Shirley Heyer wants upgrades at Peavey Park, where the community has been waiting 15 years for a better rec center. For Minneaplis City Council Member Alondra Cano, it’s getting broken playground equipment fixed faster at Cedar Avenue Field where her kids play. For Jake Virden and David Gilbert-Pederson, it’s more full-court basketball outdoors.
As the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board looks for ways to pay for a long list of fixes, through a referendum or City Hall, a growing group of activists is pushing for more emphasis on parks that serve low-income and minority residents. They have turned up at public hearings and at the board’s annual legislative breakfast, asking for more focus on equity.
On Wednesday, Superintendent Jayne Miller will unveil a five-year list of upgrades to buildings and grounds in neighborhood parks. It’s intended to make tangible what’s at stake if there’s a fall referendum on neighborhood park funding, or barring that, a City Hall decision on boosting money for park repairs.
Her proposal will rely not just on staff assessments of each park’s repair needs. It will also weigh neighborhood-level socioeconomic factors, such as whether a park is in an area of concentrated poverty with at least 50 percent minority population.
“These criteria are really positive steps but there’s a lot of work to do on naming the priority for addressing racial equity,” said Vina Kay, executive director of Voices for Racial Justice. The nonprofit consults on equity issues with the Park Board, but it is also among the advocacy groups pressing for equity improvements in facilities, programs and park staffing.
But Park Board data analyzed by the Star Tribune shows the gap in funding needed to maintain buildings and grounds is actually slightly smaller in parks serving concentrated areas of poverty than in areas of the city with higher incomes and fewer minorities. Parks in concentrated areas on average lacked funding for 62.3 percent of facility needs between 2000 and 2020, compared to a 67.3 percent gap for the rest of city parks.
“The gap we have is systemwide,” Miller said, reacting to that data. “This is overwhelmingly across the entire city.”
Cedar Athletic Field, East Phillips Park and Phillips Community Center in the low-income Phillips community all are listed as having no immediate facility or equipment replacement needs. The other two parks in that category are not in areas of concentrated poverty.
Yet eight of the 18 parks where none of the identified facility needs will be addressed by 2020 are in concentrated areas. Parks in the city’s East Side have the biggest average funding gap, while south-area parks have the lowest. Parks in two areas with contrasting demographics, the North Side and southwest, have virtually the same gap.
But perceptions differ. Cano recently cited Cedar Avenue Field across from the Little Earth housing project as an example of a neglected park. That’s despite the Park Board spending almost $400,000 in the last 15 years there — more than the Park Board’s assessment said was required to replace worn out assets.
The Park Board’s assessment was based on whether a physical asset — bench, building or playground — has exceeded its useful life. Cano’s view takes in bullet holes in a slide, badly cracked sidewalks, clogged drinking fountains, and outdated equipment.
The Park Board needs to let the community set priorities for park improvements rather than narrowly focusing on asset condition, Cano said.
‘There’s promise there’
Miller said her criteria for park projects will include a neighborhood’s population density, the number of children, and neighborhood safety, besides its racial and income factors. She said that neighborhoods with high population density often lack green space for families or transportation to reach more distant parks.
“It’s the most race-conscious language that the Park Board has ever used,” said Jake Virden, an organizer with the Parks and Power campaign, which has pushed for improvements at Peavey Park. “There’s promise there.”
But groups allied around equity have continued to turn out at meetings to press the issue. At last week’s council hearing they asked for specific language requiring improvements at parks in areas of concentrated poverty. Several council members, however, said they’re loath to infringe in the semi-independent Park Board’s prerogatives.
Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438