For the past seven years, I have been fortunate to participate in a spring event that has become almost as dependable as Mother’s Day and the Fishing Opener: The annual announcement by the Trust for Public Land that Minneapolis is home to the best park system in America. This is an honor I’ve celebrated with four Park Board Presidents, three Superintendents and two mayors. Even in the midst of a global pandemic last year, I joined Superintendent Bangoura, several Minneapolis Park Commissioners, Mayor Frey, and representatives from the Trust for Public Land to recognize the honor. The group photo from last year is particularly memorable because of the masks and obvious physical distance between speakers.
This year was different. While Minneapolis remains ranked as one of the best urban park systems in America, a new metric evaluating equity based on income and race was added to the Park Score, elevating Washington D.C. to the number one position. As a fan of D.C., I can attest that their park system is also excellent.
With any data set, there are areas for improvement and debate. Minneapolis remains number one on many categories – including more than 98% of all residents living within a 10-minute walk to a park and a top score for our recreation centers and several other categories. Yet, the new and relevant information this year is that American cities can no longer ignore the inequities built into our park systems – and Minneapolis is no different. The new data illustrates racial and economic disparities around who is served by city parks and who receives the most benefits such as long-term health outcomes, generational wealth, and community wellbeing. More succinctly, the data show how just and equitable city park systems are in comparison to other cities.
The Minneapolis Parks Foundation was thrilled and honored to announce the addition of two new park spaces to the system this month (Water Works and the Overlook). Looking ahead, we will continue to examine how our projects can help ensure that the benefits of parks extend to all and begin to close any disparities based on race, wealth, or age. It’s clear to us that this is a value that is shared by many, many of you as well.
Alongside the Park Board leadership and staff, and community leaders throughout the city, we have a commitment to improving the reach and impact of parks in Minneapolis. This is deep work, including evaluating systemic barriers to access that won’t be truly measurable for years to come. Parks are a necessity to provide the lifelong quality of life and are essential. With more people living in cities and representing a growing percentage of Americans – city parks matter more than ever before.
This year’s data shows us something many of us have understood and the work would have been the same regardless (though the data are fascinating for those of you who like looking through numbers). This change has been a priority for many years already. Now we have additional tools to measure change as we add new parks to the system and extend the impact of the programming and reach even more people.