Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Dark Sky Communities & Places

In this webinar, presented live on February 15, 2023, we learned more about the best practices for protecting night skies in your community, parks, and other places. 

  • 9:00: Welcome & Introductions

  • 9:15-9:55 - Todd Burlet, President - Starry Skies North - IDA Chapter 

    • Todd provided an introduction to light pollution. There are four types: glare (eye sees source of light), skyglow (sum total of all wasted light that is unshielded or reflecting off of ground), light trespass (neighboring light that you don’t control but impacts you), and clutter (unshielded and haphazard).

    • Minnesota has the largest dark-sky area east of the Mississippi and three International Dark Sky Places: Voyageur’s National Park, Quetico Provincial Park, and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (which is the world’s largest IDS Sanctuary, a designation for the most protected sites in the world).  

    • Yet, 99% of Americans live under light pollution. In urban cores, only 10% of the stars are visible to people. Light pollution is a growing problem - 10% increase each year and we are doubling our light pollution every 7 years.  

    • However, there are solutions! There are five principles for responsible outdoor lighting:

      • Useful 

      • Targeted 

      • Low light levels 

      • Controlled 

      • Color (color temperature: 3,000 kelvin or below recommended)

    • The ROLAN Manifesto for lighting professionals includes 10 core principles for external illumination and a plan for action to implement change in the lighting community to lead to a more sustainable, healthier, and safer future for all.

    • 7 reasons to care about light pollution: 

      • Energy waste: 35% of light is wasted by unshielded, poorly aimed, and poorly controlled outdoor lighting — $3 billion/year! 21 million tons of CO2 annually – 3 million passenger cars/ 600 million trees!

      • Awe and natural darkness: Increases social positivity, altruism, and connectedness 

      • Wildlife & ecosystems: Light pollution effects migratory birds with disorientation and entrapment, habitat avoidance, disrupts their sleep/wake cycle, and can decrease offspring. Songbird populations have declined 40% in the last 50 years - due in part to light pollution. Meanwhile, insects are attracted to lights - bats may overeat if they are ok with light or they may suffer because certain bats avoid lighting. In water ecosystems, there can be more algae (need light to grow) but zooplankton (which eats algae) don’t like light. Melatonin and reproductive hormones are disrupted for fish and it can trigger fight or flight mode for certain fish species which expends their energy.

      • Astro-tourism: We are fortunate to have world-class dark skies along with iconic cultural and natural attractions that can be enjoyed day and night in Minnesota. This is great for astronomy and can help increase tourism and occupancy during shoulder seasons.

      • Cultural heritage: Dark skies can provide inspiration for artists and cultural storytelling. For example, many constellations have strong cultural stories tied to them that vary across cultures.  

      • Safety and social justice: Well designed lighting can improve driver and pedestrian safety but poor design create glare and clutter that reduce safety. Lights can often provide a false sense of security. Studies show that 'omnipresence' programs disperse the community and move the crime to other locations. 

      • Human health & wellness: Melatonin signals it is time to rest and restore but light over 3000K can disrupt our circadian rhythm and lead to cancers, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, anxiety, depression, and impaired daytime function.

    • The International Dark Sky Communities program provides guidance and certification for the implementation and enforcement of quality lighting policies, dark-sky education, and citizen support.

  • 9:55-10:05 - Q&A 

  • 10:05 - 10:10 - Minnesota GreenCorps Host Site Information - Candice McElroy 

    • Host site applications are open until March 14 

  • 10:10-10:30 - Nick Cusick, Events & Marketing Coordinator - Visit Cook County

    • Nick shared how astro-tourism has grown across Cook County. One opportunity is that the tourism season can be elongated by branding shoulder seasons as great dark-sky seasons (although it’s good any time of the year!). This has added recognition from media (See 25 Amazing Journey for 2022, National Geographic, Nov. 2021).  

    • The Dark Sky Festival is held every winter since 2018 and there are many more events held throughout the year. In 2022, the festival included activities from NASA, Lonely Planet’s “Dark Skies: A Practical Guide to Astrotourism” author Valerie Stimac, and a new documentary, “Northern Nights, Starry Skies”. The 2023 Dark Sky Festival will be December 7-9. 

  • 10:30-10:50 - Kip Berglund, Senior Planner - City of Plymouth

    • Kip provided information about the City of Plymouth’s Exterior Lighting ordinance that was adopted in 2004 based on the joint Illuminating Engineering Society and International Dark Sky Association’s Model Lighting Ordinance (MLO). The goal was to improve lighting regulation in the city, particularly in areas where homes bordered commercial and industrial development. The City updated their ordinance in 2013 for lighting considerations related to LEDs and created a light zone map to regulate ambient lighting, set maximum lighting mount height, provide a lumens per hardscape allowance, and set maximum allowable backlight/uplight/glare ratings based on zoning locations. The ordinance also includes language on lighting controls, curfew and cutoff times, and shielding requirements. 

  • 11:00 - conclusion

View the workshop recording: 

View the slides and additional materials:

Additional Resources: 

Best Practice Actions related to this topic: 

 Visit the GreenStep Cities and Tribal Nations program website at

Monday, January 23, 2023

Deciphering Demographics

In this webinar, presented live on January 18, 2023, we learned more about the demographic data available for your community and how it can be used in your sustainability planning.

