Partnerships: Catalysts for Sustainability in River Falls, Wisconsin

April 12, 2012

A critical reason why cities and towns are able to be at the forefront of sustainable development is their ability to engage a broad swath of stakeholders and create effective partnerships. Communities are able to harness talent, energy and capital in innovative ways that drive progress. Through partnerships, communities are often able to achieve results that would otherwise be unattainable.

River Falls, a community of 15,000 people in western Wisconsin, has embraced the partnership philosophy to become a role model for environmental, economic, and social progress. River Falls has successfully partnered with academia, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector to tackle the goals of its Comprehensive Plan.

Here are some highlights of the impact that sustainability partnerships in River Falls are achieving:

  • University of Wisconsin-River Falls. River Falls has sought to collaborate locally with the university and the St. Croix Institute for Sustainable Community Development, which has been the leading resource for every context of sustainability from local to national and international in scale . The Institute has been integral in a myriad of projects, from a   Sustainable Community Proclamation partnership by the t the city, school district, and  university, to conducting a local food self-sufficiency study and regional food hub development project,  to  being a leading partner on the St. Croix Valley Habitat for Humanity project (more on that below). These  partnerships  have been integral to coordinating sustainability initiatives around the area and ensuring that they all fall within the larger goals of the River Falls Comprehensive Plan.

  • St. Croix Valley Habitat for Humanity. This partnership between the city, Habitat for Humanity, the St. Croix Institute for Sustainable Community Development, the River Falls Municipal Utilities, and other local suppliers and designers, is dedicated to creating an Eco-Village within River Falls. The Eco-Village will feature 18 energy-efficient homes and a community center on a five-acre plot of land. Residents will share solar hot water and photovoltaic energy systems, community gardens, and a proposed fleet of electric automobiles. The partnership is out to prove that building sustainably is the key to ensuring long lasting affordability for these low income homeowners

  • POWERful Choices! The City of River Falls, has partnered with residents and local businesses to promote practices that can reduce energy usage and demand. Activities include a Customer Appreciation Day intended to positively reinforce the efforts our city staff and our residents put into our energy efficiency projects through an official appreciation event> hosting a LED light exchange, and revitalizing the downtown area. The campaign has already achieved impressive results: River Falls was the first city in the Midwest to be recognized as an EPA Green Power Partner Community. River Falls received this distinction because 6.4% of its residents participated in the renewable energy certification process (5th highest in the nation) and for buying 7.2% of its power load from green sources.

  • The Kinnickinnic River. The protection of this heart and soul of River Falls guides our plans, operations, and long-term infrastructure and programmatic investments. River Falls is the largest Wisconsin city on a Class I trout stream. Not stocked since 1974, the stream has 3,000 to 8,000 trout per mile. The City has purchased and protected much of the land adjacent to the river and required public dedication and protection of adjacent lands in newly developed residential areas. The City’s storm water practices are crucial to keeping this treasure sustainable. The City operates one of the most progressive storm water management and erosion control ordinances in the state of Wisconsin. In addition it has installed demonstration projects in older established neighborhoods to show that the standards are not just for new developments.  Many of the 73 storm water ponds in the community have been adopted by community members or groups. The City led the way in Wisconsin with phosphorus fertilizer bans and storm water education.

For its efforts to grow a sustainable community, River Falls has been recognized as a finalist of the 2012 Siemens Sustainable Community Awards. River Falls, and nine other finalists of all sizes, will be showcased during the U.S. Chamber of Commerce BCLC National Conference, taking place in Atlanta from April 16-18.

We are looking forward to highlighting River Falls. The community’s commitment to fostering partnerships and ensuring that diverse perspectives are represented throughout planning and implementing sustainability initiatives is admirable. River Falls’ partnerships have allowed this small community to assume a role of national leadership around sustainability and general environmental stewardship.