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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Right Track Wins Local Government Innovation Award

At the City of Saint Paul we work every day to find innovative ways of working smarter in the face of tight budgets. Recently we were honored as an overall category winner of a Local Government Innovation Award (LGIA) for our Right Track youth career development pipeline. The LGIA program is a partnership between the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Bush Foundation, League of Minnesota Cities, the Association of Minnesota Counties and other public associations. Judges named 20 award-winners from among 100 entries.
What is Right Track?
Right Track is Saint Paul’s pipeline for youth career development and building a diverse future workforce. It brings together partners to address changing demographics and disparities by providing work experiences and skills development for youth facing barriers. Right Track moves youth from subsidized to unsubsidized jobs and creates pathways into in-demand careers.

In Saint Paul 24 percent of youth are unemployed. Our city struggles with poverty and racial disparities. However our diversity is an asset: 40 percent of residents are people of color. Additionally, more than 23,000 businesses are located here. Right Track matches young people’s need for work with employers’ needs to develop diverse talent.

The Right Track Pipeline
Right Track presents youth employment as a pipeline rather than a program:
·         Youth Jobs 01 (YJ01) provides City-subsidized jobs for youth in parks, libraries, and nonprofits.
·         Youth Jobs 02 (YJ02) matches youth with employer-paid professional internships while also providing ongoing skills training and job coach support to ensure success.

·         Youth Jobs Pro (YJPro) is a collection of partner-run programs that provide advanced opportunities in specific sectors, such as IT and emergency medical services. 

Right Track aims to help young people understand how a first job in a park or a library could lead to a summer internship with a company like Ecolab, which could lead to a certificate or credential through a program like Genesys Works or the EMS Academy. The Right Track vision communicates to employers how a summer internship fits into a student’s career trajectory. 

Many cities run youth employment programs. Right Track stands out for these reasons:
  • Clear pipeline that makes it easy for youth and employers to understand the pathways from subsidized to unsubsidized jobs,
  • Use of technology to give young people a voice in their worksite assignment via an online job bank,
  • High level of training and support provided to youth and supervisors in the YJ02 professional internship program, and
  • Intentional marketing of partner-run YJPro opportunities to youth in Right Track YJ01 and YJ02 to expand awareness of possibilities.

As winner of the LGIA “Cities” category, Right Track will receive a $5,000 grant and a professionally produced video to share the story of its work. Two years ago, Saint Paul’s EMS Academy was a finalist for the awards.

We need employers. Join us!
Each year we have many more youth applicants than we have jobs. Businesses can help erase that gap! The cost of hiring a young person for an 8-week professional internship is $1,500.  

To learn more about how your organization can help build a diverse talent pool for our future workforce, visit or contact Catherine Penkert, Right Track Manager, at 651.266.6422 or

Thursday, November 13, 2014

This Winter -- stay warm and safe!

Now that the weather is getting colder, you may be turning up the furnace, building a fire in the fireplace, or digging out that portable space heater. But did you know that home heating is the second leading cause of fires in Minnesota, behind cooking?  In 2013 there were 372 heating-related fires in Minnesota, a 25% increase from 2012.  With a few simple precautions, you can prevent most home heating fires.

Fireplaces and Chimneys
  • Have your fireplace and chimney inspected and cleaned annually to prevent a build-up of creosote, which can lead to a fire in the chimney. 
  • Never burn trash, charcoal, or plastics in a fireplace – they can cause pollutants, including carbon monoxide, to escape into your home and often burn hotter than wood, making them more likely to start a fire in the chimney. 
  • Use a sturdy glass or metal screen in front of the fireplace to prevent sparks and ashes from flying out of the fireplace. 
  • When disposing of ashes, wait until they are completely cool, wet them down, and store them outside in a metal container with a lid. 

In this video, Saint Paul Fire Investigator Jamie Novak gives some more fireplace safety tips.

