OPINION | Do our parks serve Minneapolis with equity?


I want to thank my good friend and municipal elected colleague Park Commissioner Mary Merrill Anderson for her response to the MSR article “Organizers find ‘huge disparities’ in Mpls parks funding” (August 13 issue; Commissioner Merrill Anderson’s response, “Financial cutbacks delayed Peavey Park improvements,” ran August 27).

Commissioner Merrill Anderson gave us some clarity of history and process, as well as some facts and figures. Unfortunately, she did not really address the essential issue of the original article: Is there equity of park service in our city?

The question of equity of service in our parks is very important to me and my core city constituents. Too often we have the sense here that there is more capital and programming investment being directed to the parks in the collar neighborhoods in Minneapolis rather than to the core. So far the staff of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) and the elected folks, who should be the most accountable ones, have been unable to demonstrate equity of service.

When I read in the original article that, “…Peavey Park [in the Phillips area] has four park programs, Linden Hills [a comparably sized park in southwest Minneapolis] offers over 40” I see why it is easy for those of us in the core to feel we may be underserved. To me, the facts as reported demonstrate a greater financial commitment to Linden Hills Park than Peavey.

Taking the demographics around Peavey into consideration – the concentration of youth (33 percent), poverty (38 percent) and people of color (70 percent) – along with the fact that most of these people live in multiple-unit housing with limited yard space and have fewer opportunities for structured activities, it is easy to see the greater need in this core city community. Does the MPRB’s capital and programming investment history, and their plan for the future, reflect these needs?

I have heard Park Commissioners respond to this question by blaming the Minneapolis City Council for limiting the MPRB’s ability to bond (borrow from the future) for projects in the neighborhood parks. The causes of today’s funding challenges are much more complicated than that.

Really, this is about priorities. Does the MPRB prioritize programming and capital investment in the core city neighborhood parks?

The community activists working on Peavey Park issues are requesting a Racial Equity Impact Analysis of our parks and their services with the aim to reduce, eliminate, or prevent racial inequities and access barriers. I think this is a great idea. If there is equity of service, this study would demonstrate that. If not, this would inform us of that and give us a starting point to achieve equity.

As the 2009 city election cycle ramps up, I would very much like to hear from our Park Commissioners and candidates about equity of park service in Minneapolis. Is there equity? If not, what do you plan to do to bring equity about? Do you support a Racial Equity Impact Analysis?

Please let me be clear: I support the current independent Park Board structure we have in out city government today. I see no reason to eliminate it or change it. And I think those of us who hold positions of public trust would best serve our constituents by figuring out how to work more effectively and cooperatively together.

Lastly, I do want to take time to recognize the excellent work of the recently appointed head of the Phillips Community Service Area team, Al Bangora. Mr. Bangora’s commitment and grassroots organizing in the area is commendable and very encouraging.

But absent any real data to the contrary, I will continue to stand with my constituents in our concern regarding equity of service. MPRB Commissioners and candidates, do you share our concerns?

Council Member Robert Lilligren, Ward 6, is vice president of the Minneapolis City Council.

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