Organizers find ‘huge disparities’ in Mpls parks funding


“Eight years ago they came up with a comprehensive plan and said that something was going to happen, and it didn’t happen,” says SPEAC member Shelly Martin, her voice echoing across the high-vaulted ceiling of Hope Community’s main building during a conversation with MSR. “As far as we’re concerned as community organizers, accountability is the number-one thing.”

Martin is talking about the Minneapolis Park Board and the disappointment of a group of Phillips organizers over what they say are the board’s broken promises to revitalize nearby Peavey Park.

On the corner of Portland and Franklin in South Minneapolis sits an impressive, brightly colored building identified as Hope Community. During the 1980s the area was in the middle of a crack-cocaine and crime-riddled neighborhood where Hope Community started as a women’s shelter in 1977. The organization is now a beacon to Phillips neighborhood residents, consisting of 173 units of low-income housing located mainly in and around its flagship office building.

Letter to the Editor
Aug. 17, 2009

I would like to address some of the concerns mentioned in the story “Organizers find ‘huge disparities’ in Mpls parks funding” (Aug. 13, 2009).

Let me assure you that the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) has been and continues to be committed to Peavey Park and is dedicated to serving its dynamic diversity. When I served as MPRB superintendent I was a vocal supporter and today continue to advocate for neighborhood needs as a Park Commissioner and board member of Hope Community.

Recognizing the need for continued Peavey Park improvements (after the removal of a liquor store on the corner of the park replaced by the Touchstone Art project, as well as a joint building project with the Minneapolis Public Schools leading to Four Winds School and Peavey Park Recreation Center in the 1990’s), in 2000 the MPRB held a series of listening sessions with over 180 residents to envision future development of the park. The result was a concept approved by the MPRB Board of Commissioners. No promise was made that it could be done in a certain time frame. Moving ahead with the concept and developing it into a plan of action with timelines has been and remains contingent upon funding. In fact that plan envisioned major partnerships and public/private funding to establish a Community Art Center as the key to the plan.

The Park Board has, however, been able to accomplish several initiatives in the three parks in the Phillips community. The Peavey Park basketball courts were rehabilitated in 2002. When the Minneapolis School Board closed the Four Winds School in 2006 and terminated the lease for Peavey Recreation Center, the MPRB worked to regain an agreement with the new owners to lease the gym and related spaces for public use. Two years later when the Boys and Girls Club terminated its lease at the Phillips Community Center, the MPRB invested significant program resources and reopened the building as Club Youthline. For the last three years through funding from the State, the MPRB has been working with the East Phillips neighborhood to develop a Community Cultural Center that will benefit residents throughout the Phillips Community and hope to break ground this fall. In addition, I am extremely encouraged by the appointment of Al Bangora as the head of the Phillips Community Service Area team. His strong leadership is already making a difference in recreation program services.

It is unfortunate that due to lack of funding the last eight years, the MPRB has not been able to address the critical needs of Peavey Park. In 2001 the Park Board and the City of Minneapolis reached an agreement that provided a long-term solution to sustain the facilities and structures throughout the neighborhood park system. The commitment was to increase capital funding to $8 million dollars over a five-year period. Unfortunately, when the City changed its tax policy in 2003 the funding commitment was terminated. Pay-as-you-go capital funding has been reduced to a maintenance fund for roofs and other infrastructure. Last year’s City of Minneapolis capital bonding for parks totaled $319,000 out of $15 million, all of which went to help fund the East Phillips Park Community Cultural Center; this year we received $140,000 for a pedestrian bridge out of $15 million. That policy, along with significant cuts in State Aid to Local Government (LGA) and the Governor’s unallotment, has resulted in deferred basic maintenance and capital improvements to many neighborhood parks, including Peavey.

Just as families, business, agencies, and governments at all levels have had to adjust to the current financial challenges, the Park Board has had to do the same.

However, I absolutely agree with Hope Community Inc. SPEAC members that the need for park services in Peavey, as well as in 49 other neighborhood recreation centers located throughout Minneapolis, many of which are the only neighborhood public resource, is critical to a healthy quality of life in our City. I remain absolutely committed, along with other Park Board members, to finding the resources necessary to bring that vision and concept plan for Peavey Park to reality.

It is my hope that this letter will shed light on this important issue of Park Board services and our limited resources and bring forward new partners and resources that will help us provide what is truly needed and required in one of our more challenged areas of the city.

Mary Merrill Anderson
Vice President and Commissioner-at-Large
Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board

Hope’s approach to community development has always been through involving community members in civic engagement. As a result, SPEAC (Sustainable Progress for Engaging Active Citizens), made up of community organizers between the ages of 18-25, was born.

After receiving the letter to the editor published here, we checked in with the editor of the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, which originally published this article and will publish a second installment. He told us, “Park Board staff still have not returned our calls asking for input on this story.”