  • Have your furnace cleaned and inspected by a qualified professional annually and change the filter monthly.
  • Never use a furnace that is in disrepair.  Malfunctioning furnaces can cause dangerous or deadly levels of carbon monoxide (CO) in your home. 
  • Carbon monoxide is called “The Silent Killer” because it is colorless and odorless, so make sure you have a working CO detector within ten feet of every bedroom and on every level of your home. 

Portable Space Heaters
  • Portable space heaters are only intended to be used for a short period of time. 
  • Plug them in directly to an outlet (don’t use an extension cord) and make sure they are at least three feet away from all combustible materials such as curtains, furniture, bedding, pets, and people. 
  • Children should never be left unattended in a room with a space heater.  Be sure to turn off the space heater when you leave the room or go to sleep. 

General Precautions
  • Keep all materials that might catch on fire, people and pets, at least three feet away from all heating sources including furnaces, fireplaces, and portable space heaters. 
  • Never use your stove, oven, or grill to heat your home! 
  • Make sure you have working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in your home. Test them monthly and replace the batteries at least once a year. Smoke alarms should be replaced every 10 years and carbon monoxide detectors should be replaced every 5 years.
If you are a Saint Paul homeowner and need new smoke alarms or carbon monoxide detectors, the Saint Paul Fire Department will provide and install them free of charge through Project Safe Haven.  For more information about Project Safe Haven or to sign up, call 651-228-6273 or go to and click on the tab for Project Safe Haven.   

Monday, September 29, 2014

Highland Park Water Tour Annual Open House

Fall is here and the vibrant autumn colors are sweeping Saint Paul, and there’s no better place to get a bird’s-eye view of those colors than from the Highland Park water tower. The annual fall open house will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, October 11-12.

The tower’s observation deck provides visitors with a spectacular view of the area, particularly looking down on the changing colors of the trees dotting the Highland Park golf course below and out toward the Mississippi River. 

In addition to the spectacular view from the top of the tower, the base contains blueprints of the building from the tower’s architect, Clarence Wigington. 

Wigington is the state’s first African American architect, and the nation’s first African American municipal architect. Wigington worked for the City of Saint Paul from 1915 to 1949 and designed many other important structures in the area, including the Keller Golf Course Clubhouse (1929), the Saint Paul Public Safety Building (1929–30), and Como Park Pavilion (1934). 

The open house is designed to inform residents about municipal water and the efforts of the utility to preserve and protect water resources. 

Information about the utility’s water purification process and distribution system will also be available. Utility employees will be on hand to answer questions and provide information about utility services.

For more information, please contact Saint Paul Regional Water Services at 651-266-6350.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Hamline Station adding housing, retail along the Green Line

In late August, Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, Project for Pride in Living (PPL) Executive Director Paul Williams and community leaders broke ground on Hamline Station, a new housing development located on the Green Line in Saint Paul. The project, adjacent to the Hamline Station light rail stop, will feature 108 affordable apartments including 14 units of supportive housing, designed for people who have experienced long term homelessness. Although not the first development on the corridor, Hamline Station is a model for the future affordable housing, green public spaces and retail shopping.  

The development is part of a national trend towards Transit Oriented Development (TOD) which creates mid-to-dense housing, retail and office spaces with significant access to transportation amenities by bike, foot or transit. Along the Green Line corridor, individuals, families and businesses are experiencing more pathways to good jobs, small business opportunities, education, cultural institutions, public art, parks and open space, pedestrian access and more - all the things that build a thriving community.

Across the Metro, initiatives like the Big Picture Project are committed to the goal of attracting long term affordable housing options for residents on the Green Line and the surrounding neighborhoods. Creating opportunities along the corridor is the key to creating and sustaining healthy communities. Great transit connects people with what they need – a fantastic equalizer for all residents.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"Hygge" in Saint Paul: Reflections from my 8-80 Livable Communities Tour of Copenhagen, Denmark

 - By Councilmember Amy Brendmoen, Ward 5

I recently traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark for a study tour sponsored by the Knight Foundation to train with international experts in city planning and urban design. The trip was an extension of the ‘8-80 Livable Communities Place-making Residency’ held in the Twin Cities this summer. In addition to me, the Saint Paul delegation was comprised of Matt Kramer, President of the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, Jessica Treat, Executive Director of the nonprofit St. Paul SmartTrips, Rueben Collins, City Engineer from Public Works and Polly Talen of the Knight Foundation. In Copenhagen, we met up with similarly comprised teams from 10 U.S. cities (such as San Jose, Detroit, Charlotte) and began an incredible week of education, inspiration, motivation. I will never look at a public space the same way again!

