Available SCP Projects for 2017-2018

Projects are available for the 2017-2018 academic year with the City of Big Lake, the Metropolitan Council, Metro Transit, and PLACE.  We are also partnering with the Department of Biology's Greenhouses on their pollinator path and the University of St. Thomas Facilities on a Bicycle Master Plan.  Learn more about our partners here.

Faculty:  Learn more about the project scoping process to link courses with projects here.  Please contact Dr. Maria Dahmus if you're interested in integrating a project into your course.

Students:  Learn about independent student research opportunities with SCP here.

City of Big Lake

Big Lake does not have a lot of street trees along most of our roads and sidewalks. The lack of trees discourages people from using our sidewalk system on hot summer days. There is also a lot of evidence to suggest that street trees create a positive atmosphere in a neighborhood that leads to improved health, people spending more time outdoors, and increases to property value. Street trees even slow down speeding drivers by creating a sense of calm and enclosure that isn’t present when you have a lot of barren back yards creating massive sight lines along roadways.


  1. Which of Big Lake’s streets and sidewalks would benefit most from treatment with street trees.
  2. What types of trees would flourish in this setting?
  3. What would the cost be of installing street trees along various streets and sidewalk?
  4. Do other cities shoulder the cost of installing street trees or is it typical to expect individual property owners to shoulder some of these costs?

Many of our residents commute to the Twin Cities suburbs or even to Minneapolis and Saint Paul for work each day.  Sherburne County residents have, on average, some of the longest commutes in the state. For residents who work right in downtown Minneapolis or nearby, the Northstar Commuter Rail is a really good option. Most of our other residents, however, have no choice but to drive alone to work or to try to find a carpool. Sherburne County has actually installed a large carpool parking lot right in Big Lake next to US Highway 10 but it only serves 3-4 cars per day. The City would like to take a more active role in facilitating the creation of new carpools to help our residents save money, reduce wear and tear on our region’s roads, and reduce air pollution.

Questions/Issues (courses may address one or more of the following questions):

  1. Are there existing carpool apps that would be a good fit for Big Lake? Ideally, all of our residents who are interested in carpooling would be a part of the same system so that they can find each other.
  2. If there are not existing apps, what would it take to develop one?
  3. How can the City most effectively promote carpooling to our residents? Should we experiment with some sort of incentives system? Should we latch on to an existing incentives system like Metro Transit’s?

Big Lake has a lot of fairly sizable single-family home lots (1/4-1/2 acre) and the majority of these lots are landscaped with grass. Most new houses have irrigation systems installed to maintain the grass yards and these irrigation systems use treated water from the City’s drinking water supply. Big Lake has very sandy soils so it takes more water than it would in other parts of the state to keep the grass lush and green. The City would like to explore ways to help our resident’s reign in their water usage when it comes to irrigation.


  1. What are some creative solutions that might entice our residents to use less treated water for irrigation? City-subsidized rain barrels? Other suggestions?
  2. Certain types of grass, such as fescues, are known to require less water than traditional turfgrass varieties. What are some steps the City could take to encourage residents and builders to utilize more drought-resistant grasses? City Staff has some ideas but would benefit from having students explore best practices from around the country.

Metropolitan Council

Very little is known economically about the relationship between inaction and action with regards to climate change or resiliency planning in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. It would be helpful for local governments to understand the costs of preparing for climate change hazards and how these may relate to the costs of reacting to a hazard.

Climate change is a very difficult concept for cities to quantify and prepare for. Therefore, cities often have no budget for such preparation and focus primarily on Hazard Mitigation Planning, coordinated at the County level. With an increased awareness around climate hazards, it would be interesting to see an analysis, an economic compare and contrast, between inaction and action on municipal climate change planning. Elected officials and community staff often want to see proposals expressed in financial terms to understand the benefits of planning, so this analysis is also important as a communication tool.


Consider and assess the costs of preparing for climate change hazards and how these may relate to the costs of reacting to a hazard.  More broadly, consider and assess the relationship in cost terms between action and inaction on resiliency planning.  This will help cities understand how to build resiliency planning into their Capital Improvement Plan. We would encourage production of a summary document in the format of Metro Stats.

Questions/Issues (courses may address one or more of the following questions):

  1. How do we quantify inaction versus action on planning for resiliency?
  2. What are the costs of different planning endeavors related to climate change mitigation and adaptation? How can communities effectively plan for climate change with limited funds and resources? What specific actions carry the highest ROI?
  3. What are examples of communities that have budgeted for climate change, and how could these examples be replicated across the 7 county metro?
  4. How can communities communicate the importance of investing in climate change mitigation and adaptation when the scope and scale of future impacts are largely unknown?
  5. What are planning efforts that communities with limited financial and staff means can implement now to plan for climate change?
  6. Is there a financial ratio between being proactive regarding climate change planning and retaining a business as usual scenario?
  7. How can we use economics to communicate the urgency of action on climate change to communities?
  8. What can insurance claims and premiums in MN tell us about preparing for climate change?

