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U of M team wins DOE challenge

“Team OptiMN,” a group of 14 undergraduate and grad students at the University of Minnesota with diverse majors (including building science, sustainable design, construction management and business), was the Grand Award Winner of The Department of Energy’s second annual "Race to Zero" Student Design Competition. The team won for its design of the OptiMN Impact Home in North Minneapolis.

Teams competing in the “Race to Zero” challenge were asked to design cost-effective zero-energy-ready homes for mainstream builders, according to a press release announcing the award, adding that, "The winning design uses high-performance features that sharply reduce energy use, and allow for most of the remaining energy use to be offset with renewable energy." The contest is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). This year, the competition involved 33 teams from 27 universities in the U.S., Canada and China. "Along with energy-efficiency, the designed homes must be comfortable and attractive as well as affordable," the release stated.

Green Homes North, one of team OptiMN's partners, plans on building 100 energy-efficient homes in North Minneapolis in the next five years. Team OptiMN made sure the home followed their guidelines. The team also partnered with Urban Homeworks to design a high performance, affordable, flexible home. Residential Science Resources was the team's energy rater partner.

Team OptiMN’s design goals centered around meeting: the DOE’s challenge to build a zero energy ready home; Urban Homework’s mission to produce equitable, dignified communities; and Green Homes North Initiative to revitalize North Minneapolis neighborhoods with affordable, sustainable and quality homes.


Minneapolis area ranked a top place for families to live

Online residential real estate site ZipRealty released its first annual ranking of the Best Places for Families to Live and the Minneapolis area took the top spot.
The rankings were compiled by factoring each school district's "School Score" on ZipRealty, along with median price per square foot for homes in that district. The site's school scoring system measures the performance of each district based on test-score data as well as student-to-teacher ratios.
In naming the Minneapolis area best in the nation, the site singled out Westonka Public Schools for its high district rating. The site also suggested that residents are able to "hang out on Lake Minnetonka or take the kids into Minneapolis to catch a Twins game at Target Field."
In a press release on the findings, ZipRealty CEO Lanny Baker noted that people continue to relocate to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area because of affordable housing prices, quality school systems, numerous cultural activities, and a burgeoning economic sector.

Fast Company highlights Twin Cities-based Artspace

Business publication Fast Company recently featured an article about how cities can foster a thriving creative class, and highlighted local nonprofit real estate developer Artspace as an ideal example.
The organization's flagship project, the Northern Warehouse in the Lowertown district of St. Paul, has been housing artists for more than 20 years, in a neighborhood that's undergone vast transformation.
This is significant, the article's writer believes: "Today, as widespread civic enthusiasm for 'creative' projects has begun to spawn skepticism, the Northern Warehouse may be one of the clearest case studies of the role of artists in rejuvenating decayed neighborhoods--and sticking around afterward."
Artspace doesn't prove that artists can power the economy of whole cities, the article notes, but it does seem to be providing an effective model for other urban centers that want to maintain a stable, thriving artistic culture.

Twin Cities a top choice for newlyweds

Property rental search site Rent.com has named the top metropolitan areas that are "wonderful places to create a fun and affordable lifestyle" for newly married couples.
Although the list was not ranked, Minneapolis made the top 10, joining cities like Dallas, Denver, Phoenix, and Austin.
Rent.com chose the areas based on availability of rental inventory, cost of living, annual average wages, and unemployment rates. Six of the top 10 cities are in the South, two are in the Midwest, and two are in the West. No metro areas in the Northeast made the list.

NPR highlights St. Paul family's homeownership story

National Public Radio (NPR) recently ran a story about how low-income Americans are finding paths to home ownership, despite financial disincentives. As an example of a family that's benefiting from owning their home, NPR highlighted the story of the Rhodeses, a couple living in St. Paul with their three children.
"Our main goal of owning a home is a place that we can really call our own--a place that we feel safe and secure," noted Tamika Rhodes in the story. "Just a place where we can be free."
The news program continued by detailing how the family bought a home with a subprime mortgage just a few years before and lost it to foreclosure. But through intensive credit repair, they were able to buy their home in St. Paul. 

Construction magazine predicts health for Twin Cities housing market

Home construction magazine Builder released its bi-annual projections about the nation's healthiest housing markets, and predicted that the Twin Cities is due for an upswing.
The report compiles the metrics that drive housing production, such as jobs, price appreciation, population growth, and income growth.
Minneapolis and St. Paul topped the list of 20 healthy housing areas, and Builder noted that home prices in the metro, which dropped in the first half of 2011, are expected to rise eight percent next year, the highest rate among the 100 largest housing markets.
Other major housing factors are expected growth in employment and a rebound in building permits.

Minneapolis-based Artspace gets shout-out in Nola.com article about rise of artist live/work spaces

The work of Minneapolis-based Artspace is featured in a recent Nola.com story about the rise of artist live/work spaces in New Orleans and elsewhere. 

Artspace is a nonprofit organization that develops affordable space for artists and arts organizations all over the country.

The group plans to convert the Andrew J. Bell Junior High School Property in New Orleans into a $40 million home for artists--one of a number of similar developments taking place across the city, the story states.  

These kinds of developments are appealing to many artists because they're often affordable and offer gallery space, built-in community, and other professional opportunities, it explains.

Wendy Holmes, senior vice president of consulting for Artspace, is quoted in the article, saying that it makes sense because "Artists bring a lot to the table."

A strong artist community can improve a city's tax base and turn around struggling neighborhoods. "Artist communities re-energize neighborhoods. And even though we're all businesspeople it's not always about the bottom line. It's about community engagement," she says.

Twin Cities awarded $16 million to support transit-oriented affordable housing and small business

Late last month, Minneapolis and St. Paul received a $16 million grant from the Living Cities Integration Initiative, a New York-based philanthropic organization, to boost affordable housing and small business, particular around transit areas, the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal reports.  

The mayors from both cities traveled to Detroit on Oct. 27 to accept the grant. According to the Business Journal, the money will flow especially to areas along the planned Central Corridor Light Rail Transit Line.

The grant will help create or preserve between 400 and 600 affordable housing units while an estimated 100 businesses will receive support for everything from marketing to fa´┐Żade improvements, including loans to offset hardships imposed by transit construction, the article states. 
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