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The promise — and perceived peril — of bringing green amenities to low-income communities

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Solar-powered electric vehicle charging station
A solar-powered electric vehicle charging station is seen in St. Paul's Como Park in April 2012.
Tim Post | MPR News 2012

The Minneapolis Foundation has awarded its first round of grants to involve low-income, diverse communities in climate change initiatives. More than $67,000 from the Minneapolis Climate Action and Racial Equity Fund will help nonprofits retrofit north Minneapolis homes and businesses with clean energy solutions, engage youth in decreasing the carbon footprint of their houses of worship, and bring electric car sharing to low-income communities in the Twin Cities. 

Such communities are some of the hardest hit by climate change. A federal report says they’re disproportionately affected by environmental hazards and take longer to recover from natural disasters. But they’re also some of the hardest to engage around climate change solutions.

“[Electric car] charging infrastructure could be seen as a first foot for gentrification,” said Paul Schroeder, CEO of HOURCAR, the nonprofit working to bring electric car sharing to low-income communities. He said he recognizes that residents who have struggled with rising housing costs and watched other transportation initiatives, such as the Green Line and Interstate 94, disrupt their communities are likely to be skeptical of new green amenities. 

That’s why HOURCAR and its partners on the project, the city of St. Paul and Xcel Energy, are starting the initiative with an outreach campaign and listening sessions.  

“What works? Ask me in a year,” Schroeder said.

Shamar Bibbins, a senior program officer at the Kresge Foundation, just wrapped an initiative that supported climate change efforts in 15 low-income communities across the country over four years. She said what works is connecting climate change to the lived experiences of residents.

“There’s been a framing of climate that has not necessarily resonated with these communities,” Bibbins said. “But when you engage these communities and really connect the dots to the economic, social and public health issues that they’re facing everyday, they become your strongest advocates.”

Bibbins spoke with Climate Cast host and MPR chief meteorologist Paul Huttner. To hear the conversation, hit play on the audio player above.