Very little is known about how Emerald Ash Borer will affect the regional urban tree canopy in the years to come. Take Action for Trees states that there are approximately 3 million ash trees in the Twin Cities metro area, somewhere between 10-40% of the total tree population. It is expected that 1.8 million ash trees in the Twin Cities will die by 2019.


Research the extent of the recent loss of ash trees and how much the Twin Cities metro area stands to lose in the coming years.   Consider possibilities for collaborations across jurisdictions to solve problems such as EAB.

Questions/Issues (courses may address one or more of the following questions):

  1. How much of the regional tree canopy will be affected by the loss of ash trees due to EAB?
  2. Where are the localized impact areas when it comes to loss of canopy?
  3. How do this impacted areas exacerbate the urban heat island effect?
  4. What can we learn about the EAB crises to manage our regional canopy for future impacts related to climate change and other pests/diseases?
  5. How do we get communities to work together across jurisdictions to solve problems such as EAB? Can we identify some best practices and collaborations?

Many communities are well mobilized for resilience planning efforts, while others have virtually no institutional structure regarding climate change planning. Oftentimes, such endeavors really come down to staff interest and energy in a given area. This project considers how best to institutionalize community resiliency planning to ensure that actions are implemented and momentum is sustained across election cycles and through staff changes.


This project considers primarily change management and how best to institutionalize planning for climate change and resiliency across city departments and work units.

Questions/Issues (courses may address one or more of the following questions):

  1. What are some best management practices for institutionalizing planning for climate change across various scales of government and community types?
  2. Are there good institutional examples of this work within the Twin Cities metro, at various scales and across diverse community types?
  3. What are the institutional changes and structures required to ensure that community resilience planning is instituted at all levels of municipal government?
  4. How can citizen board and commissions provide leadership in this area?
  5. How can the institutionalizing of resiliency planning sustain itself across administrations, through financial hardship, and through staff turnover?
  6. How can we measure and evaluate success in this area?

Intended Audience for Results:

  1. The public
  2. City staff and elected officials

Specific Sustainability or Quality of Life Impacts:

A key to successful resiliency planning comes from having consistent internal mechanisms to ensure that such work continues unabated through administration change, financial hardship, and through staff turnover. Communities that succeed in this area can build off of past work in order to enhance efforts, brand themselves, and provide a more resilient community for their residents through multi-faceted planning efforts that are structurally protected through embedding such practices institutionally. 

Given development patterns and impacts associated with climate change, the urban tree canopy of our region is vulnerable. We want to perform some research to better understand the relationship between trees, sustainability, and development for the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Findings can be shared with the communities we serve as best practices. Moreover, any research can be incorporated into an overall assessment of the wellbeing of the canopy.

Project Description:

This is a broadly scoped project which could touch on many disciplines at St. Thomas. There is also potential for research beyond the questions/issues listed here.

Questions/Issues (courses may address one or more of the following questions):

  1. Assess the overall staff/nursery resources across the metropolitan region to provide a baseline understanding of the resource capacity to maintain and enhance the canopy. This research could help us target assistance to communities that lack resources in this area or recommend that communities pool their resource to achieve successful ends.
  2. What is the value of trees monetarily, in relation to their cost (purchase and maintenance), stormwater treatment, mitigation of heat and sequester of CO2, and human health benefits?
  3. What are metropolitan best management practices when it comes to regulations related to the canopy?
  4. What are metropolitan best management practices when it comes to forestry management?
  5. What are innovative, community-centered approaches to managing the tree canopy?
  6. Where are areas in need of enhancement within the metropolitan area (this may require survey work)? How can we create a method to target this intervention in areas in need of forestry enhancement?
  7. How does social vulnerability relate to the tree canopy (this may require survey work)?
  8. How do we monitor, evaluate, and update the outcomes from this work?

Intended Audience for Results:

  1. The public
  2. City staff and elected officials

Specific Sustainability or Quality of Life Impacts:

Loss of our regional urban forest affects a wide range of human health indicators. Trees have co-benefits, and their value is often underappreciated. If we can encourage communities to plan with their neighboring jurisdictions on maintaining and enhancing the urban tree canopy, we can have a more livable, sustainable, and economically and socially vibrant region.

The Local Planning Assistance work unit at the Metropolitan Council provides technical assistance to communities that are currently drafting their 2040 Comprehensive Plan Updates as required by state statute. Many communities are considering chapters on sustainability and resilience planning, or they are considering integration of these concepts throughout the Comprehensive Plan. To achieve the outcome of sustainability, a community should incorporate goals, policies, and implementation strategies into the Comprehensive Plan so that such outcomes can be achieved through ordinance regulation.

