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Minneapolis Parks Foundation > Common Ground > Projects > North Commons Park > Raising Youth Voices to Reimagine North Commons 

Raising Youth Voices to Reimagine North Commons 

With nearly 12,000 kids living within walking distance of North Commons Park, hearing what kids, teens and young adults want to see in their neighborhood park is an important step toward renovating and reimagining one of Minneapolis’s most iconic parks. 

Last month, the Minneapolis Parks Foundation collaborated with Se’Anna Johnson, North Commons Park’s Youth Specialist, and staff member Nikki Love to sponsor a youth essay contest about the role North Commons plays in their lives. Here’s just a sampling of what youth of all ages told us they love about their neighborhood park–and where they want to see improvements: 

“North Commons motivates me to get up and do something with my time. I go there to see friends and hang out with family. We play games, eat snacks, and I can just be myself when I’m there. I enjoy the swimming and the calmness of the water. If anything I would add more color to the swim area, and colorful information about other activities North Commons has to offer.”

​​ – Tacari, age 15

“If it wasn’t for North Commons, I would have never played football or baseball. I am always happy to come here and this community has given me so much joy. The people here always keep it real with me, there are games, and the field trips are great. “

– Tayseer, age 11

“North Commons is my safe space–I’m always looking forward to going there. It’s welcoming because of the people who work there teaching young, beautiful minds. I love that. They wouldn’t let anything slip past them, they want everyone there to feel and be safe. If I needed help or was in danger with nowhere else to go or no one to call, that’s the first place I would go. I trust every worker there. Everyone who works there does their job right. Honestly, they need a raise.”

– Sincere, age 17

“The staff that work here are cool and calm and help me with developing myself and becoming a better person. They’re like an extra family that I can come to and have quality time with. I built a lot of the connections I have with hoopers here and this is the park I claim as my park. I want to see more staff here and more things to do and activities. They should also keep the game room because I have good quality time there. An activity I would like is drawing and more contests to win things with art.”

– Malcolm, age 15

Youth had a chance to read their essays out loud to a small panel of judges, and to spend time sharing their input about North Commons Park with representatives from the Minneapolis Parks & Recreation Board and the Minneapolis Parks Foundation. 

“We reassured the youth that we wanted to hear their authentic voice,” says Shawn Lewis, MPF’s project coordinator. “We discovered that youth who come to North Commons Park feel a strong sense of belonging and support among parks staff as well as connection with each other. Most importantly, the youth feel safe during their time at the park using various amenities.” 

Outreach experiences like this have been a regular feature in the community-wide discussions and design processes driving the upcoming $35 million renovation of North Commons Park, the largest investment ever made in a Minneapolis neighborhood park. This spring, the Minneapolis Parks Foundation and MPRB will be supporting the launch of a North Commons youth council aimed at keeping youth involved throughout the process, as well as a series of community events to keep parks users up to date on construction plans and upcoming programs. 

Lewis says that creating opportunities for frequent community discussions like this will be critical to the success of the North Commons renovation, gathering great ideas that will help the parks better serve the public, while keeping North Minneapolis neighbors engaged in the process.  “The youth wanted to know if the renovation and expansion of North Common Park would truly benefit them,” says Lewis. “Meeting with youth, listening to their concerns, and strengthening our relationship with the young people who depend on North Commons is one of the best ways to convey that developing the potential of our youth is really our park system’s most important mission.”

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