Common Ground

Nine years ago, the Minneapolis Parks Foundation launched two initiatives that have come to define the organization: The RiverFirst Initiative and the Next Generation of Parks event series.

Both of these efforts have expanded the shared understanding of how parks serve Minneapolis and helped reimagine how parks will shape our future.

With attention to the changing discourse surrounding the public realm, we’re thrilled to welcome Robert Hammond, co-founder and Executive Director of New York’s Friends of the Highline, back to Minneapolis as our first returning Next Generation of Parks speaker. Hammond will reflect with us on some of the new realities the public realm is seeking to address. He’s speaking at 7pm, Thursday, March 21, at the Walker Art Center.

Since Hammond’s last presentation shortly after the park opened, the High Line has become one of the most celebrated public spaces of an era and, in many ways, changed the trajectory how we design our parks in America. The High Line’s success has inspired the transformation of other former industrial landscapes around the county and, through the High Line Network, Hammond and his colleagues continue to explore how public space influences adjacent communities.

As with the High Line and several other high-profile public realm projects in American cities, the RiverFirst vision is renewing industrial land to bridge new connections to one of our most valued community assets – the Mississippi River.

In the coming weeks, the Parks Foundation, in collaboration with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, hopes to achieve two of the primary goals of the $18 million RiverFirst Campaign – initiating construction of Water Works and finalizing the updated design for the Great Northern Greenway River Link. These two new riverfront parks are the result of community input, generous contributions, and community leadership.

Yet, by increasing public and private investment through improved parks, we risk changing the market dynamics to the detriment to some. In Minneapolis, people of color and immigrant communities often feel the negative impacts more than the benefits. This is one of the most vexing questions facing our public realm today: How do you add value to a neighborhood through parks equitably, without displacing those who live nearby?

In Minneapolis, we continue to strive to extend the benefits of new parks. We believe that collaboration and thoughtful, adaptive planning improve the outcomes. As we pivot to support the next phase of RiverFirst, including a mile of riverfront parkland at the Upper Harbor Terminal and a new park adjacent to Hall’s Island in Northeast Minneapolis, we are inspired by the growing need to achieve even more through our parks.

Study after study indicates that parks and public space are critically important to our community health and individual well-being. We can simultaneously celebrate the importance of our current park system and acknowledge the challenges new parks present. We strive today to learn the lessons from recent and distant history to continue creating a city where everyone can thrive. As new parks begin to go through the design process, we are committed to finding solutions that truly benefit the community and create welcoming spaces for all.

Featured image: Minneapolis youth are helping to reimagine the Minneapolis Upper Riverfront.

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