Project Description:  Work with a community or communities on identifying appropriate sustainability and resilience language for the 2040 Comprehensive Plan. Assist the community or communities in the following:

  1. Vision language
  2. Policy language (integrated throughout the chapters of the plan)
  3. Implementation language (integrated throughout the chapters of the plan)
  4. Creation of a matrix to measure each chapter’s success in implementing the vision
  5. Creation of a tracking matrix to allow the Metropolitan Council the opportunity to track best practices in planning for sustainability and resilience. This can allow us the opportunity to highlight particular communities and methods.
  6. Create model language guide for the online Local Planning Handbook

Questions/Issues to consider for the above projects:

  1. What is the best way to approach building in sustainability and resilience policies and implementation strategies in the Comprehensive Plan?
  2. How might this language differ by community type across the 7 county metro?
  3. How can communities ensure that this language is fully integrated throughout all the chapters of the Comprehensive Plan?
  4. How can we convey model plan language in an easy to understand and distributable format?

Intended Audience for Results:

  1. The public
  2. City staff and elected officials

 Specific Sustainability or Quality of Life Impacts:

The inclusion of sustainability and resilience policies and implementation strategies has a direct impact on the livability of a community through each community’s regulatory authority.

This project provides opportunity for class(es) to help develop guidance and perhaps site design for sustainable landscape management on industrial sites, primarily Metropolitan Council Environmental Services’ wastewater treatment plants (MCES WWTPs). Most MCES WWTPs are located adjacent to river corridors, and in some cases form portions of sensitive wildlife habitat and native vegetation areas. Landscape design at the WWTPs has traditionally consisted of traditional mowed turf, which requires constant mowing, occasional herbicide application and irrigation, and provides little benefit to wildlife or water quality. MCES is committed to developing strategies, guidance, and implementation plans to transition the landscaping to more natural systems, incorporating native tree species, pocket prairies, raingardens, swales, and other features at its seven WWTPs, one water reclamation plant, and other miscellaneous lift (pump) station properties.

Also, we have several sites where we may be working with partners “outside the fence” (meaning outside of the landscaped WWTP area) to enhance the natural properties owned by MCES.  These include wooded areas with invasive species, natural areas adjacent to DNR and other significant public open spaces, and natural areas adjacent to river corridors.

This work has a direct connection to the Sustainability outcome in Thrive MSP 2040 and the Building in Resilience land use policy. The Council strives to lead by example by meeting the goals and policies in the Regional Development Framework. We can learn from this process and institutionalize this practice, while also sharing this experience with metropolitan communities and agency partners.


This project’s overall goal is to develop a site plan specific to each Met Council facility and start to implement sustainable landscape management practices both “inside” and “outside” the fences and can involve multiple disciplines at St. Thomas.

For example, an environmental science or sustainability class may want to explore multiple benefits of “sustainable landscapes” (eg. pollinator and bird habitat, water quality, human enjoyment). A botany class may want to investigate appropriate tree or native vegetation species for specific locations and site challenges.  A course related to water quality may want to explore specific designs, like rain gardens, to meet those needs.  An education class may be interested in developing education materials, etc.

Questions/Issues (courses may address one or more of the following questions):

  1. Are there landscape management practices and guidance which can be applied to sites based on landscape and habitat type?
  2. How do we plan for enhancing biodiversity and reduce maintenance on sites inside and outside the fence?
  3. What are emerging practices in this area which can help us to plan for and maintain these sites?
  4. What sort of co-benefits can be established through bespoke guidance and implementation at each site?
  5. How can we work with partners and contractors to instill these best management practices on our sites?
  6. How do we train our staff and contractors in maintaining these landscaped areas once these practices have been implemented?
  7. How do we evaluate, monitor, and promote the success of these practices?


PLACE is a non-profit organization that collaborates with cities to design and build sustainable, affordable, mixed-use, and transit-orientated developments. PLACE is currently working with the City of St. Louis Park, MN on an Eco-Village development.  Learn more about the Eco-Village here or read the Executive Summary of the project here.

We believe that our affordable housing model is better because it is coupled with sustainability measures such as access to transit, food, affordable energy, etc. We’re cognizant that we may or may not be meeting goals. As a small, lean nonprofit we don’t have the capacity to fully develop our metrics for measuring our success, or how to apply the information.  Students could develop metrics for measuring our success and provide guidance for how to apply the information most effectively to meet our affordable and supportive housing goals.

One way to develop a deeper engagement with our residents and our goals is to break into the space of app development. PLACE would work closely with student technicians and faculty to create a housing and energy app to measure our goals.

