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Growing Opportunity at North Commons Park

Minneapolis parks are used by people of every age; more now than ever before. However, for Minneapolis youth, our parks provide critical opportunities through youth athletics, programming or informal pick-up games on the courts, fields, ice rinks, and diamonds across the system. While it’s easy to think of a city park as an assembly of fixed assets, we continually update and adapt our parks to meet the changing needs of the community. In North Minneapolis, specifically, a community-led effort is rising to the moment and to reimagine, build, and program, facilities that will become a regional beacon for youth sports and home court pride for Minneapolis youth.

North Commons Park has served the city of Minneapolis longer than anyone alive today will remember. The land was acquired in 1907 and has since become a beloved and well-used site for youth programming, leagues, community swimming, and public gatherings. It was here that Prince and the Revolution played one of their first public concerts. And it is on the fields and neighborhood courts where generations of athletes forged connections with legendary Park Board coaches and community mentors. Today, North Minneapolis has the highest population of youth per capita than any other section of the city. With more than 68,000 residents, if North Minneapolis were its own city, it would be the 15th largest city in Minnesota, bigger than Mankato, St. Cloud, and Shakopee, for example. Yet the civic assets available do not match the need nor the amenities readily available in those cities.

To help spark change, a group of community organizations, coaches, and mentors have come together under the name Seeds to Harvest to advance and deliver a home court advantage with updated and expanded facilities for North Commons Park that serves a multi-generational, culturally rich community. The community collaboration is helping to bring to life the vision outlined in the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s Area Master Plan and imagine a new town commons with youth at the center. 

Last summer Seeds to Harvest hosted a series of sporting events, activities, and tournaments in and around North Commons Park and hosted three weeks of summer games – culminating with a community attempt to break two World Records: “the largest game of catch with an American Football” and the laughter-inducing “most simultaneous double high-fives”.  This summer, the community is coming together again to deliver another round of summer games, another attempt at breaking a Guinness World Record, and to build momentum for the larger vision.

This is critical, life-shaping work. Through our North Commons initiative, the Parks Foundation is exploring with the Park Board and Seeds to Harvest how to fully capture a vision shared by many and bring it to reality. With North High School directly to the south, the YMCA across the street, and the West Broadway business district to the north, North Commons Park is a catalyst for creating social and economic change. Our partnership with Seeds to Harvest is part of our work with the national initiative Reimagining the Civic Commons, which was founded on the premise that our civic assets – parks, trails, schools, libraries and recreational facilities – can foster engagement, equity, environmental sustainability, and economic development.

In the months to come, we’ll define how individuals can support the big vision, invite you to engage in the effort, and even join in the world record attempts. If you’re interested in supporting the Summer Games or participating in the Guinness World Record attempts, stay tuned!

Following the trauma, upheaval, and isolation of the past two years, the success of North Commons is rooted in hope for the next generation and depends on a co-creative strategy of deep and equitable community engagement facilitated by the Park Board, increased public investment from city, state, and federal sources, and individual and corporate support from across the region. And most importantly, this effort will require us to keep youth that are often overlooked in today’s world at the center of the vision. The outcome, when fully realized, will pay dividends in trust, civic pride, and joy. 

Featured Image credit of Tamika Garscia, Tamika Garscia Photography.

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