  • 9:00am – Welcome
  • 9:15 –  Minnesota Compass: Sheri Holm, Senior Communication Specialist - Wilder Research
    • Wilder Research was created to "gather, research, and analyze data about Minnesotans for Minnesotans" and launched the Minnesota Compass tool around 15 years ago. 
    • Sheri shared that the Minnesota Compass tool can be used to explore data by who lives in Minnesota, where they live, their quality of life, and by special projects. The special projects include: 
    • Sheri also shared additional tools that GreenStep participants may be interested in: 
  • 10:00 –  Labor Market Information (LMI): Cameron Macht, Regional Analysis & Outreach Manager - Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development
    • Cameron shared a few interesting facts including: Minnesota's population is 5,717,184 people in 2022, with more children/youth under 18 than seniors. The state has fewer workers in 2022 compared with 2020 - at 3,071,168 currently and we have a tight labor market with 2.3% unemployment rate. The state's labor force is expected to add 8,600 workers per year over the next decade, although most will be located in the Twin Cities. Our labor force has been diversifying; almost half of the state's labor force grew from foreign-born workers.
    • LMI resources include:
  • 10:20 – Community GIS Program: Jeff Matson, Coordinator - University of Minnesota Center for Urban & Regional Affairs (CURA)
    • CURA has been around for 55 years providing research and technical assistance. Find local government programs.

    • Jeff shared that the Community GIS Program is a walk-in technical assistance center that requires no fees for small, community-initiated projects such as: mapping, data analysis, poster printing, and customized trainings. Projects can be focused on neighborhood-level/census track demographics, statewide data projects and web maps, or data Indicators - (i.e. gentrification study and transitways).

  • 10:40 – Equity Considerations: Matt Schroeder, Principal Researcher - Metropolitan Council
  • 11:00 – Conclusion

View the workshop recording: 

View the slides and additional materials:

Additional Resources: 

Best Practice Actions related to this topic: 
  • 6.1 Adopt a comprehensive plan or (for Category B & C cities) adopt a future land use plan that was adopted by the county or a regional entity.

  • 7.4 Provide incentives for affordable housing, workforce housing, infill projects, or for life-cycle housing at or near job or retail centers, or for achieving an average net residential density of seven units per acre.

  • 7.5 Use design to create social trust and interaction among neighbors and allow developments that meet the prerequisites for LEED for Neighborhood Development certification.

  • 9.2 Participate in regional economic development planning with representatives from surrounding townships, cities, the county and business interests.

  • 14.4 Require new developments or redevelopments to prepare a travel demand management plan or transit-oriented development standards or LEED for Neighborhood Development certification.

  • 24.1 Inclusive and Coordinated Decision-Making: Use a city commission or committee to lead, coordinate, report to and engage community members on the identification and equitable implementation of sustainability best practices.

  • 24.2 Communicating Progress on Goals: Organize goals/outcome measures from all city plans (social, environmental, economic) and report to community members data that show progress toward meeting these goals.

  • 24.3 Measuring Outcomes: Engage community members and partners in identifying, measuring, and reporting progress on key sustainability and social indicators/ including energy use/greenhouse gas emissions, social vitality/social inclusion outcome measures.

  • 24.5 Planning with a Purpose: Conduct a community visioning and planning initiative that engages a diverse set of community members & stakeholders and uses a sustainability, resilience, or environmental justice framework.

  • 24.7 Expanding Community Engagement: Engage Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), renters, low-income, new Americans, differently abled and other traditionally under-represented community members by encouragement, and support to participate in current and new opportunities in city government.

  • 25.1 Grow new/emerging green businesses and green jobs through targeted assistance and new workforce development.

  • 27.4  Measurably increase institutional buying, and sales through groceries and restaurants.

  • 28.4 Use 21st century ecodistrict tools to structure, guide and link multiple green and sustainable projects together in a mixed-use neighborhood/development, or innovation district, aiming to deliver superior social, environmental and economic outcomes.

  • 29.1 Prepare to maintain public health and safety during extreme weather and climate-change-related events, while also taking a preventive approach to reduce risk for community members.

  • 29.2 Integrate climate resilience into city or tribal planning, policy, operations, and budgeting processes.

  • 29.3 Increase social connectedness through engagement, capacity building, public investment, and opportunities for economically vulnerable residents to improve their economic prosperity and resilience to climate change.

  • 29.6 Reduce the urban heat impacts of public buildings, sites, and infrastructure and provide resiliency co-benefits.

  • 29.7 Protect water supply and wastewater treatment facilities to reduce physical damage and sustain their function during extreme weather events.

  • 29.8 Improve local energy resilience by minimizing fuel poverty, installing distributed renewable energy systems, and developing microgrids that can improve energy system resiliency.

Metrics related to this topic:
  • #4 Infrastructure for Walking and Biking 
  • #5 Car, Transit, and Bike Options 
  • #6 Transportation Modes & Miles
  • #7 Land Use 
  • #10 Drinking Water
  • #11 Wastewater
  • #12 Solid Waste
  • #13 Renewable Energy 
  • #15 Local Food
  • #16 Jobs & Employment 
  • #17 Climate
  • #18 Additional Metrics

Register for upcoming GreenStep Cities and Tribal Nations workshops here. You do not need to be a GreenStep community to attend.

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