Fargo’s Working to Make Every Day Earth Day. North Dakota Not So Much

One one hand, North Dakota is known for a fairly harsh environment with weather extremes and for higher than average per capita energy use and emissions. When compared with our Minnesota neighbors and other states with effective energy efficiency programs we pale in comparison. Just this week a national rating service Wallethub rated North Dakota 47th in the country for energy efficiency.
Most Environmentally Friendly States

Overall Rank
State Total Score ‘Environmental Quality’ Rank ‘Eco-Friendly Behaviors’ Rank ‘Climate-Change Contributions’ Rank
1 Vermont 75.48 1 1 23
2 Oregon 74.23 3 2 20
3 Massachusetts 72.63 5 10 3
4 New York 72.11 4 19 2
5 South Dakota 70.54 6 5 11
6 Minnesota 69.46 2 14 16
7 Connecticut 68.99 9 22 1
8 New Hampshire 68.49 10 18 5
9 California 67.52 43 3 4
10 Rhode Island 66.68 7 28 6
11 Maine 66.63 13 4 17
12 Nevada 64.83 33 8 7
13 New Jersey 63.42 36 12 9
14 Wisconsin 63.40 8 29 13
15 Idaho 63.35 23 11 12
16 Hawaii 62.82 28 7 10
17 Washington 62.65 12 9 22
18 Maryland 62.19 38 16 8
19 Delaware 60.43 25 21 14
20 Michigan 60.38 11 35 19
21 Colorado 56.45 26 15 33
22 North Carolina 56.25 19 32 21
23 Tennessee 56.07 21 41 18
24 Georgia 55.74 18 27 27
25 Pennsylvania 55.17 17 24 32
26 Illinois 55.15 15 31 30
27 Missouri 54.85 14 42 28
28 Arizona 54.79 42 17 25
29 South Carolina 54.27 31 43 15
30 New Mexico 53.13 39 6 36
31 Iowa 52.99 16 20 40
32 Nebraska 52.87 34 25 31
33 Montana 52.35 44 13 29
34 Florida 51.70 24 39 35
35 Virginia 51.05 40 38 24
36 Alaska 50.79 22 36 37
37 Ohio 49.91 46 30 26
38 Kansas 49.77 29 23 41
39 Utah 48.89 30 34 39
40 Mississippi 45.35 20 45 43
41 Arkansas 44.99 45 44 34
42 Indiana 44.60 27 46 42
43 Texas 44.05 48 33 38
44 Oklahoma 40.82 47 40 44
45 Wyoming 40.44 35 37 46
46 Alabama 40.22 32 48 45
47 North Dakota 39.72 37 26 48
48 Kentucky 31.71 50 47 47
49 Louisiana 26.03 49 49 49
50 West Virginia 25.08 41 50 50

Fargo on the other hand, has been recognized for years as a national leader for innovative energy saving and revenue producing conservation efforts earning the designation by the Earth Day Network as the country’s most environmental city in 2007. Most recently, efargo was one of over 50 cities competing for the 2 year Georgetown University Energy Prize. 
Some good news is Geronimo Energy’s 200 MGW solar array in Cass County could provide the city of Fargo with another great renewable energy source to help us reach our efargo goal of being carbon neutral by 2050. Geronimo Energy announced these plans at last years Renewable Energy and Conservation presentation. Local resiliency leaders shared Fargo’s conservation projects and introduction by our grass roots group Citizens Leading Energy Action Network C.L.E.A.N. led by Ed Gruchalla and Paul Jensen.
As the sharing economy is becoming more prevalent, some of us have been working on a feasibility study for allocating some of the new solar and available wind power to Fargo. One way to start this could be allocating offsite renewable power for a pilot hybrid smart meter project that would include: smart chargers, electric car sharing project (EVs to GO) that would help shave peak energy costs, reduce congestion and emissions, store electricity, and add another transportation option that compliments Matbus, Great Rides Bikeshare, carpooling, and walking.  We learned about a similar system at Vulkan 5 in Oslo on our Smart Innovations Learning Tour to Norway in February that I helped coordinate with our eSmart Systems friend Henrik Bache and others.
Photo below. This mixed use residents/commercial/parking development uses mostly renewable energy, has smart EV car charging, and smart meters for the residences to reduce energy use and save money. Norway has a goal to be carbon neutral by 2030 and now a full 50% of new cars purchased are electric.
Here’s an earlier editorial about our efargo team led by Bush Fellow, Young Architect of the Year, and Nominee for YWCA Woman of the Year Malini Srivastava and students and community partners winning the 2 year national competition for the Georgetown University Energy Prize.

