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North Commons Design Week Aims to Engage the Community

North Commons Park is one of the oldest, largest and most beloved parks in Minneapolis. It is home to the first recreation center in the city and is the center to some of the most robust youth athletic programs in the park system – both Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board programs and third-party clubs and teams. It was even home to one of the first concerts by Prince and the Revolution. Next week, the Park Board will host Design Week at North Commons Park as part of the effort to advance the vision from the updated North Service Area Master Plan.  Phase 1 Improvements will include a new community center with a multi-court field house, an updated water park, and a new playground. 

Layers of design and engagement are required for every acre of parkland in the city. Getting the plan right for the community is one of the most important steps in creating a new park or updating one that is much-loved. Too often, however, community engagement misses the mark, or more specifically, misses the community. When done well, the best thinking of those whose lives will be affected by the updates and improvements are deeply embedded into the vision while also honoring the sense of loss that may come with change. 

A vision brought forward by community members for North Commons, including a broad collaboration known as Seeds to Harvest, is now moving forward from the master plan concept to site design and the events of June 27-30 will offer Minneapolitans a chance to directly influence the design by providing input and sharing personal experiences. This will not be the last chance to provide input into the vision, but it is an important one that will be more successful the more people come to participate. Done right, this process will bring people together to understand the opportunities that this park can generate through its future design including: Serving as a hub for youth athletics in the heart of North Minneapolis, providing robust family programming for all ages, protecting the mature tree canopy, improving access to swimming and water play on hot summer days, among many others.

There is an adage that is often repeated about public processes: If everyone is slightly unhappy, you’ve succeeded. I challenge that construct. I often think it’s used as an excuse to avoid honest criticism.

Rather than be content with universal dissatisfaction, a successful civic engagement process should lead to a deeper understanding of the needs within a community and appreciation for the wealth of uses each park serves and a deeper understanding of the people who share a park and all its potential. A successful process results in a new park or facility that allows individuals to know and appreciate new facets of the neighborhood that were invisible or unknown before and brings together people who otherwise might not have connected.

If you live in North Minneapolis or have an interest in the future of North Commons Park, please join us as we roll up our sleeves in an effort to design the best park possible for a neighborhood that richly deserves the new amenities.

Featured image by MPRB

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