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Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


Here's some news worth celebrating: On Wednesday, Minneapolis becomes only the second municipality in the country to be named a UNICEF Child Friendly City.

The designation isn't simply a subjective assessment of how the city values and treats its citizens. It's the result of four years of deliberate implementation of an action plan, with the results evaluated by independent observers.

The initiative, according to UNICEF, is designed to improve the safety of children and their "meaningful access and participation to equitable social services, safe and healthy living environments, play and leisure opportunities." Specific initiatives in the local action plan, according to the city, were focused within broad categories, including emergency management, youth voice in decision-making spaces, community safety and child-rights education.

For example, six young Minneapolitans were placed on three city boards, and they may be given voting power, amplifying their voices in civic decisions. Additionally, as a result of the action plan, the Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board produced a community safety report based in part on data procured by young people and parents of young children, directly involving them in the process of an essential component of making Minneapolis child friendly — increasing public safety.

The plan "highlights our commitment to young people, not just on the Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board, but on an entire city level," Min Lee, the board's communication specialist, told an editorial writer. "Throughout this process, we've had a bunch of community organizations come and help us, community volunteers and advocates, and so it really is this kind of grassroots community-based initiative."

But getting the designation "doesn't mark the end of our work," Lee added.

That's a message shared by Michael J. Nyenhuis, UNICEF USA's president and CEO. "This designation does not mean that everything is perfect for children [in the city]," Nyenhuis told an editorial writer. "But it does say the city has a commitment to continue the work."

The work, Nyenhuis said, must be "about systems change; it's not just about delivering policies." Cities that receive this designation "have systems put in place, how they do their budgets, to be thinking about the welfare and well-being of children in our community."

The UNICEF designation, Lee said, "is simply a marker for the work accomplished thus far." Minneapolis, he indicated, will look to re-up with UNICEF USA and thus will continue this work, including with programs like Reach Out & Read Minnesota, which seeks to get books in the hands of parents and caregivers when they visit a health clinic with their kids.

Minneapolis is the only U.S. city outside of Houston to receive the designation, and Nyenhuis said this reflects a "real partnership" between city leadership, Mayor Jacob Frey, city staff and especially a "very strong community, in civil society, the nonprofit sector, people who have been deeply interested in the rights of children."

And that's not just a recent leadership trait, according to Nyenhuis, who is also from Minnesota. Former Mayor Don Fraser pushed for human rights legislation as a member of Congress. He continued his advocacy as Minneapolis mayor, specifically advocating for the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the U.N. claims is the most widely ratified human-rights treaty in history.

The convention was signed, but not ratified, by the U.S. in 1995, making America an international outlier as the only U.N. member state to not do so. Similarly, the U.S. is greatly lagging in cities getting UNICEF's child-friendly designation; more than 3,500 municipalities in more than 40 countries have been named so by the U.N. agency. Although it's impressive and important that Minneapolis is just the second American city to earn the honor, the nation has a lot of catching up to do.

Children in Minneapolis will still face challenges, even danger, in their urban environment, which is something the city and UNICEF acknowledge. But both entities deserve credit — UNICEF for creating the framework, and Minneapolis for meeting the conditions that lets young people know that their city leaders value and — fittingly for Valentine's Day — love them.