Editorial: Fargo’s ‘green city’ efforts save energy and money

The city of Fargo and its partners in conservation have been working hard for years to increase efficiencies and curb energy use. Their comprehensive efforts were recently recognized when they won the $5 million Georgetown University Energy Prize, a two-year competition between 50 semifinalist cities throughout the nation. Over the two years, the city and its residents saved an estimated $2 million in energy costs. That’s tangible evidence of the benefits of energy conservation, which is too easy to dismiss as the lofty aim of do-gooders. It’s all the more remarkable considering that North Dakota consistently ranks at or near the bottom of states in energy efficiency.
Fargo began working in 2014 with its partners—North Dakota State University, the North Dakota Department of Commerce, Xcel Energy and Cass County Electric Cooperative—to form the partnership, called eFargo. But the conservation collaborations evident in Fargo’s winning effort can trace their lineage back years, some instigated by former City Commissioner Mike Williams.

The stench from the city landfill, for instance, prompted city officials in 2009 to turn methane gas into electricity, and convert sewage into water suitable for industrial use. That effort was estimated to contribute $2 million a year to city coffers. Every day, the city treats about 12 million gallons of wastewater. Now up to two million gallons of water per day, once discharged into the Red River, is piped to an ethanol plant in Casselton, earning a profit for the city and reducing the use of groundwater.
Since 2002, the city worked to replace incandescent street light bulbs with energy-efficient LED bulbs, which now illuminate all traffic lights and 85 percent of pedestrian traffic lights, saving $30,000 per year. Similarly, the MATBUS fleet uses biofuel blends and runs eight hybrids to save fuel and therefore reduce emissions. Altogether, city generation from methane, solar power and wind over the years has produced 57.1 million kilowatt hours—impressive, considering 1 kilowatt hour will power a 100-watt light bulb for 10 hours. The landfill methane generator produces enough energy to power 700 homes every day.
The eFargo collaboration builds upon that foundation. Among other steps, it resulted in creation of a website that provides tips, data and games, including an evil character, Waste-A-Watt, to encourage energy efficiency and conservation. Students are a major focus of the effort, since they live where most energy is consumed—homes constitute 85 percent of Fargo’s energy use. The efforts saved the equivalent of 50.4 megawatts of power.

Fargo has long prided itself on being a “green city.” The $5 million prize will help spur further efforts that will make the city even greener. Malini Srivastava, a professor at NDSU and leader of the project, hopes to use the prize money to work toward a net-zero carbon future for the Fargo-Moorhead metro area. One of the criteria that enabled Fargo to win the competition was the replicability of its strategies. We should spread the green; more communities would do well to follow Fargo’s lead.
Editorials represent the views of Forum management and the Editorial Board.
~ End Article~
Fargo has made some solid progress building on good work by many proving conservation saves and pays. While it’s good to be recognized as an environmental leader nationally, we have much more work to do to protect our environment and natural resources. Let’s work together to vastly improve our stewardship of the only home we have, planet earth. After all, it’s in our hands. 

Some ND Senators Try to Stop the Wind

One of the things North Dakota is known for is wind, another is energy. Incredibly some ND Senators want to stop wind energy development in the state for 2 years. Perhaps they do not realize that due to increased efficiency and technology, electricity from wind turbines is now less expensive than coal and compliments abundant and cleaner natural gas peaking plants? 
It’s time for North Dakota and our nation to embrace and leverage technology to use our resources to transition to cleaner and more efficient renewable energies like solar, wind, and geothermal along with increased energy efficiency in our buildings.

