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Is Your Park System Fair?

Probably not. Maybe in the historically ethnic sections of town too many parks have broken-down playgrounds or a few too many weeds. Maybe over the past couple of years, dollars have been flowing heavily to the same few parts of town. If so, your city wouldn’t be alone in this. Many places are trying to do better. In Minneapolis, this has meant a revamped approach to park projects.

Since there is never quite enough funding to go around, the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board’s new 20 Year Neighborhood Park Plan includes a rigorous system to prioritize capital investment and large rehabilitation projects for neighborhood parks. The system is uniquely point-based, and also stands out in its emphasis on racial and economic equity.

This new plan is divided into two parts, “Community Characteristics” and “Park Characteristics.” The Community Characteristics, which evaluate the neighborhood, measure:

  • Race and poverty
  • Density
  • Youth (percentage of population under 18)
  • Crimes against persons

The Park Characteristics, which evaluate each site individually, are:

  • Quality/condition of the park’s equipment and facilities
  • The age of the equipment and facilities
  • Capital investment in the park since 2000

The categories are weighted according to what the city wants to emphasize. In this case, points are a negative; the more points, the more attention the park needs and the higher a priority it will be for the city. The two categories given the most weight are race/poverty and the condition of the park.

Equity, especially in terms of poverty and race, has been a topic increasingly at the forefront of urban park conversations. While access is an issue, ensuring that parks, playgrounds, and recreation centers in predominately non-white neighborhoods are of comparable quality to the rest of the city.

Minneapolis has consistently ranked at the top of The Trust for Public Land’s annual ParkScore analysis, which evaluates the park systems of the 100 largest US cities. Now the city is taking steps to make sure that its park system is equally outstanding for all citizens.

In the press release for the 20 Year Neighborhood Park Plan, Jayne Miller, Superintendent of the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board said, “The passage of the 20 Year Neighborhood Park Plan gave us a huge opportunity to be a leader in addressing racial and economic equity in Minneapolis. It’s our moral obligation to ensure these new park investments are made equitably, and this ordinance gives us a data-driven, impartial tool to make sure that happens.” The city council and the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board voted unanimously to pass the decision.

The Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board has set forth an interesting new approach, both for guiding investment in parks and recreation projects, and also for addressing equity issues. It may prove to be a model for other cities looking for ways to move forward on parks and recreation efforts, while also addressing concerns of racial or socioeconomic inequity in their city.

Read a full explanation of the “Criteria Based System for Capital and Rehabilitation Project Scheduling” and all of the criteria being considered here.

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