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Finding the Future - Innovations in Land Use and Sustainability

Finding the Future - Innovations in Land Use and Sustainability

By Bill Griffith

Picture the future. Does it include automated vehicles? Will we fly from place to place in personal pods like in the sci-fi movies we have watched? What else does the future hold and who will shape it? Land planners predict the future will be shaped by compact development and multi-modal transportation, meaning choices to travel by car, transit, bikes, on foot, and even scooters. That is the idea behind Finding the Future, a series of podcasts with thought leaders and innovators in land use and sustainability.
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Finding the Future: “Getting to Yes” Interview with Karla Henderson

Finding the Future - Innovations in Land Use and SustainabilityJul 11, 2022

Finding the Future: “Getting to Yes” Interview with Karla Henderson

Finding the Future: “Getting to Yes” Interview with Karla Henderson

Last year, the city of Bloomington Minnesota hired Karla Henderson to help steer the city’s redevelopment as Director of Community Development.  She is well qualified for the job since she served in Detroit Mayor Dave Bing’s inner circle and brings a wealth of experience turning around neighborhoods to her new job in Minnesota.

Jul 11, 202219:22
Learning Lessons from Permaculture: Interview with Rony Lec, Founder of The Mesoamerican Permaculture Institute

Learning Lessons from Permaculture: Interview with Rony Lec, Founder of The Mesoamerican Permaculture Institute

On a trip to Guatemala, a friend introduced me to a unique outdoor classroom, a learning lab of sorts, for those interested in sustainable agriculture. It’s located on the shores of Lake Atitlan, a beautiful volcanic lake in the central highlands.

IMAP is short for the Mesoamerican Permaculture Institute and was founded by local people to showcase the ancestral knowledge of food production in the area, which is known for a rich diversity of seeds and plants. Since the lake is situated between the tropical lowlands and the cloud forests, it is an area filled with exotic plants.

Ronny Lec is one of the founders of IMAP, which started over 20 years ago. He explained that much diversity in plants and seeds has been lost to monoculture farming practices. IMAP is hoping to stem the loss by educating local farmers of the value of the biodiversity which is unique to this lakeshore region.

Learn More

Feb 21, 202214:27
Building Tiny Houses for the Homeless - Interview with Josh Castle

Building Tiny Houses for the Homeless - Interview with Josh Castle

In cities across the country, the pandemic has brought home the plight of the homeless.  Rising home prices, job losses and economic disparity have left more and more people without viable housing options.  Communities everywhere are struggling to find alternatives to the tent cities that have sprung up in public parks and along highways.

One solution is gaining national attention – the construction of tiny house villages.  A housing nonprofit in Seattle has had great success pioneering the concept and now manages tiny house villages in Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia and King County.  The organization is known as LIHI, which stands for the Low Income Housing Institute.

Recently, I had the chance to sit down with Josh Castle, the Community Engagement Director for LIHI.  It’s his job to run the gauntlet of community and church organizations, building support for the construction of tiny house villages and seeking volunteers.  Josh has seen volunteers’ attitudes shift from concerns about the impact of the villages on neighborhoods to “tell us what residents need.”

A little over five years ago LIHI started partnering with the city of Seattle on the tiny house village project. Castle explained, “There was a huge homelessness epidemic in the Puget Sound region with encampments popping up all over the city. Seattle was trying to find a solution, so they started authorizing these encampments, allowing them to be in place as long as they had some kind of an organized structure, some management and a fiscal sponsor.”  LIHI stepped in to serve as fiscal sponsor working with other organizations to address homelessness.

LIHI has been around for 30 years and owns or manages nearly 2,400 units of housing in six counties.  About 20 years ago, the organization opened its first urban rest stop in downtown Seattle providing laundry services, showers and bathrooms for people experiencing homelessness. Eventually, that experience and working with the City led to the creation of the tiny house village concept.

“We realized that if you build a structure that is 120 square feet or less, it falls below the limit for the International Building Code so it’s not considered a dwelling unit, and it makes it much quicker and easier to build the structure,” said Castle.  “So, we started building tiny houses that were 120 square feet or less and very cost-effective, about $2,500 to build.”  The cost has gone up with the spike in lumber prices but it is starting to come down again.

Now, LIHI manages a total of 14 villages, eight in Seattle alone, two in Olympia and three in nearby Tacoma. Recently, they added a village in Skyway which is an unincorporated area of King County near the airport.  Castle adds, “It’s the first one that the County has funded.”