A recent Forbes article shows there are more people employed in the United States in the renewable energy industries than conventional energy including oil and coal.  Full article online

Solar Employs More People In U.S. Electricity Generation Than Oil, Coal And Gas Combined

Data journalist covering technological, societal and media topics

In the United States, more people were employed in solar power last year than in generating electricity through coal, gas and oil energy combined. According to a new report from the U.S. Department of Energy, solar power employed 43 percent of the Electric Power Generation sector’s workforce in 2016, while fossil fuels combined accounted for just 22 percent. It’s a welcome statistic for those seeking to refute Donald Trump’s assertion that green energy projects are bad news for the American economy.
Just under 374,000 people were employed in solar energy, according to the report, while coal, gas and oil power generation combined had a workforce of slightly more than 187,000. The boom in the country’s solar workforce can be attributed to construction work associated with expanding generation capacity. The gulf in employment is growing with net generation from coal falling 53 percent over the last decade. During the same period, electricity generation from natural gas increased 33 percent while solar expanded 5,000 percent.
Fuel production and electricity generation together directly employed 1.9 million workers last year, according to the report, with 55%, or 1.1 million, working with fossil fuels. The DoE identifies another 2.3 million jobs associated with energy transmission, distribution and storage.
Solar energy added 73,615 new jobs to the U.S. economy over the past year while wind added a further 24,650.

Swap Out Your Old Christmas Lights for New Solar Powered LED Tuesday

EXCHANGE OLD INCANDESCENT HOLIDAY LIGHTS FOR NEW SOLAR-POWERED LED HOLIDAY LIGHTS! Unplug and bring in your old electric incandescent light string to us and get a new string of zero-energy, solar holiday lights (200 lights, 72’ long)!
The first 12 people to stop by with their old incandescent light strings at the Downtown Fargo or Carlson Library on Tuesday, December 20th, 2016, will receive a string of solar-powered LED holiday lights!
In addition, we will be giving away LED bulbs till supplies last. Holiday strings and LED bulbs are limited to one per household. Old incandescent holiday lights are expensive and waste energy in households.
On average the cost of operating incandescent light strings is $122 versus LED light strings which cost $18 to operate over ten seasons. Using solar lights can save households the burden of ongoing outdoor lighting costs! efargo is a partnership with the City of Fargo, NDSU, Cass County Electric, and Xcel Energy to participate in the Georgetown University Energy Prize. Fargo is currently ranked #3 out 50 cities in the competition. You can help us win the competition by adopting energy-efficiency measures and lowering your energy bills. Go to to learn more.

North Dakota’s Electric Costs Are Second Lowest in the Nation, Yet We Pay More Per Month Than Minnesota

Why are Minnesota’s average electric bills of $108, so much less than ND’s $140 a month on average? North Dakota cost per KWH of electricity of 8.1 cents per KWH, that’s more than 20% less than Minnesota. How can this be?
Answer: North Dakota’s average homes and businesses are not as energy efficient. Conservation is conservative, let’s not waste watts and money.
efargo logo
Thanks to good work by Malini Srivastava and her team has answers for simple ways we can all save money and energy. Through their hard work developing partnerships with the city, schools, power providers, and mostly young students efargo is in 3rd place in the Georgetown University Energy ChallengeScreenshot 2016-03-14 11.49.26
This article in today’s Forum by Ryan Johnson, helps explain why efargo’s work is so important:
North Dakota is the country’s sixth most energy-expensive state, according to a new analysis from WalletHub. Special to The Forum
FARGO—North Dakotans spend a chunk of change on their energy bills each month, according to a new analysis.
Finance website WalletHub looked into average monthly energy bills for electricity, natural gas, automobile fuel and home heating oil in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia to come up with new rankings released last week that found North Dakota is the country’s sixth most energy-expensive state, while Minnesota was the 20th most expensive.
North Dakota’s average monthly bill of $328 ranked among the highest in the country in part because the state had the highest electricity consumption per consumer, not to mention the third-highest monthly cost of motor fuel at $149.
Minnesota had an average monthly bill of $299. Residents there spent more on automobile fuel ($128, No. 8) and natural gas ($57, No. 10) than the national average, but the state’s ranking was improved by spending less on electricity—$108 compared to North Dakota’s $140 each month.
~End Article~
Here’s our North Dakota ranking as second lowest cost per kilowatt hour in the nation 8.1 cents kwh compared to Minnesota’s 10.9 cents kwh.