MSR was first introduced to SPEAC by sitting in on a listening session in 2007 as young community organizers discussed the results of conversations they’d had with neighborhood youth. Their model of community organizing consists of first identifying a community concern, then locating the root of the concern through research, presenting the results of the research to all interested parties, and finally approaching the power brokers for solutions.

Since the early 1990s, HOPE Community had been in conversations with the Minneapolis park board on revitalizing Peavey Park. In 2001, with community input, the park board created a plan that included a park facility. MSR recently revisited SPEAC for follow-up on their action plan.

“The park board never followed though with that promise,” Martin explains. “Now, almost eight years later, we are still waiting for a building.”

The research

SPEAC member Marcus Ford says that through their research they’ve found that a dollar of community investment goes much further than a dollar spent to repair the damage caused by violence and crime. According to the City of Minneapolis’ “Blue Print for Action on Youth Violence,”

• A non-fatal shooting could cost the state $2-5 million.

• Most violent crimes take place between 2-6 pm.

• Youth are more likely to engage in criminal activity between the hours of 3-4 pm.

Park funding comes from the City of Minneapolis, property taxes and Local Government Aid. The park board then allocates funds to parks around the city. In an effort to determine whether Peavey Park in the Phillips neighborhood was receiving a fair share, SPEAC looked at all Minneapolis parks and found that Linden Hills Park in Southwest Minneapolis was most comparable in size to Peavey.

“We found huge disparities in the amount of funding that went into Linden Hills versus Peavey,” says SPEAC member Christy Clemmons, “which is really unfortunate for everyone, especially the youth, because recreation has such a profound impact on education, on income [and] on health.”

Clemmons says that while Peavey Park has four park programs, Linden Hills offers over 40. As for structural improvements, “Between 2005-2007, Peavey Park received no funding and Linden Hills received $55,000.” She adds that while Linden Hills has several staff members, Peavey Park has one full-time staff member.

“It’s funny because where you put your investment is where you’re placing your values,” Christy says. “So what does it say about where the park board is placing their values?”

Ford, a longtime resident of the Phillips neighborhood, says he knows most of the youth that live in the area. “I’ve watched them change from kids…playing basketball and in school, to being pulled into gang violence. I’ve had a couple of friends that have been shot or shot at, and they’ve done the same thing in return.”

Ford says he strongly believes that park programming could have helped reverse negative statistics for youth in the area.

Though SPEAC members are aware that all park programming has been hit hard by State and City budget cuts, they feel that the income level of residents should give some neighborhoods priority over others in the competition for available funds. Unlike those who live in the Linden Hills Park area, their research found that 38 percent of Phillips residents live below the poverty level.

Also, Martin says, “We have to acknowledge and recognize the racial equity piece and the disparities in funding… And we also have to always remember to hold institutions like the park board, city council, [and] the mayor accountable.”

SPEAC’s research found that 70 percent of Phillips residents are people of color, and people of color in the metro area make less money on average than Whites — $17,974 for individuals of color versus $35,619 for individual Whites.

“It is imperative that we invest more in the communities that need it,” Clemmons says, “because we are the ones who are going to be hardest hit in these difficult economic times.”

Making a sustaining impact

SPEAC member Shelly Martin is a strong supporter of park programming. She credits the parks for many of the leadership skills she developed as a youth.

“Part of the reason why I wanted to be an organizer [is] because I had people who invested their time in me. I was surrounded by peers who were doing positive things. I honestly believe that along with other institutions — schools, family, other mentors and teachers — [it] all had an effect on my development,” Martin says.

SPEAC members believe that a revitalized Peavey Park has the ability to improve the condition of Phillips residents. “Once there is a resource where people can build relationships and give back to their community, it does build who they are,” Clemmons says. “It builds self-esteem, their confidence, their connection to community.”

SPEAC is the product of what occurs when community members work together. It operates on a six-month training cycle, after which members may choose to either continue to do community organizing or become a part of the advisory council, keeping the group sustainable. Currently, the founders of the group are part of the advisory council.

“Leadership development is a huge core piece of what we do,” explains SPEAC member Clemmons. “[We] get the chance to lead training and facilitations for the next group… And it’s always based on the level of involvement that people want to have. So if life is hectic and [a leadership role] doesn’t work, then that’s cool.”

In late July, SPEAC met with community members to showcase their research, but action from the park board, they feel, is long overdue.

“If they would have followed through with their promise, how many children’s lives would it have affected?” Clemmons asks. “How many people would have been doing community organizing training and leadership development and giving back to their community now if that resource was there?”

Efforts to reach park board staff for comment on SPEAC’s charges of broken promises were not successful by our press deadline. We hope to provide the park board’s perspective on allegations of funding disparities in a subsequent story.

“The longer we wait,” says Clemmons, “the more generations are going to be lost in this neighborhood that’s already so strongly affected by poverty.”

Vickie Evans-Nash welcomes reader responses to

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