The economic model of traditional car-ownership is undergoing rapid transformation with shared-ownership models and more accessible rental fleets, and many more disruptors on the horizon. PLACE will be such a disruptor by offering a car-free perks package for residents that commit to not owning a vehicle at our development. We need a way to measure buy-in, financial modeling of vehicle ownership vs the package we hope to offer, and identifying the candidates most likely to participate.

PLACE performs substantial community work through community meetings planned well in advance of breaking ground on our developments. These meetings elicit crucial information that directs our projects. We anticipate that some deliverables might include: social work planning; marketing plan, and community-meeting app development.

PLACE’s latest development will employ green roofs throughout our site in St. Louis Park, many of which will be combined with solar arrays. There are a number of tactics to improve the performance of solar energy when coupled with green roofs. Having a student/class explore these tactics with our professionals and present them to our team would be a direct benefit to the project and the SCP.

Another way to develop an insight into our work and effectiveness would be to create a happiness survey that takes advantage of the controlled experiment of one population moving in, and the other not. This is a seemly small scope of work but it carries with it huge implications on how we move forward as an organizer of communities.

PLACE needs a compelling graphic that can tell the story of our developments. Our current tools of measurement, market studies, and the potential advent of new tools with the SCP, will provide the content for a student/class to mold into a compelling story.

E-Generation will be radically changing the way people view renewable energy and how they consume and contribute to a sustainable way of living. PLACE needs a way to measure that change and is looking for every germ of an idea to begin this modeling. An additional deliverable would be to analyze the data extracted and see what conclusions can be drawn.

E-GenerationTM is a brand new patent-pending system. In designing this system, PLACE has identified gaps in technologies that could be prototyped to facilitate current and future facilities of this nature. A student/class would be instrumental in developing these technologies into a prototype for market production.

PLACE has registered its patent for our E-GenerationTM system, which systematizes a portfolio of renewable energies. A critical part of that system includes a neighborhood-scale anaerobic digesters that will receive organic waste (food scraps) from our development. We need our community to participate fully.  Students could develop clean, simple instructions/graphics, game theory programs, or some other method to facilitate buy-in and participation of our community.

Our current media strategy is to let the work speak for itself. In a time where awareness is more accessible to companies of every size, we are simply too oversubscribed in our efforts to craft a meaningful social media plan. This plan could be crafted to reach all types of people and raise general awareness about multi-disciplinary approaches to sustainability.

Nearly an acre of the site is dedicated as a home to an “urban forest” where ecologically diverse species of plants will offer a rural experience in an urban context. The urban forest serves double duty by also managing the development’s storm water plan. PLACE is already in the process of selecting specimens and management practices, but could use additional ideas for future implementation. An additional deliverable would be the measurement and effectiveness of storm water management.

Pollinator Path

The pollinator path is a project created by the University of St. Thomas Department of Biology's Greenhouses.

The Pollinator Path consists of a set of fifteen on campus “Sites” with different flowers that have varying degrees of attraction to bees, butterflies and other pollinators.  Each site has an informational sign that draws attention to a particular aspect of each set of plantings and provides a key as to which types of pollinators might or might not be visiting these flowers for pollen and/or nectar. 

The Pollinator Path begins outside the Anderson Student Center and ends down at the Stewardship Garden by the river.  A Story Map App will help participants navigate between the Sites of the Path and provide information about specific flowers and pollinators at each stop. 

Participants are encouraged to adjust the way in which they normally view flowerbeds and containers so that instead of focusing on flowers, color, form, they look for movement in and around the flowers.  Once they readjust their focus to movement they will see the hovering and flying of bees, flies, beetles, butterflies and other pollinators. 

Many of the plants in the Pollinator Path Sites were selected for their value to pollinators, whereas others were selected for different reasons – such as flower color, ease of care, etc.  One of the goals for the Path is to let people notice which flowers attract pollinators and which flowers don’t.  It provides an opportunity to shift ones perspective and see plants from a bee’s point of view.  It is a platform for discovery.

Please note that there is no pollinator activity from November – May.

Project ideas:

  • Collect pollinator demographic data
  • Collect data on which plants attract/don’t attract pollinators
  • Learn about relationship between native bees and native flowers and native bee nesting habits
  • Learn to identify different bees, flies, beetles, butterflies and other pollinators and what they need for forage and habitat
  • Study bee foraging behavior
  • Study butterflies and which plants are larval hosts
  • Create a mobile phone App for the Path to include GIS data, photos, plant information, and other data
  • GIS mapping of pollinator data
  • Develop curriculum for preschool and K-8 students using the Pollinator Path as a lab
  • Develop a social media promotional strategy for Pollinator Path