in 188 communities in the seven-county Twin Cities metropolitan region.

The project brings together researchers from the NSF-supported Sustainable Healthy Cities Network, as well as those affiliated with a grant from NSF’s Smart and Connected Communities. ICLEI USA, a national membership organization of local governments for sustainability, and LEIF LLC, a sustainability consulting small business, are also core partners on the project.

The overall team offers a unique combination of technical and policy expertise to facilitate the development of a state-of-the-art multi-sector low-carbon scenario planning tool, as well as policy-relevant guidance to help a wide range of stakeholders and communities understand the implications of the results generated by the tool. The project is led by Professor Anu Ramaswami at Princeton University, who is the lead PI and director of SHCN, and brings expertise in urban GHG accounting, including advanced analysis of land-use related emissions as well as cross-sector circular economy planning addressing waste to value opportunities. She also co-directs a Smart and Connected Cities project, which has a particular focus on equity in urban infrastructure planning. SHCN co-PI at the University of Texas at Austin, Kara Kockelman, is a leading authority on urban transportation modeling, incorporating disruptive mobility technologies. Frank Douma, of the State and Local Policy Program at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, will work with the SHCN team at Princeton to develop a broad policy and stakeholder engagement plan to help ensure that the tool is applicable and useful for as many communities as possible across the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

Ramaswami, director of the Sustainable Healthy Cities Network and professor of civil and environmental engineering at Princeton University, has previously collaborated on climate action planning efforts with individual cities, and she was part of a team of experts convened by ICLEI USA to develop the first US Community Protocol for Accounting and Reporting of GHG emissions.

“This is a really exciting project, offering the chance to do something quite new in terms of climate action planning at this scale, with the potential to support action in so many communities,” says Ramaswami. “The work will make a real difference across the Twin Cities metro area, but will also help develop new national standards of best practice for doing climate action planning at the regional level. The Met Council is positioning themselves as a real leader in this space.”

“The increase in regional climate action is a welcome and needed trend. Linking communities that lack the capacity to act on their own with communities that have advanced individually improves results for all,” said Angie Fyfe, executive director of ICLEI USA. “We are excited to contribute to this project and repeat the work in other regions across the country.”

The Metropolitan Council is the regional government agency for the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Centered on the cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, the area is made up of the seven counties of Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott and Washington. The metro area is home to 3 million people in 7 counties and 188 cities and townships, encompassing nearly 3,000 square miles. Created by the Minnesota Legislature in 1967, the Council fosters efficient and economic growth for a prosperous metropolitan region.

The Sustainable Healthy Cities Network is a U.S. National Science Foundation-supported sustainability research network focused on the scientific advancement of integrated urban infrastructure solutions for environmentally sustainable, healthy and livable cities. SHCN brings together people and projects supported by NSF’s Sustainability Research Network and Smart and Connected Communities program. SHCN works with scientists, industry leaders, and policy partners com­mitted to building better cities through innovations in infrastructure design, technology and policy. The network connects across  U.S. research universities (Princeton University, Colorado State University, Columbia University, Florida State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, The Ohio State University, University of Michigan, University of Minnesota, Purdue University, University of Texas at Austin), major metropolitan cities in the U.S. and India, as well as infrastructure firms and policy groups to bridge research and education with concrete action in cities.