Stories from a Green New Deal: Daniel

Daniel's Story

I live in South Minneapolis and have for the last 40 years. I have lived in areas that have been really challenged by pollution, air quality, and lack of trees. Things that can make it a hard city to live in. Now, living in an area around Powderhorn Park that just feels so lush with trees and green has made me feel like our city really has the possibility to take care of itself, and provide places where people can feel a little more comfortable living in a city center. 

So, when I’m thinking about our organizing work, if we’re not dealing with heat and increased air pollution we really are creating spaces that are difficult to live in. I want to be a part of making changes to make it easier to live here, more comfortable to live here, as well as taking care of an earth that’s really struggling under our impacts. 

Colder winters, bigger storms and challenges with power outages are going to make our housing situations even more difficult to manage. There are some older homes in Minneapolis, built before weatherization technology was in place, that can’t handle extremes of weather. 

So, I’m really excited about helping people live in their homes. Creating better spaces that can handle weather, handle climate changes, live with some of the extremes.

One of my favorite projects that’s happening in South Minneapolis, is the Sabathani Community Center, which has been in there for many years now. It’s an old, old building and it’s not easy for a nonprofit when most of your resources go into caring for an old building. There’ve been efforts over the years to help bring it up to date, get new windows to prevent heat loss and make a whole set of changes to the technology for heating and air conditioning. 

The hope is that this could be a resiliency hub for South Minneapolis, a place where if there were extreme weather- heat or cold, and folks couldn’t really stay in their own homes because they don’t have air conditioning or suitable heating could have a space to be safe in their neighborhood. If there were power outages from extreme weather events this would have battery back ups to allow it to have power available. 

It’s just an amazing thought about how to care for our community. As a community space it becomes a great model of what we could make happen in every neighborhood. It’s a great way to just see this technology in action. That project really excites me and I’ve enjoyed getting to know the people behind it.

But the resources for it are just not all there. So a climate and equity fund would really make resiliency hubs like this possible. 

Another thing that’s exciting for me, as a business owner, is to recognize the role that business can play. Businesses are big energy users, and they also rely on a stable climate. I have a restaurant. If farms in our state can’t grow food, I’m going to feel those impacts. If energy prices, fuel costs, and transportation become so challenging that I can’t even afford to get the ingredients I need, my business is going to suffer. If my customers are struggling to deal with increasing energy costs I don’t have customers! 

I’ve been a composting restaurant for sixteen years, and now Minneapolis is a city with green carts and people bring them down and compost food weekly. 

But if it’s gonna happen citywide, across all barriers, we need to find ways to drop the wall and make it easier for anybody to change their business practices or their own household practices. Those kinds of barriers often are time and money.

We’ve been meeting with our city council members through MN350, and because I’ve been kind of active in my neighborhood and the city’s policy work for the past, my gosh, fifteen or twenty years, I’ve known my council president Andrea Jenkins for a long time. We had worked together, and I thought she would probably like our ideas for the People’s Climate and Equity plan, especially if they provide resources for people to care for their homes, to do a better job of taking care of each other and our Earth. 

There are plenty of folks for whom this is too big, too much, ‘not the right time’, all the things that are gonna slow us down. I’m really aware that our city has had, for many years, plans to do climate actions, and they’ve just not had the resources to do what they want to do. 

I reminded Andrea of all the years we’d worked together and asked her to remember how much of what she brings is this ability to dream, envision, and see a future. She’s been a member of this council during a time that’s just been really challenging and difficult and she’s been a voice for a better future. 

At the first meeting Andrea had lots of practical concerns, and we said we’ll get you the answers, we’ll find out what you want to know, we’ll show you that there are indeed lots of people who feel this way and want to have this happen.’ 

So we met with her again, brought more information and she said she was ready to support this thing, she could do it. 

She had her own demand of us, ‘Bring me the people. Show me there’s excitement around this.’ 

So we also need people power. That’s been an exciting piece too, to watch the members of my little team growing and getting to know each other and to recognize that we have so many more people we know who support what we do. We’re excited to share this with others, and to help them get excited about it as well, and to know that we have a city that’s ready to move, ready to change. If we can have enough people power, we can do this. I’m really excited about it, and I believe that Andrea can be the leader for it.

Daniel Swenson-Klatt is the founder and owner of Butter Bakery Café in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Learn about the People's Climate and Equity Plan