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What Truly Makes Minneapolis Parks World Class?

Last month the Trust for Public Land (TPL) announced that after six consecutive years at the top of its ParkScore list, Minneapolis’s rank among city park systems nationwide was adjusted downward to third place. The national conservation organization released its annual ranking of city parkland and amenities and placed Washington D.C. and St. Paul higher than Minneapolis (congratulations to both cities).

These rankings are important in that they provide a reliable comparison across the country for community leaders and elected officials. When ParkScore first appeared in 2000, it was the first time research was conducted and widely published comparing the elements of a healthy park system. It wasn’t until more recently that TPL ranked the outcomes.

Minneapolis’s 2019 ParkScore is not because the park system was diminished in the past year. In fact, there are several advances that can be pointed to that indicate our parks are continuing to improve: The ongoing 20-year funding agreement between the City and the Park Board, which is making critical investments in neighborhood parks, finalized master plans for the entire city, and increased youth program investments are only a few improvements across our dynamic system. The change in the ranking, we learned, was primarily a result of the city’s population increase and new investments elsewhere. In other words, our per capita numbers changed because more people are choosing to live in Minneapolis at a faster rate than other cities.

Regardless of these reasons, this drop in the TPL rankings offers Minneapolis a chance to redefine city park leadership for the nation once again. More important than chasing numbers, healthy and vibrant cities in the future will integrate park investments into a broader public policy approach that addresses access to health and wellness, proximity to affordable housing, and programs that reach the community where they live. Further, investments in new parks will have layered impacts including climate resiliency, inclusive civic spaces, and correction of systemic racial inequity within our cities.

Minneapolis will regain our place on top again, but next time it will not be based on more acreage, amenities, and resident proximity. Rather, it will be based on how well we connect new parks to the lives of those who reside nearby, and how diligently we are working to ensure that the benefits of new parks investments don’t further the process of pushing long-time residents out of neighborhoods with cultural displacement and higher rents.

The Minneapolis Park System remains world class. The bolder vision unfolding for the Upper Mississippi River under the auspices of RiverFirst, as well as increased investment in our neighborhood parks and recreation centers, will continue to set the standard by which other cities are measured. 

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