But there’s huge variation from state to state. Here’s a map of residential electricity prices, according to the Energy Information Administration.
People in Hawaii pay the most for electricity, about 33 cents per kWh. A Hawaiian household whose electricity use was around the national average would have a monthly electric bill over $300. The high cost of crude oil used to generate the state’s electricity is driving the price, EIA energy economist Tyler Hodge told me.
Idaho had the lowest price, at about 8 cents per kWh. So the typical US household would pay about $73 for electricity each month in Idaho. Hodge says Idaho generates much of its electricity from hydroelectric dams, which require virtually no fuel. Also, the cost of constructing the dams have been spread out over many decades. This all has kept electricity prices in Idaho low.

Rank State Price (in cents)
1 Idaho 8.0
2 North Dakota 8.1
3 Washington 8.2
4 Arkansas 8.7
5 Utah 8.8
6 Louisiana 8.9
7 Wyoming 8.9
8 South Dakota 9.0
9 Nebraska 9.0
10 Kentucky 9.0
11 West Virginia 9.2
12 Oklahoma 9.2
13 Oregon 9.4
14 Montana 9.6
15 Missouri 9.7
16 Tennessee 9.8
17 Indiana 10.0
18 North Carolina 10.2
19 Mississippi 10.3
20 Iowa 10.5
21 Kansas 10.5
22 Virginia 10.5
23 New Mexico 10.7
24 Minnesota 10.9
25 South Carolina 11.0
26 Arizona 11.1
27 Georgia 11.1
28 Alabama 11.1
29 Colorado 11.2
30 Ohio 11.2
31 Texas 11.3
32 Illinois 11.7
33 Florida 11.7
34 Nevada 11.7
35 Michigan 13.0
36 Wisconsin 13.0
37 Pennsylvania 13.2
38 Maryland 13.7
39 District of Columbia 13.7
40 Delaware 13.7
41 Massachusetts 14.8
42 Rhode Island 14.9
43 California 15.2
44 Maine 15.5
45 Vermont 16.1
46 New Jersey 16.3
47 New Hampshire 16.5
48 Alaska 17.5
49 Connecticut 18.1
50 New York 18.1
51 Hawaii 33.2


efargo up to 3rd place in $5,000,000 Energy prize and $3,207,242 saved already

WHOOP! WHOOP!! Our efargo team has just moved into 3rd place in the $5,000,000 Georgetown University Energy Challenge!!

Working with Xcel Energy and Cass County Electric, we’ve established the baseline of energy used in 2013 and 2014 for residential and municipal electricity. During this energy efficiency contest our residents and city buildings have used less energy and reduced CO2 substantially:

Here are the measures to date:
Amount of total savings: $3,207,242

CO2: reduced by 32,348,877 tons or 14,704,035 kg

Kilowatt hours: reduced by 41,274,513
What is a Kilowatt Hour? Electricity is measured in kilowatt‐hours (kWh). One kWh of energy is equal to 1000 watt hours and will power a 100 watt light bulb for 10 hours (100 watts x 10 hours = 1,000 watt‐hours = 1 kWh).  See a chart for various items around the house here

See rankings here

Screenshot 2016-03-14 11.49.26

Thanks to those of you that are helping reduce your energy use and working to defeat the diabolical Waste a Watt. If you’re not, learn how at:

efargo logowaste a watt

On Leap Day, Malini with our efargo team and Mayor Mahoney held a well attended press conference and presented a status report to the Fargo City Commission to help Fargo leap into the efargo energy efficiency era. Let’s keep looking for ways to share the efargo tools and game to keep moving on up!


Thanks and way to go efargo! We’ve got Aspen Colorado and Huntsville Alabama in our sights. With your help, number one here we come!

Fargo can win $5 million and we've already saved over $3 million

eFargo’s moving on up!
We’re in the hunt for the $5 million Energy Challenge competing with 60 quarter finalist cities across the country.
Fargo’s the spotlight community on the Georgetown University Energy Challengeefargo logo

Thanks to Malini Srivistava and all of our efargo team and great community partners for a tremendous amount of innovative work and collaboration. After three quarters, out of 60 cities, we’ve moved up from 5th to 4th place and our most innovative and replicable strategies are ready to launch with a kick off leaping into Fargo’s new energy age on Febuary 29th!

What do these cool peer cities have in common?
South Burlington VT,
Madison WI,
Berkeley CA,
Bellevue WA,
Fort Collins CO,
Montpelier VT
Answer: eFargo’s ahead of them in the $5 million Georgetown University Energy Challenge!
We’ve moved up to 4th place of 60 quarterfinal cities. Help us kick into another gear to pass Holland Mi, Aspen CO, and Huntville Al.

