The Twin Cities

Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN


The Twin Cities metropolitan area is comprised of seven counties, in which there are 186 cities and townships ranging from the two largest and most urban cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul to rural townships dominated by agricultural fields. About 56 percent of the state’s population lives in the Twin Cities region, and is projected to grow from 2.9 million people today to 3.7 million people by 2040. With 1.6 million jobs, the region is the predominant economic center for Minnesota, western Wisconsin, the Dakotas, and Montana. Between 2010 and 2040, the region is projected to add 550,000 new jobs, surpassing 2 million jobs by 2040.

In addition to the projected growth, the region’s population is quickly changing. Like many other regions across the country, the Twin Cities population is aging. More than one in five residents will be age 65 or older in 2040 compared to one in nine in 2010. By 2040, 40 percent of the regional population will be people of color, compared to 24 percent in 2010. While the growth in diversity adds to the economic vitality of the region, significant racial disparities in income, employment, poverty, homeownership, and educational outcomes continue to persist, and have worsened. Unaddressed, these persistent disparities not only have profound impacts on vulnerable populations, but also jeopardize the vitality of the entire region.

In 2010, 70 percent of the region’s drinking water came from groundwater, with the remainder coming from surface water sources. Aquifers are showing signs of depletion – water levels in some locations have declined by 40 feet in the last 40 years – which in turn has begun to have impacts on the lakes and wetlands in the region. Population growth, development, localized water shortages, contamination, drought, and the impact of groundwater withdrawal on surface waters, are affecting future water supply.

The Twin Cities region has experienced more frequent severe weather events recently. Recent record rainfalls have resulted in flooding and damage to private property and public infrastructure, while several previous years of severe drought impacted crop production and increased water usage – distressing aquifers. Climate change-related risks from increased temperatures and weather extremes have the potential to impact the region’s quality of life, natural resources and infrastructure. Minnesota state agencies forecast the possibility of increased road buckling, declining fish populations, increased algal blooms in lakes, heat-related health impacts, shorter winter recreational opportunities, and rising insurance premiums. The effects of climate change can also exacerbate existing racial and income disparities in the region, as lower-income populations typically have fewer resources to weatherize their homes or make repairs after natural disasters or other extreme weather events occur. Their housing stock may also be older and in worse shape, making it more susceptible to extreme weather events.


This collaborative is a new effort in the Twin Cities metropolitan region. With the Metropolitan Council now integrating climate change adaptation and mitigation into its regional plan and local government assistance work, the vehicle for integrating climate change strategies into local land use and development now exists.

An outgrowth of shared work on various climate initiatives in state, regional, and nonprofit sectors, the collaborative is structured so that all members are equal partners in the process. This effort is intended to leverage the most out of individual efforts through a shared vision (developed in state climate change plan and regional plan documents) and combined efforts at the regional scale. While this partnership is just getting started, the Metropolitan Council has recently adopted a regional plan, Thrive MSP 2040, with land use policies to address the 2007 Next Generation Energy Act, which calls for a reduction in the state’s greenhouse gas emissions of at least 15 percent by 2015 and a 30 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050. Other state agency partners are also working under this directive and have independently developed programs and made changes in their agency operations to address these goals. New work, headed by the Environmental Quality Board, developing the Climate Strategies and Economic Opportunities report, will provide additional guidance to collaborative members to focus efforts. This team will focus on the metropolitan region and leverage shared efforts to provide assistance to local governments and address issues that are specific to the metro area.


The GreenStep Cities program is a unique public-private partnership led by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Great Plains Institute, along with a number of other partners including Clean Energy Resource Teams, the Urban Land Institute Minnesota, the League of Minnesota Cities, the Izaak Walton League–Minnesota Division, the Division of Energy Resources at the Minnesota Department of Commerce, and the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota. The voluntary challenge, assistance, and recognition program has grown to include over 70 cities in Minnesota, representing roughly one-third of the state’s population and one-half of the metropolitan region population. GreenStep Cities provides cities with a simple pathway to achieve their sustainability goals through the implementation of best practices focused on cost savings, energy reduction, and innovation.

Over 25 Minnesota cities also participate in the Regional Indicators Initiative (RII), which gathers community-wide performance data on energy, water, waste, vehicle miles traveled, and greenhouse gas emissions. RII began as a pilot effort to quantify and track the performance of cities participating in the GreenStep Cities program. It is managed by LHB, Inc. on behalf of Urban Land Institute Minnesota and is also supported by several of the GreenStep Cities partner organizations. All participating cities received over five years of community-wide data, available in an online interactive format and gathered using a common framework.


While there has been great work done around the state, the collaborative is operating in a time of limited budgets and increasing pressures in the metro region to address climate change issues. The collaborative hopes to focus strategies and programs around technical assistance tools and programs, as the council has not addressed issues of climate change head on in the past.

The collaborative hopes to address challenges related to:

  • Integrating separate work to advance climate change adaptation and mitigation and leveraging outcomes toward achieving common goals.
  • Finding the time to effectively coordinate and move programs and projects along.
  • Determining shared solutions resilient to changes in politics and finding the right language in which to frame the collaborative’s work.
  • Developing measurable practices and programs that will help the region meet goals, knowing the region and state will miss the greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal for 2015.