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Minneapolis Parks Foundation > Common Ground > Projects > Next Generation of Parks > 10th Anniversary Season > 10 Years of Next Generation of Parks Events: Cameron Downey and the Next Generation

10 Years of Next Generation of Parks Events: Cameron Downey and the Next Generation

Re-introducing Cameron Downey
Looking back through the incredible last decade of the Next Generation of Parks Event Series, one young artist, Cameron Downey, drew us in and was an easy choice to highlight in this month’s 10th Anniversary blog post.

[Related Content: The Genesis of the Next Generation of Parks]

Downey spoke at our June 25th, 2015 Parks & the Next Generation event showcasing her and her peers’ work at Juxtaposition Arts (JXTA), specifically within the Tactical Urbanism studio. While an inspiring voice as a high school junior back then, the last four years have solidified Downey’s community-focused ideals and paved a path for her as an artist, innovator, and leader of the next generation.

Downey is now a junior at Columbia University in New York City, working towards a double major in Visual Arts and Environmental Science. I recently spoke with her to take a look back at her experience as a Next Generation of Parks speaker and see what she is up to today.

Cameron mentioned that the ideas and principles she practiced in JXTA’s Tactical Urbanism program have informed how she goes about studying the arts and environment and continues to influence the decisions she finds herself making today.

[Related Content: Read Downey’s 2015 interview on our blog]

Image showcasing one of the Tactical Urbanism projects at Juxtaposition Arts, Titled: Mobile Intervention Units

Looking Back to 2015
I asked Downey what she remembers from the 2015 presentation, which also featured Roger Cummings of Juxtaposition Arts, Kristine Miller, Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Minnesota, and Tom Fisher, University of Minnesota’s College of Design (then, now at the U’s Design Center). While four years feels like a long time ago, she said there was one question that was asked during the panel discussion that she continues to think about to this day. “It was about how parks might change in the future, as technology continues to develop. I often think about how that answer changes and what it means today.”

Tom Evers welcoming attendees to the 2015 Parks AND the Next Generation event.

Downey told me about her perspective coming into the Next Gen event as a Minneapolis Northside resident, and how she felt the benefits of growing up just down the street from Farwell Park gave her a sense of freedom and belonging as a young kid that she knows was a privilege not everyone had. “What does it look like to find freedom and pleasure for people who don’t generally have access to that within our current world of city planning? I still think about these questions,” says Downey. “That’s what’s so magical about parks – they can feel personal and intimate and possess a certain sense of ownership that allow people in that area to feel valued, just because they have a space for play of their own.”

Listen to an excerpt from Parks AND the Next Generation audio recording, featuring Cameron Downey discussing her work within the Tactical Urbanism studio at JXTA.

Investing in Parks, Investing in Kids
While speaking to this point, I mentioned that the Minneapolis Parks Foundation, in partnership with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, are building one of the first new parks in North Minneapolis in over a generation, known as the Great Northern Greenway River Link. As you can imagine, this was exciting news for Cameron. “When people feel invested in a space, they tend to treat it a lot differently than if they are a guest. By creating an investment for kids in North Minneapolis, they can imagine and see the way the city and, most importantly, the future of the city is theirs and that they belong,” says Downey.

Photo from a JXTA public engagement day – downtown Minneapolis. Full image from the June 25th, 2015 Parks AND the Next Generation program.

Without taking up too much of Downey’s time (because I would have sat and listened to her ideas for hours), I asked about the importance of including the voices of young people in creating new parks. Downey said that young people are often the most invested in the future and, “they have a certain sense of imagination and ask questions that adults might not ask.” This imagination and unbridled curiosity can bring a fresh perspective to the way we design and think about the future use of parks, and it’s important to keep these voices activated.

Photo from the 2015 Next Generation of Parks Event. From left to right: Cameron Downey (JXTA apprentice), Canaan Ray Strong (JXTA apprentice), and Elizabeth Spenst.

Although there are still some unknowns for what’s next, Downey is confident she will pursue a career that combines the arts and sciences, while continuing to make her community a better place. Downey also mentioned that she’s excited for the future of parks! We are too, and we also can’t wait to see the ways in which Cameron Downey contributes to the growth and wellbeing of our cities.

Explore More
Juxtaposition’s August 2019 Exhibit, NORTHSIDE: An Oral History Publication and Installation, is a piece by Minnesota-based visual storyteller Nancy Musinguzi, which features Cameron Downey. Read more about this piece here:

Featured image: Cameron Downey

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