See efargo’s rank and peer cities

Thanks so much to our power providers Xcel Energy and Cass County Electric for working so closely to establish the energy baselines and ways to measure our efficiency progress. We would not be in this fantastic position without their wonderful collaboration and help.

Stay tuned for the official kick-off for the exciting new ways you can save energy and cash and help us advance to the finals for the $5 million Georgetown University Energy Challenge.

We’ll ask key partners (NDSU, Xcel, Cass County, Fargo-West Fargo Schools, Habitat for Humanity) to share their perspectives and continued efforts to reach our goals and advance to the final competition for the top spot and $5 million prize.

Details are being determined, but we’ll announce the current standings and millions in energy savings along with tons of emissions savings and the official launch of the efargo game to defeat the dread Waste a Watt.  waste a watt

The efargo billboards are up, and watch for more efargo opportunities popping up around town.

 Thanks for all your help as we kick it up another notch as we leap into the new efargo energy age!  Here’s the efargo top 10 energy savings tips to get in on the fun and savings.

Pope's visit to DC reminds of past visit about environment

I’m excited about today’s visit from the pope to Washington DC and his strong message about improving our environmental stewardship.

pope_post_Blog Image 650 x 200

While no where near as epic, it reminded me how important it is for cities to maximize the opportunity to lead as we look for ways to take better care of our environment and of this fun interview at the White House in 2012. I didn’t get to meet the president, but I was honored to share some of Fargo’s story about how conservation saves and pays.

The video portion about Fargo is at 5:05 on C-Span in 2012.  Fargo environmental efforts at White House

We have a lot to improve, and you can help learning more about our efargo team competing in the $5 million Georgetown Energy Challenge to reduce emissions and improve energy efficiency. Check out efargo

eFargo map

Fargo has received national recognition for our conservation efforts, we’ve been ranked as a #1 city for overall environment by the Earth Day Network, and have been featured on CNN’s Solutions for our innovative cash to trash and energy program.
You can register for the Matbus I go Eco Challenge, leave your car at home just one day and walk, skip, bike, or bus to qualify for a chance to win a sweet flat screen smart TV or other prizes.
Due to over three years of good community work by many, Fargo is also setting national usage records for Great Rides Bikeshare with our unique Matbus inspired, student led community effort.
Great Rides Fargo announcement photo 5-14-14

Working together, the best is yet to come.

Let’s keep working to grow well!

All aboard! Introducing Link FM Downtown Connector

Link FM is a fun, fast, and free circulator bus that connects Downtown Fargo and Moorhead starting Monday June 1st running from 7 am to 7 pm M-F and 10am – 5pm Sat.  The route will have a continuous loop starting at the Moorhead Center Mall to the Plains Art Museum and back with an average 15 minute frequency for a loop as a goal. The concept is to keep the route and operations simple and flexible enough to make it fun, fast, and free.
Unlike Matbus scheduled routes with established timetables, Link FM will stop at the designated sites only as needed to pick up or drop off passengers. If no one is at a particular stop, it’ll keep moving to the next one.
Look for the Link FM signs at these sites. Mon-Fri there are 8 designated pick-up/drop off areas from 7am – 10am starting at 7am on the east side of Moorhead Center Mall parking lot.

  • East side of parking lot of Moorhead Center Mall
  • 1st Ave at Hjemkomst intersection
  • Fargo Library
  • Gate City
  • Plains Art Museum
  • Renaissance Hall
  • Matbus Ground Transportation Center
  • Fargo Community Health

