It was an extraordinary year filled with big wins for Duluth.
In April I laid out bold priorities for streets, housing, jobs, and energy. With your support and the hard work of our city team, I’m proud that we delivered fully on each of our commitments.
On streets, we secured a fully dedicated, half-percent sales tax, and in 2020 we will repair 17 miles of road compared to two and a half in 2019. Thanks to everyone who attended one of our 10 City Hall in the City events to review our comprehensive streets plan and meet our new transportation planner.
We prioritized affordable housing and are investing in new policies and innovative approaches. We launched the Mayor’s Task Force on Affordable Housing, and this dynamic group meets monthly to develop specific ideas for increasing housing affordability. We changed our Unified Development Code to make accessory dwellings and tiny homes possible. We created a dedicated housing-developer position alongside the Housing and Redevelopment Authority, formed a housing team, and announced Rebuild Duluth, a program that will provide up to 19 infill lots across the city, free of charge, to add to our stock of affordable housing. To date, more than 30 parties are interested in the lots, and have extended our submission date to accommodate requests for additional time.
On jobs, we built partnerships with the Duluth Building Trades and other community allies to meet worker shortages in key sectors and smash persistent disparities across race and gender. Our CareerForce center identified employer workforce champions committed to expanding their hiring pools and leading the way connecting good jobs with those who need them. We instituted community-benefit policies to spur local job creation and supported apprenticeship and training programs that help workers gain careers and financial independence.
For many families, holding a good job requires safe and convenient child care, and we changed zoning to allow child-care facilities to be closer to where parents work. The result: several local businesses are actively building child-care facilities to meet the needs of their employees. We also need more child-care slots overall and revamped our 1200 Fund to provide for start-up dollars to help meet this demand.
On energy, we laid down a bold commitment of 100% renewable energy, and we continue to be a regional and national leader for decreasing greenhouse gases. My Energy Plan Commission is now fully activated, and we are in the final stages of hiring a sustainability officer to lead our resiliency efforts in the city and in the community.
It’s been an extraordinary year, for sure, but not without challenges. Superior Street construction continues to mess with the heart of downtown. Storms closed Park Point and damaged the Lakewalk — again. And a gale-force blizzard delivered 35% of our annual snowfall in five days.
One of the things I love most about Duluth is that we face our hardships and focus on solutions. We adapt our physical growth and expansions to account for climate change and increase our resiliency. We shop local to support our entrepreneurs and small businesses which invest in us. And in the coming weeks we’ll revisit snowplow routing, adapting systems to more fully support the hard work of our staff and providing clearer and faster communication on plowing progress.
Cities on the rise have growing pains, but they learn from them. This year shows what a city looks like when it invests in itself and believes that better is possible.
You have placed great trust in me and my team and have given us a second term, for which I am tremendously grateful. From our family to yours, we wish you a bright season of warmth, joy, and love.
Emily Larson is mayor of Duluth. She wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune at the invitation of the Opinion page.
THE YEAR AHEAD
The News Tribune Opinion page again this year asked community leaders and area experts to gaze into their crystal balls and to share what 2020 might be bringing us.
THURSDAY, DEC. 26: City of Duluth
Friday, Dec. 27: St. Louis County
Saturday, Dec. 28: Duluth school district
Sunday, Dec. 29: Congress
Monday, Dec. 30: Minnesota Legislature
Tuesday, Dec. 31: The Economy
Wednesday, Jan. 1: Tourism
Thursday, Jan. 2: Business
Friday, Jan. 3: Downtown Duluth