Next week, you may see groups of notebook-carrying park practitioners and community members out and about in Minneapolis – walking from the Central Library to Water Works, Farview Park to the Overlook at 26th Ave N or along Broadway Avenue to North Commons Park. You may see a late season flotilla of kayakers paddling past Halls Island or mountain bikers weaving through Wirth Park.
As the convenor for Reimagining the Civic Commons Minneapolis, we are hosting a three-day Studio conference of more than 120 park practitioners and community leaders from the learning network’s 12 cities around the country (and more than a dozen leaders locally) to share best practices and improve our cities’ public realm.
We’re grateful to our many community partners supporting this gathering with their time and knowledge, including the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, Juxtaposition Arts, 4RM+ULA Architecture, Cookie Cart, NEON, YMCA of the North, Owamni, Tlalli Collaborative, Mississippi Park Connection, the Loppet Foundation, and the Center for Transformative Urban Design.
The Minneapolis Parks Foundation has served as convener for Minneapolis since May 2020, just before COVID forced us to adapt how we gather. The Parks Foundation and other local partners forged connections via Zoom with practitioners from cities around the country striving to leverage the true power of our public realm and learn with each other.
It is a frequently stated and commonly accepted that the Minneapolis Park system is considered of the best city park in America. Our libraries and other public spaces are a source of joy and pride as well. Yet, the benefits of our civic assets are not felt equally across the city. These discrepancies are felt differently depending on where you live and who you are. While we can take pride in accomplishments, we can do even more. We should expect even better. Next week provides an opportunity for the Parks Foundation and community partners to learn with others tackling similar challenges.
As we host the Reimagining the Civic Commons network, sponsored in part by local and national foundations, we will spend a few days learning from others who face similar challenges to ensure we develop solutions and practices that aren’t just good enough, but are profoundly transformative.
In the months that follow, we will be revisiting some of those lessons and theories of change as we expand partnerships focused on measurable impact. Our enduring partner the Minneapolis Park Board, and others, are in a constant conversation about adding investments that are meaningful to the people who use the parks, as well as programming and assets that will connect with people who aren’t yet connected.
Our civic commons define us as a community. These spaces create cohesion. Where one person may seek sports programming, a child may seek the arts or desire independent play in a safe place. We have to invest in parks that meet those desires with opportunity.
I am excited to share our accomplishments with other cities, the successes that you have supported and that the Park Board sustains. I am also looking forward to seeing our city through the lens of those who don’t live here. And I look forward to learning about new approaches to engaging our whole community in dreaming beyond what we know and imagining what could be.
If you see a group of studious people walking together in our parks next week, please wave, say hello, and stop to share what you appreciate about – and imagine for – our parks.