Like in many municipalities across Minnesota, Public Works is the largest department in the City of Minneapolis. From streets and snow plowing, to recycling, drinking water and stormwater, Public Works employees design, build, operate and maintain a diverse amount of infrastructure. Public Works may often be thought of as a nuts-and-bolts department focused on maintenance and engineering, but decisions like how streets are designed have meaningful impacts on the lives of Minneapolis residents everyday. The department largely decides if, where, and when city streets will be improved to benefit more people, regardless of how they are getting to where they need to go.
Consequently, the Director of Public Works has a great deal of influence, and the opportunity to shape the city for decades. After Director Steve Kotke announced his retirement last year, the city began the search for a new department head.
Mayor Betsy Hodges has the chance to leave a legacy by appointing a new director that can change the culture of the Public Works Department. We support the appointment of a strong leader that will bear in mind the diverse needs of the city and will equitably and fairly build up an infrastructure that reflects the Values of the City of Minneapolis.
Minneapolis is often cited as one of the most bike-friendly cities in the nation (and the world), and Public Works has played a significant role in achieving these accolades under the leadership of Steve Kotke. However, many neighborhoods that have the greatest need for infrastructure improvements still lack adequate investment. The fact that sidewalk and bike lane gaps are tolerated is in large part the result of a culture that still views biking, walking and transit as alternative means of transportation.
But last week City Council unanimously adopted a nation-leading Complete Streets policy, which will support safer streets for everyone. The policy states: “Minneapolis is committed to rebalancing its transportation network by clearly prioritizing walking, taking transit, and biking over driving motorized vehicles, in a manner that provides for acceptable levels of service for all modes.” The new Public Works Director must be at the forefront of reshaping the department’s culture, working cooperatively with neighborhoods, and transforming city streets to make them safe, accessible and friendly to people, not just cars.
Minneapolis is at a crossroads moment in history. The Public Works Director appointment is a legacy opportunity to expand upon the work that has already begun, promoting equity, sustainability, and access. The new director must redefine the nature of public works and honor the dynamic and diverse residents of this city by engaging in visionary work that places Minneapolis as a national and global leader in quality of life for everyone.
Kayla Grover is a Sierra Club Green Transportation Intern and a student at Augsburg College in the Urban Studies program.
Joshua Houdek is the Sierra Club North Star Chapter’s Land Use and Transportation Program Manager.