“When I was hired to bring the Minneapolis Parks Foundation to life, one of the first things I did was take a look around at successful parks organizations across the country,” says Cecily Hines, the Parks Foundation’s first Executive Director. This was 2009. President Obama had recently taken office. Minneapolis and the nation were in the midst of the Great Recession, and the city was on the brink of change. “What I found was a lot of really interesting things going on, in the United States and around the world, where cities were adapting their parks and public space to changing communities and times.”
Minneapolis has long had one of the nation’s most admired park systems, built as it is around several regional parks, linked via the famed Grand Rounds – a network of linear parkways, and overseen by an independently elected Park Board of Commissioners. Still, Hines thought, “We’re a vibrant, creative community, we need to be inspired to think more imaginatively about how our parks can best serve our growing, diversifying, and ever-curious community.”
One Productive Meeting
In August 2009, the Minneapolis Parks Foundation gathered a group of community and civic leaders, together with elected officials and Minneapolis Park Board staff, to talk about the future of the Minneapolis Parks System.
Co-sponsored by the Walker Art Center and the University of Minnesota College of Design, the group put forward a white paper that outlined a “Vision for the Next Generation of Parks,” which would (among other things): “Look anew at our park system within the context of sustainability, infrastructure, and public space; develop strategies to enhance the system that address these issues; and identify opportunities to create new and different type of parks with connections to the existing system.”
A chief strategy for getting started with this design-driven vision: Education about what could be, beginning with a series of talks given by parks innovators from around the globe.
The Original Series – 2010
“We were totally focused on bringing in people from other cities,” says Hines. “We wanted to spark people’s imaginations. This was a community that had made the new Guthrie Theater possible, who supported new investments in the Children’s Museum. We wanted to bring in speakers who could expand our idea of what’s possible for Minneapolis parks.”
Building on its partnership with the Walker and the College of Design, the Minneapolis Parks Foundation presented the first three Next Generation of Parks lectures in 2010. Jamie Dean – then manager of what was called “London’s Green Grid” – debuted the program with a talk at the U of M’s Humphrey Institute, on May 13.
“There was quite a full audience in the auditorium,” recalls Hines. “And the energy around each event just grew from there.” Dean was followed by Robert Hammond and Lisa Tziona Switkin on June 16 talking about the newly opened High Line in New York, and Laurie Olin, one of America’s most esteemed landscape architects, on July 15.
Hines describes a “core group of attendees paying attention to parks,” but the audience expanded early on to include those who were excited about design, urbanism, and community development. And, it was the precursor to the 2010-2011 Minneapolis Riverfront Design Competition, which featured one of the most popular events in the 10-year history of the Next Generation Parks. More on that in the January post in this series.
Unfortunately, there is little documentation from that first series, except for the promotional brochure and the Walker’s recording of the Hammond/Switkin talk, both posted here. If you attended any of the three and have photos, copies of the programs, or stories to share, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Series Evolved
What has helped the Next Generation of Parks events succeed over time is that they lend themselves to adaptation. From its origins with a focus on design and the built environment, the Parks Foundation has evolved the series to encompass many more voices – artists, child-care experts, doctors, and community activists among them – and topics that intersect with parks. Priorities today include equity, health, and climate resiliency. What remains the same is the belief that parks are an essential element of our community experience and we must ensure they serve the next generation, and many more to come.
Thanks and Recognition
The Minneapolis Parks Foundation would like to thank the following individuals whose leadership in early Next Generation of Parks events and projects helped make this program possible.
Andrew Blauvelt • Mary deLaittre • Ashley Duffalo • Tom Fisher
If we’ve forgotten someone, please raise your hand in the comments below and we’ll add them to this list. Thank you!