Park Board passes equity ordinance for neighborhood park investment

The ordinance prioritizes racially concentrated areas of poverty around Minneapolis.

North Commons park is one of the city's 157 neighborhood parks, which are seeing additional repairs and rehabilitations. Photo courtesy of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board

Park commissioners have approved racial and economic equity criteria to guide hundreds of millions of dollars worth of investments into the city’s neighborhood parks system over the next two decades.

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board unanimously passed an ordinance that is meant to ensure an equitable distribution of an additional $11 million of park investments annually for the next 20 years. The agreement, dubbed the 20 Year Neighborhood Park Plan, is a joint effort with the City Council and Mayor Betsy Hodges that replaced the board’s referendum campaign for funds to close an annual funding gap in maintaining the nearly 160 neighborhood parks in Minneapolis.

The ordinance features a 23-point system that weighs racially concentrated areas of poverty higher than other neighborhoods, though all areas of concentrated poverty receive additional points. The areas are defined as neighborhoods where 40 percent or more of residents earn less than 185 percent of the federal poverty threshold and where 50 percent or more of residents are people of color, based off census data.

A neighborhood can also receive points for having a larger total population, more children and higher crime statistics. Under the ordinance, staff will also assign points to parks based off the condition and lifespan of each asset — a ball field, a wading pool, etc. — with expired assets and those that present safety concerns weighted higher.

Based off the criteria, park staff have recommended a list of prioritized rehabilitation and capital projects for the first five years under the plan.

The ordinance comes at a time when activists have criticized the board for not doing enough to address racial equity in terms of neighborhood park investments and hiring its own staff. Nekima Levy-Pounds, president of the Minneapolis NAACP, has also called for the resignations of President Liz Wielinski and Superintendent Jayne Miller following a heated exchange between Wielinski and Levy-Pounds during a May 11 public meeting.

“The passage of the 20 Year Neighborhood Park Plan gave us a huge opportunity to be a leader in addressing racial and economic equity in Minneapolis,” Miller said in a statement. “It’s our moral obligation to ensure these new park investments are made equitably, and this ordinance gives us a data-driven, impartial tool to make sure that happens.”

During a July 6 meeting Wielinski praised the park staff who developed the criteria.

“This ordinance ensures the coming wave of investments throughout Minneapolis’ much-used neighborhood parks will be done equitably, so that people across all parts of the city can enjoy parks designed to serve the diverse communities that use them,” she said in a statement.

Commissioners Jon Olson (District 2), Anita Tabb (District 4) and Meg Forney (At Large) were absent for the vote, but supported the previous funding agreement with the city.

The roughly $800 million plan also includes $22 million in new money for street projects annually. Park commissioners approved the plan in May and the City Council passed its version of the plan in April.

The 20 Year Neighborhood Park Plan features a variety of funding sources, but most heavily relies on property taxes, which will fund 82 percent of the plan.