Read more here.

Bill Griffith practices real estate and municipal law and is the host of Finding the Future, a podcast that explores innovation in land use and sustainability. If you have a story about innovation in land use and sustainability, please reach out to Bill.

Sep 27, 202119:56
Reviving Downtown Minneapolis - Bisnow State of the Market Panel

Reviving Downtown Minneapolis - Bisnow State of the Market Panel

Every day, business and political leaders are tackling the question of how to revive downtown Minneapolis. After a year of dealing with the pandemic, social unrest, and shuttered businesses, they are searching for ways to bring people back downtown. Even as the state has ramped up vaccinations against COVID-19, downtown remains a ghost town with few office workers, limited events, and restaurants and bars scrambling to attract customers.

The question of how to revive downtown Minneapolis was recently posed to a group of real estate leaders on a panel organized by Bisnow. The panel acknowledged real challenges facing the city, however, at the same time they found bright spots on the horizon as people are ready to leave their homes in pursuit of a bit of normalcy, illusive as that may seem.

Apr 05, 202125:19
Retail Innovation Doesn’t Wait for a COVID Cure

Retail Innovation Doesn’t Wait for a COVID Cure

An interview with Mall of America's Jill Renslow and Kurt Hagen.  

Oct 30, 202023:27
How the Slow City Movement Revived One Small Town in Central Italy

How the Slow City Movement Revived One Small Town in Central Italy

Why would any Mayor want to describe his community as a "slow city"?  Stefano Cimicchi is the former Mayor of Orvieto, a medieval hill town with a population of 20,000 located in central Italy.  Cimicchi was one of the first city leaders to sign on to the "slow city movement" when it began in the late 1990s.

Feb 20, 202009:50
Can the Great Lakes Survive?

Can the Great Lakes Survive?

When the gales of early winter whip up the waters of the Great Lakes, rock formations and sand beaches take a beating and often give way to the force of these majestic water bodies. We’ve seen recent headlines announcing the fall of the “sea stack” on Minnesota’s north shore as a winter storm reduced this often photographed landmark to a pile of rocks below the waves. Similarly, lakeshore flood warnings have become common in places like Green Bay, Milwaukee and Chicago as they deal with record water levels on Lake Michigan.

Just beneath the surface lies a more insidious threat to the life of the Great Lakes which was largely created as a result of shipping and commercial fishing over many decades. Dan Egan, a news reporter and author has been covering the great lakes as “his beat” for almost 20 years. He is the author of The Death and Life of the Great Lakes. As Egan notes in his book, these threats affect more than 20 percent of all the freshwater in the world which is contained within the five great lakes.

For anyone who grew up on or near one of the Great Lakes, it’s hard to imagine life without the majestic blue expanse of these beautiful water bodies. Lake Michigan contains miles of sand beaches that rival the coast of Florida. Lake Superior holds vast amounts of wilderness on both sides of the border with Canada. Even Lake Erie has made a remarkable come back from the days when the tributary Cuyahoga River famously caught fire in 1969. In a bit of irony, the fire helped give a boost to passage of the Clean Water Act and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Egan’s book recounts the early days of commercial fishing, the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway and the invasive species that were unleashed with the dumping of ballast water from ocean going vessels. According to Egan, “Zebra mussels have gobbled up the plankton so critical to the food chain in Lake Michigan, resulting in a crash of many of the species of fish that have supplied stores and restaurants along the lake for decades.”

Dec 10, 201914:20
The Gates Foundation Funded Population Health Building at the University of Washington is Designed for its Mission

The Gates Foundation Funded Population Health Building at the University of Washington is Designed for its Mission

 When a building serves a unique mission to improve global health and environmental resilience, sustainable design becomes more than a talking point.  The Population Health Building at the University of Washington was largely funded by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and reflects the foundation’s desire to help all people lead healthy and productive lives by combating extreme hunger and poverty around the globe.

A unique global mission demands a unique building.  Kristen Dotson is at the center of the action bringing almost two decades of experience in sustainable projects to the team of stakeholders.  Dotson is an architect and director of sustainability with the
Miller Hull Partnership in downtown Seattle.  Even the firm’s offices speak to their specialty design practice.

