The CREATE Initiative: Environmental Innovation Winner

  • June 17, 2020
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  • Christina Vang

To be innovative, we must understand historical context while adapting to a contemporary context. This adaptation gives us the opportunity to learn as times evolve. This allows us to both address new issues as they arise as well as develop new and innovative solutions to problems that persist – work is never done, but we believe there’s always new partnerships to build and new people to engage to have a seat at the table. The CREATE Initiative combines innovative approaches to advance research and education at the intersection of environment and equity through community engagement and interdisciplinary scholarship, and graduate training.

Environmental Innovation – The CREATE Initiative

Presented by Environmental Law Group

The CREATE Initiative is a research and education project based at the University of Minnesota that was created in 2018 and is expected to continue into 2021. This initiative is funded by the University of Minnesota’s Grand Challenge Research Initiative, which supports the work of projects addressing grand challenges. The CREATE Initiative team consists of full-time university staff from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, graduate students, researchers across the university, and the Policy Think Tank, which includes leaders from community-based organizations from Minneapolis, Atlanta, and Florida. The Policy Think Tank is the most influential part of the CREATE Initiative because their support and guidance has directed research activity and has helped the university better understand their role in the advancement of research and education at the intersection of environment and equity. The CREATE Initiative team has a presence in the university’s College of Liberal Arts Geography Program and works closely with Mapping Prejudice, a project based at the university libraries that maps historic racially restricted housing covenants in Minneapolis.

The initiative started on the idea of building relationships and resources with communities, but this quickly changed as the team started to collaborate with community members. As the team spent time showing up to meetings and workshops around the Twin Cities, their work shifted to focus on how environmental justice plays out in different communities. They started to understand the urgency of addressing these issues and what it really looked like through the eyes of the community members. This motivated and lead the team to focus their work on finding solutions to the important issues of the community members. Since then, the CREATE Initiative has re-aligned their mission as a research institution and education project to fill gaps and resources for community members. Their willingness to be transformed by the needs of community members has brought home the importance of qualitative data to communicate the impact of environmental investment.

Transforming the Model

The CREATE Initiative has been thinking about the historical context of how the environmental movement intersects with communities. It is researching why investments in the environment has built wealth for some communities, but not for others, and about the distribution and of environmental benefits and burdens across different communities, such as green infrastructure, parks, and community resilience and how the impacts can be different for communities. Attempts to remediate past injustice is leading to new sets of threats related to gentrification and displacement. The CREATE Initiative’s work is trying to understand this dynamic and how to disrupt it so communities can benefit from green investments.

To understand these dynamic threats and find innovative solutions, it requires a different model of academic scholarship. When we spoke with Bonnie Keeler, an Assistant Professor at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, and Co-Director of CREATE Initiative, about what has to change, she said, “It requires a transformation of the traditional academic model of coming up with questions in the office and looking for places to test – but to base the search on building relationships with those who have been excluded or the subject of academic research.” This new model will have to think about the urgent questions around concerned issues and realizing that they may be better defined and articulated by communities outside the university. Providing resources to community members to articulate research questions that matter most to them with the issues they are facing will result in better solutions. To have a successful model, it will require a different set of skills that are not traditionally taught in university settings. This inspires the CREATE Initiative to learn how to better train future leaders to do the co-development community engagement work, which is a big need with a transformative model. The new skills will be in tuned with public facing products to reflect the community members’ voices and resonate with those they are trying to connect with.

Sharing the Process

The CREATE Initiative measures its long-term impact by relationships built and sustained and the conversations its work has started. The initiative recently launched a policy toolkit, called, Sharing in the Benefits of a Greening City, a policy approached to tools for community engagement and wealth building. This toolkit provides tools and resources for communities and cities, park organizations, and other organizations to be able to advocate for and to disrupt gentrification and displacement cycles. The toolkit consists of community benefit agreements, inclusionary zoning, and case studies across the US of communities trying to implement these types of policies in response to green intervention. Over the last few months, the team has started to see its toolkit show up in policies and practices. On a local level, they have started to see a change in the way people are talking about gentrification issues in Minneapolis. The work that the CREATE Initiative has done so far is making sure the issue of green investment is at the table to have those discussions. The initiative continues its work by drawing the connection between their work and the work of environmental and conservation organizations who may not see their role in gentrification. The CREATE Initiative can provide these organizations with the set of tools and language to understand their role as the organizations’ work intersects with housing.

Learn More About This Partnership

Celebrating the 2020 Environmental Initiative Awards

The wait is over – it’s finally time for the 2020 Environmental Initiative Awards! We are excited to celebrate the 2020 Environmental Initiative Awards online with you. While this is the first time in the 26-year history that the Awards event will not convene in person, we remain committed to highlighting innovative, impactful and collaborative people and projects working in partnership at the nexus of a healthy environment, a prosperous economy and an equitable society.

Celebrate with Us