At 10am,  two additional pick-up/drop off areas on the north and south side of the Moorhead Mall until 7 pm M-F and from 10am – 5pm on Saturdays.
Link FM is another step forward to help grow the use of our Matbus system and continue the regeneration of the core of Fargo and Moorhead making better use of existing infrastructure and parking.IMG_5059
Using a bus already in our fleet, Link FM will start out with a “quiet” start, white with no wrap to begin with. We’ll be adding features over the coming weeks like local music inside and out (be ready for pop up live performers), vibrant and distinctive wrap on the outside, and revolving local art on the inside. By the first week in July, you’ll see it coming from blocks away and will want to jump aboard!
Since 2004, Matbus ridership has almost tripled to now over 2.1 million annual rides with over half in the 18 – 25 age group. Our downtowns and city cores are regenerating and community’s transportation culture is changing with more people walking, biking, and using transit that all help reduce congestion.
This circulator concept has been featured for several years in both our transit plans and  parking plans as a strategy to make better use of thousands of existing public and private parking spaces in both our revitalizing downtowns, reduce congestion, and continue to increase ridership on MATBUS.60 on a bus
This Link FM route is within walking distance of three blocks of several popular destinations and our theme is fun, fast, and free! Link FM will also help navigate around areas on NP Ave and 1St Ave corridor reconstruction and flood protection construction projects that start now and will be going on for the next few years.
Link FM will be using an existing bus and will be an addition to existing routes so will not negatively effect current riders.
It’s great working with the sub committee chaired by Moorheads Steve Ghertz, and members Nancy Otto, Dave Piepkorn, Melissa Radamacher, Matt Maslowski, Joe Nigg, Lori Van Beek, Mike Hahn, Gregg Schildberger, Matt Peterson, and Michael Redlinger.
The Fargo Commission and Moorhead Council unanimously approved this venture and are eager to see how Link FM works. Transit experts have told us it often takes 6-8 months to build ridership and we plan on giving it time and measure how much it’s used.
Both cities can decide to stop with a 30 day notice in the MOU, but we are planning for success and will make funds available in the coming budgets. The idea is both cities will budget for future funding to be made available when it’s proven to be successful with at least 15 – 20 riders per hour by the end of the 9 month trial.

How to best build our city? Love it

This Strong Towns article could have been written about yesterdays efargo, Alley Fair, and The Hotel Donaldson Earth Day love yesterday. efargo launch, 2 hours of 50 people cleaning alleys and streets, partying at the Ho Do Fargo with the efargo “Earth Piano” and Diane Miller singing sweet tunes.

Sara Watson Curry jamming on efargo's solar powered "Earth Piano" that Raul Gomez and I built.

Sara Watson Curry jamming on efargo’s solar powered “Earth Piano” that Raul Gomez and I built.

To learn more about how we can grow well together and make the best community investments, we invited Charles Marohn of Strong Towns to tour Fargo and will be making presentations May 13th and 14th. Hope you can join us.
Here’s Gracen Johnson’s article about an unmatched economic development strategy in today’s Strong Towns post:


Love, folks. It’s love. Love conquers all. At least that has been my almost unbearably hackneyed conclusion so far.
Last week, I was asked to join a panel discussion posed with the question, What role does placemaking have in building sustainable communities? This gave me a great excuse to break down and map out my personal theory of change. Here it is: love and working together. Have no doubt, the triteness is not lost on me – I grimace even writing this, but I really believe there’s something to it.


I arrived in the world of regeneration and “sustainable development” with an honest-to-goodness optimism about policy-driven change. Call it institutionalism or what have you, but I believed like so many of us do that the right policies and incentives could build the world we want. My MPhil (in something called Planning, Growth, and Regeneration) was an entire degree focused on the policies and economic tactics employed in regenerating places. I still believe policy is important and essential, such as putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions and installing feedback systems like road pricing. There are housing policies and anti-policies that I believe in as well, and let’s not forget about parking maximums. Where my confidence falters is in the zone of economic development policy, the stuff of business parks, tax perks, and a long aisle of pig-lipstick.
The revelation occurred while attending a conference about struggling rural villages, desperate to create jobs and retain young people. I had just been contemplating these same challenges for large cities like Liverpool, UK and it hit me that everyone feels like a struggling rural village in the globalized economy, except the top dogs like New York, San Francisco, Tokyo, London and Shanghai, etc.
Common practice favours what I call vacuum-driven economic development, where your goal is to suck up more talent, resources, and”job-creators” than your neighbours. We’ve seen all the tricks to do this, mostly resembling some form of bribery, freebies, or pleading with the government. It’s naively self-interested and doesn’t scale well. These policies don’t work for most of us because no matter how much money we throw at it, we can’t compete with the awesome vacuum power of the cities at the top of the food chain.