Last Sunday morning I joined my classmates (ages ranging 23-70) on comfortable three-speed bicycles in Copenhagen’s crisp morning air. We pedaled to our meeting space on a protected bicycle guideway incorporated into H.C. Andersens Blvd--a very busy thoroughfare. Joining us on this short commute was a steady stream of pedestrians, cars and literally hundreds of other bicyclists. The historic architecture and transit infrastructure was stunning and people all around us were patient, law-abiding and seemingly quite happy. And as we rode, I noticed my conference-mates were smiling a lot, too.

"Bike jam" in Copenhagen.

As we began our morning lecture, the reason for the trip (and source of all that morning-commute happiness) became very clear. Copenhagen is a city that has been very intentionally and skillfully designed for the enjoyment, convenience, safety and livability of people. The relationship between the built environment and people’s quality of life is apparent in every corner of the city. We were introduced to the Danish word hygge (pronounced “hoo-ga”) which loosely translates to: a nice, cozy atmosphere with good people around, enjoying life. We went to spend a week immersed in hygge from the perspective of city planning, public works, parks and recreation, public art, and redevelopment.  We were challenged to think of our own cities and how they functioned at a human scale. 

People come in all shapes and sizes and have varied needs and desires which change throughout one's lifetime.  To have a healthy, thriving and competitive city in this millennium (and therefore a strong tax-base) we must plan cities that are designed to serve people of all tastes, abilities and ages (hence the title ‘8 to 80 Cities’).  If we consider how our public spaces function for an 8 year old, as well as for an 80 year old--and engage people from diverse backgrounds in doing so--we will very likely have a place that works well for everyone. In Copenhagen, the city has stated goals in its city planning process to attract more people to public spaces and to get them to stay longer (aka: cultivate more hygge). What would Saint Paul look like if we used that as a guiding principle when planning our parks, roadways, libraries and architecture? 

This is an example of a streetscape shifted to accommodate "sunny side of the street." This street was redesigned with wide pedestrian walkway and bike lane on one half of the roadway, with the driving space, some parking and narrower sidewalk on the other side. Because daylight is fleeting in Copenhagen, particularly in winter months, this design is a simple example of a street built for people.

In Saint Paul, some fear that talk of improving pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure must come at the expense of motorized vehicles and drivers. In Copenhagen we saw this couldn't be further from the truth. The goal of people-oriented planning is to create systems that serve the needs of all people and since cars carry drivers and passengers, then the principal would clearly include the need to serve motorized vehicles as well. But for the past 50 years we have focused our city planning systems primarily on moving cars (fast) with little regard to other modes of transport. As Gil Penalosa, director of 8-80 Livable Communities says, "Plan a city around cars, and you'll get more cars. Plan a city around people, and you'll get more health and happiness." It's time to shift our thinking. Roads are shared space and should be planned for the safety, enjoyment and well-being of all people.

Many people who hear this will think, that it all sounds nice for Copenhagen, but this is Saint Paul and we can’t do that here. To that I say, “Why not?” Why can’t Saint Paul be a world-class city that people visit for inspiration to make their world a better place? Why can’t our rush hour commutes be full of smiling faces? It’s true that our city faces challenges that are different from those facing Copenhagen—but how much better could we do at addressing those challenges if our goal was not just to do the minimum, but to do the maximum to achieve health and happiness for all people? My perspective on cities has changed after visiting Copenhagen and I’m grateful to the Knight Foundation for sending us to the conference. I’m excited for what it can become when we put people at the center of our planning processes, and I’m looking forward to bringing some more hygge to Saint Paul.