EcoDistricts conference highlights eco-friendly, affordable development in Twin Cities

A conference at the University of Minnesota is focusing on creating the neighborhoods of the future and discussing ways to make communities that are eco-friendly and also affordable.

“North Minneapolis is undergoing a revolution right now,” said James Staples, a Minneapolis developer. 

In a couple years, some blocks of Plymouth Avenue in north Minneapolis will look drastically different.

“And what’s going to happen is there’s going to be a concentrated effort to redevelop certain corridors within the community,” said Staples. 

Staples is the developer behind a planned innovation corridor, which will include a technology training center to prepare high schoolers and some adult learners for careers in emerging tech fields, particularly clean energy.

“You think about these things that are starting to happen right now that we’re not really even thinking about because we’re so used to our day-to-day,” said Staples. “These emerging sectors are going to be designing the shape of the future.”

His project is one of many highlighted at the three-day EcoDistricts conference at the University of Minnesota. The national conference is focusing on how cities can develop and redevelop in ways that are both environmentally responsible and socially responsible.

“This is more than a conference, it’s really a gathering of leadership to imagine the future of the Twin Cities as part of a national effort to really drive this agenda,” said Rob Bennett, CEO of EcoDistricts.

Also highlighted at the conference was the re-development of the St. Paul Ford plant site with plans for a mixed use of retail and residential and green space, mixed price points of housing. Leaders also pointed to the Minnesota United’s future home, Allianz Field, which is being made with eco-friendly construction and access to mass transit. The idea is any new development should be thinking about multiple goals.

“And it’s how cities change, ultimately when we invest in neighborhoods and really emphasize the intersection of affordable housing, green infrastructure, economic development,” said Bennett. “That is sort of how we change the city to meet the goals that many city leaders and many community leaders have.”