“Miller Hull has an incredible company culture and we wanted to hold ourselves to the same standard that we try to push our clients toward.  So we decided to pursue the living building challenge as part of our office renovation,” said Dotson. “We really wanted to leverage the knowledge we have of red list compliant building materials to make the healthiest environment we could and also take advantage of all the daylight since we overlook the Puget Sound.  No one has a private office and all of our partners are scattered among the projects that they're working on.”

Like the Miller Hull offices, the Population Health Building reflects the values of its funders, designers and tenants; all stakeholders have worked collaboratively on the design.  It brings together faculty, researchers and students from the School of Public Health, the Department of Global Health and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).

“Putting them all under one roof is designed to see how researchers can collaborate to find population health solutions further and faster, using data visualization and data tracking metrics,” said Dotson.  This approach aligns with the work of the Gate’s foundation, which supports IHME’s work in developing tools like the global burden of disease database which in turn enables policy makers to make better decisions and investments in helping people live longer, healthier lives.

A lot of time went into design on the front end to save time and money on the back end.  “We pulled together as a team to really understand their goals, understanding what they were trying to achieve, not just what the program said, but infusing that mission in every aspect of the building,”  said Dotson.  “For this particular project, the word health is on the building.  So if we're not addressing health at every scale in this project, if we're not at least thinking about it, then we should.”

When you look at the building’s plans, something is clearly missing from most of the floors of the project, that is corridors and hallways.  That missing element is intentional, it’s not like they forgot to include them or ran out of money and needed to cut costs.  According to Dotson, corridors eat up space and kill collaboration, particularly if corridors lead to private offices.

“We want collaboration between these three tenants.  We want them to talk to each other.  We want them to run into somebody they haven't seen for a while and say, ‘What are you working on?’ Every square foot is trying to build a space where people can linger and socialize in a way that builds their community, but also builds the intellectual capital of the work there.”

Next fall,  the Population Health building will open to faculty, researchers and students.  

Nov 14, 201913:36
Guatemalan Fishing Village Bans Plastics

Guatemalan Fishing Village Bans Plastics

Visitors to San Pedro La Laguna typically arrive by water taxi at docks that are shared with fishing boats and tour guides. Just up the hill a couple of blocks is a long bright banner strung between buildings announcing the plastics’ ban rolled out three years ago. San Pedro is a small town of 13,000 residents, a fishing village really, which has grabbed international headlines for leading the region in efforts to remove plastic waste from a beautiful volcanic lake, known as Lago de Atitlan.

It may surprise some to learn that the Lake Atitlan hosts visitors from around the world. Eleven picturesque villages offer a warm welcome, as well as a glimpse into the culture and lifestyle of its mostly Mayan residents. Among them, the town of San Pedro stands out for its efforts to clean up the lake by adopting strict bans against plastic bags, straws and Styrofoam containers, beginning in 2016.

At the center of this effort is San Pedro’s Mayor, Mauricio Mendez, who is attracting international attention for his leadership in environmental protection. Mendez is rightfully proud of his community and describes the effort in this way: “San Pedro La Laguna is one of the pioneers in environmental matters on a national level. We have become, as the locals say, the ‘tip of the spear’ in planet preservation.” Mendez left the village for Guatemala City to study architecture and credits his parents for giving him the opportunity to attend University of San Carols in Guatemala City. As an architect, he decided to return home to improve the village and surroundings of San Pedro.

Officials from as far away as Germany and China now come to Guatemala and Lake Atitlan to study implementation of the plastics’ ban, but Mendez doesn’t let it get to his head. “We are doing our jobs. We cannot lose our heads for press – it is only a minute of fame and fame kills, you have to be clear that your feet are on the ground.” Any praise from Mendez is for the people of San Pedro La Laguna. “We could have created a lot of laws and local norms but then the people wouldn’t have accepted it. Instead, we went door to door to convince our residents to help us rescue the lake, to rescue the planet. Also we went from classroom to classroom, from school to school, and kept talking about our planet’s conservation.” Nearby villages are now considering similar bans, including Santa Lucía Atitlan, and one of the public universities.

The next project Mayor Mendez is working on is reduction of gas powered vehicles and conversion to LED lighting. “We’ve reduced our carbon footprint by 50 percent. Most of the street lights are LED and we are the only municipality that has decarbonized vehicles.” Earlier this year, the City helped residents convert to LED light bulbs in their homes. “For example, if their electric bill is $100 quetzals, we change the light bulbs and the bill drops to $50 quetzals. That means there will be $50 quetzals to buy 50 eggs so that the kids can eat better; and that improves their ability to concentrate in school.” The Mayor says that the LED project is not only an effort to improve the environment and save electricity, it is an integrated project that is intended to create a better quality life for residents of San Pedro.

