What is a park for?
That question, though never explicitly articulated, lay behind much of the discussion at a November 7 meeting held to discuss the future of Hampden Park in south St. Anthony Park.
The meeting, which drew about 40 residents, was organized by the District 12 Community Council. It followed a survey distributed by the council to solicit neighborhood input on Hampden Park. Results of the survey informed three possible designs for a revamped park that were presented at the meeting by Katie Thering, from the U of M’s Metropolitan Design Center, which is assisting the council in soliciting community input.
Recent discussion of Hampden Park by the District Council’s Environment Committee was prompted by committee member Gregg Richardson’s concern about the health of the park’s trees. He said the committee decided that if they were going to consider what to do about losing trees, they might also do well to consider other aspects of the park — hence the survey.
Thering’s designs include a variety of new plantings for the park, as well as other amenities such as benches, picnic tables and a gazebo.
One feature that drew considerable discussion at the meeting was rain gardens. Elizabeth Storey, from the Capitol Region Watershed District (CRWD), presented information about rain gardens and said that CRWD would be a potential funder if the decision is made to add them to the park.
The question of funding for park improvements came up several times during the meeting. Renee Lepreau, District 12 community organizer, said the city has no plans — or money — to do anything beyond maintaining the park in its current condition. Funding enhancements for the park, she said, would mean tapping other sources, such as CRWD.
Discussion of Thering’s three designs revealed two opposing sentiments. One group favored keeping the park much as it is, replacing trees as necessary but preserving its openness. “Just keep it simple” was the refrain from these respondents.
Another group expressed more interest in changes, such as rain gardens, that would, in Thering’s words, “increase the ecological function of the park.”
Most people at the meeting live near the park, and geographical proximity revealed another fault line in the discussion.
Ellen Watters, who lives across the street from the park, said, “I consider Hampden Park an extension of my front yard.”
Ranae Hanson, who lives a block away from the park, took issue with that sentiment. “I want to feel like Hampden Park is just as much my park as it is for someone who lives across the street,” she said.
Other participants pointed out that the park is public space, owned by the city, and some people who use it don’t live in the neighborhood.
Environment Committee member Gordon Murdock stressed that the Community Council can only make recommendations to the city. He said the committee has no definite timeline for doing so.
Murdock encouraged people to attend Environment Committee meetings, which take place at 7 p.m. the fourth Wednesday of the month at the South St. Anthony Recreation Center.