Lobbying for Urban Environmental Justice

How one North Minneapolis woman is tackling city development around water waste, building awareness about consumer choices, and encouraging biking as transportation
Kristel Porter (photo by Sarah Whiting)

I have always had a deep love for nature. My mother taught me how to grow food when I was a child, and I spent the majority of my time running around in the woods. Children were taught to be mindful of waste and how we treat nature. I remember when the “recycle, reduce, reuse” commercial came on. I had the song memorized.

For as long as I can remember, I have needed to defend Mother Earth and to do everything in my power to encourage everyone in my network to see the value in giving back to her. While working as the executive director of a neighborhood association in North Minneapolis, I knew I needed a career change that was more in line with my calling.

MN Renewable Now was a name I came up with in 2018 to convey the need for my community to move away from fossil fuels and to allocate more resources into renewable energy as soon as possible. I was determined to start a nonprofit that focuses on renewable energy, climate change, and environmental defense.

Water Waste

North Minneapolis is the first major metropolitan area that the Mississippi River passes through and the river is our main watershed. You can find more litter on the streets in North Minneapolis than most places in the entire metro area, which flushes into the nearby water.

North Minneapolis is also a place where development happens with little community oversight. Because of this, major developments within the past 15 years are built close to sidewalks with little room for green space and a huge impervious footprint. When I served on the Northside Resident Redevelopment Council’s Residential Commercial Task Force Committee, the questions I would ask every developer were:

  • What are the setbacks?
  • What is your plan for renewables and energy efficiency?
  • What is your storm water plan?

In places where the city is covered in concrete, every rainfall is a missed opportunity for the community to build wealth. Millions of gallons of water rush from our rooftops, only to hit the ground and scoop up pollutants. We should have a plan to utilize that water before it hits the ground.

The city is spending billions of dollars to filter and treat river water, while the community has the potential to be harnessing the water that is already here. Imagine if a car wash stored rainwater in tanks under their parking lot, or the city had an irrigation system setup for boulevard trees through underground stormwater tanks.

I hope to help my community in an elected role so that I can change city policies and encourage developers to become more creative in implementing water-sensitive urban land design.

Awareness is Power

MN Renewable Now is working to encourage the city of Minneapolis to begin implementing water sensitive urban land design, such as allowing the implementation of gray water systems in development plans. We are also working to convert residents to renewable energy through our grassroots Power North Program — whether it be as simple as opting into “wind source” on your energy bill, or subscribing to a community solar garden.

We are partnering with Minneapolis Climate Action to kick off a Zero Waste Committee to help residents make better purchasing decisions, learn how to recycle correctly, and hold lawmakers and single-use plastic producers accountable. We also have a program called Cycle Sisters, which hosts group bicycle rides throughout the summer and fall to familiarize women with alternative forms of transportation.

When people are aware of the issues, their ability to effect change is strengthened. During the 2016 Minnesota legislative session, a friend and I organized the United Black Legislative Agenda. We piled Black community leaders into the Capitol and stood shoulder-to-shoulder in order to get the attention of our legislators. We were fed up with our communities being a state funding afterthought. We came with a list of demands and a list of bills we wanted them to support.

The leader of the Black Nurses Association, Black Realtors, the Leaders of the Urban League, NAACP, Council on East African Heritage, African American Leadership Forum, pastors, Black Lives Matter activists, relatives of both Philando Castile and Jamar Clark, and more stood together in solidarity.

I believe it was Representative Lyndon Carlson, who has served in the Minnesota House of Representatives since 1973, who said, “In all the years I have been serving, I have never seen this many Black people in this space at once. You have made history.”

Together, we secured over $75 million for Minnesota’s Black community and helped to pass the Urban Ag Bill, which provides grants for agriculture projects and education in cities. Inspired by the experience, I am now in the process of organizing a BIPOC environmental lobbyist group in Minnesota.

When the rain falls every piece of litter, every drop of oil, every salt pebble from the sidewalk will end up in precious bodies of water. Whether it be in Bassett Creek where our children play in the summer, in the Mississippi River where we source our tap water, or in the oceans, we will all be affected — some more quickly than others.


In addition to MN Renewable Now, Kristel Porter (she/her) founded the Clean City Youth project, which takes youth on street cleanups to gain a deeper understanding of waste and its impact on our environment. She is working with Fresh Energy, Sierra Club, COPAL Frayeo, Minneapolis Climate Action, and other groups to organize a BIPOC environmental lobbyist group.


Details

MN Renewable Now will host the Renewable Now Energy + Conservation Fair in October 2020, and the Renewable Now Youth Leadership Conference in May 2021.

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