In just three years, the ban on plastics has cleaned up this small village which now serves as a model for others near and far. Today, visitors who walk by stores and restaurants in San Pedro see few bags, plastic or otherwise. In fact, there is very little garbage in the streets or near the shore, which is not always the case in the other villages that ring Lake Atitlan.

Bill Griffith practices land use, real estate and municipal law at Larkin Hoffman. He represents Mall of America and the City of Columbus, Minnesota, as well as other owners, managers and developers of real estate. He has a special interest in sustainable solutions to land use and development challenges.

Sep 17, 201910:55
Mayo Expands Beyond Bricks and Mortar to Reach Consumers: Interview with Jim Yolch, Global Business Solutions

Mayo Expands Beyond Bricks and Mortar to Reach Consumers: Interview with Jim Yolch, Global Business Solutions

At each of three campuses, located in Minnesota, Arizona and Florida, Mayo Clinic is busy expanding hospital, clinic and treatment facilities. These building projects are designed to offer leading approaches in medicine, centered on diagnosis and treatment of difficult diseases – the key to Mayo’s worldwide reputation as one of the top providers of health care.

Jim Yolch, leads Mayo Clinic’s global business solutions, taking Mayo beyond traditional medical centers into consumer ventures that include Mayo’s digital platform, as well as publishing and retail partnerships. Yolch is interested in how Mayo effectively connects with consumers. To prove the point, he notes that their website receives 2 billion inquiries for medical information each year.

So, how does Mayo take 150 years of accumulated medical research and know-how and repackage it for consumption by the general public? That’s what Yolch and his team get to think about every day. “We're, seeing more interest in digital and virtual interactions. The smart phone and the technology that we all carry around in our pockets today has reshaped how we buy things, including health care. We're just a few clicks away. So, how bricks and mortar can serve healthcare versus how digital can serve healthcare in the future – both are being shaped by consumerism.”

This doesn’t mean that Mayo Clinic is less involved in real estate.  In recent years, these new commercial ventures have taken Mayo into malls, bookstores, sports medicine facilities and even resorts. Yolch said, “You may see Mayo and other providers moving into retail locations with very specific practices combining things like dermatology, plastic surgery, and ENT.” Still, the core of the medical practice can be found in three destination medical centers in Rochester, Jacksonville and Scottsdale, where hospitals and clinics combine to serve patients.

The next big frontier has arrived at Mayo, as it has at other hospitals and clinics, and that is the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to help diagnose and treat disease and illnesses. Yolch explained, “The amount of data that we now have from 10 to 15 million patient records is significant. When you think about artificial intelligence and machine learning combined with 5G technology, we can start to build models for predicting outcomes without really collecting a specimen from the patient.” This means patients may stay closer to home in the future, receiving less intensive forms of medical care or advice.

Health care as an industry will soon equal one-fifth of our economy, or close to a trillion dollars in expenditures annually.  No wonder technology giants and startups alike have trained their collective gaze on health care and are ready to disrupt business as usual. Yolch is in just the right place to imagine how technology can actually improve health care delivery.

“Bringing that kind of technology to health care is what excites me about some of the things that I'm working on right now, where we can really serve more patients in a better way. And for those that we can help, we can get them to our campuses sooner if they need to be seen.” Yolch explains that more patients will connect with Mayo digitally or virtually, and then follow up with local providers. “We can use technology to better connect patients with the care they need.  That's what really gets me excited every day.”

Bill Griffith practices land use, real estate and municipal law at Larkin Hoffman.  He represents Mall of America and the City of Columbus, Minnesota, as well as other owners, managers and developers of real estate.  He has a special interest in sustainable solutions to land use and development challenges.

Aug 28, 201920:32
Bloomington’s Plans for the Ultimate “Wow!” Waterpark.

Bloomington’s Plans for the Ultimate “Wow!” Waterpark.

It doesn’t take much effort to discover that people in cities big and small are working on ways to make our future better and more sustainable. What that means to different people is as varied as the opinions on a social media page, but what is exciting is that people care enough to think about it, talk about it and reflect on the best way to implement new ideas in land use.  Let me know if you have a unique story to tell.  I’m ready to listen.  

Jul 09, 201916:55