So I began pondering how we could create new value that is independent of the vacuums. Is there a form of value and meaning that creates an unbeatable stickiness, bound up in place? Of course there is: love. Love makes us do irrational things, like stay in a place where we need to fight tooth and nail to create opportunity for ourselves. The number of times family and memories came up when I asked my friends Why do you live where you live?is testament to that.
I came across a beautiful quote the other day and I don’t know who to credit it to.

“Men do not love Rome because she is beautiful. Rome is beautiful because men have loved her.”

— Leopold Kohr (Thanks commenter Mike Polen for solving that mystery)
We protect, improve, and beautify the places we love. Nowhere is this more obvious today than multi-generation farmers or the First Nations that are putting their lives on the line to protect the places they love and depend on from toxic spills and emissions. In the book, This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein shares the words of Montana rancher Alexis Bonogofsky:

“It sounds ridiculous but there’s this one spot where I can sit on the sandstone rock and you know that the mule deer are coming up and migrating through, you just watch these huge herds come through, and you know that they’ve been doing that for thousands and thousands of years. And you sit there and you feel connected to that. And sometimes it’s almost like you can feel the earth breathe. That connection to this place and the love that people have for it, that’s what Arch Coal doesn’t get. They underestimate that. They don’t understand it so they disregard it. And that’s what in the end will save that place. Is not the hatred of the coal companies, or anger, but love will save this place.”

— Alexis Bonogofsky as quoted in This Changes Everything
The words of a rancher can easily be transferred to our awe for the cities we love. Who doesn’t gaze from the street and appreciate the hours of sweat and care that went into building places we love? Who doesn’t ruminate on the thousands of days before, where someone has sat just like you and watched the daily activities unfold? Who doesn’t feel a tingle of connection when walking along a well-worn footpath? I believe love will save our places too, if they are indeed loveable.


Answering this question has become my raison d’étre – I only take on work that I deem “projects for places we love.” So far, what I’ve found is that it comes down to working together, intervention, and celebration.

The working together part has been my key learning from adventures in the human side of city building. The process of working alongside others on something worthwhile or just plain fun has actually created my strongest ties to this city. Working together creates bonds with people and place, and powerful memories of joint accomplishment. It’s an investment in relationships and the place you live, and motivation for others. For example, I just saw some lovely women doing a cleanup in their Halifax neighbourhood last weekend and now I’m feeling more inspired and obliged to participate in my own block cleanup this weekend. Many hands make light work!
Photo by Jim Kumon.
Photo by Jim Kumon.
The trouble is, we often lack venues and opportunities to work together or even be together nowadays. We live in an isolated world and most of our city spaces are in need of an intervention. We can use small interventions like Tactical Urbanism to give people excuses to linger, to volunteer, to ask questions and take part. This is the physical side of city-building that we are rapidly prototyping across the world. Our interventions can reinforce the humanness of our cities and give us reasons and avenues to work together.

Finally, it’s important to celebrate. Like the harvest feasts of yesteryear, we can validate hard work with the act of celebration. Food, drink, music, dancing – this is all so much more wonderful when it’s well-deserved.

Our situation is obviously precarious. We’ve done some serious, perhaps irreversible damage to our climate, ecosystems, finances, and communities. Current levels of inequality are staggering and our political systems are broken. It can be hard to have any hope at all. But I believe in the places that are loved. I believe that the survival skills we need are gratitude and generosity – caring about each other and our homes enough to learn, adapt, and be resourceful. Humanizing our cities is both a means and an end in doing that. I believe that as long as we’re walking that path together, we’ll have reason to celebrate.

And there you have it: your daily dose of sickly sweet, anti-wonk, actionable EcDev.

GRACEN JOHNSON is a communications designer living in The Maritimes. While she finished her MPhil in Planning, Growth, and Regeneration in 2013, she has never stopped studying the city. Gracen thinks of her day-to-day as participatory action research, diving into the question of how Strong Citizenship can transform a city. She wears many hats trying to crack that nut herself, including as the designer and coordinator of an accelerator for small businesses that build community. She also freelances around the vision of “Projects for Places we Love” and has a video blog called Another Place for Me.
This year, Gracen is sharing field notes on her experiences with Strong Citizenship. In this regular column, you’ll get snapshots of life as a friendly neighbour in a quintessential Little City that feels like a Big Town.