Maplewood’s sustainability efforts strengthen city’s livability

Date: Friday, March 16, 2018


Location – Ramsey County, adjacent to Saint Paul
Population – 40,243*
Households – 15,515*
Jobs – 27,914*
Top employers – 3M, HealthEast St. John’s Hospital, School Dist. 622, Maplewood city government, Ramsey County Care Center, Volunteers of America
Notable features –3M corporate campus, Maplewood Mall
Regional Parks & Trails– Phalen Regional Park, Keller Regional Park, Battle Creek Regional Park, Bruce Vento Regional Bike Trail
Major highways – East/west: Hwy. 36,
I-94, I-694, I-494; North/south: I-35E, Hwy. 61, Hwy. 120
Transit – Metro Transit service: 5 local routes, 7 express routes
*Metropolitan Council 2016 estimates

Bordering Saint Paul on the north and east, the city of Maplewood in Ramsey County grew rapidly as a community after World War II, benefiting from nation’s pivot to a peace-time economy.

New homeowners settled in what was then New Canada Township, well before Maplewood’s incorporation as a village in 1957. Already by the early 1950s, the township could boast more than 14,000 residents.  

Today, traditional neighborhoods in Maplewood lie close to Saint Paul and suburban-type development typifies the north, east, and south of the city. Housing accounts for nearly 40% of the city’s geographic area, with single-family homes making up nearly all the housing stock.

Maplewood can lay claim to a host of natural amenities, connections to major transportation corridors, strong commercial and business hubs, and residents who are active in the community’s public life.

Leader in environmental sustainability

Maplewood has been nationally recognized as a leader in sustainability initiatives. It was one of the first cities in Minnesota to begin installing rain gardens as part of street projects. Maplewood now has more than 700 residential rain gardens that manage stormwater runoff from street surfaces.

Maplewood was an early adopter of raingardens for stormwater management and has encouraged residents and businesses to install them.In 2013, the city adopted a Living Streets Policy, intended to maximize neighborhood, environmental, and aesthetic benefits when rebuilding roadways. Examples include improved walking and cycling conditions, managed stormwater flow, hard surfaces that allow rain and snowmelt to penetrate, expanded tree shade, and more attractive and livable neighborhoods.

In addition, Maplewood recently received a seed grant from an organization called Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTS). The city will use the funds to help identify locations around the city that may be suitable for future solar-electric sites.

“We feel that Maplewood is in the forefront on various environmental issues,” said Michael Martin, economic development coordinator.

Strong base to build Maplewood’s future

“Our city has great assets,” said Martin. “Nearly a fifth of our area is in parks and open space. Our major commercial areas have strong locations. Residents have very strong ties to the community. So we’re looking to take advantage of our strengths and enhance what we have.”

Maplewood has a thriving business sector and local officials work closely with the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce to attract and support businesses. Last fall HealthEast Clinic and Specialty Center – Maplewood opened across from St. John’s Hospital at Hazelwood Street and Beam Avenue.Thirty-six city parks dot Maplewood, ranging in size from less than an acre to 50 acres, and 15 dedicated preserves protect historical landscapes. Nearly a dozen smaller lakes offer recreation and aesthetic appeal, and six larger ones touch the city’s borders. The city encompasses portions of three regional parks and a regional bike trail.

Maplewood lies at a major transportation crossroads. Most of the metro area’s Interstate highways traverse some part of the city—I-35E on the city’s east side, I-694 on its northern edge, I-94 on the southeast, and a slice of I-494 on the extreme southern part of the city.

Maplewood is home to Maplewood Mall, the 3M corporate campus and research facility, HealthEast’s St. John’s campus, and several business districts along major thoroughfares.

Involving residents in planning for city’s future

The city is currently charting its future in a draft of a new 30-year comprehensive plan, drawing on extensive outreach and engagement with city residents. “We wanted the plan to be meaningful to our policymakers and to the people of Maplewood,” said Martin. “How do you do that? You get people involved and reflect what they say throughout the plan itself.”

In the first outreach phase, the city used methods that made it easy for residents to contribute to the public discussion. “Like the whole region, Maplewood is experiencing increasing diversity from every standpoint—whether age, race, background, across the board—so we knew we needed more options than, say, ‘come at 7 o’clock to this meeting.’”

Residents enjoy abundant parks and open space, including the east unit of Battle Creek Regional Park, pictured here.The city used interactive online “map boards” where residents could mark specific city locations and make whatever comments they want. “People could use it to provide feedback from anywhere, anytime,” said Martin. “They could draw on it, write down what they thought needs work or what they liked. Other visitors to the site could ‘like it’ or give it a ‘thumbs down.’ So people had different options, where they could spend five minutes here or there, when they had time.”

Residents could fill out an online survey to convey their thoughts about the plan draft, accessible from the city’s website. Importantly, the city followed up with every comment, “even if it was just ‘We read it – we understand what you’re saying,’” Martin said.

The second outreach phase followed more traditional lines, with neighborhood meetings, open houses, information boards, and recording in-person comments. “Even if a comment didn’t directly relate to what the city is going to do, we acknowledged it. We’re dedicated to make sure that these comments are not lost in a vacuum. We want it to be a meaningful exercise for both residents who are taking the time and for city staff.”

As it turned out, 10 times as many people commented via the city’s website and other online resources as showed up at the meetings, Martin said.

Accommodating future growth

Maplewood is expected to grow, if modestly, in population. The Metropolitan Council estimates that the city will have about 6,000 additional residents by 2040, but as a mature community, Maplewood has very little vacant land remaining.

“We are looking to transit investments—the Rush Line and the Gold Line—as kind of a guide for where the city could consider mixed uses and higher densities at strategic places,” said Martin.  The city’s north side around St. John’s Hospital and Maplewood Mall, with its transit station, may be another possibility for transit-oriented development.

“But,” he said, “we also need to be mindful about how we would do it. We need to be very sensitive to existing neighborhoods. People have very strong ties to the area. Families have lived here for generations. Having patience and dedication to making sure it’s done right will make the difference.”


Posted In: Communities, Planning

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